"There are two sides to every story" is a truism that allows people to ignore the truth. For while it is indeed true that people in conflict share the details most sympathetic to their cause, and so we should listen to "both sides", the implication is not true that "the truth lies somewhere in the middle." In this post-modern age, with people being taught that truth is relative, and so is supposedly constantly shaped by "perspectives" from different speakers and observers, the old-time wisdom that "there are two sides" has now become particularly useful to liars. We see this in politics, in our families, in the workplace, and even in our churches. It is useful to the them because people hearing the conflict between the true story and the false story just throw up their hands (often in frustration, to be sure) and avoid "getting involved", saying things like, "both parties are the same", "they just need to get along", and "well, we're all sinners." And so people choose to believe what they want to believe, since the truth is just somewhere "out there", somewhere "in the middle." I've done this myself. It's hard not to. Even trusted source authorities such as teachers and even pastors will lie and deceive. May God grant us wisdom to discern whom to trust in our lives. And may we always be thankful that, even amidst the noise of lying humanity, we have the gift of pure, unvarnished truth readily available to us in God's Word. May its melodious sound resonate in our hearts.
Rev. Larry Peters, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, and author of one of our favorite blogs, had some thoughts about one of our favorite topics and graciously agreed to let us repost his article here:
I recently read an article on sacred music and how the music of the Church may be legitimately "modernized" and how it cannot be so "modernized." We generally spend much of a discussion like this talking about either text or sound, but this article brought up the issue of rhythm. Now let me first admit that I am rhythm impaired and so can clap my hands, do hand motions, dance, or conduct only with great difficulty. I don't know whom to blame for this (well, yes I do, my parents and probably sin) and believe this to be a genetic handicap or disability. So it is with some fear that I venture into a subject which I can address only theoretically. The rhythm of the music is united with the natural rhythm of the given sacred text, either through assuming the textual rhythm as its own, or by engaging in a gentle interplay with it. Strong metrical or rhythmic effects that might overshadow the meaning of the text are to be avoided. Perhaps one of the significant things lost in the discussion of contemporary vs traditional music in the Church is the issue of rhythm. That which drives modern music is, in large measure, its rhythmic signature. Who has not sat at an intersection while the speakers of another vehicle punch out the beat to a song to which you did not plan on listening? From rap to pop, the beat, the rhythm, is what moves the music. Sure words count and so does the overall "sound" but rhythm is the primary factor in its success. Not so for the music of the Church. For the Church, text is always primary. When the music overwhelms or distracts from the text, the musical form is itself the problem. This is often a problem with hymnody. The successful hymn is one in which the text and tune work together in a seamless pattern -- both, as it were, speaking the same language and message. The least successful hymns are those which require a choice -- text or tune -- because they do not go together. One of the problems in hymnwriting (both lyrics and music) is the difficulty in keeping the text and tune married, stanza upon stanza. This is, then, the successful character of chant, specifically Gregorian Chant. It it the text that drives the music and not the other way around. There are wonderful tunes that I dearly love but they do not serve the text well and the hymn is disappointing to sing. There are also texts that conflict with the melody in such way that singing them is like swimming against the current. Congregations that do not sing these hymns are probably not able to say why they do not like to sing them but they know the difference between one of the profound unions of text and tune and one that is a shotgun wedding. Modern music uses rhythm more effectively than almost any other musical element and it is for this reason that modern music is less effect as a common language or song in worship than the classic form of hymnody. It works as spectator music to listen to or as entertainment but it does not work nearly so well as the common song of the gathered assembly. The form itself actually detracts from congregational song. Sure, you get people humming along or singing under their breath. This is not the same as congregational song in which many voices become united sound, united so that every voice speaks as one. I think that this is a far greater issue than those who frame the debate as high culture vs low (or popular) culture and it also rescues us from the prison of likes and dislikes. One more interesting tidbit from the article: The human voice is always the primary instrument, and often the only instrument. Being an integral part of man, rather than his exterior creation, the voice has a unique capacity for intimate expression of the depth and breadth of human feeling and experience. It is equally accessible to all people and all cultures. When the organ or other instruments are used, it is for the purpose of supporting or enhancing, rather than dominating or supplanting, the voice. This is another issue but not one unrelated to this issue. When the music makes it seem like the voice is secondary or peripheral to the song, we have problems with this music in service to the liturgy. Of course, this is an issue for voices and not a vocal track -- congregational song (chant and hymn) being primary to the criteria of effective and successful church music.
Folks who generally stick to the rubrics when planning worship are oftentimes thought of as "inflexible" in their approach. The spirit of the age highly values spontaneity and innovation - believing such things to be markers of sincerity, authenticity, and even creativity - and so following a traditional liturgy is seen by many as an impediment to genuine worship. To be sure, an approach that does everything "by the book" can definitely be uncreative and even careless. Yet worship that is "free" from liturgical constraints is not necessarily more creative nor does it really bring with it more variety. More often than not, "contemporary" or "low church" or "evangelical" services follow an unwritten order and a musical ethos than is much more rigid than one finds in most "liturgical" parishes.
Why is this so? Why is there no real correlation between "flexibility" and whether a service is "traditional" or "contemporary". I think it is because when you get right down to it, everyone has to have a liturgy - whether they admit it or not. If you are going to baptize, praise, preach, pray, commune, and bless, you have to have some way of doing these things. And, at the end of the day, there are only so many different ways you can go about it, because there are only so many cards in the deck, and some of the potential ways of laying out those cards just don't make sense. You can't start the service with the benediction and it makes little sense to have the readings after the sermon. So whether one likes it or not, there are certain things that everyone does in a given tradition, and then only so many different ways of ordering them. And whether you order them according to your denominational hymnal or do things in a more parochial way, everyone falls into a basic pattern which their congregation settles into as the regular "dance" of Sunday morning worship.
This point was really brought home to me a few years ago when I was teaching a class on worship in Peoria. As I was talking about the options provided for in the Divine Service and how certain choices are desirable at different parts of the church year, a man raised his hand to comment that he was a convert to Lutheranism and really appreciated the variety in our liturgical services. He went on to say, "I was raised Free Methodist and we heard all the time about how free we were and how the liturgical churches were stuck in their rituals - but our pastor pretty much started and ended church the same way every Sunday and we had no church year except observing Christmas and Easter Sunday. It was very predictable - and really rather boring. I much prefer the variety Lutherans have. It makes church much more interesting."
Of course, there are many liturgical Lutheran churches who don't have much variety. Perhaps they sing the same setting of the liturgy every Sunday. Perhaps they limit themselves to 50 hymns all generally of the same style and all played the same way. And certainly there are "non-liturgical" churches that have much more variety than where this gentleman was raised. However, this all just helps set up the point that I'd like to make: flexibility and creativity in the liturgy depend not so much on your order of service or how much you use a hymnal, but rather your ability to take your congregation's basic "Sunday morning dance" and build on it. The basic steps always going in the same direction is going to be boring, but, whatever your routine, adding dips and breaks and turns and moving around the floor makes for an exciting and uplifting dance - whether your worship is like a waltz, a tango, or the Cottoneyed Joe.
I'd like to close with an example. Last Sunday we had the Feast of Pentecost. In keeping with the pattern of our congregation's worship, which is basically to follow the orders found in our synodical hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, we had the following "dips and turns" along the way:
*We divided the hymn, "O Holy Spirit, Enter In", singing stanza 1 as an Entrance Hymn and stanzas 2, 3 as a Closing Hymn. This was because the text of stanza 1 is invocatory whereas the other two stanzas petition the Lord to sustain us with His Spirit as we go out into the world to glorify Him in our vocations.
*We sang a Russian Orthodox Kyrie, a cappella, in lieu of the Kyrie used in the order of service we followed (Divine Service II). This was sung a cappella.
*We sang the Puerto Rican hymn, "Alabaré" as the Hymn of Praise, rather than one of the Gloria or standard Dignes Es ("Worthy is Christ"/"This is the Feast") that is the hymnal's default. And again, we used alternative accompaniment rather than organ: piano, brass, maracas, calves, congas.
*In place of the Psalm, we sang the ancient Pentecost chant, "Veni Creator Spiritus" (in English), with the choir alternating verses with the congregation. The accompaniment was aleatoric "bell effects" played on the grand piano.
*Rather than the congregation singing the ordinary Verse before the Gospel, the choir sang a beautiful setting composed by Dawn Sonntag. (Yes, I couldn't help but add a little plug! )
*For the communion liturgy itself, the pastors used the options for Pentecost provided for in the Altar Book, further accenting the theme of the day in creative ways.
*The post-communion Prayer of Thanksgiving was from CPH'S Creative Worship. Sure, that resources is often misused by simply doing the sample service in toto each week without regard to a congregation's pattern and practice, but that doesn't mean that the resource can't be a great help. It's sort of like liturgical alcohol. Just drink responsibly!
*Finally, the attendant music chosen for the services throughout the weekend was quite varied: from John Ylvisaker's "Spirit" on Saturday night with guitar & keyboard bass to a neo-traditional hymn anthem with flute sung by the choir to the choir leading the congregation in singing the Argentine classic, "Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven" with brass & full percussion (guiro, congas, maracas, calves, tambourine.)
We did deploy a few more musicians last Sunday than on average - but not much more. It was Memorial Day weekend after all! But most of what was done could have been done anyway. We actually use this much variety most every Sunday, whether we have a choir or not. And yet the congregation stays within a comfort zone, because the basic dance of our pattern of worship remains unchanged.
The Lutheran liturgy is rich in substance and solid in its construction. It provides a great foundation for worship that provides for significant variety in texts and can be accommodated by all sorts of music. There is no reason to abandon Lutheran liturgical practice in search of creativity, authenticity, or relevancy. It all really depends not so much on what you do, but how you do it. Indeed, the depth and scope of the liturgy actually allows for more flexibility than the typical pattern of most "contemporary worship services."
May the leaders of the Lord's song take advantage of the full flexibility provided for in the liturgy, that our worship may never be boring, and that all who are gathered may gain interest in it.
This post is not just for the organist - but for the pastors and worship committees who work together with them in planning the Divine Service. As you may have noticed, we're moving toward more bite-sized "helpful hints" posts here at Fine Tuning. We hope the ideas we are sharing will be "solutions" for you in your parish.
The title gets right to the issue: Do we want to introduce a hymn with a hymn prelude or intone the hymn with a simple introduction? This question often comes up with worship planners, especially when length of service is discussed. Too often the service suffers because the decision is made to go either one way or the other. In other words, some organists are told to play simple, short intonations for all hymns so that worship length can be cut down or organists are given free reign and then many of us musicians decide that every hymn needs 3-4 minutes of our music to set it up - potentially adding about 10 minutes to a service.
While each liturgy needs to be considered in its own context, there are some simple guidelines we'd like to offer that will help you incorporate meaningful organ repertoire into the hymnody of the service while avoiding adding tedious delays to the liturgy:
1 - If the people are standing, it is usually best to play an intonation. If the congregation is getting ready for a procession after announcements or Confession/Absolution, a short prelude or longer intonation can work very well, as the people will need more time to get their hymnal & bulletin prepared and are in a preparatory mood themselves, but the general rule prevails. Folks don't want to stand for 3 minutes before they get a chance to sing.
2 - If the people are participating in a communal or ritual action, such as receiving the Lord's Supper, then an organ prelude doesn't add time to the service. However, care must be taken not to play repertoire too far afield from the tempo and tone of the tune being introduced, lest the assembly not understand that the next hymn is being introduced. More varied repertoire can be used in place of a hymn stanza if so noted in the bulletin. This maintains clarity and also can add special meaning, as a "hymn prelude" is employed to "paint the text" of a particular stanza by matching the composition with the most appropriate words. This practice also aids worshippers in finding their place in the hymn upon returning from the Lord's Supper. (i.e. if the organ is playing "stanza 4", then one knows stanza 5 is next. This can be particularly helpful to people coming back to their pews in parishes where the singing during communion is not strong enough for one to readily ascertain which stanza is being sung.)
3 - The Hymn of the Day is the chief hymn of each Divine Service and thus deserves the highest level of musical attention. This hymn amplifies the readings for the day and is directly connected to the sermon. The people are seated for this hymn - a position for meditation - and so are prepared for listening. Along with the practice of assigning stanzas to choirs or soloists, using instrumentalists or handbells to accent or adorn various stanzas, the organ has its best opportunity here to help the assembly interpret the text. While certainly a four-minute prelude is not called for each week, this is the best time for the organ to make use of the art of music in service of the Gospel. Preservice music is heard by some, but people are gathering and often talking. Voluntaries are appreciated by more, but the plate is being passed and folks are often distracted by their kids during this "break in the action" between the Service of the Word and the Liturgy of the Lord's Supper. And though we love our toccatas, only a handful stick around to hear the postlude. So the Hymn of the Day remains as the organist's best opportunity to inspire and encourage the congregation.
Finally, keep in mind the purpose of the introduction. The hymn introduction - whether a prelude or intonation - should clearly announce the tune, establish the key, set the tempo, and be in the character of the text to be sung. There are many compositions of wonderful hymn-based music than can and should be played in the service but are not the best choices for hymn introductions. They can better be used as preservice music, text-painting stanzas for solo organ, voluntaries (music during the receiving of tithes and offerings), or postludes. What is played before the congregation sings, however, should above all else always prepare them to sing.
And the more your congregation sings the hymns, the more they will appreciate the organ playing based upon these hymns throughout the service! ;)
Key to nurturing the liturgy in any parish is teaching the next generation the Lord's song. This brings in not only the art of music, but the art of teaching as well. As part of our consulting work, we share "solutions" that work with choir directors seeking to hone their craft. Here's a report back from Emily Woock, Director of Music Ministries at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Elmhurst, Illinois. She's a friend of ours who would like to share the great success she had with one of our ideas:
I was recently introduced to "sticker day" when Cantor Phillip Magness graciously agreed to let me observe one of his choir rehearsals so I could get ideas for my own children's choir. I watched as he placed stickers on the foreheads of his choristers as they modeled correct posture, answered questions correctly, or anything else that warranted a sticker. Watching this I soon realized that these stickers were not simply just an extrinsic reward, nor were they used as some desperate attempt to get results. Rather, the stickers served as visible affirmation of behavior and hard work that was expected at every rehearsal. Who doesn't need affirmation now and then? We all do.
Excited about this idea, I resolved to try it with my own young choir, but decided to save it for later in the year once we had established expectations and the normal rehearsal routine. So last week while we were doing warm ups, I casually explained that today was "sticker day" and the basic principles- that they could earn stickers for various tasks today, and those stickers would be put on their forehead or hand, (not to be played with during rehearsal, of course) and that everyone might not get the same number of stickers and that was OK. Right after warm ups I noticed that only one of my kids was sitting tall, feet on the floor, music held correctly, and ready to go. Ordinarily I would have simply made everyone stand, but today I walked over, said "look at this wonderful posture", and planted a sticker in the center of her forehead. Immediately everyone else had correct posture. I never gave out another sticker for good posture. I didn't need to. That one little sticker was all it took! Their posture was fantastic for the entire hour. As I continued to give stickers throughout the rehearsal for various things, I found that even my very young and usually shy choristers were mustering up the courage to raise their hands to answer questions. The hope of a little sticker was just enough encouragement to coax them further out of their shells. It was wonderful to watch. I was quite pleased when rehearsal ended, both in how successful this had been, and how excited the children were.
The best and quite unexpected surprise, though, came when the children were picked up. As I sent them out of the room with stickers peppering their foreheads, I overheard even my junior high kids excitedly explaining to their parents why they had stickers on their foreheads. They not only explained the concept of sticker day, but in many instances told their parents exactly what they had done to earn eachsticker. So not only did these little stickers result in a fabulous rehearsal, but they helped further educate the parents about all that we do in choir! We won't have "sticker day" for every rehearsal, but I will certainly be using this idea more often in the future.
Thank you, Emmy, for taking time to share your experience with our readers. We look forward to sharing more "solutions" with you in the future!
Most of the hymns in a congregation's repertoire are sung a few times a year. That's the way it should be, I think, especially in an age when most folks don't read music and only hear our hymn tunes when they come to church. But there are some hymns that most every congregation sings well that they only sing once a year - such as "For All the Saints" every All Saints' Day. Oh, sure, it is sung at funerals, too, so some folks get an extra chance to sing it now and then, but it is basically a once-a-year event. Another hymn like this is "On Jordan's Bank", which most Lutherans sing every Second Sunday in Advent. That one goes pretty well, too.
This past Sunday we sang the "every Third Sunday of Easter" standard, "With High Delight Let Us Unite". This one doesn't soar quite as well with the assembly, but our congregation has learned to sing it. And I think they are enjoying it as much now as the choir, as it is a wonderful hymn. So it's a keeper. And this Sunday we'll sing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is", another once-a-year favorite. I bring this up so we can consider both the wisdom and the limitations of the "Hymn of the Day". Sometimes it really works, and a congregation's worship is strengthened with traditions like singing "My Song Is Love Unknown" each year on the 5th Sunday in Lent. And sometimes the "hymn of the day" that works is not necessarily the appointed one. At Bethany, for example, we have really embraced "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" for Palm/Passion Sunday. So it has become a sort of parochially-appointed Hymn of the Day, for lack of a better term. But other times, the appointed hymn just doesn't take root. "Christ is the World's Redeemer" for Seventh Sunday of Easter comes to mind. There are others.
What are your thoughts? Which hymns are strongly associated with particular days of the church year in your congregation? Which of the appointed ones, on the other hand, are not so successful. Are there any you've replaced and found greater success with? And are there some that work better at other times of the year or other parts of the service?
Whatever your thoughts, if you haven't considered these questions as part of your craft of worship planning, I humbly suggest your congregation would benefit from this kind of conversation about hymnody. I do hope to get a few responses - but I hope even more you'll talk to your people about how hymnody accompanies are walk with Christ through the Church Year.
Pardon a short commercial break from the usual discussion & commentary, but we are so encouraged by Nathan Beethe's recent experience with our music that we can't help but share. Please let us know if we might of similar assistance to you:
I am an LCMS cantor and I was looking for a setting of the proper Verse for Pentecost to use with my adult choir. So I contacted Liturgy Solutions. Phillip Magness recommended Dawn Sonntag's setting of that Verse as one that his choir loved to sing, so I decided to give it a try at rehearsal that evening. The first time through my choir sang it well and liked it right away. I am really glad I took Phillip's suggestion, as I think this piece will become a staple for my choir. Thanks to Liturgy Solutions for providing quality, accessible music that is easily downloadable for a reasonable price. I will definitely be using them again! Nathan Beethe Director of Parish Music Grace Lutheran Church Little Rock, Arkansas
A choir member at another congregation was recently sharing with me news about her choir, upon learning that I am a Cantor. As such conversations often go, the exchange of experiences turned to numbers: how many are in each choir, how many in each section, etc. It was observed that, as expected, the numbers go down after Easter Sunday, whereupon she said something that stuck in my mind: "Even though we're done on Mothers' Day. We're always done on Mothers' Day."
Now, I am speculating here, but speculating based on experience - my own and also experiences my colleagues have shared with me. I suspect that Mothers' Day was chosen once upon a time as the "last day to sing" because the second Sunday in May seemed like a compromise between stopping choir at Easter and asking choir members to sing at the end of the school year and into the beginning of summer. I certainly have done this with my youngest children's choir, though this group now comes back each year for Ascension.
Which brings me to my question for the day - and the point I'd like to make. Yes, we are going to lose choir members after Easter. But this does not mean we should let the world drive the church's calendar. Over time, I have learned that if I schedule my adult choir through Trinity Sunday each year, more and more of them stay for the whole year. Yes, our school choirs have to be scheduled around the school year. So we do need to make adjustments. But even if half the singers depart, necessitating easier music, the visible and audible continuation of the choir through the Great 50 Days of Easter and at the great feasts of Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday will teach and encourage your singers and, more importantly, your parish.
We'd like to hand the platform over to Cheryl Magness, who has some excellent observations on authenticity in music - something we're very big on here at Liturgy Solutions, as you know. We've all run into this growing attitude that music is commodity to be consumed, and that it is value-neutral. Cheryl does an excellent job of reminding us of the value of real people making real music:
Recently my friend Susan wrote a blog post called "Real Music" in which she highlighted one of the things that sets live music apart from recorded music: with live music you can hear the sounds of the music being made--things like the singer's breaths or the depressing of the organ or piano pedals or the guitarist's fingers sliding up and down the strings. She wrote of these things not as distractions but as things she is happy to hear because they are representative of real music being made by real people.
As someone who is increasingly distressed at the ways recorded music is replacing live music in our world I greatly appreciated her post. Many people don't see a difference between a recording and a living, breathing performance. A few days ago I saw a pastor friend on Facebook touting a product called "The Virtual Organist." His post began, "No organist? No problem." As someone who thinks it is quite possible to have reverent, beautiful worship without any organ or even without a musician, part of me responds positively to that sentence. At the same time, I bristle at the claim that a human musician can be replaced by a digital one with nothing lost. I think in fact that much is lost. And I think it is a huge problem that it is getting harder and harder to find musicians of a certain skill level. It reflects a troubling trend in our society, one that more and more views music as something not that people do but as something that they merely receive.
This morning I saw this comic strip in my blog reader:
The issue is different, but I think it demonstrates a similar lack of appreciation of many for what goes into--and comes out of--live music. Music is music, right? So there is no difference between a real, live organist and a recorded one. Hey, that recording will probably be more accurate and rhythmically clean than an imperfect, human musician. Yet I would far and away rather attend a service accompanied by my friend of limited ability who is working hard to fill in the gap created at her church by an organist's failing health than to attend a service accompanied by "The Virtual Organist." The latter might be clean and neat, but the former is authentic. Real. Honest. Alive.
I am currently playing in a pit orchestra for a local junior high's production of Bye, Bye, Birdie. I have immense respect for this school and its music and administrative staff for appreciating the difference between a live pit orchestra and a recording and for being willing to pay for the former. We will not be as clean as the recording will be. But each performance will be unique, something that is a reflection of a particular combination of musicians, performers, and listeners at a specific point in time. The pit will be able to adjust to the performance in a way that a track cannot. And the young people in the production will get something that more accurately reflects the give and take that happens in a real musical/theatrical event. It is something that can't be bottled, with a worth that can't be measured.
I also have great respect for schools in my area that annually hire live accompanists (like me) for music contests. A friend and colleague of mine recently shared the experience of adjudicating a school contest in another district. All of the students were accompanied by "Smart Music" tracks. My friend was told to go easy on his judging of the students because, after all, they had never had the benefit of playing with a live accompanist. As with virtual organ programs, I can appreciate some of the practical applications of recorded music. But I grieve what is being lost when people begin to look to it as a replacement for live music. "No accompanist? No problem." I'm sorry, but it is a problem. The students are missing out on the enormous benefits of working with an experienced accompanist, getting additional musical coaching, and collaborating to achieve a harmonious and unified ensemble. That cannot be replaced by an accompaniment track.
But again, most people don't seem to get this. Except for the American idols who command millions of fans and dollars, musicians seem to be getting less and less respect. I recently heard a pastor argue for compensating organists hourly along the lines of secretaries. So if one plays for a service, and the service is an hour long, one should get paid about the same as a secretary would get paid for an hour of his or her time. I don't mean to disrespect secretaries, but the time and study that goes into developing the musical skills necessary to accompany a worship service, not to mention the time that goes into practicing for that specific service, is beyond that required to learn to be a secretary. One can decide as an adult to be a secretary and can realistically set about acquiring the skills in a reasonable period of time. It is much harder in adulthood to take up music if you have never, ever studied it before. But I can see how someone who thinks "music's music" might not get that.