Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Making Beauty Accessible

 

Lutherans probably beat out even the Anglican communion when it comes to active liturgical worship. While it’s not exactly true that Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, the congregation in a Lutheran church is expected to do more than just hunker down in silence. No, silent hunkering is only for those periods of worship where silent hunkering is required – in which case Lutherans are really quite good at it. The rest of the time, though, Lutherans are expected to do stuff. Read together, sing together, pray together. To this day, my lapsed Lutheran family thinks there’s something “papist” about worship services where the congregation can get by without singing.

In a previous post, I described how, even when art strives to imitate nature, it produces something more than just nature, and I used this imitation of nature as an example:

That was simply music inspired by the natural world – indirectly inspired by God, since God is its author, but not explicitly worshipful. Writing music of similar intensity for corporate worship is considerably more daunting. The musical friction of several imitative lines at once can be challenging for your average church choir to get through. Asking the congregation to join in, too, well, how do you do that? Making music beautiful is hard enough. Making music beautiful and accessible is even harder.

It is very easy, while making music more accessible, to simply make it less beautiful. I have begun a quintessentially Lutheran project – composing a small-scale mass not for the choir to simply sing at the rest of the congregation, but one where the congregation sings along, too, though not at all times. Also, it has handbells – even Lutheranier!

The idea for this short mass began as a very short chromatic fugue on Kyrie eleison, a pale imitation of JS Bach’s stile antico writing. But a congregation cannot sing along to that. How can the congregation participate? In a simple opening Kyrie, perhaps, after which the choir continues with the Christe eleison, then the fugue. A handbell first summons the congregation to order, the choir intones the first Kyrie eleison, the congregation responds in turn, and then the choir is off to the races:

Now, is the simpler music as beautiful as the fugue on Kyrie? To my mind, no. Doing that kind of simplicity beautifully requires a discipline I don’t yet have. But by listening with a critical ear between drafts, I may eventually approximate beautiful simplicity well enough.

Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith. But how do you get through such a big wall of text without lapsing into stodgy, choppy musical phrasing? How do you keep it musically interesting without losing the congregation?

To be honest, I’m not sure. but I’m giving it a go. The choir intones Credo in unum Deum, the congregation responds likewise, then choir and congregation continue together, with the congregation led by the choir altos, sharing the altos’ part. Will it work? Maybe not. So far, though, I have a draft worked out through the middle of the Crucifixus/Passus section of the Creed:

The Creed echoes the opening Kyrie, and also fragments of Christos anesti. Portions still strike me as too perfunctory and disjointed. In larger-scale works not meant for congregational participation, this is often managed by elaborating at length on each statement of the words, breaking the Creed into several dissimilar movements, if necessary. Getting the congregation through it all means not elaborating very much on the plain statement of the words, just elaborating enough to be, well, not disjointed and perfunctory.

Making beauty accessible without making it perfunctory, without losing the intensity that makes it beautiful – it’s quite a challenge! But if beauty isn’t accessible, who do you share it with?

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  1. Arahant Member

    Just seeing that bit of stained glass reminded me of a very different music:

    • #1
    • August 28, 2017, at 10:36 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith.

    It also serves to cover up how light the choir is in basses, and for the millionth time no, I’m not joining.

    Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.

    • #2
    • August 28, 2017, at 10:47 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Just seeing that bit of stained glass reminded me of a very different music:

    Well you do know where that stained-glass window is from ;-P

    • #3
    • August 28, 2017, at 10:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Well you do know where that stained-glass window is from ;-P

    Are you implying I hang out with the Rockefellers? How gauche. Those nouveau riches?

    • #4
    • August 28, 2017, at 11:06 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A wise and knowledgeable post. Isn’t that why we all got the internet? “The library in your home”. When Midge is at the controls, that’s what it is.

    BTW, minor note: at least on my browser, even after several refreshes there’s a formatting issue with the end of the post–the sound bar graphic is clashing with text.

    • #5
    • August 29, 2017, at 1:21 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Vectorman Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith.

    It also serves to cover up how light the choir is in basses, and for the millionth time no, I’m not joining.

    Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.

    From Pencilvania:

    • #6
    • August 29, 2017, at 3:09 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  7. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    A wise and knowledgeable post. Isn’t that why we all got the internet? “The library in your home”. When Midge is at the controls, that’s what it is.

    BTW, minor note: at least on my browser, even after several refreshes there’s a formatting issue with the end of the post–the sound bar graphic is clashing with text.

    Uh-oh. The same thing is happening to me. @max? Help! The post has fallen and it can’t get up!

    • #7
    • August 29, 2017, at 4:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. James Madison Member

    Love this Post. Agree with Gary – MFR is ‘da best.

    OK, true confession. I struggle with faith. On the one hand I marvel at this world, the universe. But you had me at liturgy.

    Then I look up at the light from stars sent out a billion years ago. I think about Einstein and the time/space continuum, and how time is curved and folded. I then look down at a microscope and subatomic particles. Hmm? What is up with that? Are there little worlds with sub-sub-atomic beings living on sub-atomic particles? This is a metophor, not a serious question.

    Then I ask, “Why would some being create a world – this planet or perhaps other planets with other creatures or life forms – just to test them?” What is the purpose of the superior being – model railroading? Is this just some higher being’s science experiment?

    Then, I think who created the superior being?

    Then I look back up and gaze into the dark sky and realize, there is something big going on here.

    Maybe, just maybe, I am a Hare Krishna Christian. I like the liturgy. I like the peace one can feel hearing it, reciting it. I feel more one, more rooted, and more tranquil. So, don’t be surprised if you hear me chanting the liturgy in an airport in orange robes with cymbals clacking. It is calming.

    MFR – again, ‘da best.

    • #8
    • August 29, 2017, at 5:48 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    James Madison (View Comment):
    Maybe, just maybe, I am a Hare Krishna Christian. I like the liturgy. I like the peace one can feel hearing it, reciting it. I feel more one, more rooted, and more tranquil. So, don’t be surprised if you hear me chanting the liturgy in an airport in orange robes with cymbals clacking. It is calming.

    • #9
    • August 29, 2017, at 6:13 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Ralphie Member

    Thank you and I hope you are successful in your quest. I’m tired of the “Jesus is my Girlfriend” music a long time ago.

    I miss the Divine Service. In my area, most Pastors seem to be making it up as they go in an effort to be relevant.

    • #10
    • August 29, 2017, at 7:11 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith.

    It also serves to cover up how light the choir is in basses, and for the millionth time no, I’m not joining.

    Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.

    From Pencilvania:

    And this would be why I was singing tenor in my last choir.

    • #11
    • August 29, 2017, at 7:32 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Paul Erickson Inactive

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith.

    It also serves to cover up how light the choir is in basses, and for the millionth time no, I’m not joining.

    Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.

    From Pencilvania:

    As a volunteer choir director, I’d like to send them some of my altos . . .

    • #12
    • August 29, 2017, at 7:38 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Perhaps the most Lutheran thing you can do with a mass is to have the congregation Sing. Every. Single. Darn. Word. Of. The. Creed along with the choir. Expecting the congregation to sing along emphasizes both the personal and corporate nature of the Creed as a statement of faith.

    It also serves to cover up how light the choir is in basses, and for the millionth time no, I’m not joining.

    Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.

    From Pencilvania:

    As a volunteer choir director, I’d like to send them some of my altos . . .

    Aw …

    Granted, at my last church choir, the altos were altos because they had a range of 9 notes and could barely read music. Apparently at my new church, I may be the only alto who can get to rehearsal.

    • #13
    • August 29, 2017, at 7:42 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: No, silent hunkering is only for those periods of worship where silent hunkering is required – in which case Lutherans are really quite good at it.

    Music remains to me a world of perpetual bafflement. Anyone within earshot wishes it did, in fact, remain with me.

    Silent hunkering though; that’s where I shine. I used to hunker competitively. When I was more athletic in my youth I took down Divisionals and got to represent the entire Missouri Synod. These days I’ve jumped several age brackets and weight classes. The competition is much fiercer.

    • #14
    • August 29, 2017, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Doctor Robert Member

    Isn’t this why JS Bach included 4-part chorales in all of his Church Cantatas and Masses?

    • #15
    • August 29, 2017, at 7:23 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Grosseteste Member

    Wow, thanks for letting us in on your work-in-progress, your selections left me wanting to hear more (and wanting to try out the congregational parts). In my low-church ELCA contexts, I haven’t encountered worship services performed at a congregation; lots of bad music, but temperamentally I agree a participatory service with bad music is superior to a service where you go to witness some bad music being performed.


    This conversation is part of a Group Writing series with the theme “Beauty”, planned for the whole month of August. If you follow this link, you can see the links to other August posts, which will be updated as the month goes on. The theme for September is “Cars,” please click on this link and sign up!

    • #16
    • August 29, 2017, at 8:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Profile Photo Member

    Well…handbells are not Lutheran, they are very mid-20th century American Protestant-thingy, stealing from the English something that wasn’t really a part of the church and putting it there by mistake and then making it traditional. I’ve directed handbell choirs for years and would gladly melt them all down to make HO gauge train track.

    Luther’s ideas about music and how the Lutheran traditional evolved around them is very interesting. Even the idea of congregational singing was a German thing pre-Luther, he just changed the emphasis and texts. Bach is the high-ideal for Lutheran worship (to my lights), and he was quite happy to have both lusty congregational singing and having the choir do lots of singing at (I think he preferred the latter), early Lutheran composers and cantors probably wove the congregation in more fully, but a separation was in process by Bach’s time. Later liturgical practices varied in the US as the different traditions melded and merged or separated from one another.

    Most scholars no longer believe the congregation joined in the chorales in Bach’s major works and weekly cantatas, and I’m inclined to agree.

    I think modern Lutheran liturgical music is mostly garbage. I applaud your attempt to try to find a new and beautiful voice to replace it. Also, most Lutheran churches are dumbing-down the liturgy and even dumping it as the ELCA becomes more and more Unitarians with bratwursts in October. I hope the new North America Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod find ways to strengthen worship. The Missouri Synod hymnal is very good, if still weak in the sung liturgy aspect of things. The NALC is still busy settling and growing and doesn’t seem to have had much time or resources to focus on liturgical reform. I’m just afraid it will follow trends current in the ELCA instead of focusing on understanding the liturgical roots of Lutheran worship and finding new but not hostile to traditional ways of worship, or better yet, just get back to worshiping in the received tradition with the modern junk thrown out.

    • #17
    • August 30, 2017, at 10:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    James Madison (View Comment):
    Love this Post. Agree with Gary – MFR is ‘da best.

    OK, true confession. I struggle with faith. On the one hand I marvel at this world, the universe. But you had me at liturgy.

    Then I look up at the light from stars sent out a billion years ago. I think about Einstein and the time/space continuum, and how time is curved and folded. I then look down at a microscope and subatomic particles. Hmm? What is up with that? Are there little worlds with sub-sub-atomic beings living on sub-atomic particles? This is a metophor, not a serious question.

    Then I ask, “Why would some being create a world – this planet or perhaps other planets with other creatures or life forms – just to test them?” What is the purpose of the superior being – model railroading? Is this just some higher being’s science experiment?

    Then, I think who created the superior being?

    Then I look back up and gaze into the dark sky and realize, there is something big going on here.

    Maybe, just maybe, I am a Hare Krishna Christian. I like the liturgy. I like the peace one can feel hearing it, reciting it. I feel more one, more rooted, and more tranquil. So, don’t be surprised if you hear me chanting the liturgy in an airport in orange robes with cymbals clacking. It is calming.

    @jamesmadison, I wanted to share this with you earlier, but I was away. Though the style of poetry is a bit old-fashioned, maybe you can relate to this.

    I know I can. I can relate with struggling with faith, too — a struggle different from unbelief. You can believe, all right, and still see yourself as unfaithful.

    • #18
    • August 31, 2017, at 3:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    St. Salieri / Eric Cook (View Comment):
    Well…handbells are not Lutheran, they are very mid-20th century American Protestant-thingy, stealing from the English something that wasn’t really a part of the church and putting it there by mistake and then making it traditional. I’ve directed handbell choirs for years and would gladly melt them all down to make HO gauge train track.

    Haha! Though I know the English history of handbells, growing up in Midwest America, you could easily suppose Luther himself rang the darn things. I haven’t played them that often, but when I have, I’ve loved every minute of it. Only had to direct (kinda sorta) once though, and only for several measures of a non-bell work — the conductor of the whole work had too many other amateur musicians to cue to lead the bells also.

    Handbell choirs are a very corporate form of worship, since several players make one instrument. Perhaps that’s why there are Midwest Lutherans so drawn to ’em.

    • #19
    • August 31, 2017, at 3:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Arahant Member

    You’re lucky I can’t find this one bell choir video…yet.

    • #20
    • August 31, 2017, at 7:13 AM PDT
    • 1 like

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