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

Friday, October 30, 2009


OK, I'm out of my sick bed - and am now in Schuyler, Nebraska playing for a Doxology conference. Thanks, Iggy, for starting off Round II of our discussion of "LSB After Three Years" with your nominations. I'll keep things going down with mine:

1 - Personal Favorite - By far my favorite new text in the hymnal is "All Christians Who Have Been Baptized" (LSB #596). Thank you, Jon Vieker, for translating this Gerhardt gem into English for us. And I think the pairing of this text with NUN FREUT EUCH is perfect. Historically, we sing this tune to tell the story of Christ with "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice"; here, we sing the story of our baptismal life in Christ.

2 - Most Beneficial for Your Congregation's Piety - I would also say the above, but let me add another one here, which I think has been especially helpful for the Gospel at Bethany: "O Gracious Lord, with Love Draw Near" (LSB #599). Yes this is a new tune, and I was envisioning "best new texts to old tunes" with these nominations, but this hymn has filled a need at Bethany more than perhaps any other next text: for years I've been looking for just the right hymn to sing before the Rite of Confirmation, and now, thanks LSB, we've got it!

3 - Hymn that Most Effectively Catechizes - "The Gift Christ Freely Gives" (LSB #602) does a wonderul job of teaching the congregation about the means of grace, nurturing in them a Lutheran liturgical piety.

4 - Best Fit for an Old Tune - Another hymn that catechizes well is my pick in this category, as it sings like it was written for it's tune: "Jesus Comes Today with Healing". I've not historically been a huge fan of this tune, as I generally like a little more rhythmic variety in a tune, but the rhyme and rhythm of this David Rogner translation (of a Heinrich Puchta hymn) really make this tune come alive. A great marriage of tune and text.

5 - Text that Helped You Use an Older Tune - As I mentioned before, here I would agree with Christina Roberts and nominate "Christ Sits at God's Right Hand".

6 - Congregational Favorite - Have the people in your parish embraced a new text to the point where they associate an old tune now primarily with a new LSB text? It's hard to know what new LSB text has been a hit with the folks. There was a lot more talk about the new music in HS98 when it came out. Parishioners at both congregations where I introduced HS98 (Trinity-Peoria and Bethany-Naperville) loved "The Tree of Life", "What Is This Bread?", and "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It", for example. They were all big hits. And there were others. So far with LSB I can only name one that is certainly on everyone's lips: "We Praise You and Acknowledge You". With LSB, we've mostly enjoyed having everything in one book in a most excellent layout. So I hope some Bethany members will help me out here and nominate their own favorites. For now, let me say that one possible candidate is "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen" (LSB #474). Folks always liked the tune, EARTH AND ALL STARS, but many didn't care for the text. Regardless of one's thoughts on "Earth and All Stars", I think all would agree that here we have a more liturgically useful text - and with this text I no longer get complaints about singing this tune!

OK - I put myself out there. Those are my choices (for now). Anyone else want to play? :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


As I mentioned in the last post, the need for LSB to unite LCMS congregations using different hymnals limited the number of new tunes in the book. Certainly as a musician I was more "jazzed" about Hymnal Supplement 98 (HS98) when it came out. So many new tunes! And the fact that the majority of those songs found acceptance into LSB demonstrates the high quality of music HS98 brought to the Missouri Synod.

And yet, as important as music is, I think LSB is making an even stronger contribution, because the LSB has brought so many good texts to our synod. And, of course, the texts ARE the hymns, and given that LSB is a generational hymnal, not a supplement, I think we should all celebrate the hymns that are serving the church so well in the LSB.

So, in the first post I focused on new hymns with new tunes. Now lets focus on the new hymns that are sung to familiar (or, at least, pre-existing tunes). What would you nominate in the following categories?

1 - Personal Favorite

2 - Most Beneficial for Your Congregation's Piety

3 - Hymn that Most Effectively Catechizes

4 - Best Fit for an Old Tune

5 - Text that Helped You Use an Older Tune - (here I would concure with Christina, and nominate "Christ Sits at God's Right Hand". Now we really sing YIGDAL at Bethany. "The God of Abraham Praise" is a FINE hymn, but is less useful liturgically.)

6 - Congregational Favorite - Have the people in your parish embraced a new text to the point where they associate an old tune now primarily with a new LSB text?

I'm at home sick today, so I'm going to ask our readers to kick off this discussion. (I promise I'll make my nominations as we go along...)

p.s. May all our friends have a wonderful Lutheran celebration this Reformation Sunday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After Three Years - What Do You Think?

Many of us have now been working with Lutheran Service Book (LSB) for a full three years. So there has now been some chatter on the net about the liturgies and how they are wearing. From the moderate sampling of opinion I've read and heard, it seems that initial excitement about the Service of Prayer and Preaching has waned, with many folks returning to Vespers for mid-week catechetical services (the service seems to be working better for school chapel services). On the other hand, many congregations that only used one setting of the Divine Service from a previous hymnal are now reporting that their folks are using two, three, or all five settings in LSB. Indeed, one comment consistently heard is a desire for a "sixth setting". So, Liturgy Solutions will soon be providing one option for those who would like another setting.

But what about the hymnody? With so much of the successful hymnody from Hymnal Supplement 98 (HS98) included in LSB, there were fewer genuinely hymns that were genuinely "new" to the LCMS provided in this book. Though certainly congregations that had been exclusively using The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) have many new songs to sing, congregations that used Lutheran Worship (LW) or that were "LW/HS98" did not get the usual full plate of fresh hymnody one expects in a generational hymnal. To be sure, the need to bring "LW" and "TLH" congregations back together under one hymnal necessitated this, but it did make LSB less exciting for many churches.

Nonetheless, there are a good number of entirely new hymns added to the LCMS hymn corpus with LSB. While we are still a couple of years away from knowing what the real "hits" will be - such as "Thy Strong Word" and "Lift High the Cross" and "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth" proved to be for LW - I think we are at a point now where we can begin to evaluate what hymns are working for us, and what hymns haven't proven to be as useful as we initially thought.

We look forward to your thoughts. For now, let me be brave and get the ball rolling:

A Hymn that Is Proving to Be As Good As First Thought - LSB #941, "We Praise You and Acknowledge You" was a hymn I knew the people would love and Pastor Stephen Starke is to be commended for this excellent paraphrase of the Te Deum. I continue to get requests for it! The tune for this hymn, THAXTED, is from Gustav Holst's "The Planets". So while it is a new hymn-tune for the LCMS, it is not necessarily unfamiliar. So let me add a follow-up in this category, this one with an old text but a brand new tune: LSB #874, "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright". My Liturgy Solutions partner Stephen Johnson has given the Church a real gift with this new vestment for this morning hymn of St. Ambrose. I also highly commend an evening hymn, "Lord, Support Us All Day Long", LSB #884. We sing this hymn, based upon the concluding collects of Compline, at Doxology retreats and it has worked well in all sorts of different settings using a variety of instruments. A great hymn to add to the prayers for any evening worship service.

A Hymn that Hasn't Met Expectations - OK, I know I'm sticking my neck out here, so let me just say up front that I acknowledge quite freely that what doesn't work as well in one congregation may be a great fit for another situation. That said, I must confess some objective disappointment in LSB #654, "Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure". I really loved that hymn when I first played it, and it was one of the first LSB songs I introduced to my congregation. I thought it would really provide a boost to a summer stewardship campaign built around the theme "Till the Soil". The campaign proved successful - but the people never really took ownership of the hymn. Lots of folks remember - and speak approvingly of - the hymn I chose for a subsequent campaign, LSB #782, "Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings". But this one just didn't go over. I'll use it again, but I doubt it will become the "hit" that I thought it would be.

A Hymn that Worked Surprisingly Well - We actually sang LSB #669, "Come, We that Love the Lord" last week. I noticed that hymn in there when the hymnal came out, but must confess I really didn't know what that old Lowry song was doing in a Lutheran hymnal. But the readings last week (3-year) made it an obvious pick. So I went for it! And I even surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this hymn. Would I want a steady diet of this musical style? No. But just as it's OK for us to break out the percussion for "Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia" or get meditative with a little Taizé music as the appointed Word suggests, so I think there is room for some old-fashioned Americana. One of my sopranos may have thought it was a little too much on the "Chitty-chitty Bang-bang" side of things, but the people really bought into once they realized we were serious. And with the texts from Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 this past Sunday, I can't imagine more appropriate words for us to sing for an Entrance Hymn. Yes, I'll be bringing this one out again in three years - and a couple of times before then. ;)

A Hymn We Haven't Sung Yet, But Will - I really like LSB #339, "Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors". It is not the most intuitive of melodies, so I've held off on using it - especially since the congregation I serve has so many Advent favorites. But this is the year we're going to do it. I'm confident it will be a "hit". Friends who have introduced it to their congregations give it a confident endorsement. Let's hope I'm not wrong about this one!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Choir Director or Song Leader?

One of the many joys I have at Bethany is working with talented young musicians such as Susan Keller, our Associate Cantor, and Mike Vasilie, our day school music teacher and director of our parish brass. Mike is primarily a band director, and so he is grounded in instrumental conducting. Yet, as school music teacher, he now has two children's choirs and so is growing in choral conducting skills. A fundamental principle of choir directing we are working on is listening to the choir sing. This may seem like a "no-brainer", and is certainly "head knowledge" to most of us, but many church choir directors - especially children's choir directors - don't do as much listening to their choirs as they do singing with (and for?) them.

And yet if we really want our choristers to own their music, we can't be singing it for them. Sure, we do need to model phrases during rehearsal, especially to illustrate desired phrasing and articulation, and sometimes even the intonation of a tricky interval, but the choir that needs its leader to sing with them is at best "singing along" with their ears rather than singing with understanding from their hearts and minds.

Directors who listen to their choirs also do a better job as directors. They are free to encourage and evoke sound from the whole choir, instead of "leading" one part. And they are better able to fulfill their teaching role because they are able to give better feedback, evaluate challenges more accurately, and proceed with more productive rehearsals.

Musing about this made me think about our direction of the more important choir on Sunday morning: the congregation. Do we lead the congregation as choir directors or are we falling into the trap of being "song leaders"?

I posit that one doesn't necessarily have to be singing into a microphone to have the same suppressive effect on real singing by the congregation that sing-along choir directors have on their choristers. But certainly mics can hurt as much as they can help. And these two approaches can manifest themselves from the organ bench depending on how the organist makes the pipes "sing" for the congregation. Does the organist expect, encourage, and enable the people to find their voice? Or does the organist sing the hymns for the assembly, with the congregation along for the ride?

Certainly there is discretion here as we go about our craft. Sometimes the choir in the loft needs the director's voice on a key entrance or phrase - perhaps due to insufficient rehearsal time. And sometimes the choir in the nave, the congregation, needs an extra 2' or 4' stop and a simpler accompaniment to get that melody or a stronger, more detached pedal to get in sync with the pulse. But even as we allow ourselves the flexibility to do what is needed in every given situation, we must always remember that the musician leads best who listens most.

Are you listening to your choirs? Are you listening to your congregation? What you hear will tell you what you need to do!

p.s. PASTORS - are you listening to your congregations? Or do you speak their reponses for them? Do you turn your mic off for the Creed and the Lord's Prayer and say it WITH your people, or do you "lead" them through the liturgy like a praise team "leader"? You too should listen to your congregations. What you hear will tell you also what you need to teach your people.