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

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Different parishes at different times need different "solutions" to the musical challenges and opportunities provided by the liturgy. We try to offer a wide variety of options on the site, knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all "solution" for any given text. That said, even a parish with a high level of artistic activity needs easy options. And so we do try to lean more toward providing "music for common use" rather than "high art" on the site.

One of the things that we are doing more often is simply putting up something that works well with the hymnal accompaniment. The handbell accompaniments for DS III we put up last year are an example of that, as are the brass parts for the DS IV Gloria I put up recently. Sometimes we aren't looking for a concertato setting of a hymn, or some new text-painting harmonization. With one rehearsal and many irons in the fire, it is often helpful just to have a trumpet part that "goes with the book".

The latest of such offerings went up today: a simple descant for LSB #819, "Sing Praise to God the Highest Good". A very parish-friendly descant, it only goes to a high F. And yet it still cuts through thanks to the tessatura of the melody. Most importantly, the organist can "play from the book", making this an easy adornment to add to the service. Similarly, we'll be putting up several instrumental descants & countermelodies by Terry Herald this spring that also "work with the book".

We're putting these things up because they work for us. We hope they work for you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Solutions In Your Hymnal

Today we offer a guest column, which readers of Rev. Larry Peters' excellent blog, Pastoral Meanderings, have already seen. Larry has given his permission to run his article here, which we are glad to do because it so well supports one of the chief aims of this blog: to help musicians and pastors discover and explore the treasury of resources available to us for preparing authentic Lutheran worship. Almost all of the music published on our website is written to support the use of hymns & lectionaries of the Lutheran Service Book. (Which therefore means the music works well with other Lutheran hymnals, as our many WELS friends have discvoered.) Pastor Peters here offers an excellent outline of how to make the best use of this book. Whatever hymnal you use, this article will renew your appreciation for your hymnal, and help you explain its purpose and benefits to others.

Rev. Larry Peters

Often the problem with "traditional" worship is not that what is done is bad but that it fails to exploit the full measure of the resources provided by the hymnary, lectionary, and liturgy of the Church. Those who yearn for creativity are, in some respects, right in their condemnation of of "traditional" worship as being boring or routine. But the fault lies not with the hymnal or liturgy. The fault usually lies with the people planning and conducting the Divine Service. In our busy lives it is easy to fall back upon the book and use it because it is there. In this respect many congregations using the hymnal are not technically "liturgical." I write this not to condemn but to encourage a more full use of the inherent resources of the hymnal, liturgy, and pericopes.

I forget where I read it that if you are using these resources fully, only something between 12-15% of the time on Sunday morning carries over from week to week. Block out the sermon, the readings, the collect, the hymns, and the liturgical options within the Divine Service and you see how the figure is achieved. When we use all of these resources to their fullest measure, then it is true. When we fail to use these resources fully, this figure may still be true but you would hardly recognize it while sitting in the pew.

Lets begin with the lectionary. Lutheran Service Builder allows you to print out all the pericopes on one sheet (Introit, Collect, Psalm, Lessons, Gradual, Verse). It is great to have these texts together and to spend time looking at them more fully before sermon and liturgical choices are made. You can do the same thing without Lutheran Service Builder but it takes just a bit more work. The point is that by immersing yourself in these texts you are better equipped not only to preach them but to use them in the Divine Service.

From the lectionary I always go to the hymnal. LSB has a marvelous hymn selection guide and you can use Lutheran Service Builder to locate hymns through its digital concordance to the hymnal but nothing replaces you own familiarity with the texts. I believe that praying the texts of hymns is important devotionally for you and is the greatest tool and gift when planning for the Divine Service. If you know the pericopes and you know where your sermon is going, then the next step for connecting the dots is to know the hymnal well enough that hymn choices are already flowing through your mind as you make it through the pericopes and sermon preparation.

I might say something here about tracking your use of hymns. It is easy for the congregation to be reduced to using only 25% of the hymns in the book. You want to use a combination of many familiar with one or maybe two new or less familiar tunes. Given the desire to satisfy people and working within the limitations, it is not uncommon for parishes to know only a small percentage of the hymns in the book -- I knew one parish where only about 12 tunes from LW were used! This is a problem that needs to be addressed. If you do not know these tunes, set up a plan and program to learn them -- week by week. Use soloists to sing them as preservice music, as the offering is gathered, or during the distribution. The choir can do the same thing. Warm up the folks before the liturgy begins and use these less familiar hymns to stretch their voices. The only way a new hymn becomes a favorite is through frequent use. Once you introduce a new hymn, use it again through the coming month so that its text and tune are embedded into the memory of the people.

Finally, the liturgy is addressed. What season are we in? What options are inherent to the season (omission of the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluia during Lent, for example)? What additional choices are there to be made (offertory, how to use the Psalmody, post-communion canticle, etc.)? As you flesh out the choices for the Divine Service you also begin to see how the hymn possibilities may fit (entrance hymn, hymn of the day, distribution hymn, sending hymn, etc.).

The goal is to have it all fit together as a seamless garment in which nothing seems out of place or out of character. In this way the fullest resources of the hymnal, lectionary, and church year flow together toward a common goal and purpose in the Divine Service. I do this several times a year for 1/3-1/2 of the Sundays of the year so that I am always ahead. It works for me. Saturday night is the one thing that hardly ever works. If you cannot plan months in advance (for the sake of your parish musician), at least plan one month ahead.

The hymnal is a tool. If it is unfamiliar to you as the Pastor or parish musician, it will most certainly be unfamiliar to your people and an uncomfortable resource. If you know it and use it as one who knows it inside and out, then it will encourage the people in the pew to use the full resources of the book in their family and individual devotional lives as well as Sunday morning. Just do it...