Tuned In to Reformation 500: Planning for Year A

With Advent, we enter a new church year. The church will also be looking forward to the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What can that mean for your congregation’s music ministry? You likely have plans underway, but here are ten ministry opportunities for you to consider.

1. Teach about why we sing together. Use this year to be intentional about assembly singing being a shared activity, particularly the singing of the hymn of the day. For suggestions, see page 49 of Reformation 500 Sourcebook: Anniversary Resources for Congregations, and page 17 of Sundays and Seasons: Guide to Worship Planning, Year A 2017. Teach through spoken word, blogs, website, newsletter and bulletin articles, or social media. Another resource to encourage you would be the Frequently Asked Questions on the ELCA website, particularly the questions related to music.

2. Create opportunities to sing with your Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Can you hold a choir exchange? An evening prayer service? For guidance and templates, see Reformation 500 Sourcebook, “Common Prayer,” page 51. While her presentation is more focused on worship in general than music in particular, Gail Ramshaw’s presentation at the 2015 Worship Jubilee stresses our ecumenical partnerships and offers some practical ideas for joint worship services.

3. Celebrate the heritage of Lutheran hymnody by planning a hymn festival. Again, a collaborative or ecumenical choir could be a part of such an event. You could also use the “Church’s Journey in Art and Song” as provided on the ELCA website.

4. Sing and teach about hymns of the Reformation era on a regular basis. You could do this seasonally, choosing a hymn by Martin Luther or other hymn writers of the period.

5. Widen the understanding of “Lutheran” hymns beyond hymns written by Martin Luther. The “Hymns for the Anniversary year” on page 43 of Reformation 500 Sourcebook shows us that hymns from many lands and eras proclaim the centrality of the grace offered us in Jesus Christ.

6. Review the “Reformation 500” section with each seasonal essay from the 2017 edition of Sundays and Seasons, either in print or online. Many offer musical suggestions connected to the season and the Reformation.

7. Give particular attention to teaching children the faith through music. If your church has a children’s choir, renew that commitment. If it does not, could you or another music leader begin such a ministry? Is music a regular part of Christian education?

8. Include hymnody in an Adult forum on Luther’s catechism. A helpful resource is “Martin Luther, the Catechism and Music,” on page 113 of Reformation 500 Sourcebook.

9. Seek out Lutheran colleagues and ask what are they doing to mark the 500th. Share ideas and possibilities, even events if you are in close proximity. If you are serving a Lutheran church and are not yet a member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, this is an organization that exists to support you in your calling.

10. Discern with pastors and a worship committee/team what needs reformation in your particular place. Is there an aspect of your music ministry that needs extra attention and reviving? How can you intentionally engage that area?

Reformation is ongoing, but this year allows for focused energy on Luther’s legacy as it shapes our worship. May the Spirit infuse your planning and celebrating!

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Free Downloads? You Bet! — Maximizing Your Prelude Membership

It’s Wednesday at 5 p.m., two hours before choir rehearsal. You’ve just found out that an excellent soprano will be joining the choir for the following Sunday. Descants, something not often possible with a limited choir, would be a wonderful enhancement to the day’s hymnody, and with Prelude Music Planner, you have access to rich, soaring descants from Vocal Descants for the Church Year. Your Prelude membership to the rescue! Simply search by hymn name or tune in the title/theme/keywords search area, and filter “hymn/song” and “descant.” You can view and download the descants you need without using any of your Prelude points! Two possibilities for Christ the King are “Beautiful Savior” (ELW 838) and “Jesus Shall Reign” (ELW 434).

You just found out that a talented flute player in the congregation is home from college and able to play for Advent or Christmas. You could adapt vocal descants for use by a flute or other C instrument. Two suggestions for the Nativity of Our Lord are “Angels We Have Heard on High” (ELW 289) and “On Christmas Night” (ELW 274).

Another excellent way to get the most out of Prelude’s resources is by downloading choral stanzas from the two volumes of Choral Stanzas for Hymns. These work best when a choir can augment the singing of a hymn by singing a particular stanza in an alternate harmonization. For Advent, consider “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn” (ELW 242) in a setting by Thomas Pavlechko and “Savior of the Nations, Come” (ELW 263) in a setting by Michael Burkhardt.

Psalm settings abound on Prelude. Use your membership to download psalm tones and refrains, including responses to the readings at the Easter Vigil. If you don’t regularly use the Psalter for Worship collections and don’t own a copy, as a Prelude member you have access to these varied, reproducible settings for choir, cantor, and congregation.

You can also use Prelude for practical purposes, such as downloading harmony parts for a choir. Say you’d like to use a hymn from This Far By Faith. You own one or two copies of the hymnal, but not enough for the whole choir or a small group of singers. Prelude allows you to download hymns in various formats: harmony, melody only, or words only. When you enter the title of the hymn or song, limit your search to “hymn/song” and you will go straight to these versions rather than an anthem or prelude based on that tune. You can download a hymn in the version that best suits your particular need. Be aware that while some hymns are available in all formats, some have copyrighted harmonizations not available on Prelude.

LifeSongs is a fine children’s songbook published as part of an Augsburg Fortress Sunday school curriculum series. Perhaps you own the LifeSongs Leader Book but not enough copies of the songbook. A number of these songs can be downloaded from Prelude and used with music readers. An excellent example of a piece from this resource is “In the Bulb, There Is a Flower” or “Go Now in Peace,” both by Natalie Sleeth. If you reproduce or project copies of a copyrighted hymn, whether for the choir or for the assembly, be sure to report the usage under your church’s copyright license (OneLicense, LicenSing Online, CCLI) covering that hymn.

Get the most out of your Prelude membership with points-free access to hundreds of worship music items—including descants, stanzas, psalmody, and hymnody—to enrich your music ministry!

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Five Tips For Children’s Choir Planning

As a church musician heading into October, you may be fortunate to have your entire choir year mapped out. For children’s choirs, advanced planning is key to a successful year. If you haven’t yet charted the course for your choir year or want some guidelines for future planning, consider these five tips.

Choose a Theme

If your congregation follows the Revised Common Lectionary, you might be wondering how a theme for a choir year is beneficial; the church year provides its own pattern. While this is true, I have found that a broad theme can both enhance the lectionary and create excitement and cohesion for a particular year. Themes we have used include “Walking with God,” “Grace Abounds,” and “All God’s Children Sing.” The latter would be well served by the ChildrenSing Around the World collection available on Prelude or the Sing with the World songbook edited by John Bell. As you choose a theme, reflect on your particular context, what kinds of music you’d like to introduce, or what theological emphases you might want to share in song.

Sing the Psalm

Each time your children’s choir sings, plan to have them lead the psalm. Prelude offers accessible anthem settings of the psalm through the ChildrenSing Psalms collection. If you have a choir with a wide age span, consider teaching the older children to chant the psalm verses and teach the refrain to younger children, using Psalter for Worship, also available in Prelude. Better yet, teach the choir to collaboratively compose a psalm refrain during rehearsal.

Lead New Hymns

Take the long view with hymnody and children. The children’s choir can serve as excellent teachers of a new hymn if you plan in advance. Look at the year as a whole and choose three to five hymns that you will teach the children that they will, in turn, teach the congregation. Try to choose a hymn that can be sung more than once so that the assembly gets to know it. (A hymn very specific to a gospel text, for example, might not be the best choice). Consider an anthem setting of a hymn as one way to introduce it. Prelude offers many quality hymn anthems such as “Open Your Ears, O Faithful People” by Robert Hobby and “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” by Shari Anderson.

Take Care with Anthems

Consider the skill level of your singers and the arc of the choir year as you select anthems. If your choir sings monthly, can you learn one anthem each month while also leading the psalm and a hymn or two? Perhaps select a challenging anthem to learn over three months as well as some simpler refrains or liturgical music. Repeat favorite anthems that the older children will greet like a long-lost friend.

Plan a Retreat

If your rehearsals are like mine, you have much you would like to accomplish during a brief time. Once you have chosen a theme, psalm settings, hymns, and anthems in advance, you know what you can teach in one or two rehearsals and what requires more focused time. If you can, set aside a date in the fall and spring for a one- to two-hour retreat. Employ a variety of music and learning activities such as games and play. And of course, have food!

The hymns and songs your children’s choir sings forms their faith now and well into the future. Enjoy this labor of love for the sake of your own organization and for the benefits the children will receive.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Singing on September 11

As worship planners, you consider multiple threads when weaving together assembly song: scripture, season of the church year, congregational life, world events, and more. A hymn might be especially relevant to the lectionary texts, but is unfamiliar to the congregation. A celebratory hymn might have been planned, but then unexpected disaster shakes the community. It takes clarity, wisdom, and sensitivity to make the best choices in each circumstance for each context.

A prime example of weaving together these many threads occurs next month, as the fifteenth anniversary of September 11 falls on a Sunday. sundaysandseasons.com and Prelude Music Planner offer hymn suggestions for Proper 24 and Holy Cross Day, two possibilities for scripture texts. Sundays and Seasons also offers guidance on the juxtaposition of September 11 to Lectionary 24 (see p. 278 of the print edition).

The themes present in both Lectionary 24 and Holy Cross Day offer much richness paired with the remembrance of September 11. Psalm 51 is a cry for hearts continually made new set next to the Gospel promise that God will find the lost. The cross stands as healing for the nations, a sign of God’s suffering in love for the world. These texts are certainly a strong starting point for your hymn choices, but what other themes or threads could play a role?

Lament

While September 11 is a past event, we continue to lament the loss of human life from terrorism and violence. Consider using a hymn from the lament section of ELW, perhaps especially “Bring Peace to Earth Again” (700) or “Once We Sang and Danced” based on Psalm 137 (701).

Healing

We tend to think of healing as an individual rite, yet on this national anniversary, we can cry out for healing in a larger sense, for our communities and our world. Consider using “For the Healing of the Nations” from Singing Our Prayer or hymns “In All Our Grief” (615) or “Healer of Our Every Ill” (612).

Protection

We trust that in all times and places, God holds us in protecting care. Hymns such as “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (632), “By Gracious Powers (626) or “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” (769) convey this, as do many others.

Many of our hymns contain imagery of Christ as our foundation, that in the midst of crumbling walls and temples, Christ’s power holds firm (see ELW 727, 757, 796, for example). Congregations will have to decide if this metaphor is the right one for this day. While meant as metaphor, singing such imagery on the anniversary of buildings being destroyed might veer in a literalistic direction.

Service and Justice

Many congregations will also observe “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday on September 11, which brings another layer for consideration. We remember by doing, by living in service to the neighbor. The ELCA website offers worship and hymn suggestions for this day.

It might be tempting on September 11 to focus inward, yet the connection of this anniversary with a day of service directs our energy outward, much like those who risked their lives to care for their neighbors. Hymns such as “Goodness Is Stronger than Evil” (721), “Let Streams of Living Justice” (710) and “This Is My Song” (887) direct our song in remembrance of God’s reign of justice and peace for all.

Sing for Now

As you plan or refine plans already made, remember that worship calls us to remember the Spirit of Christ at work in the world now. Grieve as needed in your particular context; be united with the communion of saints of all time. Yet sing in hope and longing for God’s present and future work of mercy and resurrection.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

The Splendor of the Earth: Worship Planning and Ecological Stewardship

On the fifth Sunday of Easter in our congregation, we, in company with many other lectionary-based Christian churches, sang Psalm 148. In this cosmic song of praise, all ages are invited to join the earth with its sea monsters, fire, hail, snow, fog, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild beasts, and birds. “The splendor of the LORD is over earth and heaven,” we sang as a refrain. What a marvelous testimony to the fullness of God in all things!

When you sing psalms such as 148, do you pay attention to the way the earth is celebrated? What about when you plan assembly song? Even more, how much does care for the earth and ecological justice guide your worship planning?

We are nearing the summer solstice. This can be a time to reflect upon how ecological concerns find a place at our worship planning tables. What follows here are first, a few general observations and second, questions to spark conversation and reflection in your planning context.

Have you noticed . . .

  • the abundance of creation imagery in scripture, particularly in the psalms? The notion that heaven is our true home and the earth is simply a stopping point on the way does not have solid grounding if we are singers of the psalms. (And believe in a God who became flesh and walked the earth!)
  • the earthiness of sacramental theology? At the heart of our experience of God’s grace is bodily connection with water, bread, and wine. God’s word is made flesh and dwells in and among us.
  • the ways in which newer hymnody (and older as well) call our attention to themes of eco-justice? Remember, the psalter is the womb from which church music bursts forth.
  • the way the seasons of the church year can root us in deeper understanding and care for the earth? For example, the “greening” of Pentecost, calling our attention to the Spirit’s work in all that grows; the baptismal focus of Lent leading us to the waters; or the longing for light in Advent, awakening us to our dependence and use of energy (and of all that life forming in dark places, unknown or unseen by us).

Could you ask . . .

  • Do we pay attention to the psalms and other scripture that exalts the earth? Is regular psalm singing a commitment of our congregation? How can it be revitalized?
  • Do the words, rituals and gestures around the sacraments uplift the earth? Are references made to local water sources in the prayers? Can local wine and bread be used? Are connections made in preaching and song between the communion meal and all our meals?
  • What new hymns can we learn that lift up these themes? Consider “Light Dawns on a Weary World” (ELW 726) or “Touch the Earth Lightly” (ELW 739). Remember, hymns focused on care for the earth can be found under almost any category, including the church year, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. “Now the Green Blade Rises” (ELW 379) and “O Blessed Spring” (ELW 447) come to mind.
  • How can seasonal worship planning always be rooted in our experience of the natural seasons as creatures of the earth?

Some congregations may choose specific Sundays or seasons to focus on creation. While this might be an option, paying close attention to scripture and hymnody will reveal that every Sunday gives us an opportunity to regard Christian worship paired with stewardship of the earth. Much of the time, it is simply being aware to the riches that we have overlooked.

Resources to dig deeper

A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology by Benjamin Stewart

Lutherans Restoring Creation

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Singing in Summer

In one practical way, the call of a church musician resembles that of a teacher. Summers mean a little less activity, or at the very least, a different pace to your work. It would not be fair to say that church musicians have summers “off”—plenty of important work gets accomplished during the summer, especially looking ahead to the next year. Yet in many congregations, choirs and other ensembles do not keep a regular rehearsal schedule during the summer.

If your choirs and ensembles take a break from June to August, how can you use others to help lead assembly song in these months?

  1. Consider a partial summer break. Instead of a choir breaking for the entire summer, schedule them to sing selected Sundays each month. This may not work in every setting and might mean a smaller group, but it can provide some continuity in the choir’s leadership of assembly song.
  2. Consider different arrangements of voices.  Could you have a men’s choir sing one Sunday and a women’s another? Prelude Music Planner offers many selections for treble or male choir. St. Olaf Choirbook for Men, Augsburg Choirbook for Men, and Augsburg Choirbook for Women provide a variety of selections for these voicings (include link:  and ) Could a children’s or youth choir sing once over the summer? What about an intergenerational choir? One general piece that worked well in our setting was “I’m Gonna Sing with Over My Head” by Terry Taylor, available for download on Prelude.
  3. Consider soloists. Who in your congregation could be a cantor for a psalm? Could you also have she or he prepare a solo? (You can search for solos/duets using the “filter by type” setting on Prelude.) Do not limit such leading or solo singing to adults. Involve capable children and youth. This could be as simple as having a young person or adult sing a new hymn that you would teach to the choir and congregation at a later time.
  4. Consider instrumentalists. When they are not away at various camps, summer might be a good time to work with young instrumentalists as well as adults. This could mean solo arrangements for pre-service, offering or communion, but also enriching hymn-singing. If you have the numbers, try a summer instrumental ensemble. Remember, even a simple flute or trumpet on a hymn tune can enrich assembly song. Prelude offers many descants for easy download.
  5. Consider inviting musicians from the surrounding community. If your congregation does not have a budget for such invitations, perhaps members have family members who would like to share their gifts. You could also suggest that folks giving memorial money create a special fund to bring in guest instrumentalists or soloists.
  6. Consider being “up front” a little more in the summer. If you have ever considered leading more with your voice, summer might be a time to venture into “paperless” song leading. Visit Music that Makes Community for more about this style of song leading. Collections published by Augsburg Fortress such as “Songs and Prayers Around the Cross” lend themselves to this kind of leadership, as do hymns in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, such as “Come, Let us Eat” (491) or “Send Me, Lord” (809). If your congregation is not ready for this style of leading in worship, summer potlucks, vacation Bible school, and outdoor services might be a way to plant the seed.

Enjoy being creative as you plan for the summer. Pay attention to the gifts present in your worshiping community and beyond. Perhaps a quieter ensemble schedule will both help you focus on other aspects of music ministry and give you space to reflect and prepare for what lies ahead.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Finding Your Rhythm in Holy Week

Let’s face it. Holy Week is plain hard for church musicians, pastors, church administrators, cleaning personnel, and more. Even with careful preparation, the demands of the worship schedule itself leave many craving a nice long Easter nap or a vacation.

Those of you who took the time to check out this blog when your demands are many might wonder how you might be at your best this week (or file the tips away for next year). How can you settle into a rhythm that will keep you in sync with yourself and the needs of your congregation?

Five Suggestions

  1. Don’t run on empty. Carve out time each day to feed yourself, physically and spiritually. If you have a marathon practice session, take ten minutes and sit quietly in the sanctuary. Check out the readings for Holy Week or meditate on a psalm or other scripture passage for the coming week.
  2.  Consider binders. Some musicians like to gather all the music for this week and put it in one binder, or at least a binder for each service. (You can download many items from Prelude to make this easier). Binders can prevent paper shuffling and allow you to see what is coming at a glance. You can highlight or mark the binder with any instructions or reminders you might need.
  3.  Less is more for some services. The ritual actions for the Three Days are rich and music helps carry these actions. Three anthems for Maundy Thursday or the Vigil aren’t necessary; keep things simple so that the music serves the liturgy. This is especially true for the Easter Vigil.
  4. Lists for your cantors, choir, and instrumentalists. Consider typing up a “Holy Week Master List” for your choir that includes all of their musical responsibilities listed by service. It will save time at the final rehearsals, and help choirs and other leaders feel more at ease.
  5. Thank your ensembles. Celebrate the joy of the Easter season and the extra effort put forth by your choir and other volunteers. Treats, a party, cards, public words of thanks in a bulletin or on a church’s web page­­—all of these would be appreciated. You want them to do it again next year!

Yes, this time of year is exhausting. Yet it is a kind of holy exhaustion, an intense time that immerses us in the central mystery of our faith: Christ is died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

A prayer for this week

Gracious God, we give you thanks for another year of grace, for this Holy Week to hear and sing your saving story. As we kneel to wash feet, you kneel before us. As we meditate on your cross, you suffer with us; at the font you wash us; at the table you feed us. In word and song, you teach and transform us. Accompany us as we lead your people in song in these days, that together we run from the tomb, announcing the marvelous things God has done. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the light and life of all creation. Amen. 

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Sharing Song with the Homebound

His name was Paul, and he was crying. His wife assured us that they were tears of joy, but they took us by surprise. He sat in his wheelchair in the kitchen, hands folded on a narrow table as we sang. With each song, he cried more intensely, visibly moved by our presence, possibly reminded of time and people no longer with him.

On the other side of the table stood six members of our church’s children’s choir, some still in their winter coats. We sang “Light Dawns on a Weary World” (ELW 726) our hymn of the month, followed by the anthem “Christ Has Broken Down the Wall” (available in Prelude and through Choristers Guild). The pastor stood next to the children as they sang and then set up the bread and wine on the table in front of Paul. A hush fell over the room as the body and blood of Christ were shared. Paul took a while to eat and drink, and the choir stood quietly until the blessing, our turn to sing “Share God’s Love.”  That’s when his tears really flowed.

Take the light of Christ to the world.
Serving others wherever you go.
Share God’s hope, share God’s love.
Mark Patterson, The Joy of Part Singing

I share this story as an encouragement for a practice we have carried out for over two years now in my congregation, a way we have tried to live out sharing God’s love in the world. About six times each choir season, we replace our Sunday post-worship children’s choir rehearsal with a visit to a homebound member.

The arrangement is simple. We are welcomed in and arrange ourselves sitting or standing in a living room or kitchen. We sing, share a bit about our choir year’s theme, and introduce each singer. Communion usually completes the visit. We rarely have accompaniment or instruments, just the singing voices of a half dozen elementary-aged children.

Each situation is different. Sometimes the homebound member is hard of hearing, but, nevertheless, graced by our presence. We’ve visited a member who can only lie in a hospital bed, but encouraged the children to gather close. Sometimes the person or caregiver shares cookies with the children as they leave. We’ve even had the chance to pet a few friendly cats.

Four folks we visited have now died; a few of them we visited more than once. How does this help the children understand and wonder about the communion of saints? How does it enrich our spoken prayers at the end of each choir rehearsal?

The children’s choir has become a link between the worshiping assembly and those who are too frail to come to worship. We typically think of choir as a worship-related ministry; much of our time is spent preparing for Sunday’s liturgy inside the church’s walls. Yet each week in worship, we are sent. “Go in peace . . .” We are sent as individuals, of course, but how can we envision our choir being sent to “remember the poor” and “share the good news”?

Perhaps you do similar outreach in your setting. How else do you share God’s hope and love through your singing ministries? What ideas and encouragement can you share with other church musicians?

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

Strategies for Supporting the Small Choir

Suppose you have spent the summer planning for the upcoming choir year. You have selected anthems, new hymns to teach, and a collection of psalm settings. Then you discover that a soprano with a new grandchild has elected to take a hiatus from choir. An alto has a daughter that plays every sport. A bass has been ill. A tenor is not reliable. Before long, your choir could now be classified as a small ensemble.

While the uncertainty of choir membership applies to choirs of all sizes, a few missing people in a small choir makes a HUGE difference.  How do you plan for a smaller choir? What strategies are successful? (Keep in mind these strategies are not limited to a smaller group.)

Plan and Rehearse in Advance

This might sound counter-intuitive. Why plan only to find out you don’t have the numbers you need to make something work? Planning ahead allows you to be flexible. As you plan, think about Plan B (and C). For example, if you planned to teach a hymn concertato on “Christ Is Alive!” during the Easter season, you might look for a descant instead. Both can be found on Prelude Music Planner.

Flexible Psalm Settings

If you have a choir used to chanting a psalm with a four- part tone, realize that it might be time to polish the choir’s unison singing—a good challenge! Settings from Psalm Settings for the Church Year might need to be replaced with a more simple refrain and tone from Psalter for Worship. On occasion, sing a hymn paraphrase with the assembly (a list of psalm paraphrases can be found on p. 266 of Indexes to Evangelical Lutheran Worship). Again, have two options ready.

Combine Adult and Children’s Choirs

Dealing with a small soprano section? Consider choosing a hymn or anthem with the children’s choir or Sunday school, and having them join the adult choir. It is especially lovely to have grandparents and their grandchildren experiencing a common song. Choristers Guild provides many choices for this arrangement.

Recruit Local Talent

The church I serve is located about twenty miles from a liberal arts university with a fine music program. Because one of our members attends the university, our church received a small grant to bring a quartet from the university four times a year. This gives the choir a boost and provides an opportunity for connection to youth. Investigate what connections might work in your setting.

Select a Mix of Difficulty Levels and Voicings

For choir members who love to sing in four parts, it can be disappointing to switch to unison/two-part arrangements. SATB anthems that are harmonically simple can be a boost. Spirituals, gospel songs, and global songs are genres often with accessible four-part writing. Select a new hymn from Evangelical Lutheran Worship or elsewhere in this style.

If you are looking for collections for smaller choirs, Augsburg Fortress publishes numerous collections, including Augsburg Easy Choirbook, vols. 1 and 2, The New Gloria Deo: Music for Small Choirs, and Treasures in Heaven.

Try Paperless Singing

Don’t let what is on the page limit what you can sing with your choir. If you are comfortable leading with your voice, teach canons and responsive music to your choir in a call-response fashion. Choirs with a number of music readers may find this form of learning challenging, yet it is worth the challenge. Visit the Music that Makes Community for some ideas.

Large or small, your choir rehearses to serve the assembly’s song. Keeping that at the forefront, experiment with these strategies to create a choral experience that is meaningful for all.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

All Hymns Were Once New: New Hymns for This Church Year

The radio program Composer’s Datebook regularly signs off with the phrase, “Reminding you that all music was once new.”

Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine the time before “A Mighty Fortress” or “Amazing Grace.” Like a friend who has been with us as long as we can remember, these songs accompany us for a lifetime. At one point, however, “Amazing Grace” was new and unfamiliar. Not unlike a budding friendship, only quality time together allows us to call another a friend.

With Advent we begin a new church year. As you look ahead, it can be helpful to plan what hymns and songs you will introduce in your assembly between now and next Advent. Some congregations can handle ten or more new hymns; others may do better with five or six. Whatever the number, be intentional about which hymns you’d really like the congregation to learn. This may be the result of individual brainstorming or collaboration with other church staff and laity, or better yet, a combination of both.

What new hymns will you introduce? First, take stock of what the assembly knows. If you don’t have the practice of marking a hymnal with the date of when a hymn is sung, consider that. If you are new to an assembly, take a hymnal to someone who has been singing for years and find out what they know well, a little, or not at all. After all, it’s awkward to introduce someone only to find out they’ve been friends for years.

After surveying what is known, consider what you’d like them to learn. Reflect upon the faith these hymns and songs express and form in us as we sing together. What theological strains are missing from the body of hymnody that is well known? What eras or places around the globe? Does your assembly know any Asian hymnody, for example? What faith matters are particular to your community at this time?

Beyond the theological, consider practical leadership concerns. What would work well with your acoustics, space, and instrumentation? What are the skills of the musical leader(s)? For example, if you want to introduce a hymn that would work best on piano and you only have an organ, does the keyboardist have the necessary skills to make that adaptation? If you’d like to sing unaccompanied, do you have a singer with the skills for that kind of leadership?

When we encounter newness, we may readily embrace it or slowly warm up to it. You know your context best, but in most if not all situations, intentional planning will allow you to use all the resources at your disposal to make a successful introduction. If you are well prepared in your teaching, you will see results. (See Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship for help as well as the resource “Ten Tips for Introducing New Music” in Leading Worship Matters). The assembly is also helped by learning about the hymn or song. Who wrote it and when? Under what circumstances? Be sure your congregation has access to Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship for this important aspect of teaching. If you do not own a particular hymnal, Prelude Music Planner allows for licensed download of many hymns and songs from a variety of print resources.

Some of these new hymns may become favorites; some may not. Such is life among a community of diverse people. We can’t all have the same best friends. Yet together we are opened to new texts and tunes that will shape and share our faith in this new year, and in the years to come.

avatar
Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.