“I don’t have a great singing voice, so is it okay to let the choir sing for me?”

Posted by Renee Friday on October 24, 2013 @ 1:11 PM

True, some of us sing better than others, and that’s okay. No one is taking names. (Or, at least, they’re not supposed to be.)

We all have different gifts to offer; not all of them are musical. I recall an old poster in a choir rehearsal room that said, “The Lord respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.” Everyone shares his or her different gifts, but we all join together to sing for worship. Our choirs play a vital role in the music of worship, but the congregation does, too.

The choir is supposed to be “the rehearsed voice of the assembly”. This means that the hardworking folks in the choir loft spend some time every week practicing the music for Sunday. They will prepare an anthem that further illustrates one of the scripture readings or the theme of the day. They will go over the hymns and the music of the worship setting (Kyrie, Alleluia, etc.). They will look ahead to future weeks, possibly learning a new worship setting or a cantata. On Sunday, they will lead the congregation in worship, and they will do a great job of it. Having the choir is wonderful, and we would miss their contributions terribly if they weren’t there. But the choir is never meant to replace the congregation. 

Before the Protestant Reformation, the congregation didn’t participate in the worship service. The priest and his assistants said all of the words and performed all of the actions in the service; the choir (of monks) would chant all of the music. The congregation just watched and listened – as best they could (remembering that the service was in Latin). From time to time, they might get to respond with a spoken “Amen”, or “Thanks be to God”.

When the Reformation came, one of the most important changes was a focus on the congregation’s participation in worship.  Everyone began to take part in the spoken and sung responses, hymns, and prayers. We call these parts of the service the “liturgy”, meaning  “the work of the people” – all of the people. The choir still assists with proclaiming the Word of God through music, but worship is everyone’s responsibility.

The music of the settings is meant to be simple and easily sung so that everyone, even children, can participate. Sometimes a new setting can take a few weeks to learn. It works best if we introduce one or two pieces of the setting each week, and then sing the new setting for a few months until it feels comfortable. 

The choir assists the congregation with finding their voices; they lead us to sing God’s praise in unity, with the great diversity of people in our assembly. Of course, it’s natural to be tempted just to listen; after all, the choir are the “rehearsed voices”. But, once you “have it” – sing out!  God will love you for it!

On the Worship "Roller Coaster"

Posted by Renee Friday on September 27, 2013 @ 10:08 PM

Music is meant to convey emotions. Even without words, there is a mood or feeling that is present in every piece of music.

I remember a lesson with my kindergartners, when I taught public school music. We watched a DVD that had no talking – only music. I asked them to identify what they were hearing using emotion words. They had no trouble classifying the music as “happy”, “sad”, “exciting”, “loving”, “silly”, or “scary”. When I asked them how they knew the answers, why they thought as they did, they couldn’t tell me. They only knew what they felt.

Hymn tunes match the mood of the hymn texts. Some are joyous; some are somber. One cannot imagine the words of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (ELW 352) sung to a light-hearted tune. They deserve a deeply reverent melody. And, “My Lord, What a Morning” (ELW 438) could not possibly be set to sad music; its tune must be full of wonder and rapture (literally!). So, hymn tunes engage our emotions as much as the words, possibly more so.

When we choose music for the worship service, we are choosing appropriate texts and the appropriate musical emotions for that worship experience. For example, on a Sunday in the time after Pentecost, the following hymns (with their emotion types) might be chosen:  “In Thee Is Gladness” – ELW 867 (joyful); “If You But Trust in God to Guide You”  -- ELW 769 (somber); “When We Are Living” – ELW 639 (gentle and loving); “Abide with Me” – ELW 629 (calming); and “Awake, O Sleeper, Rise from Death” – ELW 452 (bold and valiant). As you can see, there is quite a range of emotions in this list.

Every worship service has an emotional shape, which is determined by the readings and theme of the day.  In the above example, we are joyful at the gathering of our assembly to praise God. We learn from the lessons and sermon, and respond with a somber plea to improve. Then we turn again to love and trust in Christ (who is present in the meal), and, finally, are sent forth, courageous, in our baptism. But this is just one Sunday. All worship experiences are different, with different emotional shapes.

Why is it this way? Our memories are heightened by our emotions. You may remember a special birthday, as a child, because of the constantly changing emotions: anticipation (when will the day come), joy (it’s today), mystery (who will come to my party), love (surrounded by friends and family), sorrow (I didn’t get the gift I wanted), happiness (I got a great gift I didn’t expect), contentment (full tummy and a long day). If the day had no ups and downs, it wouldn’t be as memorable.

Worship should be a memorable experience. To ride the worship “roller coaster” is to experience worship with all of your emotions engaged. Don’t be afraid to find the feelings expressed in the music; they make you human, and make you whole.

I Love to Tell the Story ...

Posted by Renee Friday on August 05, 2013 @ 4:24 PM

We choose music for worship to help us tell the story of Christ to each other. We tell this story over and over – never tiring of the details – because the subject is so rich. We tell how God loved us so much that he sent his Son into our world. We tell how Jesus loved us so much that he died for our sins. We tell how Jesus conquered death and extends His grace to us. We tell how Jesus the Christ is at work in our lives and in our community. 

We all agree on the story. Why then, do we disagree on the way we tell it?

Babysitting for a young nephew, I was called upon to read a bedtime story. We hunted for the requested book, but couldn’t find it.  Finally, with bedtime quickly approaching, I offered to just tell the story (it was one I knew well). My nephew accepted my retelling of the tale, and turned over to go to sleep. His comment before I kissed his cheek and left the room was “the other one is better”. 

I was hurt for a moment, but then understood. Sometimes when we’re listening to a story, we need for the words to go a certain way. Even though I told the story with enthusiasm, and interjected some fresh wording, he wanted the comfort of the original.  Especially at bedtime on a night without his mother around, he needed the reassurance of the other story.

Same story, different storyteller:  this is the problem we have with music in worship.

There are some of us who want the reassurance of the traditional hymns and liturgy. Perhaps we have lives that need the stability of a worship service (and Church, and Savior) that does not change. We crave the comfort of familiar tunes and patterns. It is important for us to tell the story of Christ as it has endured across the ages, because Christ has also endured across the ages.  The hymns and tunes that have come to us through our traditions give us reassurance and comfort. In our restlessness, tradition helps us to feel settled.

Likewise, there are some of us who have felt settled for too long, who need “disturbing”. We need the words and music of fresh, new hymns and liturgy that stir up the community of believers with their excitement and enthusiasm. These contemporary hymn-songs and music break the patterns of traditionalism and give us the story of Christ told in today’s language. Although they tell of Christ who has endured across time, it is also the story of how life in Christ makes all things new. Traditional tunes don’t fit as well.

We need both types of music, both types of services. Life in Christ transcends time and place. Traditional and contemporary music serve different needs as we tell the same story, just with different storytellers. We love to tell the story.


(This article was recently published on the Prelude Music Planning site [Augsburg Fortress Publishers].  You can view it here. )

To Be Seen and Not Heard? -- Or -- To See and To Be Heard?

Posted by Renee Friday on July 01, 2013 @ 5:49 PM

We all love to see the children’s choirs help to lead worship. But, what about the children’s participation in our weekly services? Where do children fit in worship?

To answer this, let me relate two scenes from my childhood. First, the afternoon of our town’s Christmas parade, my grandfather picked us kids up from school and took us to where he had parked his old Ford along the parade route. Our mom joined us a bit later, and we had a warm, comfortable, sheltered, front-row view of the parade – sitting in the back seat of the car as the bands and floats passed by.  Second scene – fast-forward a few days – Sunday morning worship with the same family members, sitting in the back pew on the right side. Mom repeatedly urged us to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention. I tried very hard to follow her instructions, but it was next to impossible. The pastor was far away and I couldn’t see what was happening, much less stay involved in the service.

The contrast in these experiences is interesting, isn’t it? My mom wanted me to experience both the parade and worship, but I had a front-row seat at the parade, and a back-row seat at worship. Was the parade more important than worship? Of course not. We were front-row parade observers because our youthful exuberance made no difference in the progress of the parade. We were back-row worship observers so Mom could yank us out if one of us caused a disturbance. In church, she felt pressured that we needed to be “seen and not heard”. 

But isn’t it better for children to have front-row seats for Sunday morning worship services? Wouldn’t that be the best place for them?

Parents of small children who are reading this just panicked. What if the baby cries?  What if the 5-year-old forgets to use her inside voice? What if the 3-year-old needs the potty NOW? What if we run out of Cheerios?

No worries. We all know that life with children is messy and full of unexpected occurrences. But when every child is baptized, we the congregation promise to help him or her grow in the Christian faith and life. We promise to support them and nurture them, and help them live in communion with the church. We believe that God holds a special place in his kingdom for children. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14), not “Hey, hold it down back there in the peanut gallery”. 

Families that come to the front pews for worship will give their kids the best seats in the house. They will get to see close-up what happens during the service. They will be surrounded by people saying the creed and the prayers, and singing the songs and responses. Probably, the children will become more comfortable with worship, and their participation will increase. Possibly, Mom’s need to bring coloring books, electronic games and Cheerios will be a thing of the past.

So, bring the kids down front! (You come, too!) Give your children a warm, comfortable, sheltered, front-row view of what it means to give God praise and thanksgiving. We know it won’t be perfect. Worship is not supposed to be a “perfect” event. If someone has a meltdown, parents can always use the side aisle to do what parents need to do. We use the word “liturgy” to talk about our usual order of worship. “Liturgy” also means “the work of the people”. Children are people, too.

Music ... and Memory

Posted by Renee Friday on June 12, 2013 @ 5:14 PM

Can you finish this?  “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese ………… “ *

If you could finish it, you probably sang the rest -- or at least heard a melody playing in your head while you said it.  People of a certain age heard that commercial jingle played hundreds of times in their youth.  Even though we may not have been trying to learn it, it became a memory.  When we learn information that has been set to music, it becomes a different kind of memory.  Music memories are very strong.

As students, many of us learned complex information by heart just by putting it to music.  Martin Luther understood the power of learning this way.  He turned to the Psalms to provide music for worship services, knowing that singing them in church would lead his congregation to sing them in their daily lives, from memory.  Many of the hymns he wrote were for educational purposes, as well as praising God.

As our children learn in Confirmation classes, Luther wrote the Small Catechism, printed in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, starting on page 1160.  It has sections about the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Communion, and the Prayers.  It was meant to be religious instruction from parent to child, and is in an easy to understand format of questions and answers.  

In our hymnal, the catechism is only seven pages of information.  But if you couldn’t read (many people in Luther’s day couldn’t) it might as well be twenty pages.  Luther needed another way for the people to learn these important elements of the Christian faith and remember them.

So, Luther wrote hymns.  Our ELW 411, “We All Believe in One True God”, is Luther’s hymn to teach the Creed.  Luther’s hymn to teach the Lord’s Prayer appears in two versions in ELW 746 and 747, “Our Father, God in Heaven Above”.  As these hymns were learned on Sundays and sung throughout the week, they helped the congregation to internalize (and spread) their faith.

We still use music to teach Calvary’s kids.  During Bible School, the “rock & roll” songs we sing have Bible verses at their core.  In Sunday school, we sing Bible verses and stories as well as the books of the New Testament, the names of the disciples, the names of the sons of Jacob and more.  Hymns, both traditional and contemporary, give children musical ways to internalize the gift of God’s grace.

Do you have any hymns or liturgical music from worship that stick in your memory this way?  Many members at Calvary have remarked upon this.  For those at the traditional service, it may be the Canticle of Praise or the Great Thanksgiving.  For those at the contemporary service, it may be the sung version of the Lord’s Prayer that we use, or “Create in Me”.  It may even be a children’s Bible verse song you learned a long time ago.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming one of these -- all week!  

What’s the best church music for my kids?

Posted by Renee Friday on May 02, 2013 @ 8:34 AM

All of it!  Research has shown that music is an important learning tool because it creates a distinctive type of memory.  We want our growing Christians to have positive memories of all aspects of church life.  At Calvary, there are lots of opportunities for children to learn about God through music: Sunday school, choirs and music groups, Bible School, and, of course, worship!

Church music for children is a little more specialized, depending on the age of the child and the learning situation.  Cherub choir is for children who can’t read, so the music needs to have words that are easy to memorize.  The music also tends to be more nursery-song oriented.  Bible School music at Calvary is exciting, fast-paced and energizing, even for the youngest kids.  If you’ve been to Calvary’s Bible School in recent years, you recognize the “fast-paced…energizing” part!  Luther Choir, where children prepare to participate in and lead worship, is a little different – depending on the worship service for which they’re preparing.

This year, Luther Choir is participating on an alternate basis in both of our worship services.  In planning for their year, I always recall an old saying about parenting: “Give your children roots and wings”.  In other words, I need to make sure that the children are exposed to the traditions of the Lutheran liturgy and hymns (roots) as well as the contemporary music that characterizes their world (wings). 

Worship experiences are very important for children.  In worship, they learn to say the prayers and the creed.  The songs they sing with the assembly help them form their identity with the community of faith.  The music of the traditional liturgy is another important memory; children enjoy being able to sing parts of the liturgy “without peeking”, much like their parents and older siblings.  It bonds them together with their Lutheran family.

We have families in our congregation that prefer one of our services to the other – and that’s okay.  There are other families that also alternate between the services because of schedules and family events.  That leaves an interesting task for Luther Choir:  to “even out” some of the children’s worship experiences by learning both traditional liturgy/hymns and contemporary song.  Children benefit from the music, no matter which service your family chooses.

It’s interesting.  Many of our high school and middle school youth prefer our traditional worship service to the contemporary worship.  One can only wonder if the youth desire “roots”!  And, if the traditional liturgy provides “roots” for the youth, might their “wings” be the Youth Worship service, where the band’s music is much more current than our “contemporary” service?   It will be exciting to see where the leadership of Calvary’s youth takes our worship services in the next 50 years.

Why don’t we have more good, old Lutheran hymns in our new book?

Posted by Renee Friday on April 09, 2013 @ 10:04 PM

This is probably a question for the ages, and has been asked, with frustration, every time a new hymnal comes out.  Count on it.  But there’s something else about this question that doesn’t meet the eye.

First, no one is able to objectively decide which ones are the “good, old Lutheran hymns”.  That is very personal, very subjective.  Secondly, the concern may not really be about which hymns are in the book; it’s probably about which hymns are not in the book.

For most of Calvary’s members who were raised Lutheran, they can tell you which hymnal they grew up with.  It is a very strong memory for them.  As children, they built worship memories by singing from its pages every week.  The hymns inside it were like old friends.  And, of course, when a new hymnal came along and some of the songs were “dropped”, they were first to notice some of their “friends” were missing.

Our favorite hymns are an extension of our identity.  Chances are, if you ask a hundred adults in Calvary’s congregation about their favorite hymns, you would get a hundred different answers.  We’re all different.  And we all have different church backgrounds, even though we’re all current members of Calvary’s family. 

Also, every congregation is different!  Each congregation has its own repertoire of hymns; this repertoire interconnects with the repertoire of other congregations.  While all of our congregations may share in some of the same hymns, none of them is exactly alike.  We are all unique!

We express our worship identity in several ways.  In services where we are free to pick our own hymns, such as weddings and funerals, we tell others what is important to us by the music we choose.  How often we remark, “That hymn was so perfect for her funeral.  I can just hear her singing that.”  Beloved hymns are really a part of us.

We also express our worship identity in the music we value.   Whenever a new hymnal is compiled, people make decisions about it based on the music it contains (or doesn’t contain).  This also includes the liturgical music for the worship service.  When there is resistance to changes in the music we use for worship, it signals a deeper loss of personal memories and worship identity.  New hymns and music can be added, but the older hymns and music are still missed.

The hymnal also expresses our communal identity.  What is in the book is an extension of us, as the way we, Lutherans, worship God.  While individual churches each have their own repertoire, they have connections to the same hymnal we use.  And the hymnal forms our communal identity as well, because it is the book from which future congregations will make memories. 

The changes in the hymnal mirror the changes in our world and our people.  The hymnal reflects these changes in our Lutheran identity as well.  So, maybe the question is not really about the hymns; it’s about who we are.  

I come to church for the “happy” hymns; I don’t like the depressing ones. Why do we have those?

Posted by Renee Friday on March 08, 2013 @ 8:21 AM

I’m thinking that by “happy”, you mean hymns of praise.  We also have prayerful hymns, as well as the “depressing” ones, otherwise known as laments.  We need all three types of hymns for different purposes and seasons to balance the church year.

Praise hymns are great.  We use them throughout the year, but especially on festival Sundays like Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, etc.  The words are uplifting – “All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall;” (ELW 634) – and strong.  They give us hope.  The tunes are built on major scales, reinforcing the words’ message.

Prayerful hymns are also wonderful.  They are perfect for quiet, reflective points in our services.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (ELW 616) gives a very different feeling from the hymn of praise.  Prayer hymns are healing, with tunes that soothe and comfort.

Mixed in with praise and prayer, we need lamenting hymns.  The world is a bumpy place; God’s children have personal sorrows and tragedies.  When we are in the middle of tough times, we cry to God.  We ask God “Why is this happening?” Lamenting hymns, such as ELW 325 “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”, remind us that God is there for us, that we can trust in Him.  We are not alone in our grief. Lamenting hymns ask for God’s guidance through tough times.

Frequently, when we are in the midst of grief, it is all we can do just to breathe.  We are not able to sing our faith.  We need others to sing for us, and lamenting hymns give us words for that time.  When we are surrounded by the lamenting songs of our community, we are called back to faithfulness.

The often used passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (“For everything there is a season…”) tells us there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh;” (vs. 4).  This is true for our church seasons as well.  We have two seasons of the church year when we tend to use more lamenting hymns – Advent and Lent.  Both of these seasons are times of repentance. 

Advent points to the birth of Jesus, but also points us to the time when He will come again.  The hymns of Advent say, “Get ready, the Lord may return at any time.”  Part of “get ready” is a lament from the assembly that we need to return to God.  We need to “create a clean heart”, and “Lord, have mercy”.   The well-known “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (ELW 257) says it well.

Lent mirrors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, denying personal temptation.  Lent is a season of knowing that we have strayed, and seeking to make things right with God.  Many of the lament hymn-tunes for Lent are also built on minor scales, which make them seem even sadder to some ears.  To others, minor melodies are haunting and beautiful – like when we need sour or salty tastes to balance sweet ones. 

When we sing ELW 319, “O Lord, throughout These Forty Days”, listen to the lamenting words, the minor tune, and the final stanza’s prayer of “be with us through this season, Lord”.  There is balance there, if you look for it.

Music ... and Silence

Posted by Renee Friday on February 08, 2013 @ 9:14 AM

Musicians know a lot about silence.  There are musical silences, called “rests”, that make the music more interesting.  They also allow both performer and listener to “come up for air”. 

There are two important silences whenever a piece of music is offered, whether in church or the concert hall.  The first silence precedes the music; it can be as short as a heartbeat, or as long as the conductor decides.  This silence is for “anticipation and preparation”, as everyone gets ready for the music to come.  The music then grows from the silence.  When the music has ended, there is another important silence, the “receiving” silence.  In this short pause, the audience can sometimes be heard to inhale as they receive the music and its meaning, and choose what to do next.  Clap?  Hold still and quiet, savoring the moment?  The receiving silence calls upon the listeners to make a decision.

Although musicians know a lot about silence, they are not always comfortable with it.  In fact, most of us find silence a little unsettling.  Do we fear silence?  Are we afraid of what we will find there?  In 1 Kings 19, Elijah goes to stand on Mount Horeb to witness the Lord passing by.  You know the story: the Lord was not in the wind; the Lord was not in the earthquake; the Lord was not in the fire.  But after the fire came a sound of sheer silence – and the Lord spoke to Elijah in that silence.   Before any words, before any sounds, God is present.

In today’s world of traffic and construction noise, shopping mall music and television, silence is very noticeable.   We have grown so accustomed to sounds that we may have forgotten: silence is communication, too.  Sometimes, the silence makes us feel we need to make a choice – what do we do next?  This can be especially true in our worship services.

We are not the first to feel the weight of silence in worship.  Catholic monks, who served as the choir during worship services in the 13th century, noticed that the congregation had trouble paying attention during the silence as the lectionary was brought to the place where it was to be read.  Apparently, it was quite a long walk!  The monks added an extra piece of music to the service at this point, known as a “conductus”, to keep the worshippers awake.

In our worship today, we still use music to cover actions: as people come in to be seated, as offering is collected and brought forward, as the table is prepared for communion, as worshippers commune.  There are many words spoken – for instruction and ritual.  But where do we use silence?  Every Sunday, we have a few members who arrive early to enjoy the silence of our worship space.  We have some silence at the time for confession and some very short silences in our prayers.  There is a longer silence as the musicians go to the communion table.

Maybe we need more silence.  Just like music, worship is an offering that benefits from pauses that allow those who are gathered to “come up for air”.   We need a little more silence to “anticipate and prepare”, to open our hearts and minds for worship – not just the music, but the spoken words, too.  A few more “receiving” silences, that get us ready to accept the gift of God’s grace and prepare to make decisions because of that grace, would also be welcome.  We need a chance to meet God in the silence, and hear His voice.

Most of all, we shouldn’t fear or avoid the silences.  Silence can be wonderful.  If you’re interested in adding more silence into your day, the introductory Centering Prayer workshop on March 16 could open a whole new world for you.  For more information, go to cpcharlotte.org.

Carolyn Mauney said...

Posted on February 08, 2013 @ 4:26 PM -
Loved this, Renee. I especially like the silence during our Lenten evening services - Ash Wednesday, Mid week services, Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday as it is a time for reflection and prayer that we don't often take the time to do during our rush, rush, rush daily lives.
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Posted by Renee Friday on January 22, 2013 @ 12:37 PM

Luther Choir will be our choir for the day this Sunday at the 11:00 a.m. service.  They are very excited about this!  They have been working on their anthem, plus the hymns and liturgical music from Setting Two.  But, perhaps the question they ask most often is “Will we get to wear our robes?

Wearing a robe for worship is one of the church’s earliest traditions.  It goes back to when new adult members were baptized in a pool of water, and were given a pure white robe to put on.  The white robe, called an “alb” (meaning “white”) was a way of setting apart those who had been baptized from those who had not.  The setting apart was symbolic to the new Christians, who were forever part of God’s family through their baptism.  The robe also helped those who were learning the Christian faith (the catechumens) to identify those who could be mentors to them. 

Also, the robe covered any distinguishing characteristics of clothing, gender or status.  All who were robed shared only one characteristic -- their baptism.  Therefore, wearing the robe symbolized that all were alike in Christ, and were part of the community of believers.  It also meant that who we are, outside the church, is of secondary importance.  What is most important is who we are to Christ.

So, the robe was a means of setting apart as well as gathering together.  For centuries, this has been used as a tradition in Christian worship.  For us, in our present day, the robe-wearers are pastor, worship assistant, acolytes, crucifer, and choir – because they lead the worship service.  They are set apart from the congregation as leaders, yet are gathered together in service. 

Wearing robes also indicates a level of formality in the worship service.  At Calvary, our two services are different in their formality levels.  The 8:30 a.m. worship service is informal – pastor, worship assistant, acolytes, and choir do not wear robes.  Also, most of the “action” in the worship service takes place in the space where the people are gathered.  These two things together place more emphasis on participation for all who are gathered.  No one is set apart; therefore all are called equally to serve.

In the Lutheran church, we have long recognized that all are called equally to serve.  Martin Luther wrote, preached, and sang about the priesthood of all believers.  Check the back of your worship folder this Sunday, where it says Ministers – All the members of Calvary.  When we go into our community to serve, we are clothed in our baptism.  No robe required!  

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