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.

1 comment:

Orianna Laun said...

Thank you!
I remember one wise person saying that the people will not often walk out of church humming the sermon, but they will hum the hymns.