Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Leaving now from St. Peter to go back home - energized and renewed in my vocation as a "storyteller" in the church. This is the calling of all who lead the Lord's song, to lead and to teach the family song, the song which tells the family story. (Ps. 89:1 - "I will story of Your love, O God, and proclaim Your faithfulness forever.")

The sermon at Morning Prayer today was focused on the eternal worship we get a glimpse of in Revelation 7:9-17. We certainly had a foretaste of that feast to come in our worship together this week, and the pastor joked that we might feel like we don't want to leave here today because we just don't want it to end! Of course, we are ready to come off the mountaintop and return to our homes now, but the point is made: in heaven we really will be home, and so then we will never have to "go home" from worship.

Speaking of going home, I've got an 8-hour drive ahead of me and would like to be home before it is tomorrow, so I will have to continue this later. For now, let me highlight a couple of things that made this a heavenly experience, and also give thanks to a new friend I had the pleasure of making this week. First, some highlights - or why you really want to be at the next WELS National Worship Conference:

*Singing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" with 900 other singers and an orchestra. The ultimate, "sing-it-yourself Messiah" experience!
*Singing Paul Tate's Venite at Morning Prayer this morning. I'll have to introduce this one to Bethany!
*Experiencing the catholicity of the church's song with such a vibrant assembly as we sang chorales, a contemporary song by the Gettys, contemporary psalmody, new hymn tunes for old texts, and new texts for old tunes. Led by a rich variety of organ, piano, brass, winds, strings, and percussion, this conference was indeed a model for what parishes should strive for in involving the whole talent of the congregation and embracing both the depth of our rich heritage and the breadth of our communion.
*Concluding, as all WELS National Conferences do, with "Jerusalem the Golden", sung to THAXTED. (Many in LCMS know this as "And There's Another Country") Led by the orchestra in a subtle, sensitive, and moving arrangement that really let the congregation sing, this cantor was one of many who had to pause for tears as the assembly carried us along with this powerful picture of heaven.

A blessed antepast, indeed. And one person among many who contributed to this wonderful conference was Dr. Kayme Henkel, piano professor at the International School of Bethesda, MD (outside of Washington, DC) and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison. She played piano most excellently for this morning's service and did a fantastic job. I want to extend my thanks publicly to her particularly for her performance of the work the WELS commissioned from me for this conference, my piano solo on "Lamb of God." It is a musically challenging composition, and she played it with convincing sincerity and passion. Thanks, Kayme!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Today at the WELS National Worship Conference we are off to New Ulm, MN, where we will have classes and worship at Martin Luther College. An institution of the WELS, they will showcase the fabulous new chapel they have built there. We will enjoy the day there, and then return to St. Peter this evening. (The conference is hosted at Gustavus Adolphus College because there is not room to accommodate 1000 people in the dorms at Martin Luther College)

Yesterday, the keynote address, "Passing the Torch" highlighted the role of the church musician as the one who hands down a tradition. This reminds me of my work in Africa, where Lutherans there eagerly desire to learn the hymns of our faith, and so treat me as some sort of esteemed elder who teaches them the family story. Whether born into a family or adopted into a family, someone who is truly part of a family wants to know the family traditions. Musicians serve the Lord's ministry by teaching and celebrating the family song, that they may also tell "the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done." (Ps. 78)

Rev. Aaron Christie, who is a musician as well as a pastor, encouraged us with five principles to help us "pass it on":

* Strive for a life-long pursuit of excellence.
* Proclaim the Gospel always in our music and our art.
* Be students of art and culture, and carefully apply your learning to the art of church music.
* Develop along with your art. Make the best of the various styles your own.
* Teach your craft to young musicians, and inspire them to be the next generation of leaders.

Seeing all the young people here at the conference, I think the WELS is definitely passing the torch. May all Christian churches learn from their example.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best-Kept Secret in Church Music

Once again I am totally impressed by the quality, organization, and spirit of the WELS national worship conference. I have been to many such gatherings of other organizations, many of them fine in their own right. But every time I spend a week with the WELS, I am reminded of Proverbs 31:29 ("Many have done excellently, but you have surpassed them all!"). That such excellence proceeds from a church body of but 400,000 souls is truly noteworthy. Clearly, these saints love the Lord's song, and, as we prayed in chapel this AM, desire "to worship in excellent, noble, and lovely ways."

There is so much that merits these accolades that I will not be able to squeeze them all in here between morning chapel and the upcoming keynote address to be delivered by Rev. Aaron Christie. But one highlight that must be mentioned is the outstanding opening concert last night given by the Festival Choir and Orchestra. Volunteer groups gathered from WELS congregations around the country, these ensembles performed magnificently under the inspiring direction of Dr. Kermit Moldernhauer and Katherine Tiefel. Especially memorable moments included a beautiful setting of "When You Pass Through the Waters" (Is. 43:1-3) by Paul D. Weber (published by Morning Star Music), Evelyen R. Larter's arrangement of "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel (Augsburg Fortress), Mendelssohn's "There Shall a Star", the Crucifixus from Bach's B Minor Mass, and Manz' "Even So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come." Liturgy Solutions composers Kevin Hildebrand and Jeffrey Blersch also had works performed: Kevin's setting of Jaroslav Vajda's incredibly moving text, "In Hopelessness and Near Despair," and Jeff's concertato on "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (CPH). Both of these works were excellently performed, as was John Rutter's Psalm 146. Above all, this reviewer was particularly moved by Brad Holmes "Star in the East". This should not surprise my friends who know my love for Sacred Harp music! :)

More to come. It is now time for the keynote address, "Passing the Torch." The hymn festival last night was loosely themed on "passing the joy of our Lutheran heritage to the next generation." It'll be good to discuss this, and we need strategies and motivation for training up all those who are new in the faith in the Lord's song - whether young or old. But it'll be great after discussing this to get back to enacting it, both here at this conference and back home in our congregations. And with 1000+ participants here at this conference, there will be a lot of places after this conference where the Lord's song will be sung with greater nobility, excellence, beauty, and joy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


It is a great day here in St. Peter, Minnesota, as musicians and pastors are gathering for the triennial WELS National Music Conference. Phillip Magness and Stephen Johnson are both here to make presentations, and also have set up a display booth in the vendor's area. We are so happy to be here, as the Commission on Worship for the WELS always does such a fantastic job.

If you are here, come by, say hello, and sign up for a free Liturgy Solutions download of your choice!