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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Letting It Happen

OK, so perhaps the examples I cited in the last post may have seemed like "straw men" - but then again, perhaps not. Sure most of us don't have to get our organ playing ideas approved by a committee and then explained to the congregation, but, believe it or not, in some parishes elders or worship committee time IS taken up with discussing whether or not the organist should be allowed to drop out on a stanza for a cappella singing. And while good spontaneity can and does happen in the liturgy, having an improvisation flow into the congregation's standing and singing the final refrain of a song takes planning and coordination between pastor & musician. So sometimes we think we should be able to do something w/o discussion, only to discover the opposite; other times things may appear to "just happen", but they are the result of discussion and planning.

So how are we to know when to run something through "the process", and when do we go with our inspiration? Truth be told, there are no "8 Simple Rules" on this one. Such judgments are more of an art than a science. But here are some guidelines:

1 - Does the innovation effect just you, or the pastor, or the whole assembly? People are more accepting of novelty that others do; more resistent to anything that would affect their accustomed pattern of worship.

2 - Does the innovation serve the text in an overt way, or is it more subltle? When people are surpirized by something obvious, they "get it" and think it is cool that it just "happened". If the innovation is more sublte, though, the people need some teaching lest you want them to think you are promoting change for the sake of change. (!)

3 - Will the innovation be done well? This may seem obvious, but sometimes it is not. Sure, the first time conga drums are played, they best be played well if there is to be no backlash, but do we always remember to similarly prepare things like the first time the children's choir chants a part of the liturgy, the first time handbells play a free ring on a doxological stanza, or the first time the acolytes do a Gospel procession? Ideally these things would always be well done, but, in my experience, I've seen too often that these good ideas are poorly implemeneted, and so an opportunity to promote an enriched liturgical life in a congregation is lost because people don't respond well to anything poorly planned or poorly executed. The children need to memorize that part of the liturgy, and thoroughly reheasrse doing it in the context of what comes right beforehand in the service. The bells need to know exactly how the director is going to get them in and out of the free ring, particularly how they are to dampen their bells at the end. And why can't district worship services ever seem to get a Gospel procession right? Because sufficient time is rarely put into doing such things well.

Over the next few posts, I'll share a few examples of how meaninful innovations were either successfully "sprung" or successful planned and prepared. Maybe you've got some stories to share too!


Elephantschild said...

I'm really looking forward to this series of posts.

Phillip Magness said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Jenny. Worship at Bethany looks very different from how it appeared in 1999, and I hope our story of liturgical renewal will be helpful.

Elephantschild said...

Will you post some "before" stories, too? Because now I'm curious!

Phillip said...


Unknown said...

Heh, sometimes "letting it happen" when it's an unwholesome change is beneficial, too. I was pressured one year into using the "LWML Sunday" hymn (in a normally TLH-liturgical congregation in MN). So I let it happen. The "hymn" was very soloistic and unfamiliar to the congregation. That was the last time I ever heard LWML Sunday mentioned in that congregation.