Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 11, 2009

A Musically Eclectic Pentecost

Pentecost was almost two weeks ago, but I’ve been meaning to type up a post about our recent service celebrating the Festival of the Coming of the Holy Spirit.  Allow me to get there in a round-about way.

I’m not a big fan of separate “traditional” and “contemporary” services.  (I’m also not a big fan of the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” when it comes to worship, but that’s an entirely different blog post).  It’s not that I think such a practice sinful (lest I create a law where God has not).  But, in my humble opinion, I don’t think it is necessarily the wisest approach to worship.  I don’t want to do anything that would remotely encourage division-by-demographics (including musical preferences) within a congregation (neither was Paul; see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17).  Perhaps I’ll expound on those thoughts sometime in the future, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

That said, I do like to see multiple musical styles brought together under the same service.  I am not suggesting that anything and everything goes, but I don’t want to limit musical expressions in worship only to one style, be it historic or modern.  The music used in worship is neither a musical museum nor the ecclesiastical equivalent of a “Top 40” radio station.  We honor the past musical expressions of the Church, and yet we don’t hesitate to add to the Church’s musical repertoire.  The criterion is simply that the musical form faithfully carries the gospel message of the text it accompanies.

The congregation I serve is very blessed to have a number of fine musicians among our members.  We have two organists (three if you count me) and a world-class pianist.  We have one member who plays trumpet, another who plays flute, two who play oboe, two who play clarinet, another who plays guitar, and even a percussionist—and some of these folks are professional musicians.  We don’t have a choir, but we have several capable soloists who sing as cantors, and they occasionally sing together in SSA or SAB trios.  Not bad for 130 souls!  Several of these folks have come to us recently, and so the musical possibilities we have in worship have expanded recently — encouraging me to think about additional advanced planning in light of all our potential!

Our recent Pentecost service was a good example of a service in which many musical styles are brought together in the same celebration.  Our Pentecost ensemble included organ and piano, trumpet, flute, two oboes, and guitar.  Festival services here at Gloria Dei typically include a procession, and so the crucifer and I processed in to Luther’s “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (Christian Worship #176; see here for the original German) with organ and trumpet. 

After the invocation, the usual beginning of the service (confession, absolution, Kyrie) was replaced with a responsive Scripture dialogue that conveyed thoughts about the work of the Holy Spirit while still retaining a confession and absolution focus.  The setting of the Gloria we used is relatively new (copyright 2002), though well-known in many WELS congregations from “Divine Service I” in Christian Worship: Supplement.  This setting has piano and organ accompaniment options along with several other instrumental parts.  We used the piano accompaniment.  The flute played the optional choir descant, and the two oboes played the parts originally written for two trumpets.  I appreciate how this particular WELS worship resource was written to be as simple or complex as local resources permit.

Festival_Concert_015My music files for Pentecost contained an identical setting for the Psalm and Verse of the Day sung between the three Scripture readings.  The setting was from GIA (order no. G-5615).  This setting was written to be sung entirely a cappella, with a four-part choir singing the refrain and humming the accompaniment while the cantor sings the verses.  As an option, a piano part is printed to substitute for the a cappella choir.  The music for the refrain included unison men’s voices singing the melody while the altos and sopranos sang descants.  We covered those parts by giving the melody to one of the oboes, and the two descants to the other oboe and flute.  If I were to describe the musical style, I guess I’d have to call it a cross between Taizé and jazz: a repeating, four-chord piano ostinato (Taizé) with a syncopated rhythm (jazz).  The piece went quite well; the only downside was that, because it was sung at a brisk tempo, it was finished rather quickly.  The wind instruments’ descants sounded like a musical painting of the Holy Spirit’s “wind” (Acts 2:1-4) over the disciples on the day of Pentecost.

The traditionally appointed Hymn of the Day for Pentecost was moved to the opening hymn slot since its music carried the weight of a festive procession well.  In the location of the Hymn of the Day, we sang the new Pentecost hymn from Christian Worship: Supplement, “Holy Spirit, the Dove Sent from Heaven” (CWS #723).  This Spanish hymn was translated into English by Lutheran pastor and hymn writer Stephen Starke.  The music’s Spanish origins could be heard in the frequent use of thirds and sixths in the harmony.  We accompanied the hymn with piano and guitar, amplified but with an acoustic sound; it was the right combination to capture the hymn’s particular ethnic flavor.  The four-stanza text recalled the Spirit’s Pentecost appearance and the work he carries out through God’s Word and through Holy Baptism.  In stanza two, we sang,

Holy Spirit, the fire celestial,

Who on Pentecost came as foretold

To descend from on high, and the Church occupy

As the cloud filled the temple of old;

All the baptized you seal with your promise,

All believers your gift there receive,

So that all the elect—all in Christ—may expect

To enjoy what by grace they believe.

Text: Philip W. Blycker, b. 1939.  Translation: © 2004 Stephen P. Starke, b. 1955.

The Sacrament portion of the service was rounded out with organ and trumpet playing the communion canticles from “Divine Service I” in Christian Worship: Supplement.  Our two remaining hymns were “Jehovah, Let Me Now Adore You” (CW #189) during the distribution, and “Holy Spirit, God of Love” (CW #180) for the recession.

When the morning was over, I felt that we had done a fine job of putting our best musical efforts forward.  Most importantly, the gospel was proclaimed in Word, Sacrament, and even in song.  There was a “means of grace” perspective which put the Holy Spirit’s work in its proper light.  The wide array of musical “languages” reminded me of the Pentecost tongues miracle (Acts 2:4-12).  We experienced a good example of uniting many musical forms together under one service rather than limiting the service’s musical expressions to a narrower selection.

All in all, it was a good morning for Lutheran worship.  Christ crucified was preached.  The means of grace were put to work.  Our God-given musical gifts were placed into the service of the church.  A standard of excellence was set for future services.  Soli Deo Gloria!

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Responses

  1. Dear Pastor Strey,

    I was pleased to read of your using my hymn at your church. I have been a music missionary for over 40 years and wrote “Hymn to the Holy Spirit” when I was on the Faculty of Sacred Music at the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala City. It was there that I noticed a plethora of churches sprouting up with unscriptural signage and announcements regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit of God. I decided to make a list of the Bible’s metaphors, names, titles, etc. of the third person of the Holy Trinity. The result was the hymn which the Lord helped me to set to music that now appears in the hymnal. At that time I played in a brass quintet at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Guatemala City. I am now attempting to publish ALL of the hymns and songs that I have written in Spanish and it is turning out to be a long process. A fellow DMA from SWBTS in Fort Worth is using FINALE to get the musical notation ready for printing (in his spare time as an I.T.) A 4th year seminary student from Mexico, D.F. is helping with the recording that we have being doing for the past 2 years or so. Unfortunately (?!) he got married and then they had a baby so those details have been a setback. Thanks for your prayers for this project I am calling “CELEBREMOS CON CANTOS BIBLICOS”. It will be printed at the seminary where I am presently on the faculty here in Edinburg, TX on the border.

    Dr. Felipe Blycker


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