The Augsburg Chorale Book: Five Hundred Years of Singing (and Counting!)

The party’s over. 2017 has come and gone, and with it, the sesquicentennial of Martin Luther and the Reformation. The concerts, lectures, and ecumenical worship celebrations have concluded. The exhibits have come down, and the newly made banners and paraments have been put away. A Mighty Fortress is Our God is taking a well-earned rest.

Except, of course, the anniversary is really just beginning. 2017 marked 500 years since Luther’s 1517 posting of the 95 Theses. And while that event may have been the Reformation’s catalyst, there are many other landmarks whose 500th birthday is still ahead of us—including the most important ones for worship and music.

Take, for example, Luther’s orders for worship, the Formulae Missae of 1523 and the Deutsche Messe of 1526. These two documents introduced many important reforms, one of which was the formalization of vernacular hymn singing within the liturgy. Those hymns were chorales, the first of which were written and published by Luther and his colleagues in 1523 and 1524.[1] Over time, the chorales grew and evolved into one of the most robust genres in Western hymnody. Lutheran chorales inspired tens of thousands of choral arrangements, organ settings, and instrumental works, from the 1520s through the present day.

The Augsburg Chorale Book is a new contribution to this vibrant tradition. The Chorale Book contains twenty-nine choral settings of chorales by Lutheran composers from the sixteenth century to the present. Hymn-like cantionale settings by J. S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn stand alongside polyphonic motets by Johann Walter, Hugo Distler, and Johannes Brahms. New settings by composers like Nancy Raabe, Bradley Ellingboe, John Ferguson, and Anne Krentz Organ provide twenty-first century interpretations of these historic texts and tunes. In fact, fourteen of the twenty-nine works in the Augsburg Chorale Book were newly composed for this collection. (To see the Chorale Book’s Table of Contents and some sample pages, click here.)

Voicings include unison, two-part, three-part mixed (SAB), and SATB, so there are possibilities for choirs of all types and sizes. A variety of instrumentation choices make the Chorale Book even more diverse. Several settings may be performed unaccompanied (or with keyboard doubling), while others include carefully crafted organ accompaniments. Ten of the works in the collection include optional or obligato string, woodwind, or brass instruments.

Each setting features performance notes that provide a brief biography of the composer, background information on the setting, and suggestions for use. That last category is important: Chorales were intended for communal singing, and the earliest choral arrangements were performed in alternation with the congregation. Many of the settings in the Chorale Book can be used similarly, and the performance notes suggest how to do so (in cases where it isn’t immediately obvious).

So: Although 2017 is over, the 500th anniversary of the chorale and Lutheran contributions to congregational song are still (at least) five years away. The Augsburg Chorale Book and other Augsburg Fortress resources like the Chantry Choirbook and Bach for all Seasons, give us the opportunity to continue to sing our songs in these “in-between times.” Which, of course, is really what the chorales (and all hymns) are for: They are not supposed to be saved for festivals and commemorations, but are to be sung in the regular, weekly worship gatherings of the faithful in all times and places. That is how they form us in faith and shape us in song.

[1] Eight different chorale texts and four tunes were published in the first Lutheran hymnal, the Etlich Christliche Lieder, in 1524. They had previously been published as broadsheets in 1523 and 1524. For a brief history of the origin of the Lutheran chorale, see Highben, Zebulon M., “Reviving Sacred Song: 500 Years of the Lutheran Chorale in its Congregational and Choral Contexts,” Choral Journal 58, no. 1 (August 2017): 36-46.

Zebulon Highben

Zebulon M. Highben is a conductor-educator, composer, and church musician. Currently Director of Choral Activities at Muskingum University (New Concord, OH), he previously taught at Luther Seminary and the University of Wisconsin River Falls, and served Lutheran and Presbyterian parishes in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. Since 2005 he has been the Paul Bouman Chapel Choir Director at the annual Lutheran Summer Music Academy & Festival. His compositions are frequently performed by church, school, and community ensembles, and are published by Augsburg Fortress, Boosey & Hawkes, GIA Publications, and MorningStar Music. Highben studied at Ohio State University (B.M.E.), Luther Seminary and St. Olaf College (M.S.M.), Michigan State University (D.M.A.), and is a rostered Associate in Ministry in the ELCA.

Summer Music

Do your choirs take a break over the summer months? I know of several churches in which the choirs continue to sing all year round, but more frequently I hear of choirs being “off” for the summer. If this is the case for you, rather than viewing it as a loss, consider it an opportunity to branch out and incorporate a variety of other vocal and instrumental ensembles. Tap the home-grown musical talent in your church and community.

In addition to providing a different sound, offering a men’s or a women’s choir for one of the summer Sundays can serve as a recruitment tool for your mixed choir that sings during the rest of the year. Schedule one or two rehearsals, choose a psalm setting and/or a choral anthem, perhaps arrange a verse of one of the hymns for the day, and see what happens! Hopefully, you will get a mix of regular choir singers plus some new people who might like to give it a try and for whom the short-term commitment is very appealing. Be welcoming to new singers; keep the rehearsal positive and encouraging. You are planting seeds which may or may not take root and grow for the long term. That’s okay! You are providing a path for the Holy Spirit to move through your church in a new way.

Intergenerational music ensembles are another area for exploration. Maybe your women’s choir could instead be a treble choir (women, girls, and boys with unchanged voices).

Do you have any brass players? Think beyond the regulars that you tap for Easter Sunday—are there teenagers who play in their school band? Could you organize a group to play one Sunday, with the more experienced adult players mentoring the youth? Train these younger musicians to play hymns, leading the assembly’s song. It’s a win-win situation. Your congregation gets to have festive music on an ordinary green Sunday, and the instrumentalists get valuable experience playing for worship. Let the more experienced players do a bang-up prelude—line up some percussionists and do Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

Likewise, are there string or woodwind players available? Even the youngest Suzuki learner has appropriate music to offer. For more proficient players, could you pull together a string trio or quartet, a woodwind quintet, or even possibly a small chamber orchestra? If you have a few players, ask if they have musician friends who might like to commit to one summer Sunday. Music is an excellent entry point for people who are new to the church. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre is a wonderful piece to do with strings; if you only have a couple of players, the organist could play the piece with the strings doubling on their parts.

Percussionists are often overlooked as soloists, but if you have a decent high school player, chances are he/she could borrow the school’s marimba and offer a fabulous prelude piece. You could also include the marimba on one or more hymns. This can be especially effective with Hispanic music.

If your church has handbells, gather a few people and have them play a quartet. There are plenty of arrangements available that do not require a full handbell choir. Include a pentatonic hymn and have the ringers do a random ring as accompaniment, or chant the psalm that Sunday with handbell chords as punctuation.

Summer is a good time to encourage duets, trios, and other small ensembles. Are there particular families with multiple musicians? Or groups within the congregation, such as a middle school or high school social group? Of course, there may also be people who would like to sing or play a solo. For instrumentalists, in addition to a solo, encourage them to play melody and/or descants along with the hymns. Your congregation will appreciate the enhancement to their song.

Summer will be here before you know it, so begin thinking, recruiting, and planning now!

Anne Krentz Organ

Anne Krentz Organ serves as the Director of Music Ministries at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She is also composer of many works of church music, particularly choral and piano. She has served as president of Region III of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

Choral Music for Holy Week: Sunday of the Passion and the Three Days

It goes without saying that Holy Week is one of the busiest times of the church year for choirs and their directors. But along with the high demands of singing for multiple services within the span of six or seven days (let alone the “eighth day” of Easter!) come the great rewards of proclaiming the Gospel through a wide variety of music in the most dramatic liturgies of the church year.

What follows is a listing of some of my favorite choral music for the liturgies of Holy Week, focusing on some of the choral elements unique to those liturgies. In other words, you’ll have to look elsewhere to find recommendations for more typical anthems, psalms, gospel acclamations, and hymns settings. For many of my recommendations, I’m relying on my go-to general choral collections:

Sunday of the Passion

The most common task of the choir unique to the Sunday of the Passion is the singing of a processional anthem—a festive way to conclude the procession with palms—based on some version of the text “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The popularity of this function of the choir is evidenced by the abundance of such anthems. The following are some of my favorites:

    • “Sing Hosanna to the Son of David,” Bartholomew Gesius (CCB, FMB)
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Orlando Gibbons (SSAATB or SSATTB) (
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” David Morgan (NCAB)
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Ronald Nelson (SAB) (AFP 11-1258, out of print)
    • “Hosanna! Blessed Is He,” Knut Nystedt (SAB or 2-part) (ACB)
    • Hosanna to the Son of David,” Tomas Luis de Victoria (GIA G-4575)

Maundy Thursday

There are two elements unique to the Maundy Thursday liturgy in which the choir can participate. The first is the foot washing. The text most commonly associated with this action is some version of “Where Charity and Love” (or the original Latin, Ubi caritas et amor). Even if the foot washing is not practiced in your church, this text is still worth singing. I’m limiting myself to settings of the text in English since the Latin settings (including the most famous, by Maurice Durufle) tend to be more difficult.

The second element unique to Maundy Thursday is the stripping of the altar. Various psalms have been appointed for this action, perhaps the most common being Psalm 22. Almost any setting of this or any other appointed psalm would be appropriate. There are too many available for it to be worth winnowing, except to draw your attention to those in the resources mentioned above, not to mention the simple but effective practice of using a psalm tone—Gregorian, Anglican, hymnal, or other. But there is one setting of Psalm 22 that I think is particularly appropriate for this action, a responsorial setting with stunning text-painting:

    • My God, My God,” David Clark Isele, from Psalms for the Church Year (GIA G-2262).

Good Friday

If your church follows a Tenebrae service, you may be interested in some settings of either the Passion according to John or the Solemn Reproaches (two elements unique to the Good Friday liturgy). The following may be of some help:

Passion according to John. In these settings the choir takes the role of the turba (or crowd) and cantors takes the roles of the evangelist, Jesus, and other characters:

Solemn Reproaches


Vigil of Easter

Most of the music for the Vigil of Easter is readily handled by cantor or cantors, which is a relief to members of your choir who may need to be back at church early the next morning. The music that can be taken by the choir includes the responses to the readings of the Vigil—traditionally, psalms and canticles from the Old Testament. For these, please check the season-specific collections above or other lists of recommendations like the one found on The pieces on these lists tend to be taken from the general choral repertoire instead of pieces based on the actual appointed psalmodic texts, but there are a number of choral pieces that are:

I hope you will find something of use in these suggestions, whether it is for this fast-approaching Holy Week or for the many to come in your service to the risen Christ and his Church.

A “Choral Ecology” in Worship Music Planning

Within our congregations and personal lives, we have increasingly clear understanding of the ways our personal decisions around our use of resources matter. How can we carry this sense of stewardship into the planning and care we exhibit for resources of wisdom, people, talent, time, and connection in our worship services? Over recent years I have grown to plan anthems, service music, and other choir roles with a much clearer view of the “ecosystem” volunteer church choirs exist in. Intentional planning with this awareness has helped to provide increased comfort and musical consistency in the growth and leadership of my choirs, it has broadened our choral and congregational repertoire without (much) resistance, and it has helped to deepen theological and liturgical connections in an era of widely varied attendance patterns. Others have articulated well the introduction of new hymns into a congregation’s repertoire, so I will not repeat that process here but focus directly on choral leadership.

Planning with a “Choir Ecology” in mind includes carefully planned repetition of works to build a repertoire and increase the familiarity so the choir can grow in musicianship and focus on more nuanced and artistic goals. It includes opportunities to use hymn-based settings as true choral anthems, but once learned to pull individual introductions, verses, transitions, or descants from them with congregational singing. Finally, and the hardest for me, it means that I must confess and let go of my desire for the “perfect” anthem for a service when the “perfect” anthems for three weeks in one month would stretch my singers to (or beyond) their limits. Instead, I find an excellent or good fit for text and music that will give time to the stretch anthems of nearby weeks and have singers feeling good about their abilities and their leadership in rehearsal and worship. Meaningful worship leadership is more than getting most of the notes right!

An example of these tensions in practice this year will show some of these priorities in action. This winter, our adult choir is in transition with an interim organist through Lent and Easter. Long-range planning (completed before personnel and start dates could be confirmed) required a more reserved plan for coordination in some weeks, and a sermon series departing from the RCL encouraged reflection on new connections between Lenten, Holy Week, and Easter Liturgies.

Good volunteer adult choir winter plan

(about 25 singers on a Sunday, about 35 “members”)

1/7 K. Nystedt, This is My Beloved Son, SAB (Concordia): very short

1/14 R. Hobby, God Has Called Us, SATB (MorningStar): repeated from an Installation last summer

1/21 E. Hovland, The Glory of the Father, SSATB a cappella (GIA): hard for us to do well

1/28 Z. Highben, O God of Light, SATB (Augsburg): hymn concertato

2/4 Two selections: 1.) J. Campbell, God Heals the Brokenhearted, SATB (Augsburg): Psalm text setting; 2.) Scripture chanting with percussion guest

2/11 Two selections: 1.) K. Nystedt, This is My Beloved Son: returns to bookend the Sundays after the Epiphany with its parallel text; 2.) Christiansen, My God, How Wonderful Thou Art, SSATB a cappella (Augsburg, 1968): a good challenge

2/18 R. Hillert, God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending, SATB (Hope): familiar hymn concertato repeated from last year (congregation will sing this hymn in March, connecting a Lenten series on the Cross)

2/25 T. Noble, Go To Dark Gethsemane, SATB a cappella (Alfred): not as hard as it looks

3/4 J. Ferguson, Ah, Holy Jesus (from St. John Passion), SATB (Augsburg): hymn concertato, familiar

3/11 J. Ferguson, When We Are Tempted to Deny Your Son (from St. John Passion), SATB (Augsburg): new to us

3/18 Two selections: 1.) J. Ireland, Greater Love Hath No Man, SATB (ECS/MorningStar): big English organ-anthem; 2.) P. Christiansen, Wondrous Love, SATB (Augsburg): used only in part as transition in service (congregation will sing this hymn March 25)

3/25 G. Martin, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, SATB (Presser): a choir favorite we have not sung in several years

John Sall

John Sall’s life-long connection to music in the church was nurtured in the rich resources of a strong Lutheran Church, public school, and private music study in Holdrege, Nebraska, and through the Lutheran Summer Music program. A graduate of St. Olaf College, John majored in Church Music and Organ with John Ferguson. Graduate conducting studies with Alan Harler attended the Master of Music at Temple University where John was honored with the Elaine Brown Tribute Award, presented each year for work in “relating music to broader issues of community-building and human expression.” John serves as Director of Music Ministries at Abington Presbyterian Church (Abington, PA), founded in 1714, where he leads youth and adult choirs and the Abington Symphony Orchestra and oversees congregational music programs and the Music at Abington concert series.

The Lutheran Roots of an Epiphany Vespers

Ten years ago this month, the most important premiere of my life took place. Piffaro, the Renaissance Band commissioned from me a concert-length Vespers.

The project was unusual from the beginning. Early-music groups aren’t known for commissioning contemporary composers, nor do instrumental ensembles routinely ask for choral music. But Piffaro partnered with the new-music choir The Crossing for this liturgical and—to me, the most compelling aspect—Lutheran work. I was to reimagine music from the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Musically, this was the High Renaissance, and so it made sense for Piffaro after all.

They asked me because I am Lutheran. Raised Lutheran, I had composed, throughout my career, Lutheran service music and had used Lutheran music in concert works.

The concerts were scheduled for early January, so this would be an Epiphany Vespers. Along with bits of two Latin chants and much original melodic material, I chose some of the great Lutheran Epiphany chorales.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (ELW 308) topped the list, but I couldn’t get the first movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 1, on the same chorale, out of my head. I finally kept myself from writing bad Bach by simplifying lines and focusing on counterpoint. Heraldic shawms and text-painting showed the way.

Because of text-painting, I set the beautiful Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (ELW 309) in four, then 8, then 16 parts. The 16-voice third verse (different from ELW) overflows at (in my translation) “That we may taste your sweetness, / fill up our hearts’ completeness / so that we thirst for you.” At “you” (dir in German), a single voice holds one high note, one of the most arresting moments in Vespers, I think.

In dir ist Freude (ELW 867), the rollicking Italian tune, is accompanied by the small Renaissance guitar. O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht (675) is a tenor counter-melody against the Magnificat’s three-soprano canon. Nun danket all und bringet Ehr (847) is an instrumental triple canon. Luther’s Vater unser (746) and O süßer Herre Jesu Christ (from the Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch, EKG, my wife and I knew when she directed music at Philadelphia’s German-language Tabor Lutheran) rounded out the chorales quoted. I was set.

But Piffaro’s co-director Robert Wiemken called, four days before the premiere, with a problem. Could we insert an interlude between the Psalm 70 Introit (Make haste, O God, to deliver me) and Psalm 27 (The Lord is my light and my salvation)? They’re long, the choir could use a break, and another piece just for Piffaro would be great. He was not asking me to compose more; he had chosen something from that time-period as a stop-gap.

I later told Bob, laughing, that he could not have worded it any better to get me to write something new. Thus, Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!, another EKG chorale I hadn’t found a place for. (The tune is also known as O heilige Dreifaltigkeit, ELW 571.) The five-voice sonata I wrote in two days is one of the most-performed sections of Vespers. (See it here, for brass quintet.)

In 10 years I’ve transcribed much of Vespers for modern instruments. Bach, ironically, shows up after all. I re-orchestrated four movements to the instrumentation of his Cantata No. 1 for a concert this month.

Vespers had a huge impact on my career, but more significantly, it changed my composing. The Lutheran tradition, tunes, and texts energized a circuit in me, empowering my music in a sudden, unpredictable way. With all wonder and gratitude, I have to say: It was an epiphany.

Kile Smith

Of the many raves for Kile Smith's Vespers, Gramophone called it “spectacular,” and the American Record Guide, “a major new work.” Two concert-length choral works will be recorded in 2018, Canticle (with a new Alleluia) with Craig Hella Johnson and the Vocal Arts Ensemble, and The Arc in the Sky with Donald Nally and The Crossing. Major choral works will be heard in Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cincinnati, and England this year, Lyric Fest releases a CD of Kile's vocal music, and he has been awarded an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts to compose his first opera, The Book of Job. Kile continues to write chamber and orchestral works, anthems and other service music for Lutheran and other churches, and he is the composer in residence for the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. Many of his works are distributed by MusicSpoke.

Making Biblical Stories Come Alive through Song:  Sing the Stories of Jesus

One of my favorite collections of songs for children is the book Sing the Stories of Jesus by John Horman and Mary Nelson Keithahn. It is chock-full of songs based on various stories from the Gospels, some well-known stories and some that are often overlooked.  Several songs are simple enough to be used for Sunday School groups, but all are perfect for young singers in choirs.  They cover events of Jesus’ life from the angels’ Gloria at his birth to Breakfast by the Sea after the resurrection. Instructions for teaching are included for each song as well as an accompaniment CD if you need it. Over time, I have taught and directed many of these songs, but I’d like to share the way I have taught, embellished, and performed four of my favorites from this collection.

Jesus Is Baptized

Jesus was baptized by John, * down by the riverside. This is an echo song.  Each phrase is sung by a leader then echoed by the choir. I sing the Leader part and have my singers respond in echo, making it instantly easy to teach notes, to model good singing, and to model good diction. (Be sure to not sing an ending R on ‘river’.)  This song is rhythmic and has a bouncy, happy accompaniment that keeps the movement going forward. We add a clap at the beginning of the second phrase of the song on the rest ( * down by the riverside).  I suggest teaching the clap first and separately – speak in rhythm over and over.  This next embellishment makes my singers smile! We extend the song’s ending; the piano repeats the final measure an octave lower and then another octave lower — going down, down, down – as low as you can go. This creates visual and auditory text painting.

The Storm

Storm winds blew, the waves rose high.  “Save us, Jesus, or we’ll die!”  Jesus woke and said, “Be still!”  Wind and waves obeyed his will. We use a 2-octave set of choir chimes and colorful scarves (or wide ribbons) to bring this story to life.  Choose D minor notes ( D, E, F, A ) to create a cluster chord.  Have some children play the cluster chord on the 3rd beat of each of the opening measures.  Repeat the opening two measures to make a longer intro. The other children each hold a scarf at a corner (tell them to pinch a corner) and sway in half notes side to side from the beginning of the introduction.  At “save us” the children swish the scarves over their heads as if signaling for help.  Next they slowly bring the scarves to the front and on the word “still!” they hold it straight out, frozen. After the word “will” they slowly lower the scarves and on the final chord they drop the scarves to the ground while the cluster chords play again on beat 3. Very effective.

Teach Us How to Pray

“Jesus, teach us how to pray,” asked his friends along the way.  “Help us find the words to say what is in our hearts today.”  When learning this song, we talk about the disciples’ question to Jesus and his answer to them – the Lord’s Prayer.  First we sing through the song and then our accompanist replays the entire song quietly (and improvises a bit) while we speak the Lord’s Prayer together over the music.  We add hand motions for each petition of the prayer, ending with an Amen.  I have used this in worship and in a choir camp performance.  To avoid having the listeners and other worshipers applaud at the end  (‘yeah, good prayer!’), I keep my conductor’s hands raised at the ‘Amen’, and we go straight into another song of similar mood and tempo or the accompanist continues playing as the children settle. Another meaningful way to use these motions is to pray silently and just pray with the motions.  Powerful.  Email me for a short video of the motions.

Jesus Heals Ten Lepers

Ten who had a bad disease called to Jesus “Help us, please!”  Jesus healed them all that day, sent them on along their way.  Only one returned to say “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you!”  But where were the other nine?  “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you!”  Children love to count and to ask questions in songs.  A unique way to introduce this song is to give choir chimes or handbells, one to each of 11 singers or double up with 6 singers. You are counting and naming the characters in the story.  Select 11 bells going up the pentatonic C major scale:  C, D, E, G, A, C, D, E, G, A, C. Line the children up in order, low to high notes, and as an introduction have each chime ring (low to high) while all the children count:  ring C “1”, ring D “2”, ring E “3”…all the way to ring C”10″.  After the last chime (the eleventh), all say “Jesus!” At the end of the song, all chimes ring in a giant cluster chord.  Embellishing this way includes more children, lengthens the song, and helps endear the story to your singers.

I encourage you to learn and teach all the songs in this collection to your singers.  Each provides an excellent opportunity for teaching good diction, phrasing, and tonal quality as well as important moments from the life of Jesus.

Karol Kinard Kimmell

Karol Kinard Kimmell, a life-long Lutheran, is Director of Youth & Children's Music at All Saints' Episcopal Church in downtown Atlanta, directing four singing choirs (PreK - 12th grade) and three ringing choirs (4th grade - Adults). Karol serves as co-director and clinician at the summer music experience, Lutheridge (NC) Music Week (20 years). She serves on the faculty of the Choristers Guild Institute, a 3-year certification program for children's church choral directors, and has recently accepted the co-director's position for the CG Institute. Karol was on the task force and faculty for ALCM's Young Lutherans Sing. She attended Wittenberg University and Lenoir-Rhyne University, graduating from LRU with a music education degree/organ. She sang in the NYC Riverside Church Choir in the 1980's and the Atlanta Bach Choir and Atlanta's Baroque Camarati in the 1990's. She received training in Orff Schulwerk, KinderMusic, and Rhythmically Moving. Karol has presented for GA ACDA, ALCM, Augsburg Fortress, and Choristers Guild, directed the NC All State Elementary Chorus (2009), and led children's choirs at various summer music camps: Massanetta Springs, Lutheridge, Bonclarken, and Mabel Boyter Choir Camp.

With New Voices—The Small Catechism in Song

If you flip to the back of Evangelical Lutheran Worship in search of one of the indices, you might end up taking a quick tour through the Small Catechism first. Nestled between the daily lectionary and the copyright acknowledgments are the words every Lutheran has had to memorize (at least part of!) during confirmation class. Its physical presence in our primary worship book is a reminder that like the heritage of hymns, tunes, and liturgies contained in ELW, we are meant to carry these words with us as we worship, pray, and live faithfully in the world.

In 2016 Bishop Elizabeth Eaton invited the ELCA to read or re-read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism together as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. “The Small Catechism is a treasure too good for just early adolescence,” Eaton explained in her invitational video. To that end, Augsburg Fortress has just published a set of resources called By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism which joyfully and colorfully explores the text in depth. We might add that it’s also a treasure too good not to explore in music. Below are some musical resources that interpret portions the Small Catechism and may be helpful to music directors looking to integrate their congregation’s study of the text with worship. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it will be a good catalyst for other pieces in your libraries on the same themes.


Ten Commandments

Creed (Choral)

Creed (Organ)

Lord’s Prayer (Choral)

Lord’s Prayer (Organ)

Baptism (Choral)

Baptism (Organ)

Confession (Choral)

Communion (Choral)

Communion (Organ)

Morning/Evening/Table blessings (Choral)

Morning/Evening/Table blessings (Organ / Piano)

If I know any scripture by heart, it’s probably because I have sung it as a hymn or anthem. Singing allows us to embody the Word in a deeper way, and helps us carry that text within us for the rest of our lives. By singing the Small Catechism we can provide an opportunity to discuss those texts during rehearsals or bulletin notes as well as help our choirs and congregations carry those words with them, wherever they go, by heart.

David Sims

David Sims is the Music Development Manager at Augsburg Fortress, where he will direct development and production of choral, instrumental, and congregational song resources. Since 2014 he has served as Cantor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and prior to that worked as an organ builder and church musician in Indiana. David grew up in the cornfields of central Illinois and holds degrees in Church Music and Organ Performance from St. Olaf College and Indiana University. His compositions are published by Augsburg Fortress and GIA, and you can usually find him on a search for a new hymn text, recipe, or a source of coffee.

Lightening the Load – A SAB Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choral Music for Fall 2017 (Lectionary Year A)

[Editor’s note: While the summer sun is still high in the sky and Rally Day and the startup of choral seasons seem as though they are months away, you might want to carve out some time to begin to get organized for fall! Thanks to Anne Krentz Organ for writing these seasonal pointers, helpful whether you’re highly organized or running last-minute. Either way, we’re here to help with Prelude’s ever-growing resources. Blessings to you in your music ministries this summer and into the fall.]

If you are in the midst of celebrating the end of another stressful choir season by dropping all thoughts of it until the fall until suddenly it is breathing down your neck, bringing with it—yes, more stress? Then consider what follows to be both encouragement and help in getting a good chunk of your planning done for fall.

September 10 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 23

Canons are a choir director’s friend! Minimal time and effort in teaching, yet the result is a full sounding anthem. Great way to ease into the choir season. This collection is a treasure trove of truly “flexible” anthems for year-round use.

September 17 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 24

The gospel reading begins with Peter’s question to Jesus, “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus responds, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Raabe’s anthem is primarily for 2-part mixed voices, with only two measures that expand to three or four voice parts. A quick learn at the beginning of the choir season.

September 24  – 16th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 25

Scored for 3 voices, this canon works equally well for children’s choir (treble voices only) or youth choir (mixed voices.) The text is provided in both English and German.

October 1 – 17th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 26

This “black gospel” anthem picks up on themes in both the psalm and the gospel reading. It is available in a variety of choir voicings: SATB, SAB, TTBB, SSA.

October 8 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 27

An accessible communion anthem for a youth choir. Although scored for SATB, the arrangement makes considerable use of unison singing. The accompaniment includes some juicy jazz chords.

October 15 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 28

A fun, Caribbean influenced choral setting of the 23rd Psalm (the appointed psalm for the day)

The second reading, Philippians 4:1-9, may be presented by the choir with this anthem. See notes in score regarding the additional speaking parts.

October 22 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 29

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where I serve, celebrates the Lesser Festival of Luke, Evangelist, on a Sunday close to October 18. Since Luke was known as a physician and healer, we include the rite of healing. Hernandez’ canon may be introduced by the choir with the assembly joining in as they are comfortable.

There are 50 pieces in this collection which was developed in cooperation with Music that Makes Community, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to paperless song leading.

October 29 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 30; Reformation Sunday

  • God Alone Be Praised – Zebulon Highben SATB, assembly, 2 trumpets, organ, PER CRUCEM; SAB, assembly, C or Bb instrument, piano AD LUCEM

Free download for members of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians on the ALCM website, Join today!

Highben has provided two musical treatments for choir and assembly of Susan Briehl’s poetic interpretation of Psalm 46.


November 5 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 31; All Saints Sunday

Don’t let the voicing scare you away from this gorgeous piece for All Saints Sunday. Even a modest SATB choir can pull it off with the accompaniment filling in the missing parts. It works well during communion on this day of remembrance.

This quiet, lovely setting of text from Romans 8 includes a descanting third part on the final stanza.

November 12 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 32

This anthem relates directly to the gospel reading from Matthew, “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom . . .”

November 19 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 33

The text of this anthem is appropriate for end times and Advent. “And we shall study war no more. Come, O people, and walk in the light of the Lord. The night is far spent, the day is at hand . . .”

November 26 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost/Lectionary 34; Christ the King

Use the A section alone as a Gospel Acclamation, replacing the final words, “the mighty Lord” with “Alleluia.”

Anne Krentz Organ

Anne Krentz Organ serves as the Director of Music Ministries at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She is also composer of many works of church music, particularly choral and piano. She has served as president of Region III of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

“The Replacements”: A View from the Substitute’s Bench(es)

Many thanks to Katherine Reier and Jennifer Baker-Trinity for the helpful suggestions that found their way into the paragraphs that follow!

Ah, summer—a busy season for beaches, amusement parks, and substitute church musicians! Though your vacation is both well-deserved and necessary, you continue to serve in absentia as a steward of the assembly’s voice by facilitating the leadership of those who serve in your stead. Though you may not think that arranging for a substitute needs considerable explanation, you’d be surprised at how often substitutes are left clamoring for details or left standing in church parking lots because of an unforwarded e-mail about practice time.

When working with substitute musicians, strive to foster as seamless a transition as possible: the assembly should be focused on worship, not distracted by significant differences in leadership style. For starters, your substitute should (1) feel comfortable with the particularities of your setting, (2) not be caught off-guard or unprepared by last-minute changes that make them look unprofessional, and (3) want to continue serving in your setting, denomination, or even the church! Never assume that a substitute is just a benchwarmer who couldn’t “cut it” in a regular position: some of us prefer the flexibility and diversity offered by this type of service! Remember, too, that substitutes frequently serve multiple assemblies, each with their own distinct set of expectations and practices. Better for you to provide more information than less about the particularities of your setting: a substitute is more likely to say “yes” (and keep saying “yes”) when you are organized and professional! In fact, consider maintaining a detailed document with some of the information below that can be e-mailed to substitutes as soon as they are scheduled.

In your initial request, be clear about the service time(s) and expectations (i.e. keyboard only, keyboard and choir), the honorarium, and mileage reimbursements (if this is your practice). In subsequent messages, offer possible practice times or the contact information for staff who can assist with scheduling. Consider CC’ing parish administrators, sextons, other musicians, and the pastoral staff as you make arrangements: there’s nothing more awkward than being accosted while practicing with, “who let you in here?” or “why are you playing our instruments?”

Be clear about additional expectations for a given service such as an ideal arrival time, alarm codes, parking recommendations, locations of albs or robes, and contact information for soloists or assisting ministers the substitute is expected to accompany. Substitutes should also be provided with contact information for a presiding minister or choir member in the event of emergency—sudden illness, inclement weather, or a canceled train. Similarly, a pastor or other designate should be able to contact the substitute in the event of similar emergencies that will significantly affect her or his preparation or ability to lead.

Know that you and your substitute(s) may have different expectations about how music is exchanged: be open to an array working methods and preferences! Rather than assume your substitute has invested in accompaniment editions for every denomination she or he serves, kindly offer .pdf scans or copies of all liturgical accompaniments, psalm settings, and hymn accompaniments. For new substitutes who may not know the idiosyncrasies of the organ in your space, it is hospitable to include registration suggestions or even pre-register accompaniments! You might even consider providing notes such as:

  • “The organ blower switch is located on the wall to the right of the console. The light switches are located to the left of the balcony door.”
  • “Use memory levels 1 and 2 for congregational singing.”
  • “Memory level 3 [or general pistons 7, 8 and 9] can be changed for your prelude and postlude. Do not use memory level 4.”
  • “The assembly can sing well with only the 8’ Principal. The chamade reed is much louder in the sanctuary than at the console. The III Zimbel can peel paint right off a wall.”
  • “Soloists and the choir are best supported by general pistons 4, 5, and 6 with the expression box closed.”
  • “Mary, an alto from the youth choir, will often bring her oboe and play descants on the last stanza if you use the hymnal harmonization.”
  • “Paul, a church council member, is a talented percussionist and will often improvise a sweet beat to Latin and African hymnody.”
  • “Pastor Rachel would like you to play the first three pitches of the Great Thanksgiving before she begins chanting. Pastor Mark just goes for it.”

It is also useful for a substitute to have a copy of the bulletin in advance, especially an annotated draft that indicates the intricacies of a given service. There are more of these than you think! For example, my standard list of questions includes variations of the following:

  • When does the prelude end for, let’s say, an 11 AM service? 10:59? Precisely on the hour? Is there a “cushion” that lets the prelude end at 11:03? Or, does the musician need to wait for a signal from somewhere? Who gives that? How?
  • If the service begins with a hymn, does the introduction follow a bell peal or a spoken welcome?
  • Is it expected that the musician provide improvised “traveling music” after the gospel reading or other points during the service?
  • What are some of the typical introductions used for psalm tones or other liturgical responses such as the Sanctus and Agnus Dei?
  • If your assembly observes silence after the sermon, how long does this usually last? What signals announce that the Hymn of the Day should begin?
  • What are the communion practices? Is the substitute welcome to commune? If so, when? (Or, are the bread and wine brought to the musician?)
  • Likewise, what signs indicate that communion has ended? Should the communion hymn be truncated, or is it expected that all stanzas will be sung?
  • What types of introductions are expected for hymns? An extended fantasia in the style Paul Manz? Just the second half or last phrase? Will the congregation welcome alternate harmonizations or will that hinder their singing? Are there conventions for singing in harmony?

Finally, you will want to inform your substitute about the way she or he is paid: ideally, a check is left at the organ or keyboard, or arrives in the mail early in the following week.

And a Note for Substitutes!

Substitutes, remember that this is a two-way street! Like incumbent musicians, you are expected to supply information in a timely and courteous manner: if a piece of music is missing, kindly ask for a copy instead of complaining when you arrive for a service. If practice time is not arranged in initial correspondence, suggest several possibilities. Above all, extend the same professional courtesies that you expect of your hosts. Let your work be a model of hospitality, welcome, and fellowship shared at the Lord’s table:

“Give us grace to live for others, serving all, both friends and strangers, seeking justice, love, and mercy till you come in final glory.” —Joel W. Lundeen (ELW 462, st. 3)

Chad Fothergill

Chad Fothergill is a graduate student at Temple University, Philadelphia, where he researches the Lutheran cantor tradition in both its Reformation-era and present-day contexts. Outside of coursework and research, he is active as a substitute church musician in the greater Philadelphia and New York City metropolitan areas. He has served congregations and campus ministries in Minnesota, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.