Food for thought…
Note from CM: In days to come, I will be introducing and interviewing Eric Wyse, the author of this post. Eric is my brother-in-law, an extremely gifted musician, and currently Director of Music at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN. More about his journey on the Canterbury Trail later; for today he has contributed a thoughtful foundational document that guides him and his congregation as they sing and play music to the Lord in worship. He has also kindly included some statements about worship from the Book of Common Prayer and a list of books for more study on the subject.
Eric blogs at HYMNWYSE, and you can find links to his other sites there as well.
Like the statement from the USCCB we looked at last week, I commend this to you as an example of the good theological and musicological thinking that the church is capable of doing and should be doing with regard to music.
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The vision for music in worship at St. Bartholomew's is one of worship of the Triune God with all our beings, with all of our emotions, and with all of our intellect–hence we worship joyfully and exuberantly, as well as meditatively and reverently. In accordance with the canons of the church, the rector serves as the worship leader for the parish; the music director assists the rector in matters of music.
Our focus begins with who God is: in songs of adoration and praise we worship Him and proclaim His goodness, greatness, love, mercy, holiness and all of His attributes, asking nothing in return but to enjoy His presence. We then move to expressions of thanksgivingfor what He has done for us–in all that he has given to us. Songs of penitence remind us of our sins, our need for forgiveness, and resolve to live rightly. With songs of oblation, we offer both our resources and our lives to God for His service. With songs of prayer, we ask for what we desire and need, when we bring to God our and intercessions and petitions, on behalf of others, and for ourselves. As we worship, our primary purpose, starting point, ending point and overall "umbrella" is an acknowledgement of who God is, and our response His call. This is a very God focused, rather than me-focused expression.
At St. Bartholomew's, our musical offering is a reﬂection of who we are as believers living in a post-modern world, connected to the ancient historic faith. We draw from various styles and periods of music, including classic hymns, chant, and anthems, as well as fresh new expressions of music from around the world – praise songs, Taizé music from France, music of renewal from the Roman church, and Celtic music. We sing music that is hundreds of years old, because in addition to the truth it contains, it reminds us we are a part of the historic church, and we sing today the same music the saints of old sang, and in that way are joined as one church universal. We sing modern music, because he has put a new song in our hearts. We draw from the wealth of resources from our varied traditions. We sing in other modern languages (Spanish) to remind us that we are part of a global church, and we sing in Latin, which was the language of the church for most of church history. When we sing in Spanish, we connect to the believers in our church body who worship with us, singing in their ﬁrst language. When we sing in Latin we connect with the historic language of the church–a language that is still sung every Sunday around the world. When we sing the service music we join our voices "with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven" (i.e. the cloud of witnesses).
The architecture of our buildings, while modern, is rooted in history. Our sacred space includes stained glass depicting the story of redemption and the history of the church, and is constructed of materials from creation (wood, stone, brick. fabric), The church building faces east, and is shaped to represent Noah's Ark as a reminder of the covenant. Just as our building are designed to be different in style than other buildings in our daily life, our musical expression will intentionally sound different than the music we hear during the week. Our expression, as believers directly connected to our creator, should be unique–not foreign from our culture, but set apart, as our sacred space is, for worship.
Our goal as a church is to have one integrated service plan that is repeated as needed (currently two ninety-minute Sunday morning times) that incorporates historic, modern, and global music. Rather than offering a "smorgasbord" of sound (take your pick of what you like–a traditional service of hymns and anthems, or a contemporary service of modern praise and worship), or a blended "soup" (everything is a blend of somewhat classical, somewhat pop, somewhat Broadway middle-of-the-road offend-no-one music), in the context of convergence, we offer musical "stew"–an expression of various styles, all working within a context of taste appropriate for Sunday worship, each with its distinctive ﬂavor, yet a part of the whole in one cohesive "dish".
In very practical terms, rather than having a distinct division of classic hymns and anthems(organ, choir) and praise band (rhythm section of piano, bass, drums, guitar) we ﬁnd ways to create a modern "chamber music" approach of ﬁnd the right combination of instruments to best support a given piece of music. In practical terms, this will usually be a combination of grand piano, acoustic guitar, percussion, bass, and one additional instrument (usually orchestral). The conﬁguration varies from week to week depending upon the availability of musicians and the music chosen.
Our music will be primarily congregational, as we hear from God and are best transformed into his likeness, within the context of community. Because we view the human voice as the primary instrument through which we offer praise, we sing some music unaccompanied (a cappella) each week. As we lift our voices alone, we are certain to hear the voices around us, (not just the instruments offering accompaniment), and are reminded that we live and worship in a community of joined voices and lives. On occasion, a soloist, or choir will offer music as an offering. During this time, we will engage in active listening as God speaks to us. At times, we will be silent and hear the Spirit speaking to the church.
The music in our worship will be Christo-centric — in every service we will use music to help retell the story of God's saving acts throughout history — from creation, the exodus, and other events in Hebrew history, to the incarnation, death, resurrection and reign of Christ and the coming of His Kingdom. Our selection of music is sure to include a balance of songs about, to and in praise of the Father, Son, and Spirit, as well as combined Trinitarian language. At least one Trinitarian doxological expressions is usually chosen. We are careful to include songs that speak to both God's transcendence and imminence. In his transcendence, He exists apart from us, and is not encumbered by our physical, or human limitations; he exists in majesty, beauty and power above and beyond all that we understand. In his immanence, he has purposely chosen to intersect our universe, and through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He participates within this material world, and knows our every joy, sorrow, pain and weaknesses. The music we sing is evaluated to achieve a balance of texts that remind us of God's revelation toward us, and our response to God's call upon our lives, as evidenced both in personal transformation into the image and likeness of Christ, and a call to work for justice and peace in our society. We also strive to maintain a balance of expressive, instructive, aesthetic, and memorial dimensions in the texts chosen.
Living in community, the gifts of musical composition within our parish will be encouraged, and used so that our expression through music is uniquely ours as we offer new music (hymns, modern songs, service music, chants, Psalm settings, anthems, etc.). The musicality of our composers will help determine the palette from which we illustrate our expression of praise to God. Thus many of the praise songs, anthems, and new settings of hymns, as well as the majority of our service music, have been composed by members of our parish.
–Eric Wyse, Director of Music (© 2001, revised 2008, 2011)
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Cherry, Constance M. The worship architect: a blueprint for designing culturally relevant and
Gustafson, Gerrit. The adventure of worship: discovering your highest calling. Grand Rapids,
Rienstra, Debra, and Ron Rienstra. Worship words: discipling language for faithful ministry.
Scheer, Greg. The art of worship: a musician's guide to leading modern worship. Grand Rapids,
Webber, Robert. The Biblical foundations of Christian worship. Nashville, Tenn.: Star Song
Wren, Brian A. Praying twice: the music and words of congregational song. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.