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.

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.

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!

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.

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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.