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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Concio et Cantio

These two Latin words refer to the Divine Service activities of preaching and singing respectively. In Dr. Daniel Zager’s presentation today at the WELS conference on worship, he outlined how specifically Kantor Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) used these exact words to refer to the tight connection, as Luther called it, between preaching and congregational singing. Zager is a musicologist at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, so his presentation had a strong historical element. He is able to masterfully discuss history and practice in a way uncommon to most presenters - concise, yet thorough, analytical, yet accessible.

The entire presentation held my interest, but given the musings on contemporary worship in the LCMS and evidently the WELS, I was interested in how he dealt with the musical issues as they touch parish practice. I’ll hit on a couple things in this post.

First, the overarching question is how should the music function in divine worship. Music may evoke several different responses from people as it unfolds in worship, but the bedrock question of how it ought to function needs to be clear. If we are going to be Lutheran in our worship identity, we ought to start with how Luther and the early Lutherans dealt with the subject. For Luther, singing was an extension of preaching. It was the way people heard the message of the preaching anew – through song. The preaching was often tied to the Gospel and so the music was often tied to the same. Regardless, music was a partner in the ministry of the Word. This practice was very much in play for Praetorius and also for the later composer J.S. Bach, who wrote cantatas mirroring the Gospel readings for the day.

When we think of music in our worship today, is this our understanding? Do we really believe that music serves a unique place to help people reflect upon the subject of the preaching. Do we use music to teach them different facets of what they hear read and preached? Often the answer is no. We frequently are sidelined by the culture of our congregations, thinking that they cannot handle such “lofty” things. In doing so, we fail to give them the opportunity to contend with the subject. We short circuit the process before it even has begun. Is it naïve for us to think that we can actually teach our congregations to have this uniquely Lutheran outlook concerning their singing? As difficult as congregations can be, I think, even so, the answer is, not only is it not naïve, but it is a mandate, and spiritual treasure awaits the congregations who can meet the challenge.

The job of the pastor and church musician is to teach their congregations this very thing. They are to gently instruct people that their singing is part of learning Holy Scripture and even more, part of their receiving the gifts of Christ. When they come to church, they should not look for a pep-rally. Nor should they have a bad attitude when a hymn they do not prefer is sung. Congregations need to be guided into an understanding that what they receive in church is something completely other than what they receive on their radios, in their theaters, or on their favorite CDs. Music in the Divine Service is to point them to Jesus. Sometimes the hymns will be hard. Sometimes they will be easy. Sometimes they will be something the people like. Sometimes they will be something they do not like. They may have to learn something new, while singing other things that are very familiar.

One very difficult matter that keeps us from this understanding is the fact that almost everyone regards music in a one dimensional way. For most, it is entertainment, plain and simple. Entertaiment is the sole function of music in most people’s lives. In the church, our charge as pastors and musicians is to help our people leave the entertainment mentality behind the minute they walk into church. It is to help them focus on the question, “How will Christ show himself to me today in our singing?” It is to foster an attitude of unity of purpose so that our congregations are not divided along such artificial lines as musical preference. It is to cultivate a love for our rich hymn heritage amongst our people so that they learn about Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, the theology of the cross, the atonement, redemption and all the other gifts that Christ has lavished upon us.

Avoid the temptation to scratch the itch of a vocal minority who thinks that they cannot worship unless every last musical criteria they hold is met. This is to keep them in their entertainment mentality and to give a place to blatant consumerism in things spiritual. The Holy Spirit does not need us to “sell” the Gospel, and such an approach attempts to do just that. He is able to soften the hearts of people who have disdain for the message of our faithful Lutheran hymn poets, old and new who give us their perspective in their rich hymns. And yes, this is a disdain, not merely for the music, but for the message it contains as well as for the function and purpose of music in authentically Lutheran worship.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Very WEL Done!

I am at the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Conference on Worship hosted by their Commission on Worship. Bryan Gerlach and his team have put together a real extravaganza, food for the soul, ears and mind. There is much I could say about all the goings on here after a mere day and a half, but I’ll start with this morning.

There was a lovely Divine Service introducing all kinds of new music, hymnody, canticles and psalm settings that are found in their newly released Christian Worship Supplement. More on the Supplement in another post, but safe to say it is a lovely compilation of hymnody and liturgical music, old and new. As with every volume any synod releases, it will receive its share of critique, but as a volume of for worship it appears to be fit for the task.

Following the Divine Service we heard our first plenary address given by Rev. Jon F. Zabell, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran in Green Bay WI. Zabell’s address was nothing less than astounding. His talent as an orator could well be described as virtuostic, with an command over the subject matter that was natural, pastoral, extremely balanced and good natured. One could not help be drawn into his speech and captivated by his careful yet accessible analysis of the subject.

He basically discussed the formulation of hymnals in the WELS, but used it to address how the church grows in its understanding of why we worship the way we do. He referenced the highly pietistic and rationalistic bent within WELS from its earliest days in the U.S. and showed how those influences kept the church from true Lutheran orthodoxy in the hymns they sang. Pietism sang about the emotions of the faithful, while rationalism concentrated on singing about morality. So the hymnody was about how well we love Jesus and how to be a good neighbor. Not that either of those things should be ignored, but rather how they need to be informed by a pure and simple confession of faith in our worship – a confession that by its nature is doctrinal.

He illustrated this quite wonderfully by taking us back to Eden. Adam and Eve really only had one act of worship they were required to perform (other than just living their lives in the presence of God). That act was simple: “Do not eat of the tree.” By not eating of the tree, Adam and Eve were making their confession. “We believe God," was the confession they made. But Satan, as he always does, offered them another confession: that they might be like God. In eating of the tree, which was “good for food” and no doubt tasted good too, our first parents supplanted the objective “we believe God” for a subjective experience of being like God. Satan played the card that the end game in their worship was to feel good. And he still does so today.

In the WELS as well as in the LCMS we are toying with just how far to go in utilizing “contemporary” worship and “alternative” services. All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable, so says the scripture. What is behind our yearning to look into these things? Could it be a dissatisfaction with things old (like our post-reformation heritage hymnody of the 16th and 17th centuries)? Could it be a desire to spice up the service so it is more appealing? That it make people feel better in the worship setting? Could it be that we think we can assist the Holy Spirit in growing his church even when Augsburg says that he creates faith in the heart when and where it pleases him? Whatever reasons we are using to assess this matter, these do not seem to reflect the understanding of worship bequeathed to us by Luther as he took his cue from Holy Scripture.

Zabell discussed many things in his hour long presentation that I cannot begin to cover here. But one thing he did mention that hit home with me, was the need for the church to set itself apart as Lutheran worshipers – apart from the world, that is. We do not seek to entertain, or just touch the emotions as an end in itself, nor do we seek to aid the Holy Spirit who would otherwise be impotent without our efforts to spice up the service a little. No, we worship that we might receive Christ. That Word and Sacrament might be lifted up as Christ is present in them. We do this through the employment of the liturgy, hymns old and new, and songs by the choir, old and new. Music that fleshes out our confession, draws us to the work of our Savior and focuses us upon him. More later.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Prayer Book for Christians

Are we all back home and settled in yet? If so, what did you think about the conference? And would you help me share the conference with those who were unable to attend? Please post your comments. Let's start with the first plenary, Dr. Dean Wenthe's "The Psalter: A Prayer Book for Christians."

Dr. Wenthe, President of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, reminded us that psalms are not abstract, but "embedded in the great drama and narrative of the Bible." For us to read the psalms correctly, then, we must see them as "a complete narrative, and understand them as part of the Torah." This story leads us into sacred space (Eden, Mountains of the Lord), sacred time (feast days), and sacred persononel (priests, Levites), and sared media (altar, tabernacle, temple).

Using some classic artwork to illustrate his points, Wente then went through the "grand narrative" of Scripture, illustrating the unity of salvation history as "reunion and renewal" with God, as the art brought our Christ in the Old Testament, particularly with images of Moses an David as types of Christ. One lighthearted moment here was when he showed David dancing and praising before the Ark. He pointed out that the artist included David's wife evidently chastising him for his excess from the balcony, and joked that "she must have been LCMS!"

He also included some artistic depictions of New Testament scenes, to reinforce the connections between the testaments. He included Mary addressing Simeon, showing that Christ was "The glory of thy people Israel" and also Albrecht Dürer's famous "Jesus Among the Doctors," whom Wenthe called "the theological faculty of Jerusalem!" Christ is the fulfillment of all that unfolded in the First Testament, and the psalms are the prayer book of all who inherit the New Covenant in their baptisms.

Continuing with his theme that "The psalms resist abstraction," He went on to point out that if they are not sung and prayed out of an understanding of salvation history, they do not reach the heart, the mind, the soul. He suggested that we would be well-served today if we were to recover the language of our church fathers and view the psalms as the "living voice of Jesus". Viewing them in this way presents the gracious character of God, to be seen rightly, that we may behold the goodness and graciousness of God in the OT. This would be so helpful in our day and age, when so many view the OT has purely "Law."

Yes, he said,"the Gospel is everywhere in the OT, because God is everywhere in the OT." He comes to us in gracious means, just as His gracious presence came to His people via the Tabernacle. Did you know that there are 15 chapters on this? He appealed to the musicians of the church to remembe rthat the Glory of the Lord filled the temple for the goodness of the people - for their salvation. Even the preface to the Decalogue highlights this. THIS thinking about the psalms & the OT helps us see God through the proper hermeneutic of Law & Gospel - not Sovereignty of God. We are able then to see the Torah story as "breathtakingly good and beautiful." Such an understanding should underscore our approach as worship leaders to praying and singing the psalms.

Finally, Wenthe brought things even closer to home by pointing out that the psalms overturn the false teachings of the cosmology of the ancient world. Similarly, they overturns the false teachings of the modern university which sees the world merely as a grand accident, rather than as a wise and wonderful creation. Psalms "get God right" and so they help us to "get God right." They bring us into reality and help us to see things as they ARE.

What are your thoughts? Does your congregation understand the reality of the Psalms? Is it your custom to allow the Biblical reality of the Psalter to shape and inform your prayer and praise? May we always uphold the beautiful vision of God the Psalms reveal to us, that we may praise Him for His goodness, through the mighty and righteous deeds He has done for us through His Son.

Friday, July 25, 2008


What a great conference! I'll write several posts over the comings days so that you may catch up on the proceedings - and so that those who attended might share their comments as well.

For now, let me apologize for not being able to "live blog" as intended. Between service interreptions, an incredibly busy schedule, and sharing one lap top with my family, I just didn't have the opportunity to post. Lesson learned: if Fine Tuning is to successfully live-blog a future conference we'll need to: a - make sure we have a good internet setup in place, and b - have someone ready to journal the conference who isn't busy presenting, performing, rehearsing, and giving a plenary address!

For now, let me just do two short things. FIRST, thank you, David Johnson, for speaking to the assembly on Wednesday about the need to be quiet before services so as to respect their fellow worshipppes and also to respect the musicians who had prepared preservice music. Everyone was fine before the first service, but the chatter before the other services on Tuesday and before matins Wednesday AM was so loud, I was going to post about that. I was truly shocked that so many MUSICIANS would act that way - especially since I hear musicians complaining all the time about how congregations don't listen to their preservice music! I guess the best construction I can put on it is that everyone was just really enjoying seeing old friends and making new ones that we just got carried away. So, thank you, David, for gently reminding everyone of good churchly behavior - and for keeping me from writing a snarky little post! ;)

And, second, speaking of seeing old friends and making new ones, I really enjoyed the fellowship at the conference - in both meanings of the word. The fellowship we shared in worship was stellar, and a real blessing to those of us who lead worship each week, as it gave US a chance to "just go to church." But we were also blessed in the colloquial way - what Americans call 'fellowship' and what our confessions call the 'mutual conversation and consolation of the brethern.' It was great seeing old friends and making new ones. The Church is truly built up in this way through these conferences.

Hopefully, we will all be seeing each other again in three years. There were some inklings that future conferences will emphasize 'diversity' and embrace other 'styles' of worship. For many that I talked to at this conference, that would definitely not be something that would bring us together again in three years. We'll have to see the details on what all this means - and perhaps my fears are unfounded. But I do hope that the excelleng quality of these conferences will continue, and that I won't be missing all my friends three years from now.

In the meantime, thank you, Jon Vieker and David Johnson for putting on such a great conference. Thank you, Rachel Asburry, for all your hard work and for your faithful service. And thank you, Commission on Worship, for keeping this conference and its worship as a model for our congregations. May these conferences remain "The LCMS at its best!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Just returned after attending the opening Divine Service, listening to Dr. Wenthe's plenary address, attending choir practice, and restocking the Liturgy Solutions booth. It was simply a fabulous afternoon - for me and for my whole family - and I'll share more detail if this site generates interest. For now, though, let me just share with you today's Divine Service.

I almost titled this post, As It Should Be, because I was reminded of a comment made by a Columbian cellist at my alma matter one evening twenty years ago after listening to someone play Brahms exquisitely: "That was Brahms as it should be played." And today's Divine Service was "as it should be" at a conference like this: the LCMS at its best.

I'm tempted to get theological and muse about how the baptized are truly at "their best" when they are being washed and nourished by their Lord, but for now I'll just say that the LCMS is at its best when we worship according to our culture and heritage, embracing all the Lord's gifts with creativity and humility, and joyously be who we are. But more on that, later.

And today truly was the LCMS at its best. Kantor Janet Muth is to be especially commended for preparing the children's choir so well. They made a fabulous contribution to the service! Today being the Feast of Mary Magdalene, they added true Easter joy to our worship, especially with their vibrand and clear singing of Bach's "With Loudest Rejoicing". They also provided beautiful stanzas on the hymnody, singing stanzas on "For All the Faithful Women", "I Am Jesus' Little Lamb", "O Gracious Lord, I Firmly Am Believing", and "At the Lamb's High Feast" - many in special arrangements. They also provided the Verse, led the famous Victimae Paschli Sequence which was sung in place of the Hymn of the Day, and provided the Voluntary during the receiving of the offerings. That they were able to get all this together so well in less than a day is a testimony to the talents of Kantor Muth - and to the talents of the children themselves (including, I'd like to add, my lovely daughter, Caitlin!).

I was also impressed by the organist. I believe it was Paul Soulek, the director of music here at St. John's, whose sanctuary is our chapel and main meeting space for the conference. I also see David van Kampen played keyboards as well - so maybe they both played organ. Or maybe David was pianist for some of the preservice music. If anyone knows, fill me in! Anyway, the organ is a very nice instrument - a 1967 Schlicker - but it is especially nice when played be these young and capable and sensitive hands. I expect we will all be hearing much more from Paul - and David - in the future.

I would also like to compliment the instrumentalists, who added so much to the service. I saw LS composer and Concordia Nebraska professor Jeff Blersch conducting the ensemble, and want to commend him and Andrew Schultz for doing a great job coordinating that aspect of today's worship. The brass "kicked", as we musicians say, and the various winds and strings added meaningful touches to the service.

I also appreciated very much Dr. Wenthe's presentation: "The Psalms: A Prayer Book for Christians". I'll post more about that after Evening Prayer. To which I'm now headed!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


If you've made it to this blog, you've probably figured out that we're up to some new things at Liturgy Solutions! Thanks for visiting the site. We hope that our new products, our new options, and our new features will be helpful to you and beneficial to the church. But if you DIDN'T get here via the new website, coming to this blog via another route, please click on the Liturgy Solutions banner on the top of this page and check at our newly revamped site. You'll find that we've broken out our catalog of compositions from the old collections and are now making our pieces available individually. You'll also see that we are now offering consulting services and that our composers are accepting commissions should you need something specially composed or arranged. In addition to this blog, which we hope will prove a helpful forum for church musicians, you'll also see that we'll be providing a "Cantors' Tip Sheet" with our hymn recommendations throughout the year, along with some other ideas for worship.

While I'm introducing the new site, I'd like to thank our web designer, David Payne, for his work in getting us up with this new site in time for the LCMS Institute on Preaching and the Liturgy - a.k.a. "The LCMS National Worship Conference." He's a great guy - and a confessional Lutheran, too! His firm does great work, and we recommend them highly.

And now that the new site is up and "live" in time for the Institute, I not only wnat to welcome you to the new Liturgy Solutions, but also to Seward, as I will be "live blogging" the conference. The first couple of days will be pretty busy for me - and for my family - but I will do my best to share with you my experience and, hopefully, facilitate a discussion of the proceedings.

So welcome to our site, welcome to this new blog - and welcome to Seward!

Feel free to go ahead and post a comment and get the conversation going. And if you are here at the conference, please stop by the Liturgy Solutions exhibit and say hello. And - while the supply lasts - pick up a complimentary piece of music, of which you may make as many copies as you need for your parish. It's our way of celebrating three years of Liturgy Solutions!