Tuned In to Reformation 500: Planning for Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Singing on September 11

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

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

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

Lament

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

Healing

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

Protection

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

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

Service and Justice

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

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

Sing for Now

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

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.

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.

20 Time-Saving Tips for Church Musicians

Get organized. There is an old saying: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Being organized will, indeed, save time and limit frustration.

Reduce! Clutter can be overwhelming, and its very presence can eat up a lot of time. Clean out your music library. Once you have chosen new music, throw away catalogs from publishers and distributors.

Reuse! Church members have their favorites—program these pieces again and again . . . and again. Once you’ve found a composer/arranger you like, look for more titles by that writer.

Recycle! Donate unwanted music to another (perhaps smaller) church.

Be prepared. Try to sustain a plan for 12 months out (general ideas only), 6 months out, 3 months out, and 1 month out (very clearly defined).

Keep records. Maintain an accurate list of all the music you use throughout the year (preludes and postludes, anthems, interludes, etc.). This will make it easier to plan next year’s selections.

Update your files. Keep current items most visible in your filing system, and keep both your actual desk and your computer desktop clean and clutter-free.

Know what you like. Prepare a tabbed notebook (or a PDF to load onto your tablet) of repertoire you like to play for weddings, funerals, and communion. (Be sure to observe applicable copyright laws!)

Use technology effectively. Don’t be a slave to technology; make it work for you. If necessary, take a computer or software training course.

Become a better web surfer. Bookmark sites you visit frequently, keep multiple tabs open when browsing, and perfect your ability to search (place titles in quotes, use the minus sign to eliminate certain words, etc.).

Plan online. Take advantage of online planning tools like Prelude Music Planner. Make use of publishers’ websites containing liturgical planning calendars, demo recordings, and repertoire suggestions.

Respect other people’s time. Begin and end rehearsals on time—always!

Have a rehearsal plan. Know your “plan of attack” before you walk into rehearsal. List the anthems you’ll rehearse, so choir members can get their music in order. Before moving to the next piece, make notes on your score so you’ll remember what to work on next time.

Think like a parent. Choose your battles. Remember that perfection is not a reasonable goal—growth and development are, though. Anticipate problems before they arise and come up with possible strategies for solving them.

Be wise. Build on past successes and learn from past mistakes.

Learn to say no. Busy people always make time for more projects, but being able to say, “I’m unable to take that on right now” is a great skill to have. Another good response is, “That’s an excellent idea. I don’t have time to do it by myself, but maybe you’d like to help!”

Delegate. Don’t take advantage of other people’s time, but remember volunteers love to help—allow them to share some of your load. If someone is good at data entry, ask her to be your librarian. If someone enjoys social events, ask him to be your party-planner. Instead of photocopying the last page of your prelude, enlist a middle-school student to be your page-turner for the day.

Don’t go it alone. Collaborate with pastors, staff, and church members who may have wonderful ideas you can use—a favorite anthem, a thematic idea for a program, or the name of a substitute musician. If a church member has a favorite piece of music, and they purchase copies for the church, use it!

Get away. Attend at least one conference a year. Church music conferences are held nationally and locally, so you may not have to travel far. You might think you’re too busy to attend a conference, but doing so promotes rejuvenation, networking, brainstorming, and refreshment. Consider National Conference for Sacred Music as well as the Augsburg Fortress Summer Music Clinics.

Redeem time. Benjamin Franklin, who was full of sage advice, once wrote, “Lost time is never found again.” When members of your praise team are running late for rehearsal, use that time to practice, to pray, or to take a nap!

What time-saving tips have you learned from your experience in music ministry? Share your comments below!

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

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.

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.

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.