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

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Some things never change - like Cantors' struggles to nurture the Lord's song in this strange land. Here's a short article from a 1904 Lutheran Observer:

"Music In the Sunday School" by H. W. Siegrist (of Lebanon, PA)

It should be a well-known fact that our Church is rich in its musical history. From the time of Luther down to the present day, composers have not been wanting, and it should be equally well known that the productions of the best composers of all other denominations are ever at our disposal. It is, however, a well-known but lamentable fact, that a large proportion of our churches have failed to avail themselves of their magnificent opportunities. For instance, in how many of our infant schools are the little ones taught anything but the most senseless and unmusical ditties, which pervert their taste for the fine hymns of the Church - hymns written especially for children, and with the distinct purpose of fostering in their minds and hearts a desire and love for Christ, through the beautiful in poetry and music. This method the children find carried on when they reach the intermediate and more advanced grades, until their idea of Sunday-school music is utterly perverted and abnormal. Many of these same Sunday-schools exercise the most unusual, and sometimes unaccountable, vigilance in selected books for their libraries, yet when it comes to the selection of hymns and hymnals, a decidedly mediocre selection will be agreed upon. The care taken in regard to the former is commendable, but why should it not be taken, also, in regard to the latter?

From many churches comes up the cry, "We have such poor congregational singing, and we cannot account for it!" It can, unquestionably, be traced back to the infant and intermediate departments of the Sunday-School, where, if proper care had been taken to teach the children to sing the hymns of the Church they would have learned to know and love them, and they would now sing heartily in the services of the Church as a matter of course. This is not a theory, but the result of an experience of more than twenty years in choir and Sunday-school work in the Lutheran Church.

This need finds expression, too, in the music of the services published by the different Boards of Church for their special Sunday-school exercises. We are furnished services several times a year, the music of which, generally, is of the most ordinary character, and in schools where proper discretion is used, they are as often rejected. If the General Synod will not furnish a hymnal of standard quality for its Sunday-schools, and the Church Boards, services of the same grade, no mere matter of sentiment should stand in the way of securing hymns and services from other sources. We owe it to our children, to our Church and to our God - who, in all reverence I cannot believe is well pleased with some uncertain words of praise sung to "rag time" tunes...

My plea is for the very best possible hymns for the children. Nothing can be too good for them. It is our duty to inculcate a love for the beautiful in church music along with the Christian training in the development of the minds and characters of our youth.

Dr. Waldo Seldon Pratt, Professor of Music and Hymnology at Hartford Theological Seminary, in his "Musical Ministries in the Church" says: "Educational effort should be brought to bear where it will do the most good. It surely should not be confined simply to the older people. Children and young people have quick appreciation and few prejudices. Other things being equal, the Sunday-school is generally the most promising place to work out progressive hymnodic ideas, especially on the musical side. The full sense of some hymns will be caught only vaguely, no doubt, but many of the richest tunes are more readily learned by young people than adults. In the long run, the general grade of a church's hymn-singing will be found to be fixed by the Sunday-school. Hence here there should be special care taken. Here at least we cannot afford to have less than the best available book or less than the best available musical leadership. Here the Pastor and the Superintendent and the Teachers have a distinct opportunity to build for the future, hymnodically as in other ways."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Singing is the Main Thing

My daughters attend a small parochial school. On the first Friday of every month they have a Mass. Today, one of my younger daughter's class "hosted" the Mass. This means the the kiddies do some readings and help with the prayers, and then hold a little reception in their classroom for the parents who attend. You all are probably familiar with this practice.

The hymnody was typical Catholic fare. "Here I Am Lord," "One Bread, One Body," "Lord of the Dance." This post is not going to critique these pieces. The purpose of my post here is to note the very strong singing in the Mass -- by ALL those in attendance -- students and parents alike. Very strong singing. But here's the catch. The singing was done a cappella! No instrumental accompaniment (unless you count the kid playing melody only on a keyboard).

Now, I found this rather notable. Roman Catholic congregations are not exactly renowned for their singing in the first place, but these folks really did sing, and without instruments to boot. I looked around and noticed the participation of the adults with whom I was sitting. Parents of students and many rather elderly people who just decided to attend this Mass. There was a small group of students in the back of the church that were taught the songs and sang as a sort of "choir" as well.

In previous years, there was a teacher who played the guitar for these Masses. He is no longer at this school. So, here are my observations:

1. After the guitar playing teacher left, I was told by the singer who prepares the choir that the singing was at first a little tentative, but soon improved.

2. This shows that congregations can indeed adapt to a cappella singing, but it requires some getting used to and some stronger, more prepared singers guiding them.

3. This shows that instrumental accompaniment, where very pleasant and often glorious, is by no means a necessity and we should not elevate the use of any instrument in the service (e.g. the organ)as utterly indispensable.

4. Do we really need electronic resources (without a real live person playing) to "help" the congregational singing? Or can we rely on our own live flesh and blood parishioners to guide the singing for the congregation by simply singing themselves?

5. Some congregations may have to sing without any instruments, if they do not have anyone to play them. Or they may have to use a flute/trumpet/violin to play the melody, much like the student who plunked it out on the piano this morning. But, if our congregations can do it the way this little Catholic school did, with the lovely voices of the whole congregation singing so nicely, I'd consider it a great success.

The Lutheran Church has always been known as the singing church. We should not shirk in our attempts to continue to be just that even when the instruments we tend to treasure are not available to us. Just sing. That is the main thing!