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.

Piano Music for Wedding Ceremonies

How many weddings have you provided music for over the course of your career? I stopped counting at fifty, but I would estimate I have played for over 200 weddings. Over the years, I have compiled a list of my “go to” repertoire, as, I’m sure, every church musician has done. In this post, I list tried and true piano pieces that I play often for wedding ceremonies. Some are easy, while others are more difficult. Consider adding some of these pieces to your own wedding repertoire, if you do not already include them. All of the sacred pieces are available for download through Prelude Music Planner. Most of the classical pieces are in the public domain and are available for free through the International Music Score Library Project ( Hyperlinks are included to IMSLP webpages where you can print PDF files of the music.*

Sacred Prelude and Postlude Selections

I always like to include some sacred music in a wedding prelude or at other times during the ceremony (candle lighting, Communion, etc.), and hymn tunes from folk sources are especially nice. Playing directly from the hymnal or playing an arrangement are equally effective. A number of fine settings for each tune listed are available through Prelude Music Planner. Search by tune name and filter your results by instrument (piano) to find available downloads:

  • Beach Spring (ELW 712)
  • Nettleton (ELW 807)
  • Nyland, or Kuortane (ELW 313)
  • O Waly Waly (ELW 644)
  • Schönster Herr Jesu (ELW 838)
  • Sicilian Mariners (ELW 545)
  • Slane (ELW 793)

Sacred Processional and Recessional Selections

Sometimes a couple chooses “traditional” processional and recessional music (e.g., Pachelbel, Wagner, Mendelssohn, or Handel), but often couples prefer something different or unique. When a couple would like to process or recess to a hymn, here are some tunes I recommend:

  • Ellacombe (ELW 521)
  • In dir ist Freude (ELW 867)
  • Lasst uns erfreuen (ELW 835)
  • Lobe den Herren (ELW 858)
  • Nun danket alle Gott (ELW 839, 840)
  • Wie schön lechtet (ELW 308)

Classical Prelude and Postlude Selections 

Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. These three great German composers wrote so much beautiful piano music, but here are three selections that I find particularly useful as prelude selections:

Debussy, Satie, and Ravel. I love French piano music from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. When I play these pieces in a prelude, I feel as though I am adorning the wedding venue with beauty just as the florist does with flowers. The second movement of Ravel’s Sonatine may be a stretch harmonically (and technically), but this Minuet works so well as a joyful postlude selection.

Liszt, MacDowell, and Granados. From German and French composers to a Hungarian, an American, and a Spanish composer, here are three additional prelude pieces. Granados’s charming “Melodioso” is a lovely choice for the seating of the parents or grandparents.

Classical Processional and Recessional Selections

As mentioned above, sometimes a couple prefers an unconventional processional or recessional. In these cases, here are a few classical pieces I like to recommend:

Do you have a favorite piano piece you include often in wedding ceremonies? Share your repertoire suggestions in the comment section below!

*Please obey the copyright laws of your country. IMSLP does not assume any sort of legal responsibility or liability for the consequences of downloading files that are not in the public domain in your country.

Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

“Let’s Go to Camp!” Planning A Summer Choir Camp for Children and Youth

A focused choral camp or retreat for young musicians is a great way to get a program year off to a healthy start. Consider a music camp Monday through Friday for 2-3 hours each day, or a daylong retreat on a Saturday before the school year resumes.

With lots of rehearsal time over just a few days, you’ll have a chance to start on music for the year. Children will retain more than they do with a week in between rehearsals. If you do a large production like a musical, it’s a perfect chance to get to work on that. A summer music opportunity is also an excellent way for new singers to try out choir, or a chance to participate if during the school year isn’t an option. Have participants sing in worship the next Sunday, giving children a first chance for a “performance” before the busy-ness of the school year sets in. A choir camp can be practical and helpful for parents, too, who might be searching for activities for their children over the summer months.

Teach good singing habits, like posture and breathing, right from the beginning. Have children sing for you individually or in pairs to place them in soprano or alto sections, and for you to hear their musicianship level.

Use a weeklong choir camp to teach a (possibly abbreviated) morning or evening prayer, depending what time of day the camp is held. Recruit older children to learn the leader parts, and give them the chance to lead worship in a small, non-threatening situation. Kids do not think of themselves as cute. They want to take on adult roles. Encourage them to be leaders, not entertainment.

Young children often do better with syllabic, rather than melismatic tunes, and will have more success with a stanza full of words than with a repeated text and varied melody. They memorize easily and rapidly – encourage them to do so! Teach them a strophic canticle setting, if you’re also teaching a daily office, like Blessed Be the God of Israel (ELW 250) or Canticle of the Turning (ELW 723). You know the slap-slap-clap pattern to “We Will Rock You?” It’s tons of fun with the Canticle of the Turning.

Canons are a great way to introduce part-singing. “You have put on Christ” (ELW 211) is a short canon and works well with children. The children could teach it to the entire assembly to be used as an acclamation every time there is a baptism.

“Sparkling Stars, Shining in the Night” by Nancy Raabe incorporates “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” My elementary singers a few years ago loved this piece; it’s very usable for Advent or Christmas.

Songs with a call and response, such as Thomas Keesecker’s “Go Down, Moses” give an opportunity for individuals or small groups to have solos. Older children can be challenged to develop their leadership skills.

Lots of time together builds community, too. Enlist older teens or retired folks to lead crafts, outdoor games, demonstrate musical instruments, or prepare snacks. Children could do sidewalk chart art showing what they’ve learned during the day. You get a break, plus multigenerational interaction!

Hold a potluck for families at the end of the time together. Before supper, have the children sing for their families. Give them the chance to have a ‘dress rehearsal’ in the worship space with a more friendly audience.

Once the choir year begins, you’ll reap the benefits of this extra, intentional time with the children. If you have already completed your planning for this year, file the idea away for future years.

Valerie Lefever Hughes

Valerie Lefever Hughes has served as Cantor to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2007. There she leads worship and directs choirs for the congregation and for the Lutheran Campus Ministry to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Valerie holds the Bachelor of Music (Church Music) degree from Valparaiso University and the Master of Arts in Religion (Liturgy & Music) from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is a Column Manager for Prelude Music Planner.