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Music in Worship is Selah's occasional newsletter for church musicians, with interviews and helpful articles for choir directors, organists, and leaders of congregational song

Worship
Using Instruments in Worship
Jayson Rod Engquist

Music for worship often begins and ends with solo organ or piano preludes and postludes. For many years I have wondered whether the time spent preparing this music is well invested, when the majority of worshippers are either whispering to each other before worship or speaking loudly to each other afterwards. After many discussions with other church and temple musicians, I have decided we are all partly at fault for conditioning our congregations. By using the same instrument week after week, playing at approximately the same level, the music quickly becomes "Muzak." The music drifts to the subconscious, just like at the dentist's office. What can we do to break this habit?

Most congregations have amateur musicians as members who either play an instrument or who have had training in music. Some have grown up with the obligatory two to five years of private piano study. Others were fortunate enough to have school systems that trained children, at an early age, to read musical notation and sing and/or play the music as well. These musicians can be tapped to provide a supplement to the "regular" musical offerings before, during, and after worship services. Of course, if you are lucky enough to have both a budget and available "professional" instrumentalists, the sky is the limit.

There are many resources available for finding music for keyboard (organ, piano, or electronic) and other instruments. I recently completed editing the fourth edition of Organ Plus for the American Guild of Organists. This catalogue of music for organ with other instruments lists almost 1,500 different works for all kinds of combinations: from flute and organ to harp, organ, clarinet, and timpani. It is available directly from the A.G.O. in New York City. The New York State School Music Association puts out a resource manual (aimed at contests and festivals) which is "graded" by level of ability. (Your local association might have a similar publication.) Many combinations are listed, and even a student who has had only two or three years of study can find appropriate music for worship. A student trombone player, for instance, could be utilized in playing prelude and postlude music in addition to playing along on the hymns. The experience gained by the student is invaluable, and the congregation also benefits. Suddenly the worshippers hear a "new" sound in their sanctuary and sit up, stop chatting, and take notice.

Many congregations and schools now own handbells or tone "chimes" that are sold in sets. Institutions usually order three octaves of bells or chimes, and these can be effectively and easily rung by 10 or 11 ringers. There are numerous works now published for organ, choir (and/or congregation), and handbells. These are often arranged for alternate stanza singing by both choirs and congregations. Additionally, many of these arrangements include parts for other instruments including bells. Some publications have "specific" bell parts that are arranged and notated. Others employ "random" ringing (actual bell notes are suggested and rung at will) during hymns, anthems, and/or organ works.

Almost everyone can learn to ring bells, even if they cannot read music. Correct ringing technique is easily and quickly taught and most people have fun ringing, because they are able to immediately make a pleasing musical sound on this "instrument" (and in combination with other bell ringers on their "team") without years of music study or lessons. For more advanced bell literature, knowledge of musical notation is very helpful. Almost all publishers now have a separate category for anthems that have handbell parts. It is also very easy to "arrange" almost any hymn to employ handbells by having the ringers learning and playing three chords (tonic, sub-dominant and dominant) along with the organ. They can be quickly marked (I, IV, or V) in the hymnal for each bar and the bell-ringers can play along. This can add a pleasing sound to the "usual" (organ only) accompaniment and put smiles on people's faces.

Never did I think I would see the day when an electronic substitute would sound like a real piano. With new technology, sounds can be digitally "sampled" and authentically reproduced. Most keyboards are now equipped with touch sensitive keys that are weighted just like a real piano action. Korg, Yamaha, Roland, Kurzweil, and other quality brands are available in music stores around the country. These keyboards are also equipped with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) connectors that can be hooked together and to computers. The MIDI "language" is now a universally standardized language that is "understood" by most brands of equipment. I only mention these keyboards because they open up a new realm of sounds to experiment with in worship. As long as a live person is playing the instrument in "real" time, I have no objection to their use in worship. Electronic instruments are here to stay, and many people (especially younger musicians) are intrigued by the possibilities they present.

I encourage you to dig deep to find the amateur instrumentalists in your congregation. You may be surprised to find a classical guitarist, a saxophonist (which is a wonderful combination with organ), or untrained people who are willing and even excited about participating in the musical life of your institution that couldn't do so previously. Consider an organ "plus" worship experience.

-Jayson Engquist

 

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