Lightening the Load – A SAB Story

The following post was written as helpful connection between the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians and Prelude. Choral Reading Sessions are a staple feature of ALCM conferences. Adam Hughes offers a helpful review of pieces he encountered this summer with suggestions on how they could be beneficial in your context.

If you make plans the same way I do, we both know how easy it is to stretch our choirs to the limit. Between psalm settings, choral stanzas, descants, anthems, and any other liturgical pieces, programming a well-balanced season of music can be quite the task.

Enter: the SAB or two-part anthem. By including some lighter fare for your choir, whether in the form of fewer parts, or more accessible arrangements, you may be granting yourself time to work on fundamentals and build their sound. Perhaps equally as important, planning these accessible pieces frees up rehearsal time to work on some of those more complicated pieces.

One of the choral reading sessions at the recent biennial conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians in Minneapolis called this “Music for Smaller Choirs.” However, many of these pieces would be well received by the larger choir looking for quickly learned, yet highly satisfying, music.

First is Anne Krentz Organ’s setting of a beloved text from John, The Truth Will Make You Free, published by Augsburg Fortress. Perfect for Reformation Sunday, this gentle piece will provide a foil for much of the bombast that you may already have planned. As another benefit, the tuneful melodies presented are recombined in interesting ways, almost teaching the choir as the piece unfolds. Use this as a way to develop a core sound among your men and women’s sections.

Next, John 3:16 is set in Kevin Hildebrand’s God So Loved the World, published by Concordia Publishing House. Another light-hearted setting, this two-part piece would be easily adapted for use by adult or children’s choirs, an added benefit for the budget-conscious. Use this to encourage legato singing and to teach breath control.

GIA Publications’ Hope is a Seed, with music by Jane Best and text by Mary Louise Bringle, begins simply and grows to a satisfying three-part SAB setting. With choral techniques such as echoing in the second verse and a cappella singing in the third, this is a chance to build confidence among your singers, particularly with unaccompanied singing.

Finally, William C. Weatherup’s There is a Balm in Gilead offers a contemplative and lightly accompanied setting of this spiritual. In addition to providing opportunities to teach light, beautiful singing, this piece would also allow for a soloist or two to shine. Humming and a melody passed between different sections of the choir all sit on top of a minimal accompaniment that never obstructs the text. Your choir will love this beautiful arrangement.

As you make your choral plans, consider these hidden gems of the choral music landscape. Sometimes less really is more, and in the case of creating a balanced workload for your choir, it’s hard to go wrong with many of these options.

Adam Lefever Hughes has served as the Director of Music at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania since 2015. There he leads worship and directs vocal and handbell choirs. Adam holds a Bachelor of Arts (Music) from Valparaiso University, a Master of Music (Piano Performance) from the Longy School of Music, and a Doctor of Musical Arts (Piano Performance) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Two- and Three-Part Choir Music

Choosing repertoire for church choirs is one of the most difficult, time-consuming tasks of all choir directors, whether they direct larger or smaller choirs. There are some unique challenges facing those who direct smaller choirs, though. To support you in your work, this blog has many helpful posts on the subject. Find some time to read any one (or all!) of the following posts for inspiration and ideas:

To assist you even further, in this post I provide a list of 25 anthems for 2-part or 3-part mixed voices, arranged according to the liturgical calendar. I focus on mixed voices, since repertoire for SSA and TTBB are substantial topics in themselves. Not all of the pieces on my list are easy, so approach them as you would SATB anthems. Also, in my estimation, these anthems sound “complete”—you, your choir, and your assembly will not miss those other one or two vocal parts. Follow the links to the publishers’ websites, where you can listen to demo recordings and view sample pages. When you find something you like, most of these titles are available for download through Prelude Music Planner!

Advent

Comfort, Comfort Now My People,” arr. Richard Proulx. SAB, finger cymbals, and tambourine. MorningStar, AE-110.

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” arr. Sam Batt Owens. SAB, keyboard. MorningStar, 50-0203.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers,” arr. John Ferguson. SAB, organ. Augsburg Fortress, 9781451401684.

Stir Up Your Power, O Lord, and Come,” Carl Schalk. SAB, organ. MorningStar, 50-0205.

Christmas and Epiphany

A Christmas Roundelay,” Austin Lovelace. 2-part, keyboard. ECS, 7316.

O Lord of Light, Who Made the Stars,” Daniel Schwandt. 2-part, organ. MorningStar, 50-9932.

On Christmas Night,” arr. Hal Hopson. 2-part, keyboard, optional handbells. MorningStar, 50-1204.

We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth,” Timothy Shaw. SAB, piano. Concordia, 98-4170.

Lent and Holy Week

At the Cross,” arr. Patricia Hurlbutt. 2-part, solo. Augsburg Fortress, 9781451479317.

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God,” C. F. Mueller. SAB, organ. G. Schirmer, 50303010.

Deep Were His Wounds,” Timothy Shaw. SAB, piano. MorningStar, 50-3125.

Out of the Depths,” Carl Schalk. SAB, organ. MorningStar, 50-3410.

Easter

Christ Is Risen,” Ronald Arnatt. SAB, organ. ECS, 7050.

Now Is Christ Risen from the Dead,” Frederick Frahm. 2-part, keyboard. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800678920.

The Day of Resurrection!” arr. Brian Wentzel. SAB, keyboard. Augsburg Fortress, 9781451451665.

Ascension and Pentecost

Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me,” arr. K. Lee Scott. 2-part, organ. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800646134.

Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone,” arr. Howard Helvey. 2-part, piano, oboe. Beckenhorst, 1562.

Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart,” Robert Buckley Farlee. 2-part, keyboard. MorningStar, 50-5555.

General

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Timothy Shaw. SAB, keyboard. MorningStar, 50-5310.

O How Amiable Are Thy Dwellings,” Carl Schalk. SAB, organ. MorningStar, 50-6204.

Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show,” David Schelat. SAB, conga drum. Oxford, 9780193865518.

Psalm 150,” John Harper. 2-part, organ. Oxford, 9780193511200.

Put on Love,” Lee Dengler. SAB, keyboard. Augsburg Fortress, 9781451420784.

The Beautiful Land,” Scott Perkins. SAB, piano. Augsburg Fortress, 9781451485752.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” John Rutter. SAB, piano. Oxford, 9780193416598.

Do you have a favorite 2-part or 3-part anthem? Share your repertoire suggestions in the comment section below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

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.

Heinrich Schütz and Reformation 500

Each year on July 28, the church commemorates a trio of important musicians—Bach, Schütz, and Handel—and prays for those who nurture and equip the church’s song. While Schütz (baptized October 9, 1585; died November 6, 1672) is probably the least known among the three, his music was influential in setting the stage for the mixture of national styles seen in the music of later composers such as Buxtehude, Böhm, and Bach. Today, Schütz’s works continue to appear in new editions and creative arrangements, some of which are listed below as suggestions for the 2017 anniversary year.

Schütz’s Life

Heinrich Schütz grew up in the town of Weißenfels where his parents were innkeepers and respected citizens. Despite their son’s musical gifts, they persuaded him to “choose a secure profession” and it was not until 1609 when the regional Landgrave—akin to a count or prince—convinced Schütz to pursue his calling as a musician. In a delightful example of musical ecumenism, Schütz (a Lutheran) received funding from the Landgrave (a Calvinist) to visit Giovanni Gabrieli (a Catholic) at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, where he studied organ, composition, improvisation, and probably substituted for Gabrieli at mass.

After Gabrieli’s death in 1612, Schütz returned to Germany where, during a visit to Dresden, his gifts impressed the Elector of Saxony who resided there. By 1615, Schütz was directing the day-to-day musical activities of the court chapel, including the preparation of several new works for the centenary commemoration of the Reformation in 1617. Surviving court documents indicated that his musicians were expected to win the “praise and admiration of visitors,” and Schütz traveled throughout Saxony as an advisor on matters of music education. He returned to Italy during 1628–1630 where he encountered the influence of Monteverdi, observed “fresh devices” used by Italian composers, purchased instruments for the Dresden court, and completed a set of SATB harmonizations we know today as the “Becker” Psalter.

But upon his return to Dresden in 1630, Schütz discovered that the combined effects of plague and the Thirty Years’ War had exacted a significant toll on the personal, economic, and material resources which had sustained his work in previous years. Throughout the next two decades, he composed many works for small performing forces and sparse accompaniment, though these pieces in no way lacked the quality and craft of his larger works for multiple choirs and instruments. Even after peace was declared in 1648, conditions were slow to recover and Schütz’s many requests to retire were ignored until the Elector’s death in 1657. The new Elector was more sympathetic, granting Schütz quasi-retirement status and a pension that allowed him to continue composing and revising until only a few years before his death at age 87, twice the average lifespan of the time! At his request, the funeral sermon given on November 17, 1672, focused less on his life and more on the use of music in service to God.

Schütz’s Music

Schütz’s surviving vocal music amounts to about 500 individual pieces that he organized into some fourteen collections published between ca. 1612–1666, sets for which he usually supplied the paper and oversaw the printing process. His text sources were almost exclusively biblical and utilized both Latin and German translations, thus allowing for their inclusion in Protestant and Catholic services alike. His approach to composition shows a special reverence for the text—individual words, phrases, dialogue, meanings, interpretations—that guided his choices of rhythm, melody, harmony, and texture.

From the outset, Schütz made equal use of the prevailing styles including the stile antico (old-style Renaissance counterpoint), the stile moderno (contrasting forces, instruments), as well as recitative and choral exclamations reminiscent of the stile teatrale (theater and stage). His written introductions to printed collections discuss the theory and practice of continuo playing, or the improvisation of a keyboard accompaniment from a bass line. He understood the importance of adaptation and flexibility for performance, an approach that remains useful for church musicians today. This flexibility can be heard alongside his rhetorical prowess in recordings of his music by ensembles such as the Cappella Augustana and Dresdner Kammerchor.

Schütz and Lectionary Year A 2017

As you plan your musical selections for the Reformation anniversary year, consider some of the following lectionary-based works of Schütz available in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Prelude Music Planner. If you have access to back issues of CrossAccent, the journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, consult the Winter 2004 issue for an extensive list of Schütz’s lectionary-related works compiled by David Mennicke.

Third Sunday of Advent: December 11, 2016

If your assembly will sing the Magnificat as the psalm this day, consider using the setting by Schütz (ELW 573) along with keyboard settings by Wolfgang Rübsam (Introductions and Alternate Accompaniments for Organ, Vol. 5) and Keith Kolander (Introductions and Alternate Accompaniments for Piano, Vol. 5).

Nativity of Our Lord: December 24–25, 2016

“A Child to Us Is Born” (Ein Kind ist uns geboren) for SSATTB originally appeared in Schütz’s Geistliche Chormusik of 1648. An edition in Chantry Choirbook: Sacred Music for All Seasons includes both English and German texts as well as a separately printed continuo part. One may also choose to “color” the texture with a retinue of C instruments such as flutes, recorders, strings for upper voices and trombones, cello, or bassoon for lower voices. You may also consider asking instrumentalists to add Baroque-style embellishments such as trills and mordents.

Transfiguration of Our Lord: February 26, 2017

“Lift Up Your Voice” (Lobt Gott mit Schall) comes to us from the “Becker” Psalter of 1628 and is included in the Chantry Choirbook. Scored for SATB and continuo with English and German versions, the text ends with a shower of “alleluias”—a chance to get them all out before the “alleluia” is buried at the end of this service!

Second Sunday of Lent: March 12, 2017

“God So Loved the World” (Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt) also contains English and German versions of John 3:16, a passage heard in the gospel reading for this day. This composition for SATTB was also included in the Geistliche Chormusik of 1648. Some performances vary the textures of the repeated sections—for example, a soloist singing the uppermost line with “light” continuo the first time followed by full ensemble and “fuller” continuo group. Again, voice parts may be doubled with “transparent” C instruments so long as they do not interfere with diction.

Holy Week

“Praise to You, Lord Jesus” (Ehre sei dir Christe) is taken from Schütz’s St. Matthew Passion, SWV 479, and praises Christ, “who in deepest need on the cross did suffer.” Passion settings in Dresden were usually rendered without instrumental accompaniment, hence the “for rehearsal only” indication in the Chantry Choirbook edition. This work is appropriate for the Sunday of the Passion or Good Friday.

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost (Lectionary 29A): October 22, 2017

“Sing to the Lord a New Song” (Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied) is also from the “Becker” Psalter and is presented in the Augsburg Motet Book for SATB and continuo. The text is founded upon the appointed psalm for the day (Psalm 96).

Day of Thanksgiving: November 23, 2017

“We Offer Our Thanks” (Dank sagen wir alle Gott) is scored for SATB and continuo and is included in the Chantry Choirbook. While “thanks” and “thanksgiving” are prominent themes, the original text was actually used during the Christmas season. Consider adding “bright” and “light” percussion such as tambourine, triangle, hand drum, or finger cymbals to enliven this dance.

General

“Rejoice in God,” a paraphrase of Psalm 150, is arranged by Nancy Grundahl for SATB, keyboard, flute, finger cymbals, and tambourine. A sprightly and energetic recording is available at the Prelude site.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Leaver, Robin A. Music in the Service of the Church: The Funeral Sermon for Heinrich Schütz. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984.
  2. Ramshaw, Gail. More Days for Praise: Festivals and Commemorations in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2016.
  3. Schalk, Carl F. Music in Early Lutheranism: Shaping the Tradition (1524–1672). St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 2001.
  4. Varwig, Bettina. Histories of Heinrich Schütz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Choral Arranging in 10 Steps

Have you exhausted your budget for new music but find yourself in need of a few more pieces to round out the upcoming choral season? Have you been unable to find a choral setting of a hymn you love? Have you always been curious about how the creative process works? Now could be a great time for you to try writing your own music! Follow the 10-step process below, mix in a little inspiration, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what you’re able to create.

1. Determine why you want to arrange a piece for choir and make sure it’s a very good reason—while this process is rewarding, it’s not easy! Has someone asked you to write something special? Are there no settings of the text/tune already in print? Are you trying to save money? Is this a hobby that brings you pleasure?

2. Choose a text, then get to know it intimately. How does the text divide formally and grammatically? Is there any arcane language you would like to change? What possible meters (time signatures) could work with the text? What musical form does the text suggest: ABA, strophic, through-composed? Are there any words or phrases that seem like particularly good candidates for text-painting? How will these words be set: as high or low notes, over a chromatic chord, after a sudden dynamic shift?

3. Consider the tune. Do you want to use the tune that is already paired with the text, or do you want to use an alternate tune? Can/should you alter the meter and/or the tune’s rhythmic gestures? (Example 1: a tune in 3/4 can seem refreshingly expansive when adding a beat and placing it in 4/4. Example 2: a tune that begins with a half note can be given added vitality by changing that to quarter rest – quarter note.)

4. Think about voicing/accompaniment. Do you hear unison mixed voices, men, women, 2-part mixed, or SATB choir singing these words? Will there be accompaniment? If so, what instrument(s) will play, and what does the accompaniment sound like? Is it hurried, sustained, rhythmic, chorale-style? What is the general shape of the accompaniment: Alberti bass, arpeggiations in l.h. with chords or octaves in r.h., waltz-style? Keep in mind the basis of a nice accompaniment, whatever the pattern, is good SATB voice-leading.

5. Settle on a form. Here’s an easy approach to handling form: choose a piece you like and copy its form. Hymns with repetition (a refrain or an “Alleluia”) can be relatively easy to structure formally.

6. Find the right key. Does the tune need to be set in a different key, either higher or lower? Is a mode shift (major to minor, or vice versa) or modulation appropriate for any section or verse?

7. Begin (rather, continue!) to write. A potentially paralyzing reality is the blank page. In order to overcome this, fill your manuscript paper with as much detail as possible before you write a single note. Write out the title, author’s and composer’s names, and your name; group the staves; write out the clefs, key signature, and time signature. Some composers/arrangers feel like they need to include everything and the kitchen sink. Instead, stick with your initial musical ideas, repeating and developing them throughout the entire piece. Remember, it will take much less time to perform your piece than it will to arrange and edit it. In other words, your audience will not tire of a musical idea as quickly as you might think they will.

8. Do this, and then do it some more: revise. 90% of writing is rewriting (it’s true!). Remember, you are setting a text—as you work on the vocal lines, constantly sing them back to make sure they are musical and free of any awkward syllabic emphasis.

9. Now, the not so fun part: transcribe and print. Use Finale® or Sibelius®. Enough said!

10. Finally, the really fun part: practice and perform. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the score after hearing a choir rehearse or even perform your music—composers have been doing this for centuries! Enjoy and take pleasure in your work. You’ve worked hard and done well.

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Unison Choral Singing

Most church choir members love to sing in parts—the challenge of learning one’s notes is a truly enjoyable experience. Many choir directors choose repertoire because of good part-writing that leads to a rich choral sound. And, all choral composers love to explore the endless creative potential inherent in SATB texture. The vast repertoire of SATB choral music is, undeniably, one of the church’s greatest treasures. Used occasionally, though, unison choral singing offers several benefits to a church choir:

  1. Practical. Unison pieces may be performed by any number of singers—from few to many. This can be enormously helpful for those low-attendance Sundays!
  2. Pedagogical. Rehearsing a unison piece allows the director to focus on vowel formation (which leads to good blend) without having to spend time teaching parts.
  3. Ensemble Unity. Unison singing is not easy—one singer’s slightest variations from the group are clearly perceptible. Unison anthems require singers to be keenly attentive.
  4. Musical. Most unison pieces bring basses and altos into their higher registers, which produces a strong sound. In addition, unison pieces often feature finely crafted accompaniments.
  5. Aesthetic. Unison anthems provide a textural contrast to part singing, which helps listeners to take notice of them.
  6. Historical. Western music is rooted in unison singing, so unison choral music connects today’s worship with that of the distant past.
  7. Theological. Singing together in unison both underscores and illustrates the fact that we are individual members of one united body.

Programming unison choral music is a wonderful way to enhance your choral program. But, where can you find good unison pieces? The first place to look is in the hymnal. Alternating women and men, having a soloist sing one stanza, adding an obbligato instrument, and using an alternate harmonization are ways to create an improvised anthem from the hymnal. Here are several excellent choices:

DETROITThis may be performed effectively by singing unaccompanied!

  • Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive (ELW 605)

ENGELBERG

  • We Know That Christ Is Raised (ELW 449)
  • To Be Your Presence (ELW 546)
  • When in Our Music God Is Glorified (ELW 851)

LOVE UNKNOWN

  • My Song Is Love Unknown (ELW 343)
  • We Sing to You, O God (ELW 791)

PICARDY

  • Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (ELW 490)

THAXTED

  • Let Streams of Living Justice (ELW 710)
  • O God beyond All Praising (ELW 880)

While unison anthems are not plentiful (aside from those for children’s choir), here are some well-written selections to consider adding to your library:

All My Hope on God Is Founded,” Herbert Howells/arr. John Rutter. COLLEGIUM, CCS-201. Liturgical use: Year C – 4th Sunday in Lent, Lectionary 21.
This hymn-like anthem features an accompaniment (stanzas 4-5) and outstanding descant written by John Rutter. Have only men sing stanza 2, to create contrast. The descant is difficult, but using only one or two sopranos will be sufficient.

*“Bow Down Your Ear,” Aaron David Miller. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800677954. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 11 and 15.
Quoting selected verses from Psalm 86, this anthem is simple yet creative. Have full choir sing the outer ‘A’ sections. In the middle ‘B’ section, have AB sing the first statement of “Teach me your way, O Lord…,” and add ST on its repetition.

God Be Merciful unto Us,” Daniel Pinkham. E.C. Schirmer, 5394. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 14 / Year C – 6th Sunday of Easter / Thanksgiving.
If you do not perform much modern music in your church, this setting of Psalm 67 by American composer Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) will be a good introduction. The tune is strong, and the accompaniment is harmonically rich.

*“Jubilate Deo,” Dale Wood. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800645816. Liturgical use: Year A – Christ the King Sunday / Thanksgiving.
A lively setting of Psalm 100, accompanied by organ and percussion (optional), this piece includes an optional second vocal part.

*“Peace Came to Earth,” arr. Nancy Raabe. MorningStar Music, 60-1007. Liturgical use: Christmas.
The slightly disjunct melody provides an opportunity to work on legato singing. If you do not have an oboe player, substitute flute or violin on the obbligato.

*“Psalm 121,” Timothy Shaw. Choristers Guild, CGA-1209. Liturgical use: Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent / Year C – Lectionary 29.
This children’s choir anthem works well with youth and adult choirs alike. Create contrast by having only men sing measures 17-27, only sopranos sing measures 19-41, and only sopranos sing Part II in measures 45-58.

 

* available for download through Prelude Music Planner

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

What Is Your Philosophy of Worship and Music?

Anyone who has interviewed for a church music position knows some questions are almost guaranteed to be asked: “How do you motivate volunteers? What style of music is your favorite? What does the ideal relationship between clergy and church musician look like? How do you feel about choir robes?” Tough questions, but not too difficult to answer. There is that one dreaded question, though, which is seemingly impossible to answer: “What is your philosophy of worship and music?” Whether you have been asked this question directly or not, you do have a philosophy that manifests itself in how you practice church music. Spending some time developing—even writing out—your own philosophy of worship and music is a valuable exercise that can have a direct, positive impact on your music ministry. Try this on your own, or together as a worship/music committee.

Here is a two-step approach I have used to develop my philosophy of worship and music. First, I answer the fundamental question, “What is worship?” One of my favorite biblical passages is Exodus 15:1-21, which describes the Israelites’ impromptu worship after crossing the Red Sea. We read first the Song of Moses, and then we read the Song of Miriam, who quotes her brother’s song. From this passage, five foundational principles of worship emerge:

  1. Worship is focused on (or directed toward) God; it is not focused on us.
  2. Worship is communal. In worship, women and men, children and adults, recount the shared salvation experience of God’s people.
  3. Worship is participatory; it is not simply a performance of one or a few.
  4. Worship is language-based and culturally intelligible.
  5. Worship is didactic. Worshipers of all ages are both instructed and edified by worshiping God.

Each point could be fleshed out further, and more could be drawn from this passage, of course. But, this five-part description of worship helps to lay the groundwork for my second step. Now I answer the more practical question, “How do you choose music for worship services?” Here is my ten-part approach to this issue (in no particular order!):

  1. All texts sung in worship should reflect the theology of the local church. (Denominational hymnals—and their supplemental resources—are an invaluable help in this regard.)
  2. Music used in worship should be rooted in the historic Church’s vast repertoire of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, springing forth into new expressions from the present day.
  3. Musical selections should fit the season of the liturgical year and should relate to the scripture readings, sermon theme, and other elements of the worship service.
  4. Each musical selection should be well-suited to its position in the worship service (prelude, opening hymn, offertory, closing song, etc.).
  5. Music used in worship should be culturally intelligible.
  6. Musical selections should be within the performing capabilities of those performing them. (However, there is always room for growth!)
  7. Music used in worship should foster participation by the assembly—familiarity, performance style, key/range, tempo, and dynamic threshold are critical factors to consider when preparing corporate worship music.
  8. The entirety of music used in a worship service should, ideally, exhibit both variety (of key, tempo, mood, instrumentation, etc.) and continuity (nothing should seem jarring or out of place).
  9. In all musical selections, text and music should be well-suited for each other. (Metrical indexes can help church musicians find more suitable tunes when necessary.)
  10. Not all music need be language-based. Instrumental music free of any textual association can be an effective means of grace to God’s people.

What would you add from your own philosophy of worship and music? Share your comments below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

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.

Thanksgiving: The Antidote to Worry

When it comes to church music ministry, there is plenty to worry about! Will enough singers show up on Sunday morning? Will the assembly be pleased with the music I’ve chosen? Will the organ cipher sound during my prelude? Will my choir members notice I’m not well prepared for rehearsal? Will the sound system work right? Will next year’s budget be cut—again? Often, we who are in charge worry too much, and our worry spills over to our volunteers. But, is it healthy to approach our service to the church in this way?

In Matthew 6:25-33, a reading for Thanksgiving Day, Jesus encourages his followers not to be crippled by anxiety. He says, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (v. 25). He tells us to look at the birds and consider the lilies—God takes care of them, and God, who knows everything we need, will take care of us. Jesus speaks directly to the issue of worrying, asking pointedly, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (v. 27). When we worry about things God has promised to provide, we doubt the sovereignty and goodness of God. What, then, are we to do? Jesus says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). That sounds good, but what can we do practically to reduce anxiety in our lives and, in particular, in our church music programs?

First, we can plan ahead. Having a good plan is one of the best strategies for church musicians to adopt. But, even the best laid plans often go awry! Second, we can hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Anticipating problems that may arise and putting preventive measures in place can reduce last-minute complications. But, as you know from experience, something always goes wrong! We should do these things, for it is prudent to do so, but what else can we do to prevent worry from infiltrating our ministry?

Let me suggest that the most effective antidote to worry is thanksgiving—when we recount God’s blessings, we remember God is faithful and find renewed trust in God’s promise of future provision. Rather than working within a climate of anxiety, we can help to foster a culture of thanksgiving in our church music programs. Try taking these action steps:

  1. Choose a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to use as a choral warm-up. Sing the same hymn for a period of time (about four weeks) and then present it as a musical offering in a worship service. Here are some suggestions (these selections are also well-suited for use during a Thanksgiving service!):
    • For the Fruit of All Creation (ELW 679)
    • Praise and Thanksgiving (ELW 689)
    • Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (ELW 858)
    • Soli Deo Gloria (ELW 878)
    • Let All Things Now Living (ELW 881)
  2. Write an article for your church’s newsletter (or Sunday bulletin) in which you acknowledge the gifts and contributions of your volunteer musicians. Select a different volunteer to profile each month. Your volunteers will feel appreciated.
  3. If you like to bake, prepare a tray of baked goods to share after a weeknight rehearsal.
  4. In all written communication to your volunteers, include a scripture verse or a word of thanks acknowledging their sacrifice of time and talent.
  5. Give thanks to God for your church and ask God to bless your ministry.

How else can you cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in your ministry? Share your comments below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

I Got Circles of Rhythm

From Ted-Ed and contributor and educator John Varney:

“In standard notation, rhythm is indicated on a musical bar line. But there are other ways to visualize rhythm that can be more intuitive. John Varney describes the ‘wheel method’ of tracing rhythm and uses it to take us on a musical journey around the world.”

The following are just a few of the titles available for instant download in the Prelude library that explore various aspects of global styles and rhythms:

“ChildrenSing Around the World”

CSATW

“God Who Watches Over Me”

God Who Watches Over Me

“Here is Love”

Here Is Love

And for a bit more rhythmic inspiration…

Continued blessings to you and your music ministry.

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Mark Jensen

Mark Jensen is Worship and Music Support Specialist at Augsburg Fortress and is a member of Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and lives in St. Paul.