Monthly archives "December 2015"

TAO January 2016–Communal Music


Communal Music

I used to fit that old organist stereotype: alone and aloof. Perhaps such an uncomfortable self-image is merely the outcome of learning our training. Practice isolation certainly did not help build my people skills, nor did I develop a heart for the people’s music. In fact, I learned the rules of music before I learned the rules of people. We can avoid the “people rule, organists drool” image just by paying attention to what goes on in church.
People gather as a community of worshipers to center their attention on the divine presence. Music and message point us toward the center, but it is communion that gets us to the heart of the matter: God. In fact, communion is a lesson in people orientation. You know, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” God’s Christmas gift to us influences how we do church. God does people. Because the church is a reflection of God, we are called to “do people,” too.
If you are a music-over-people person, as I was, it’s time to consider a different orientation: people-centered leadership. This idea comes from a well-known member of my congregation, Ken Blanchard, the business management guru. Ken’s easy, comfortable way with his listeners helps lower barriers as he highlights the importance of creating a servant-leader culture. Servant-leaders lead conversations with the question, “How can I help?” (If you would like to know more, please read his book, “Lead Like Jesus.”)
His teaching has affirmed what I had to learn in the School of Hard Knocks—people count. God’s people need to be treated by us, their leaders, at least as well as God treats us. Communion is where we remember the connections between God, me, and everybody else. It is both a call to discipline (professional) and an encouragement (personal). As professionals, communion is a reminder that our art is only as sacred as it is a reflection of what is holy. We are responsible for communicating the divine message to God’s people via the sights and sounds we make.
Whether your congregation sings its way from start to finish or prays silently as you play, communion is one of our primary opportunities to minister through music. How carefully do you plan? Let’s look at four different ways of organizing music for communion.
1. Classic organ music and transcriptions
If you are lucky enough to be able to choose from this repertory, you know what a wealth of resources there are. Do you know about these? Martin Weyer has a fine collection, Organ Music for Communion (Barenreiter BA9265). Here are some lovely transcriptions from the Baroque to early Classic periods, with optional solo instrument. In the last few years, the Kevin Mayhew house has added several books to consider. There are two Communion Collections. The “Pink Book” (KV1405556) and the “Green Book” (KV1405557) are good places to find quiet Romantic era pieces from the likes of Boely, Guilmant, Faure and Merkel. They also offer a more recent, Longer Pieces for Communion (KV 1400471), containing twenty transcriptions from chamber and symphonic literature. These are very nice if you need to fill 7-10 minutes regularly.

2. Non-hymn based reflective music
Contemporary organ composers offer a wide range of pieces that support the gentle, reflective nature of the communion service. The pool of resources is wide and deep; here are some works that have floated to the top. Lorenz has several simple offerings, including The Eucharist ((70-1777L) by James Southbridge and Continuous Communion Meditations (70-1363L) by Garrett Parker. The latter provides the convenience of suggested cuts and fills to meet the unpredictable timing problems we often face. Three well-known composers strayed from arranging hymns long enough to write some very lovely original pieces. Raymond Haan’s Three Lyric Pieces (Shawnee 350223439) have graced my services, both communion and memorial. Dale Wood has also written some beautiful, heartfelt works in Lyric Pieces (Sacred Music Press 70-1342) Woodworks on Original Themes (SMP 70-1100S). Gilbert Martin’s Organ Dedications (Hinshaw HMO156) provides some rich, longish pieces with lots of color. His Three Quiet Preludes from Beckenhorst Press (OC2) are simpler, with melodies as gorgeous as anybody’s. And finally, there is Contemplation: Gentle Music for Organ (Mayhew 1400250), which mixes original pieces with a few hymn tunes. If this is the kind of music that serves your congregation, my budget-friendly recommendation is that you go back through some of your old music looking for pieces that you might have overlooked.

3. Communion hymn tunes
Finally, we are at the most obvious category, hymn arrangements of communion hymns. If your congregation likes to sing while serving, try using one of these as an extended introduction. As much as we would like to spend countless hours preparing our music, sometimes you need some easy things to get you by. How about Communion Music for Manuals, Vols. 1&2 (MSM 10-822) by Charles Callahan? You can stitch as many of these one-pagers as you need. Also pedal-less is J. Wayne Kerr’s This Wondrous Mystery (CPH 97-7401). Then there is Jeffrey Blersch’s Feast After Feast: Easy Preludes on Communion Hymns (Concordia 97-766S). This is an interesting mix of traditional German chorales with newer tunes, including Farley Castle and Oh Buen Jesus. Take This Cup, Jerry Van de Pol’s work, gives us familiar hymns with easy cuts and optional endings (H.W. Gray GBM0106).
Over time, our many historic traditions have begun to share the wealth of their musical heritage. None so truer than at communion. Edwin T. Childs’ Communion Hymns for Organ, Vols. 1&2 (Augsburg 145424157) crosses many paths to bring you some very useful pieces. So do Lynn Petersen’s arrangements in Thankfulness and Praise (Augsburg 1451424188). Augsburg Organ Library has a relatively new addition in its series, Baptism and Communion.) This volume, along with its Healing and Funeral, provide a wealth of shorter pieces, most of which are useful in many denominations. Emma Lou Diemer has also chosen a useful list of tunes for her more-tonally- conservative-than-usual Communion Hymns for Organ, published by Sacred Music Press (70-1106S). With all these volumes, I recommend that you check the list of tunes before you buy, just to be sure that they will support your congregation’s communion hymn repertory.
4. Devotional hymn tunes
My congregation loves to hear its favorite old hymn tunes during communion. Does yours? If so, then see if these books can fill out your library. Robert J. Powell has given us five volumes of Prayerful Preludes (MorningStar). Here are many of the evangelical and mainline favorites simply and elegantly arranged. Several years ago, Gilbert Martin gave us The Mourning Lamb (Hinshaw MO160), which was intended for Lent. We don’t always remember the intimate theological connection between music for Lent and music for communion. Here is a reminder that “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” “What Wondrous Love is This,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” and “Savior, Thy Dying Love” fill both occasions. A slightly different repertory fills David Lasky’s Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (Augsburg 9781451497021). “Attende Domine,” “Picardy,” and “Adoro te devote” might be just what you are looking for.
Of course, the granddaddy of all devotional hymn arrangers is our beloved Dale Wood. I can count at least seven dog-eared volumes in my library—and there are even more volumes that you might like to investigate. Of course, I am talking about his multi-volume Woodworks series, as well as his Softly and Tenderly series, in three volumes, both published by Sacred Music Press. Each book is filled with Dale’s impeccable sense of harmony, elegant pacing and rich colors. In his hands, these old favorites reveal themselves as timeless, while never becoming overly sentimental. If you don’t already know them, I highly recommend you take a look. They are, for my congregation, truly sacred music—music that connects God and his people. Maybe they will be for yours.
Communion draws God’s people into one community, united in a shared faith. May we as sacred musicians always be sensitive to the calling we share, a calling to use our gifts to help build unity among the people in our congregations and to encourage them in their walk through life. As we turn over the calendar to a new year, let’s renew our own commitment to serve the people we are given, even as we seek to lead them to God. Make it a Happy New Year!