Firearms Training, by Phillip Magness

(Editor’s Note: Cantor Phillip Magness writes the column “Not your Grandfather’s Church” for BJS. This edition is not about a local parish but about the church more broadly speaking as it met for its convention in Houston a few weeks ago.)

This article is not about the primary things among us, but about something secondary: the art of music.  So, being a musical article, it is the kind of thing that is usually discussed over at the Liturgy Solutions blog, Fine Tuning. However, Pastor Rossow prevailed upon me to write this here, as he is convinced that non-musicians in the church need more education on matters musical.  Given the scope of musical decisions that are made by the whole church these days, I am persuaded that such is the case.  So here follows an example on how it is not the tools in the contemporary musical toolbox that are a problem in our churches, but how they are used.  

At the recent synodical convention, the assembly sang two hymns within the same afternoon that illustrate how technology and contemporary rhythms can be used effectively to lead 1200 people in singing and how those same tools can easily get in the way. 

First, before the assembly cast their ballots for synodical president, a praise team from one of the area churches led us in singing “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus.”  They did an excellent job.   The singers’ microphones were set at a level which enabled their breath to be picked up, allowing the initiation of their phrases to guide the assembly.  However, the level was not so high that it overwhelmed the assembly.  They blended in with us as we sang, just as a choir would have.  The volume approximated the volume of what a good church choir would have presented in the room.  Also essential to their success is that the quartet sang homophonically–i.e., the same notes & the same rhythms, without embellishment.  Their unified sound projected the melody they were assigned to lead.  In no way did they draw attention to themselves. 

The assembly sang beautifully under their leadership, an important component of which was the piano part.  Given that organ was not used, the pianist needed to cover the elements of bass, harmony, and rhythm in order to complete the singers’ leadership of the assembly.  By using a harmonic rhythm that had a harmony changing every two or four beats rather than one or two (such as the organ would), the pianist was able to use a combination of arpeggiation and block chording to keep a vital rhythmic pulse going throughout the hymn–just as a good organist does by releasing pitches rhythmically.  In the process, the pianist used a harmonization which brought in richness to the texture and gave it a fresh sound.  Yet because the harmonization submitted itself to the harmonic logic of the progressions and remained subservient to the melody, the harmony did not draw attention to itself, but served the text.  So we had three tools often used in contemporary worship: microphones, piano (or electric keyboard), and the use of a “groove” or rhythmic accompaniment all done in a churchly and skillful way.  And the result was a beautiful rendition of the hymn that was fully embraced by the assembly.

Later, these same tools were misused along with some other tools from today’s kit thrown in for good measure.  The hymn was “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”  Instead of live musicians, the convention was supposed to sing along with tracks.  They were so alien to corporate singing that I thought we had borrowed these from Maranatha!  (Turns out they actually came from one of our Concordias and are being promoted by CPH for use in corporate worship.) Sure, there was some singing along with these tracks, as the hymn is very familiar to us. And some of the delegates really loved them.  But they did not support corporate singing.  Their effect was to cause some to sing along, some to move around, more people to talk, and many to leave the room. Whereas “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” united us, these tracks, used several times during the convention, failed to bring us together.

Why was that?  Well, certainly the sound of “Nashville meets TechnoPop” caused a visceral reaction in many. But even those who would put that aside for the sake of occasion and the text were frustrated. This is because the tools were not used according to the principles of liturgical church music performance. Everything that the first group did right, these tracks did wrong. First, the volume was way too high. People could not hear themselves or their neighbors sing, so they treated the tracks as radio/concert music. Second, the singers on the recording did not sing homophonically, but heterophonically: they freely embellished the melody with all sorts of improvisatory notes. This drew attention to their voices, rather than unifying the people’s voices. Third, putting aside the excessive numbers of sounds used (another topic), the sounds that were used did not establish a clear harmonic rhythm.  Instead there was a wash of colors that drew attention away from the melody, rather than served the melody. Finally, percussion was used in a way that “drove” the music. In other words, the drum tracks were the unifying force in the music, not the melody. 

(I want to add here as an aside that confessional Lutherans often react viscerally against percussion, much to our discredit. There is nothing unscriptural about playing drums. At Bethany-Naperville we have timpani, congas, hand drums, a djimbé, and lots of miscelleneous percussion. Psalm 150 supports this. The question is, how are they used? Are they used to support “singing skillfully” (Ps. 33) or as a means to create an atmosphere? Is the music Word-driven or beat-driven?)

Now I realize that the musicians on this recording are well-intentioned, and that many people have a taste for the style of music they play. I’m fine with someone enjoying these CDs in their car. I’m not trying to diminish anyone involved with the actual project: I simply want people to understand why such tracks are not supportive of congregational song, so that they understand that it is not the tools being used per se, but how they are used. 

We need to do better.  Given the size of our church body, we have no excuses.  We should be able to find “techies” that can use amplification appropriately for liturgical worship. We can bring in different tone colors and use new instruments while still serving the melody and leading the assembly in the text. We can use rhythms that support singing and have singers who lead us with skill rather than affect. We have great musicians in our church body. Let them do what they do best: lead corporate singing. And, while we are at it, let’s stick with the tools they know how to use. Let’s face it: electronic instruments are powerful tools. Sort of like guns. And, as the old NRA slogan used to say:  “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”


Firearms Training, by Phillip Magness — 37 Comments

  1. Another example of extremely poor usage of technology was at the Sat. evening Divine Service. In several cases, especially toward the end of the service, the bass and percussion tracks were so strong it was making me physically ill.

    Herr Magness, I recall both of the examples you cite. You’ve brought out some excellent points. One small comment regarding the *better* example. I *did* appreciate the “restrained” and reverent approach of the musicians/”leaders” on “Let Us Ever Walk…”. It was, indeed, far easier for us to sing along. To be sure, I was singing more loudly because I thought that here, for once, we had a chance to actually drown out the “lead singing”, whereas with the other one, it was just too loud, and too idiosyncratic for “drowning out by singing it straightforward as loud as we could.” I still would have preferred not to have the lead singers for Let Us Ever…. With a hymn *that* familiar, it was totally unnecessary. We’d have been fine all by ourselves!

    Re: percussion, in the context of congregational singing–this is very difficult to do properly. Timpani, in my experience, is the instrument best suited to the job. Percussion has a phenomenal ability to “take over”.

    Thanks for the excellent analysis. You’re getting at the real issue, I’d say.
    The bit about listening to those CD’s in your car–I had almost the same conversation with another delegate as we were walking to our seats after lunch one day. I’ve heard some “embellished” instrumental versions of some hymns I love that were well-done, and quite “enjoyable”, but would *never* work to support congregational song.

  2. Great summary comments, Phillip, concerning the interludes of hymn singing at the recent synodical convention. As you mentioned, occasionally it went well and I wholeheartedly agree with the example you cite…but usually the prerecorded sound tracks did nothing to support the corporate singing; the driving rhythm only served to overwhelm the tune, which was meant to serve the text in the first place. If I understand your analogy and closing slogan correctly, would you then say this?: It is not electronic instrumentation that kills liturgical worship but inappropriately-trained or untrained musicians who fail to understand their supportive role in worship and improperly wield such powerful instrumentation, overwhelming text and tune, that kills liturgical worship. I continue to find it amazing that so many LCMS brothers have a “blind spot” when it comes to worship. Right up and down the line they can doctrinally be on the same page but suddenly have such an inability to discern worthy from worthless when it comes to worship.

  3. What a great article. Thank you for analyzing and putting into technical language what non-professionals usually just sense and find it difficult to express.

    > Given the size of our church body, we have no excuses.

    So true.

  4. Phil,

    Looking forward to 2013 and some real “contemporary” sounds that support the text, and stir faith and heart (emotions!) as a by-product, not primary goal. Your work and those in your class deserve tremendous appreciation and thanks!

  5. Phil,
    I also appreciate your article. Knowing your background in music I can understand why you state what you state. There may be others who appreciate the various instrumentations available for leading worship music but I much prefer the plain old pipe organ. I don’t dislike brass [played one for many years myself] or winds and strings, but still am most comfortable with only the organ. I am definitely opposed to the use of drums especially when they have that rock and roll feeling in their use or acid rock or whatever other kind of music where they predominate because of their loudness. I am praying that our church body would completely return to the historical liturgical style of worship and rid itself of the non liturgical stuff where something new is done each week. I am just one man who has given his opinion.

  6. Thank you for this article, with the care and sensitivity not to point out that abuse lies at the hands of the user and abusus non tollit usum (abuse does not negate proper usage).

    While it does not necessarily occur quite as frequently, I am also disturbed when more traditional instruments are used in a way that does not support liturgical congregational singing. For example – I have heard organists use long (3-5 minute) preludes (written as musical meditations on a hymn melody and intended for the time of meditation prior to the service beginning) used as an interlude between stanzas. While these preludes are beautiful, the musical musings on the melody do not always strictly follow the melody (nor should they). I would liken it to using a sermon about a text in place of reading the text itself.

    I use this example by way of reminding us all that one needs “firearms training” regardless of the firearm used – be it the most technologically advanced plastic composite firearm, the Rifleman’s Winchester repeater rifle, or a .38 “Saturday Night Special.”

  7. @PPPadre #6
    What about the 44 magnum the ‘most leathal weapon ever made.’ It holds six shots and one always wonders whether 5 or 6 have been fired!’ 🙂

  8. @Stephen Starke #2
    Yes, Pastor, that’s exactly what I’d say. I think I might even use that as a topic sentence in a rewrite!



    @PPPadres #6
    Agreed. Indeed, the biggest impediment to the liturgy is not “competition” from alternative formats, but organists who do a poor job. Again, this is not to question anyone’s faith or sincerity or show a lack of appreciation of their willingness to serve. It is just the truth. Organists who don’t play at tempos that allow the melody to sing, choose registrations that either underwhelm or overwhelm the assembly, and do not allow the organ to breathe with the congregation teach people that our hymnody and liturgy is “just too hard”. People draw this conclusion because they don’t want to be critical of Aunt Irma or Uncle Otto. So they just decide they don’t like or can’t sing “that music”. Then along comes Sam on his guitar, keeping a straight tempo people can follow, and Sally joins in with a nice voice to lead them. Then the “other service” is born so that Irma and Otto can stay on the organ and so that the people who want to sing – or just listen to music that isn’t played poorly – can go to another service.

    Everyone then is “affirmed”. But the Lord’s song suffers and our churches continue to shrink as the Divine Service is cluttered with musical distractions. Until we value the musical proclamation of the Word and have the expectation and the commitment that it be done accordingly, the worship wars will continue.

    Most in our churches see music as simply a means of expressing faith and affirming members. It certainly does those things, but that misses the point. (Sort of like how the Memorialists are correct that we commune “in remembrance” of Jesus, but miss the whole point about the Real Presence.) We must always remember that worship is about communion (Jesus & us), not community (us).

  9. I am not a musician. I have no musical talent, either via instrumentation or voice, whatsoever. But I love listening to good music that is performed by very professional musicians, all across the genre’s from so-called “classic rock” to jazz.

    In fact, one of my very favorite pianists is Bill Evans. The way he used block chords at the piano and his detailed styling of the ballads (and some of his own compositions) was just fantastic. But I never really understood exactly what made him stand apart so much from the rest of the crowd until one day when a piano tuner came to the house (my wife IS very musically talented – both voice as well as piano).

    We talked while he worked about the various performers in the Chicago area over the years, his favorites and one’s he worked with as a side man (a bassist), including one of my current favorites, Marshall Vente. So I asked him about Bill Evans. He, of course, was very fond of his playing, as well, and after thinking about it for a moment, he said that what made Bill so outstanding was that he knew how to take the piano into new dimensions without going over the edge. In other words, he never abandoned his audience in a ways that someone like Cecil Taylor did (who, it would seem, played only for his own pleasure).

    And such is the case, as well, with those who perform for congregational singing. Cranking up the volume too much, going wild with excessive percussion or guitar licks – anything that instrumentalists as grandstanding gestures abandons the singers. It’s that simple.

  10. We are blessed in having a number of trained musicians in our congregation.
    There were woodwinds, various ranges, with the organ today.
    Sometimes we have brass, or if it is appropriate to the music, some kind of drum.
    We have organ primarily, but also a couple of good pianists.

    Our Divine Service is always out of LSB.

    You don’t have to “go Contempo” to do this.
    But it takes something other than participation in a garage band to do a good job of accompanying congregational singing, I think.

    [PPPadre, you have hit on the one thing that could be faulted; we do occasionally get a “mini concert” between stanzas. And it distracts the better singers more than the rest of us.]

  11. @Stephen Starke #2
    I went to a Norwegian college (it was Lutheran, too, then). All of the “old ELC” pastors were expected to chant the service, so all of them were in choir and some studied organ or another instrument as well.

    I suspect that the level of musical training for pastors could be improved in LCMS.
    The audition choirs are very good. Do all the seminarians take a class in how to lead congregational singing/choose appropriate music, etc.?

  12. Hi Helen,
    I’m not Pastor Starke and I don’t play him on television. But in answer to your question, circa 1990 Fort Wayne we were required to take only one class on the liturgy. Numerous other classes were offered, but they were electives.

  13. We no longer have a system for training liturgical organists for the normal congregation. There was a time when all Concordia students were required to take “keyboard” lessons hopefully leading to being able to play for the Lutheran service and to take a course in the Lutheran liturgy. Most of these are now retiring. Some colleges now offer a major as a “parish organist or musician” but these only provide organists for congregations able to afford a full time musician. My wife has been able to train at least 6 liturgical organists that are playing for congregations and probably other organists have done this also on their own, but this is not going to solve our problem. Many congregations have to make do with a converted piano player with no liturgical instruction. The various workshops sponsored by Concordias or the seminary are helpful but will not solve the problem either. The same problem applies to choir directors. Does anyone have a workable solution that we can afford?

  14. @Helen #11
    When I was in study to be a pastor one of the requirements of the “old system” was that the pastor had to show some ability with a musical instrument. Most if they did not play the piano took lessons while in junior college and had to reach a level three–not that hard. It was also true for our teacher training students. I even helped my now wife pass her course. At the senior college the music prof set up a time for each student to show their abiblity. I think it shows when the pastor does not at least understand music let alone has no ability to read music. I am blessed to have six greate organists in my two congregations as well as bell choirs and people choirs 🙂 to go with our pipe organs. We sing well and I know immediately when the hymn is a new one–but the people are willing to learn. I am still of the opinion that pastors should be able to play at least the piano in even the most elemental ways to help them understand how to help their organists.

  15. Richard Lewer :
    We no longer have a system for training liturgical organists for the normal congregation. There was a time when all Concordia students were required to take “keyboard” lessons hopefully leading to being able to play for the Lutheran service and to take a course in the Lutheran liturgy.

    Interesting point. The WELS ministerial college in New Ulm, Martin Luther College, continues to require some level of keyboarding training. It is tailored to the level of the student from beginning to advanced. Of course a campus like MLC that has 19 – 20 organs located around the various buildings lends itself to aiding this process. At any given semester, around 120 students are taking organ lessons and training. While on campus this July, the new organ in the Chapel of the Christ was used in devotions. They sound was amazing and I even learned that what a zimblestern sounds like as part of the ranks in an organ.

  16. I graduated from Concordia Junior College in Ann Arbor (as it was known then) in 1975 and Concordia Teachers College in River Forest (as it was known then) in 1977. It was still at that time strongly recommended (though no longer required) to take piano, and so I did. (I had had some piano as a grade schooler and then quit it in high school and picked it up again at college.) I was a music minor so I also opted to also take classes in organ and voice at River Forest. Singing in choirs at these colleges and also at the seminary all helped me grow in my love for good, churchly music. All this musical background began at Immanuel Lutheran School where the principal, Victor Droegemueller, nurtured the musical life of the students in the school by demanding simple part singing in the grade school choir and lots of singing for worship. We did not sing silly “throw-away” songs, but simple churchly music and hymn stanzas, which we also had to memorize in school. To make a long story short, all these musical experiences have been invaluable to me as a pastor. I feel very sorry for those men who have not had such musical opportunities and all those who lack musical ability. It would be a definite handicap for a Lutheran pastor, in my opinion.

  17. An excellent brief essay, Mr. Magness! Your points are well taken, and supported by your training and knowledge in both music and theology. And as you say, many pastors seem to have “zeal without knowledge” as they lack musical training.

    In a spirit of brotherly love, however, we who think of ourselves as “Confessional Lutherans” should be charitable toward those who espouse praise-band, contemporary worship style. These are our brothers in Christ. We would be in agreement with them on most theological issues. And they have a real desire to reach the lost with the message of Jesus Christ. We should work with them in finding a form and style of contemporary worship that is consistent with our theology. Let’s get creative!

    On the musical side, we must recognize that instruments are value-neutral (except for the banjo, which is “the devil’s instrument”–NOT! Go to You Tube and listen to Bela Fleck play a Bach prelude). The elements of music–melody, rhythm, and harmony–are not value-neutral as Daniel Zager has shown. The back beat used in rock music is highly sexual in connotative value, and inappropriate for church. It is how the instruments and music are used in worship that either builds up or tears down the worshiper.

    (The organ, BTW, was used in church in the Reformation era, but not to accompany congregational singing. Plus, the effect of 19th-century Romanticism in music had the effect of slowing down the tempo of hymn singing. It was peppier in Luther’s day.)

    On the theological side, we must work together with our brothers toward a correct understanding of the Confessions. Some interpret AC VII and FC X as allowing for revival-style worship that attracts the unchurched. In this view, it is possible to combine Lutheran substance with Evangelical style. The style of music used in worship is adiaphora. However, the Conclusion of the AC says, “we have introduced nothing, either in doctrine or ceremonies, that is contrary to Holy Scripture of the universal Christian church.”

    (Luther’s first revision of the Mass retained the Latin. He re-introduced congregational singing in the vernacular, which had been an ancient practice. But his reforms in worship, unlike those of Calvin and Zwingli, were not radical.)

    At the same time, we need not only to define our theology of worship, but our theology of evangelism. These are critical times. The devil is loose. Souls are being lost. We must do all we can to save souls from hell. What is the best way to do that? What do the Scriptures and the Confessions say?

    Let’s all put our heads together and figure these things out, for the sake of harmony in our beloved synod, and for the sake of perishing souls who need Christ.

  18. @Rev. Jody Walter #12
    But in answer to your question, circa 1990 Fort Wayne we were required to take only one class on the liturgy.

    Sad. And one of our Concordias has discarded not one, but two, first class musicians in recent years with the result that our high schoolers sound better in choir. Organ is not considered necessary… never mind that people speak on line of using recordings because an organist is not to be had!
    The church does not support the Concordias and that is too bad. The Concordias are not supporting the church either, I’m afraid.

  19. @Pastor Fritz Baue #17
    (The organ, BTW, was used in church in the Reformation era, but not to accompany congregational singing. Plus, the effect of 19th-century Romanticism in music had the effect of slowing down the tempo of hymn singing. It was peppier in Luther’s day.)

    It has been my argument for a long time that if the “dirge playing” organists would only play to tempo the “praise band” fad would never have been considered for the church.

  20. Cantor Magness, thank you for an excellent evaluation. It is much more helpful than the usual Organ vs. Keyboard arguments that inevitably are about preference and style rather than how these tools are used. Piano is not the enemy of Organ, guitar and drums are not the enemy of the chorale. It is not helpful to simply label one an ‘instrument’ and the other an ‘appliance.’ How are they used? As you state I too have heard some fine organs that were horrifically registered, along with excessive use of tremulant, and vibrant to the point one could only conclude that the organist was playing to suit their personal preference. Similar experiences have happened with contemporary services and the excesses of amplification and MIDI voicing. Try to sing “Thy Strong Word” accompanied by a Clavinova set with a Harpsi-Synth split.

  21. Richard Lewer :We no longer have a system for training liturgical organists for the normal congregation. There was a time when all Concordia students were required to take “keyboard” lessons hopefully leading to being able to play for the Lutheran service and to take a course in the Lutheran liturgy.

    Perhaps its time to bring back this requirement at the Concordias.

  22. I would be interested in hearing from current or former Professors of music in our system. I would like to know if there really is more of a demand for directors of music trained in contemporary forms, or classically trained. Most of what I know of how some Concordia U’s have made the shift from classically trained musicians to CCM is second hand.

  23. Dear Phil,

    Excellent post! One of the best analysis of contemporary music I have seen in recent years. I also greatly appreciated hearing from Pastors Starke and Baue, who are both accomplished musicians in their own right–on the guitar, and other instruments!

    I agree with Pastor Rossow’s concern: “non-musicians in the church need more education on matters musical.” The main culprits here are my fellow pastors, as they themselves will often admit!

    At both of our seminaries, for many years, there is a required primary course on worship and liturgy. It has always been well taught, and crams a lot of information into a short amount of time. But because it has a short amount of time to cover everything, the music aspect necessarily gets short shrift. The pastors need to know how to put together worship services, use the worship resources, and conduct the services in a reverent way, because that is an essential and public part of their job. So I don’t see how that course can be changed.

    I wonder if it makes sense, in light of the contemporary demand for variety in instrumentation and types of music, that pastors be required–NOW–to take a music course, designed to help them understand what they need to know about MUSIC in a worship context. How can they make intelligent decisions about church music when they don’t know a thing about it? They don’t have to be a good singer, chanter, or instrumentalist to take such a course; although basic instruction in chanting could be a part of the course. Whatever the content, it needs to emphasize the importance of “congregational song” for Lutherans.

    I know both of our seminaries have superb faculty and staff that could teach such a course. It won’t do to offer an elective, because the guys that need the course will opt out of it. It needs to be required. I think it would be smart for our other church-worker training courses to require a similar course (i.e., teachers, DCEs, deaconesses, etc.)

    Classical music training and instruction has declined in both public and private schools in America. Any musician of older vintage will bemoan this fact. Students come to seminary (and teacher-training) with less and less knowledge or abilities in music, taken as a group. If we Lutherans can’t turn around this tide of musical ignorance, then nobody else will be able to do it.

    By the way, the latest issue of “Worship Leader”, an evangelical publication, had a pretty good article in which the author bemoaned the poor quality (and participation) of congregational singing in evangelical churches. He pointed to some of the same issues that Phil did here. So some of the evangelical megachurch folks, whom some of our LCMS people see as experts, are being critical of their own worship and music practices.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  24. Hi Rose,

    CPH does publish a children’s hymnal of sorts, “All God’s People Sing”, which does have a couple of things in it we use to supplement our day school chapels.

    However, we find that the LSB is the best for the children, as it connects them to the whole body of Christ, prepares them for the Divine Service, and gives them something to “grow into” rather than “grow out of”. Because the melodies are largely folk tunes, they are easily learned by all. Very few hymns are harder than your average Christmas Carol – so if the kids can sing Christmas hymns along with the adults, there’s no reason why that can’t learn hymnody for the rest of the Church Year.

    One simply needs to take care to use things from the hymnal that are either sung frequently or are readily accessibly to the kids. Having a Hymn of the Month curriculum is best.

  25. To “piggyback” on Dr. Noland’s remarks, one church musician I know attended the recent songwriting workshop at St. John’s Ellisville MO (the word “Lutheran” is no longer on the sign). This was to teach participants how to write songs for contemporary worship. What surprised (and saddened) this person was not only that none of the conference participants had had any musical training or education, neither had any of the leaders.

    Nor did they want it. Musical knowledge was considered an impediment to the immediacy of capturing the feeling.

    Good thing our church architects are required to know what they’re doing, else our buildings would be falling down on our heads.

  26. People have been bemoaning the fact that our Concordias aren’t turning out the organists and traditional church musicians as they used to. That is sad. Trouble is, if someone is going to Concordia for church music, and graduates, where are they going to go? You guessed it … a larger congregation with a full-time music minister position, or a congregation with a parochial school as a teacher/church musician. Where does that leave the rest of the synod? You guessed it … self-taught converted pianists exposed in their training more to methodibapticostal music and experience than solid, confessional Lutheran music.

    What is a synod to do? Methinks that the districts should charge their District Worship Committees (and if they don’t have one, they should form one) to organize on-going Organist and Church Music Workshops that would reach out to the organists and other church musicians in the small congregations who have limited ability, and teach them about organ registration, playing style, church year seasons, choice of music, etc. (English and SELC district churches should be welcome to participate in the workshop of the district that they are geographically located.) IMHO, this would be money far better spent than on some of the Ablaze! projects we’ve seen pandered to us over the years.

  27. Kantor Boettcher:
    What is a synod to do? Methinks that the districts should charge their District Worship Committees (and if they don’t have one, they should form one) to organize on-going Organist and Church Music Workshops that would reach out to the organists and other church musicians in the small congregations who have limited ability, and teach them about organ registration, playing style, church year seasons, choice of music, etc. (English and SELC district churches should be welcome to participate in the workshop of the district that they are geographically located.) IMHO, this would be money far better spent than on some of the Ablaze! projects we’ve seen pandered to us over the years.

    The Commission on Worship and Spiritual Care (interesting how those two items automatically go together…. 🙂 ) for the IN district (“the true visible district on earth”–cough, cough) does try to encourage the ad hoc organists of the smaller congregations to get to organist workshops and especially to the annual W+SC workshop for the wider audience, each Sept. (which reminds me–I have that coming soon–Good! It’s been a seriously refreshing day, every time I’ve gone.)
    But even with this, we could do better. We pastors, especially, need to urge, encourage, support, even pay for our “ad hoc” organists to go to these things. And go with them, too.

    Dave Mueller, a pastor who is very thankful for the “ad hocs” he has, who are faithful ladies.

  28. Rev. David Mueller :
    Dave Mueller, a pastor who is very thankful for the “ad hocs” he has, who are faithful ladies.

    I too am a thankful church elder who knows God’s blessings when he sees them. In a WELS congregation of 160 souls, we have three wonderful organist whom serve God in love for their Savior with no pay. As church leaders, we keep the organ tuned and give them gifts of appreciation whenever possible.

  29. I think the saddest part of this whole discussion of contemporary in the last 20 years is that the Lutherans were so insecure in who they are and what they stand for that they were looking longingly at the neighbor’s grass thinking it was so much better and they continue to ignore the weeds. How long, oh Lord, will this incessant pushing of trash music continue to be our main topic of discussion in the church? Can we not get past this, keep our hymnals, keep our organ and orchestras and come to our senses? This is a tiring diatribe by the pro contempo people that just will not end.

  30. @Pastor Fritz Baue #26

    > the word “Lutheran” is no longer on the sign

    Nor is the word “Church.” The main sign just say’s “St. John.”

    Hope nobody gets confused and looks for the emergency room.

  31. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    In my comment #23 above, I suggested one way in which “non-musicians in the church” could get more music education, namely, at the collegiate and seminary levels, before they become church-workers.

    Another idea would be to have a synod-wide “Study Year,” in which all pastor’s conferences, teacher’s conferences, deaconess conferences, DCE conferences, etc. would study the topic of church music and congregational song. This would affect all present church-workers. These are “mandatory conferences” after all.

    The curriculum for these conferences would be produced by our Commission on Worship . . . Oops! We don’t have a Commission on Worship anymore. I wonder why? Maybe the people over at Jesus First–who were pretty much in charge of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance, which just eliminated the Commission on Worship–just don’t like Lutheran worship.

    Well, somebody would have to put the curriculum together, in any event. We aren’t going to get a Commission on Worship back anytime soon.

    Another idea is for laymen to attend workshops. I know that the Fort Wayne seminary has offered excellent organist workshops in recent years, and the Saint Louis seminary offered adult choir workshops this last year. Check their websites under upcoming events to see what is being scheduled for the future.

    One of the best ideas, in my opinion, is the Summer Music Academy idea for high school and/or college students. This is described in the latest issue of “Thrivent Magazine,” summer 2010, pp. 10-12. An article by BJS’ own Mollie Ziegler-Hemingway “Singing Praise,” includes a description of the summer camp program at Luther College (ELCA), Decorah, Iowa. The article by Mollie is about Lutheran church music, and is required reading for folks interested in this subject. It includes quotes from Stephen Starke and Dan Reuning, too.

    Our colleges at River Forest and Seward used to offer a summer music camp program, many years ago. I don’t know what our LCMS colleges offer in this way, or if the WELS and ELS offer something like this for high school or college students. If any LCMS college offered such a program, I would highly encourage our LCMS youth to attend it.

    One concrete way congregations could invest in their own worship future is to offer “full-ride” scholarships to such summer camps for their own high school students who are already singing in choir, playing organ, or otherwise obviously musically talented. Lutheran music summer camp will help open a whole new world to such youth; give them new incentive to hone their skills; and instill in them an appreciation for our great Lutheran musical and worship heritage.

    Finally, I can’t forget to mention the superb, top-level offerings at the annual Good Shepherd Institute at Fort Wayne. This year they meet November 7-9, 2010. Go to to find out more about this conference, now in its 11th year and going strong.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  32. Pr. Noland,

    Thank you for – “Another idea would be to have a synod-wide “Study Year,” in which all pastor’s conferences, teacher’s conferences, deaconess conferences, DCE conferences, etc. would study the topic of church music and congregational song. This would affect all present church-workers. These are “mandatory conferences” after all.”

    Someone else mentioned including a study of the church year/seasons etc.

    What a wonderful idea! I would urge all church organists to be required to attend – with their way paid! Then maybe we wouldn’t hear “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” as a postlude!

    I’ll be eagerly be watching for the synod-wide “Study Year on Church Music”!

  33. Meanwhile, Kantor Resch of CTS, Fort Wayne, is teaching summer courses designed for Pastors and church musicians. [Check the schedule to see if there is a class left near you.] We have a nice group of Pastors and lay people engaged in one at St Paul, Austin, Texas, this week. If you are anywhere in the area, the church has room for you to attend the hymn festival at 7 p.m. tonight, (Wednesday, August 4). Dr. Jon Eifert, music director at Mt. Calvary, San Antonio, will be the organist.

    Dr. Eifert recently did a musical defense for his doctorate at Bates Recital Hall, University of Texas. With organ and his spoken presentation, he gave a stirring demonstration of Lutheran music and made a fine apology for his faith in the process.

    (Our little university 😉 does some surprising things. I’d invite you to the Bach cantata, which follows the church year from Sept to April, but you’d have to come early; the hall is already overflowing for every performance.)

  34. Pastor Noland,

    CUC has offered a summer “Art of Music” camp in the past. Our son has attended. But even though I believe the camp was largely grant-funded and subsidized, it was not easy for us to afford the registration fee–I believe it was $450–for one week of camp (throw in the cost of attend Higher Things each summer, and it really starts to add up). I am not sure why, but “Art of Music” did not happen this year. Perhaps the cost was a challenge for others, too. I love your idea of scholarships to support high school students in attending such a thing. That would be a great way to support the growing of future church musicians (even if they are not paid church musicians, we need to grow a future crop of the volunteer ones).

    Another thing congregations can do is to get involved in supporting future church musicians is to create music apprentice positions. My husband has had a music apprentice for most of the last 15 years of his time as a cantor. One of his former apprentices is now our assistant cantor. 🙂

  35. Looks like this thread is winding down but wanted to add my praise for Kantor Magness’s post. This level of scholarly criticism is absolutely necessary to raise the conversation of music in worship above the snipping about pop cultural sensibilities and personal taste. There are mighty good technical reasons for discerning music as worthy or unworthy for divine service which have absolutely nothing to do with personal tastes. I hope experts like Kantor Magness will continue to provide guard rails for an on-going discussion about worship practices for Confessional Lutherans.

    For those of you who would lobby for more education regarding music specifically, but the arts generally, for Confessional Lutherans (Pastor Noland, Cheryl Magness, et al) I add my encouragement and support. If we as Confessionals abandon the field (the arts) to popular culture we lose the opportunity to nurture creative people who can evangelize in settings far from the pulpit and provide a witness that refutes the narcissistic nihilism of pop culture.

  36. Kantor Magness,
    I enjoyed your article and responsive comments. I request your professional opinion concerning a custom at my local congregation that is bothersome to me. Congregational hymns from LSB and choir anthems are often transposed to a lower key ostensibly because the key they are written in is “too high” for most people. I sing in our choir and take some good natured ribbing because the director knows my thoughts on this issue. It’s hard for me to explain, but it seems to me that lowering the register diminishes the brightness of the music. Hymns take on a solemn tone that is not necessarily the intent of the composer. I realize this could be considered trivial. Nevertheless, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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