Finding Your Rhythm in Holy Week

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

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

Five Suggestions

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

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

A prayer for this week

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

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

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

Sharing Song with the Homebound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

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

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!

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

“A[nother] biblical quotation about children is the “a little child shall lead them” in Isaiah’s vision of the peaceful kingdom (Isaiah11:6). When considering the practical aspects of children in worship, it is wise to ask how children can lead.

Beyond singing an anthem, children can lead verses of a psalm, sing a stanza of a hymn, or sing the leader parts to parts of the liturgy such as the Kyrie. In fact, children can sometimes be the most effective teacher of new music. When children teach a new hymn, for example, the assembly will often join them, encouraged by their ability.”

From Worship Formation & Liturgical Resources: Frequently Asked Questions – How do we involve children in worship? Copyright © 2013 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. www.elca.org/worshipfaq.

A church choir can and should be seen primarily as a leader in worship. Children’s and youth choirs should share in that responsibility when they sing for services. Too many times, they sing their anthem for the day and they’re done for the remainder of the service…often getting into mischief, I might add.

There are many opportunities during the liturgy of a service when children can take on the role as leader: have them sing the call to worship (gathering) or the psalmody or gospel acclamation of the day.

Also, children can add to the musical effects of the day’s hymnody by singing a descant with the adult choir, by randomly ringing handbells, or by being assigned to play appropriate percussion instruments on the final stanza of hymns.

Prelude can help you to find music that is appropriate for all of these times.

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Mark Sperle-Weiler

Mark Sperle-Weiler works at Augsburg Fortress as Senior Project Manager--Music in the Worship and Music Department, with many years of experience as an instrumentalist and choral leader.

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.

New Choral Titles for Lent, Easter, Spring 2015

Sometimes we confuse somber with slow, penitential with plodding. Although the pace of worship and music matters, and in some ways tempo and piety are intertwined, they are not as formulaic as their use in Christian worship sometimes might suggest. Faster does not equal more joyous. Consider popular music. Some of the quickest music around—bluegrass and death metal—can be both dark and penitential, often in the extreme.

If you are the musician planning worship this season, review the tempo at which you are leading worship, particularly the hymns. It is easy to get into a rut. Remember that you play the music not for yourself, or even for the music itself, but for the assembly. Your call is to lead the assembly in song. An excellent read that explores this concept in greater detail is Paul Westermeyer’s The Church Musician (Augsburg Fortress, rev. ed., 1997). Every musical choice, however complex or artistic, should be in the service of the church singing with one voice.

From the seasonal essays for Lent, Sundays and Seasons 2015 (Augsburg Fortress, 2014).

All instrumental and choral titles in the Lent, Easter, Spring 2015 line from Augsburg Fortress are available for instant download. Consider these choral titles for use throughout these seasons:

God So Loved You

Here Is Love

 

I Know That My Redeemer Lives

 

We Walk By Faith

 

Grace and peace to you and your music ministry this Lenten season.

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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.

Gospel Acclamations for Lent through Holy Trinity

The gospel acclamation is a high point of celebration in the assembly. It is the assembly’s opportunity to welcome the reading of the gospel in its midst, to rejoice for the great gift of God’s word, and to gather around the reading. It is an anticipation of the gospel reading to come and a response to the word it has already heard. The choir may have a role in leading the acclamation, providing a descant or singing the proper verse. However, on most days it is not advisable for the choir to sing the entire acclamation in the assembly’s place (the days of Lent and Holy Week may be an exception, when the proper acclamations are less easily sung by an assembly). This is the assembly’s response, and at least the alleluia needs the entire assembly’s voice.

Usually the gospel acclamation contains an alleluia, our most basic word of praise. In the Lenten season, we sing a less festive text without an alleluia, “Let your steadfast love come to us, O Lord. Save us as you promised; we will trust your word,” or another suitable text. In all other seasons, we may simply sing the alleluia or we may pair that singing with a proper verse for the day.

—From Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship: The Sunday Assembly, Lorraine S. Brugh and Gordon W. Lathrop (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).

Gospel Acclamations for Lent through Holy Trinity (Augsburg Fortress, 2006) offers choral gospel acclamations for Lent through Holy Trinity with one per Sunday or festival day in the church year, years A, B, and C. Download content for any Sunday instantly in Prelude simply by searching “Gospel Acclamations” and the calendar date of the Sunday you would like.

First Sunday in Lent B

Second Sunday in Lent B

Grace and peace to you and your music ministry this Lenten season.

 

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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.

Seasonal Notes

I’m the Prelude project manager who sifts through spreadsheets and sheet music in order to bring you the new material that keeps flowing into Prelude, both from Augsburg Fortress and our musical partner publishers.  Many talented musicians have already contributed to this blog, and will do so in the future, and they are much better organists and choral directors than I could ever hope to be, but my special niche here will be give you content updates that go more in-depth than small front-page announcements.  This gives me a chance to share specific recommendations from the recent batch that I hope you love as much as I do, things to bookmark for your planning this coming educational/liturgical year.

One exciting development recently here at Prelude is all of the new content we have from GIA.  Lots of this content is recent (2013), but over half of it is older material hand-picked by knowledgable staff here. The most recent batch of content added included some really good meaty arrangements for Christmas or Easter holiday festivities, things with brass quintets or strings or timpani, by folks like John Ferguson and Marty Haugen.  Just before our GIA batch got loaded here, we finished adding our recent Augsburg Fortress fall/winter 2014 releases, too, so there’s a mix of GIA material new and classic and new AF material in the list below, so you can survey arrangements from several years and seasons as you plan for the year ahead:

  • Immediately useful for your special music this summer: K. Lee Scott’s 2014 vocal solos New Songs of Gladness in medium-high and medium-low from Augsburg Fortress
  • Also useful right now for summer and fall weddings for the organ players: Augsburg Organ Library: Marriage
  • Late November/Christ the King choral arrangement: Christus Paradox, gorgeous text, set to Picardy, from GIA
  • For Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, SATB + Children’s Choir: Marty Haugen’s Thanks Be To God is a melody paired with children’s choir singing the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome, from GIA
  • Christmas liturgy: for an easy but festive idea, we’ve just added a Christmastime Alleluia that uses O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis) for the assembly part, with echoes of Silent Night in the instrumental accompaniments by James J. Chepponis, from GIA

Find ALL of the above recommendations live on Prelude now, with full previews available for you of all these new (and in the case of GIA, various years) items, so you can read all the way to the end, and know before you buy–How high do the sopranos need to go?  How many divisi parts?  Will this be an easy couple weeks of rehearsal or a challenge to plan over a few months for my choir?

If you don’t have Prelude yet, summertime is a great time to give a free trial or a Webinar a try.  Play around, have fun, explore new and older music gems, find something to inspire you during your summer planning time.

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Michelle Hughes

In addition to serving as Prelude Project Manager/"Content Queen," I've served in various roles as a church musician throughout in my life--Saint Paul Area Synod Youth Representative, Augsburg College Choir Alto Section Leader and Campus Ministry Leadership, National Lutheran Choir Member (during Larry Fleming's time), ELCA pastor (internship Gloria Dei Lutheran, Williston, ND, called to First Lutheran, Janesville, WI), Middle School Choir director and Worship/Praise Band Singer (United Lutheran, Red Wing, MN), occasional Sundays and Seasons contributor/Augsburg Fortress Gospel Devotional writer, and last but most significant vocation: mother to three young musicians--twin girls plus younger sister.

20 Years: Thank You, Martin Seltz!

Today Augsburg Fortress honors Martin Seltz on his 20 year anniversary as an employee of Augsburg Fortress, serving as Publisher of Worship and Music. A highlight from today’s celebration includes a musical tribute by colleague Robert Buckley Farlee.

We invite you to join us in celebration by clicking through the link below (tune “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing!” Gelobt Sei Gott):

For Twenty Years

We give thanks for Martin Seltz’s years of Spirit-filled leadership and offer our songs of joyful tribute to all who serve in worship and music as this educational year draws to a close. Thank you!

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Michelle Hughes

In addition to serving as Prelude Project Manager/"Content Queen," I've served in various roles as a church musician throughout in my life--Saint Paul Area Synod Youth Representative, Augsburg College Choir Alto Section Leader and Campus Ministry Leadership, National Lutheran Choir Member (during Larry Fleming's time), ELCA pastor (internship Gloria Dei Lutheran, Williston, ND, called to First Lutheran, Janesville, WI), Middle School Choir director and Worship/Praise Band Singer (United Lutheran, Red Wing, MN), occasional Sundays and Seasons contributor/Augsburg Fortress Gospel Devotional writer, and last but most significant vocation: mother to three young musicians--twin girls plus younger sister.

Hark, the Glad Sound?

 

Thanks to The Choir Project and Woodwind & Brasswind Facebook pages for contributing this bingo.  We send our blessings for 3 Days/Easter stamina, post-Easter sabbath, and joyful noises.

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Michelle Hughes

In addition to serving as Prelude Project Manager/"Content Queen," I've served in various roles as a church musician throughout in my life--Saint Paul Area Synod Youth Representative, Augsburg College Choir Alto Section Leader and Campus Ministry Leadership, National Lutheran Choir Member (during Larry Fleming's time), ELCA pastor (internship Gloria Dei Lutheran, Williston, ND, called to First Lutheran, Janesville, WI), Middle School Choir director and Worship/Praise Band Singer (United Lutheran, Red Wing, MN), occasional Sundays and Seasons contributor/Augsburg Fortress Gospel Devotional writer, and last but most significant vocation: mother to three young musicians--twin girls plus younger sister.