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

Monday, January 30, 2017


Several friends posted a video of me jamming with some street musicians before the March for Life. It was an uplifting experience, one of many that day, and I'm not surprised this little video has made the rounds.

As someone known for being conservative on percussion in worship ("The song of the Church is Word-driven, not beat-driven!"), who disapproves of applause during the Divine Service, and who strongly prefers the chorales over "happy-clappy" music, one may fairly ask, "Magness, why do you groove on this?"  

The answer is not so simple as saying, "Well, this wasn't in the Divine Service," even though that is an important point. Because I'm actually OK with some hand-clapping and even some dancing during worship--when it is real. And by "real" I don't mean whether people are "feeling it" or not, because any half-decent musician can whip up emotions and get the poorly catechized to think they are "in the Spirit." I'm talking about the reality of manifesting the faith God gives to us as brothers and sisters in Christ. That's something we can judge objectively.  

When it is real, when it is faithful, it is reverent and authentic. It is reverent in that it honors God, acknowledges God, and is focused on God. This is much more easily done in cultures with histories of rhythmic music and ceremonial dance. Which leads to the second point of authenticity. If I am in a community which sings jubilantly with percussion instruments to organically proclaim the steadfast love of the Lord, then there is no distraction or manipulation. But where such music is not part of the culture, it is at best merely entertainment, often distracts from the Gospel, and manipulates emotions rather than giving voice to our shared experience of the faith.

How can one tell the difference? It's pretty easy. By dropping out. If the community owns the song, the musician who summoned the song can step away and it will go on. There are cultures where this readily happens. Typical North American parishes, outside certain minority communities, are not among them when it comes to the music promulgated in the name of entertainment evangelism. Many, however, in their zeal to either be attractive or to generate excitement among the membership, try to make this happen artificially by having a band play jubilant "praise music" in the assembly's stead--cranking up the volume so that the impression of great worship is created. But if the assembly cannot sustain such energy unplugged, it is actually the opposite of authentic. By contrast, the sound of a Lutheran assembly chanting the Lord's Prayer or singing the Te Deum a cappella with conviction in four-part harmony is actually truly authentic. And it is just as energetic and powerful as any other culture's music, with or without percussion or an "upbeat" tempo.

That said, I certainly do see a role of musical testimony which edifies a congregation and broadens their repertoire. Some will inevitably be entertained by that--whether one powerfully presents a Renaissance motet or an African hymn. But that is a matter of catechesis. Once a congregation gets used to higher quality music, they'll clap no more for the music than they do for the sermon--or for receiving the Sacrament. (Seriously, if applause is really directed to God, why don't people clap after receiving the Lord's Supper?)

So, whatever you are singing, make sure you are singing the folk music of your people. Keep it real. Don't substitute someone else's joy for your own. There's no reason for it. Even if you think you are doing it "for the young," or "for the seekers." Because, truth is, you'll never be as convincing singing someone else's song as you will your own.  

"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."  (Ps. 40:3)

Friday, January 20, 2017

We're Back!

Good afternoon, dear friends,

After 3 1/2 years, and on Inauguration Day of all days, Phillip has re-discovered how to access this blog!  He & Stephen had made efforts the past couple of years to get in and start posting again, but simply could not access the site.  Here's a brief explanation, which will also help you understand the slower pace of Liturgy Solutions these past few years, as well as our new effort to revitalize the site: 

*  In 2012, Phillip was dismissed from the cantorate at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois.  He and the pastors publicly affirmed that his firing was not due to immoral life, false doctrine, or any incompetence with his duties.  Phillip had had a breakdown under work stress, after which the head pastor cited personality conflicts and a desire for a new person in the position. The congregational leaders then opted to follow this pastor's lead rather than to attempt to negotiate conflict resolution or otherwise improve the situation.   

*  By the grace of God, Phillip was blessed to serve the following year at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Tinley Park, where he made many friends and planned on staying to build on the excellent legacy of church & school music left by his predecessor there, Carl Lisius.  However, the direction of the pastoral leadership was toward forms of "modern" or "contemporary" worship, with even the traditional services minimizing sung liturgy, and so when another call came Phillip decided it best for the church to accept an opportunity to serve where his vision for worship was in line with both the pastor and the elders.

*  While he first had access to the Fine Tuning blog while in Oklahoma, that access was lost when his wife and family joined him in Oklahoma after the Magnesses sold their house in Illinois.  Between expired emails, new computers, and forgotten passwords, we just couldn't get in!  Stephen had not posted in a while himself, having moved from full-time church work to teaching at a Roman Catholic high school in the Bronx, and also could not locate our credentials to get onto the site. 

Fast forward now to today, of all days, when, after considering the doctrine of vocation and President Trump's point in his inaugural address about a nation's greatness depending on the success of its citizens to freely pursue their dreams, Phillip decided to try to get into Fine Tuning again.   Behold, it was a success!   

We are happy to report that today, almost four years later, by the grace of God, both Phillip and Stephen are doing well.   Stephen is having a great year with his choirs and classes at Monsignor Scanlan High School in New York, and has new compositions in the GIA catalog.  His daughters are doing amazing things in music, and he continues to address the church on matters of music at various conferences.   Phillip and his family are enjoying life in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where he now serves at Immanuel Lutheran Church.  He continues to serve as "cantor-at-large" for the spiritual renewal retreats of DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Council, and also his teaching of the French edition of the LSB, Liturgies et Cantiques Luthériens.  He will be in Togo in March to lead a couple of workshops and also to play for worship services for the annual convention of 14 confessional francophone Lutheran churches to be held in Dapaong.  He also served as chief musician for the 2013 and 2016 LCMS conventions.  

So much for why we disappeared here and what we've been doing.  So why revitalize the site?  The brief history outlined above gives a hint of the reason:  vocation.   Throughout all the trials and in both blessings & woes, our hearts and hands and voices have been fixed on the Lord's song.  God has been good to us; how can we keep from singing?  And so with a new day for our country, it is fitting that we begin a new day at Liturgy Solutions.   Let us know what you might like us to write about, and how you are doing.  We'll see you on FaceBook, but we'd love to see you hear to.  We look forward to doing more of what we love most: encouraging, nurturing, and enlivening the art of music in service to the Word of God. 

May His peace be with you this new year and always! 

In Christ,

Your Friends at Liturgy Solutions