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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Snippets from MtCow

I return now to my series of reports on the LCMS "Model Theological Conference on Worship". I am advancing this conversation because it is the one thing I can see the synod doing that is in the spirit of "It's Time", Rev. Matt Harrison's proposal for effecting meaningful reconciliation and unity in the Missouri Synod. The worship wars are an impediment to the Gospel, and I believe the effort begun in St. Louis last month is a good step toward bringing concord back to the churches that subscribe to the Book of Concord.

Going forward then, following Dr. Jeff Gibbs' address, was Rev. Larry Vogel. He sits on the synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR). His focus was on the incarnational, the real presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament, and how that makes our worship truly Christian. We as Lutherans don't need to move "toward" this truth in our theology of worship. We're already there - or should be. The tension among us is that some claim that there is a conflict between sacramental worship and mission. Pastor Vogel says there should be no tension: "it (baptism) is mission: telling and living the new life of Christ's Body."

Besides, we have no choice. If we are to worship the true God, then we must worship according to His command. We must "let God have it His way". Though the world may differ, "it just won't do to make 'spiritual high' the goal or focus of our worship." Sadly, many churches today do just that in an effort to be "missional". And, in doing so, they prove that "worship customs affect doctrine, and are therefore not adiaphora."

So where then is the freedom? After all, we believe that differing customs are not necessarily divisive. (AC VII) The answer is found simply by looking at the Reformers: what they did, and what they did not do. They did not change the essence of worship, nor even its basic order and content; instead, they moved preaching and liturgy and hymnody into the vernacular, that many would hear and believe. Where this is done responsibly, we have good and healthy variety in the Church. Where it is done poorly, the Gospel suffers.

This, I believe, is where the rubber hits the road. And Pastor Vogel then pointed to this by highlighting what he called "Pastoral Realities": to be both "welcoming and faithful" in a "continaully changing America" while working with the "limited capabilities of musicians and pastors." We need wisdom to know what we can do well and effectively. As any musician can tell you, "it is one thing to have instruments - it is another to know how to use them."

Here I cannot help but end with a connection to our work here at Liturgy Solutions. Much of the talk at things like MtCow is conceptual. Very important and necssary, but not immediately applicable. It takes education, experience, skill, and discernment to distill and apply these principles in practical and productive ways. We at Liturgy Solutions serve to provide tools to help you do that.

Your choir is the most effective instrument you have for leading your congregation in worship. By choosing texts that sing faith into people's hearts, and by providing them music for those texts that is appropriate to the musicians and relevant to the hearers, they are truly able to magnify the Word and inspire the congregation's devotion.

May we use our instruments as conscienciously and intentionally as a good preacher uses his pulpit, that many may live the Eucharistic life. +

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Those Files in Your Library...

....tell you a lot about the history of your parish, and even of the trends in church music and American culture as a whole (how 'bout some of the 70's artwork on those covers?!).

Since I've been at Bethany, we've "archived" close to half of the choral music. Evidently it is some sort of transgression to throw the stuff away, supposedly because of all the needy congregations out there just aching to sing dated, heterodox drivel, so we box it up and store it in the attic above the gym in a back corner - where it can be disposed of by a future generation. Some of it actually does get thrown out, such as illegal photocopies or old evaluation copies of out-of-print octavos. But mostly we just store away those things we know we will never use so that we can make room for that which we can and will use. And now we are looking at instrumental music as well.

What sorts of things does one discover? Periods where the all the new music for choir was the "praise music" of an earlier generation, a type of "traditional" CCM, from many of the same publishers who now give us choral knock-offs of today's Bapticostal radio music. Other periods are much better, with sacred classics from the Lutheran repertoire. Periodically, one even finds a few years where the director purchased psalmody and hymn concertati. And then there are those romantic eras where a predecessor bought lots of big works (children and adults' choirs plus brass and bells!) which are still in pristine, unused condition. Guess (s)he went off to a workshop and got all excited about something.......only to discover that planning, rehearsing, and putting together all these forces in Bethany's old sanctuary was too much to do. I found a similarly interesting history when I went through the library during my cantorate at Trinity-Peoria (with choral music from the 1890s in German, along with English anthems dating back to the 1910s!).

I think digging through the library is one of the most important things a new director can do when coming to a parish. One can see where a choir and a congregation have been. One can discover some favorites that will help the new director win the confidence of his new choir. And one can find gems along with the jokes. (I'm sure those who followed me at Trinity have enjoyed the copies of "How?", the spoof of Carl Schalk's hymn anthems written by the late John Folkening.)

What have you found in your library?

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Right Story

The first speaker up at MtCow was Dr. Jeff Gibbs, who did a fine job of framing our discussions. As he aptly pointed out, a project such as a "theology of worship" is like roofing: everything depends on the first shingle. If the first shingle is incorrectly laid, then everything else will be out of alignment.

Of course, the first shingle for worship is the Gospel. Christ crucified for us for the forgiveness of sins. As we unpackage this in relationship to the "worship wars", Dr. Gibbs pointed out that "the corporate worship of the congregation must be set in the right story." Too often, worshippers and worship leaders center worship on their personal story, their personal experience of faith. But while the Divine Service does return us to our baptisms and so does indeed personally renew our faith, the narrative of the service is not about Christ-in-us, but about Christ-for-us that we may be in Christ.

What does this mean for the church's song? It means that our music should not be primarily about self-expression, but about Christ-expression. In other words, worship is not simply a confession of our own personal experience of Christ, but rather a confession of the whole story of God's salvation of mankind.

This obviously norms the texts we choose, but it also shapes the kind of music we make to support those texts.

Does your music proclaim the "reign of God"? Does it bring the comfort of Christ being with your hearers "always, even to the end of the age"? Sure, we all love to share music that has been meaningful to us. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we draw inspiration from such music and it helps us in our craft. But are we making music that is meaningful to others?

I submit that the craft of the liturgical musician is to manifest "Christ-for-us" through the music proclaimed to and sung by the assembly, making music that has been personally meaningful an inspiration to others in Christ AND taking music that has not inspired us and discovering how to make it meaningful to all.

Whether one plays the organ, directs a choir, or leads a liturgical consort of guitar, flute, and bass, this is where our musicianship lies.

Too often, traditional Lutheran musicians shy away from the personal and lose that vital artistic connection with the musical spirit that inspired them to play and sing in the first place. And, far too often as well, contemporary musicians will not discipline themselves to make music for the assembly, rather than just for themselves.