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Teaching New Music to Your Congregation

November 10, 2009

I presented at Winkel (Circuit Pastor’s Conference) today on how to teach new music in congregations and I thought I’d share my notes.  Perhaps they will be of some use to you.

Intro:

New music scares people, probably because it is unfamiliar, it’s not one of the old favorites, and it is change, pure and simple.  However, new music doesn’t have to be intimidating, either to a congregation or its pastor.  Here are some thoughts to help make it easier to teach new music:

v     Pick good material

  • If you are going to take the time to teach something, make sure it’s worth teaching.
  • What is good material?
    • Doctrinally sound
    • Good poetry
    • Singable by a congregation
  • To tell if it’s singable by your congregation, you must get to know your congregation.  This takes time.
    • It can be helpful to track the hymns your congregation uses to get a feel for what they like to sing.
    • If you’re new to the parish, go through bulletins from before you got there to get a feel for the congregation’s musical abilities.
    • Remember that different service times can have different singing abilities.
      • Eg. The early service may be able to sing something that late service would find more challenging

v     Have a plan

  • Be confident & deliberate in your teaching; congregations can sense fear (both from the pastor and the musicians)
  • Eg. Hymn of the Month
    • Pick a hymn you want to teach and sing it on each Sunday that month (perhaps moving it to different parts of the service)
  • Eg. Teach your Sunday School or Day School Children and have them help teach the congregation

v     Pastor & musicians need to work together

  • Each of you has different areas of expertise, so take advantage of that

v     Make use the musicians you have available

  • Have the choir learn the piece in rehearsal and help introduce it.  They are your best asset to teach new music to the congregation.
  • Use soloists
  • Use instrumentalists
  • Have the organist and other musicians play/sing the piece during the prelude, and even on previous Sundays to get the tune into people’s heads
  • Take a few minutes and sing through it in your bible study hour
  • A pastor who can sing can be very helpful in teaching new music to the congregation
    • Don’t be afraid to come out before the service and say, “We have a new hymn today; let’s practice it.”

v     Don’t try to teach too much new music at a time

  • This is part of knowing your congregation
  • Give them familiar music for the rest of the service to help balance out the unfamiliar

v     Bad times to teach new music

  • Funeral
    • People want comfort and the familiar, not new stuff
  • Wedding
    • The congregation at a wedding is (most likely) not your normal congregation, so use care when the congregation is asked to sing things
    • Remember: just because people have heard it does not mean they can sing it.  I’m talking to you, Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer!
  • Christmas Eve, Easter, Reformation, etc.
    • While some new music is ok at festivals, do not forget to include the familiar music that they want to sing.
    • It is not at good idea to pull out Divine Service 5 once a year on Reformation and expect the congregation to be able to sing it.  It needs to be taught and used regularly or they will forget it

v     Specific examples

  • LSB 941 (Hymn)
  • Old Testament Canticle (from Service of Prayer & Preaching) (Chanting)
  • Divine Service 2 (Liturgy)

Conclusion:

With the Lutheran Service Book being 3 years old, there is still much new music that our congregations can learn.  With a small amount of effort, your congregation can enjoy learning new music and be enriched because of it.

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From → Church Music, Hymns

6 Comments
  1. Very nice. Good notes.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. It was well received and hopefully the pastors got some ideas.

  3. This particular directive was helpful in my congregation, at least among those who show up when the service starts!

    Don’t be afraid to come out before the service and say, “We have a new hymn today; let’s practice it.”

    Another thing that has helped is playing the hymn for offering or communion a few weeks in a row prior to introducing it. Osmosis learning at its best!

    BTW, I just did a post with suggestions for introducing “Kyrie, God Father” to the congregation. Will update it with a link to your post later today.

    • I’m curious: have you ever taught “Isaiah, Mighty Seer”? I love the hymn, but it’s not an easy one to teach, that’s for sure. And since there’s one stanza, it’s even more difficult. So I’d be interested to hear your ideas.

      • I taught is to a choir that was unfamiliar with it. I broke up the stanza line-by-line, and had the pastor sing a line from the front, and the choir sing their line from the balcony. They sang together on “Holy is God the Lord of Sabaoth…”

        P: Isaiah, mighty seer in days of old, the Lord of all in spirit did behold.

        C: High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright, with robes that filled the temple courts with light.

        P: Above the throne…

        C: With two they veiled…

        P: And with the other…

        C: One to another…

        P and C (with congregation?): Holy is God the Lord of Sabaoth! …His glory fills…

        P: The beams and lintels…

        Another option is for a solo or choir to pick up most of the text, then teach the congregation the Holy’s. The repetition makes that part fairly easy to learn.

        The antiphonal approach, though, gives the congregation reinforcements from front and back, surrounding them with the hymn.

        Also, if you go the antiphonal route and your pastor isn’t up for the singing, you can use a solo or divide the choir between front and back.

  4. Thanks for the input on that. I think that would work well. It’s definitely a favorite hymn of mine, but I struggle with teaching it. And I absolutely love playing it, as the text is so vivid.

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