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!

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

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!

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.

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.