Youth and the Music of Worship: Part II – Youth and theMusic of the Worship Service

In the present trend toward “liturgical renewal” much of the traditional worship service is being questioned. There is a longing for a better grasp of the “joyful essence of Christian worship,” and a “greater reality, clarity, and sincerity in every act of Christian corporate worship.”1 Changes being instituted in some denominations are the use of bread instead of the wafer in the Lord’s Supper, a tendency away from prayer forms toward a pastoral prayer in which specific people and their needs are mentioned, a rethinking of the role of the choir, and greater participation in congregational singing.

In the Reformed churches there is also a quest for greater participation and a more meaningful worship. The music of the church has not escaped attention. Viewed historically, this is not an unexpected reaction, for throughout history, whenever the Church has examined its failings and tried to rationalize them, it has criticized first of all the music of the Church.

This article will attempt to examine ways in which young people can be taught to understand and participate in the musical parts of the liturgy so that their worship may glorify God and enrich their lives.

Participation in Congregational Song

Part One of this article stressed the importance of having young people learn the psalms and hymns of the Church so that participation in the congregational singing becomes a natural and joyous response to God. Everyone prefers that which is familiar, and knowing well the Church’s song will increase a sense of participation. When young people have learned a wide variety of hymns there will be less suspicion or antagonism toward new hymns. Each one learned will be regarded as a new means of praising the Lord.

“Participation” in the Organ Music

There are other ways in which knowing the psalm and chorale tunes can provide a greater participation in the music of worship. A great amount of organ music suitable for worship is based on the Lutheran chorales because most of the great composers who wrote music for Protestant worship were Lutherans: Bach, Buxtehude, Walther, Brahms, and Reger. Contemporary composers follow this tradition and continue to provide compositions based on tunes familiar to Reformed congregations. This music, according to Dr. Howard Slenk, is “within the grasp of any organist…willing to practice and to open his mind to the meaning of music in worship.” These selections would, in his opinion, “improve beyond recognition” the organ music heard in our churches. It is well-suited to Reformed worship because, “from a theological point of view, …the Lutheran doctrine is one of the closest to ours of any major Protestant belief. The textual content of the chorales…will have very little that we cannot accept.” As for the melodies, “The musical line of the Lutheran chorale melody is a sympathetic sister of our Calvinist psalm tune. In fact, several of the Lutheran tunes are of Genevan origin…One can find countless compositions based on tunes familiar to our congregations.”2

These chorale preludes, as this organ music is called, is the music which some worshippers find distasteful and “foreign sounding” because they have little or no acquaintance with the hymns and psalms of the Protestant tradition upon which the preludes are based. When children have learned the sacred songs suggested in Part One of this article they will have taken a giant step toward an active participation in the music of worship.

Training for Listening

Close cooperation between the music and education departments of the church can enrich the worship for young people. Where one such happy situation exists the Sunday School superintendent calls the pupils’ attention to the music to be heard in the worship service, and he has the children sing the hymns on which it is based. Numerous organ preludes exist on: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Be Present Now,” “Ah, Dearest Jesus,” “A Mighty Fortress,” as well as on the tunes: “Picardy,” “Adora Te Devote,” “Rhosymedre,” and a host of others, well-known to children and young people who sing from the Childrens Hymnbook and Hymns for Youth.

Usually the hymn tune, when familiar, can be distinguished fairly easily in the organ music. But training in listening to music will add immeasurably to the listener’s potential for edification. The responsibility for this training in active listening lies primarily with the school music and classroom teachers but can also be carried on in the church. In fact, Carlton R. Young, director of graduate studies in church music at Southern Methodist University, writes: “It should be clear to the church musician and parents of children and young people that public school music without grounding in either basic music skills or general music education will create an ‘artistic void’ which can be filled only by the music in the church and church school. The church ought to be sensitive to this situation where it exists and work with public education to insure that this important aspect of a child’s training in the arts is available for those that desire these opportunities.”3 When a community has Christian schools there exist countless opportunities for church and school to work together in this important part of children’s education.

Recognizing and remembering a melody is basic to all intelligent listening to music. It is generally assumed that anyone can do this. But how many people can recognize the melody when it appears in the tenor, bass, or alto voice? Placing the melody in these voices is frequently done by composers of church organ and choral music. Again, many people find it difficult to recognize the melody when the familiar hymnal harmony is changed. Hopefully, the children now singing from the Children’s Hymnbook and Hymns for Youth should have less difficulty in this respect because the harmonies of some songs arc less traditional. Teachers, Sunday School accompanists, and church organists can find still more harmonically varied accompaniments to accustom young and old to hearing a less traditional, and often superior, harmonization of hymns. Organists will have no difficulty in finding preludes on hymn tunes in which the melody is clear but the harmonic treatment is quite unlike that of the hymnal.

The singing of descants by some of the children in a class adds beauty to the singing as well as teaching them to carry the tune despite distractions. A thrilling example of having children lend beauty to a congregational hymn sing (not the usual type, to be sure!) occurred when the congregation sang “For the Beauty of the Earth” with the Sunday School’s Junior department singing the descant. Descants, too, are fairly easy to find and can be learned by choirs to vary a congregational hymn.

A device frequently used in organ and choir music is the imitation of a melody. This perfectly natural idea is found in very early, as well as contemporary, music. Simple imitation creates the illusion of many voiced music although one melody is actually sounded. Such music requires careful listening, following one melody but actually listening to several melodies at once.

Canon form is a type of imitation in which the imitation of a melody is carried out logically from the beginning of a piece to the end. Children easily understand this music when they have sung rounds and canons, both sacred and secular. In the hymn sing referred to previously, the children introduced the congregation to the beauty of canons by singing “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night,” in canon form with congregation. They also sang their favorite, “God Is Working His Purpose Out,” singing the last stanza as a canon. (Beginning at measure two the accompanimental bass notes comprise the melody. These notes can be sung an octave higher by young voices.)

Response to Music: Emotional or Intellectual?

Perhaps all this emphasis on listening to the music in church strikes the reader as a far too intellectual approach. Should the worshipper be expected to work so hard in church? Shouldn’t music “move” a person? Isn’t music a matter of the emotions?

That music evokes an emotional response in listeners is unquestioned. However, in their study of this response, psychologists report that “the emotional experience which our observers reported are to be characterized rather as moods than emotions in the ordinary sense of the term. As a matter of fact, most of the supposed studies of emotion in music are actually concerned with mood and association.”4

Tn church music, as well as in other areas of life, the emotional response has often been stressed at the expense of the intellectual. But Leonard B. Meyer in Emotion and Meaning in Music says: “There is no diametric opposition, no inseparable gulf, between the effective and intellectual responses made to music.” He maintains that whether a piece of music gives rise to an emotional or an intellectual experience “depends upon the disposition and training of the listener.”5

Dr. Virginia Mollenkott applies a Scriptural insight to the problem when she says: “When the King James translators chose the word heart, they were using it in its Old English sense as ‘the center of vital functions, the seat of affections, desires, thoughts.’” She speaks of heart as an organic fusion of mind and will and emotions, in the center…of (man’s) whole being. If mankind had heeded the emphasis of the Bible that “out of the heart are the issues of life” there would have been no such “split between thinking and feeling.”6 In church music worthy of the name the worshipper can find both emotional and intellectual satisfaction.

For the person who would participate fully in worship, an essential attitude is one of attentiveness or concentration on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. It implies a focusing of the consciousness on the acts of the liturgy as carried out by the congregation or the congregation’s representatives. If the music of the organ or choir is properly valued as congregational response, each worshipper must involve himself in that music by active listening rather than wool-gathering, expecting to be entertained or “inspired,” or reading the church bulletin. This is a discipline, but worship demands discipline even above that required for everything worthwhile. The Christian knows the arduous mental discipline required for meaningful prayer. Training a child in attentiveness and ability to concentrate is taken for granted in the home and school. Transferring this ability to the act of worship for the benefit of his spiritual life is also the responsibility of parent and teacher.

Youth can Participate as Choir Members

Children and young people can also take part actively in the worship of the church by means of participation in choirs. “The potential for the children’s and youth choir as an arm of Christian education in the teaching of and effective participation in the church’s liturgy cannot be overestimated.”7 The music they sing need not be difficult but must be done well and always as an integral part of the service, not as “special” music. It may be a call to worship, a prayer response, or something appropriate for the season of the church year. These choirs can also be used effectively to acquaint the congregation with many psalms and chorales which may not be found in the church hymnal.

Training Youth for the Church’s Future Needs

Changes in worship will no doubt be forthcoming, and it is unrealistic to expect music in the church to remain in a state of perpetual stability. Gerhard Krapf, head of the organ department at the University of Iowa School of Music, says: “Hymnals and agendas alike must be house-cleaned of linguistic and conceptual archaisms. Stilted liturgical expression must give way to a truly contemporary idiom if our worship is to remain meaningful, spontaneous, and honest. New hymns, textually and musically, along with creatively re-rendered wordings of the best hymns and chorales of our heritage must form the core of our forthcoming hymnals.”8 For the Reformed churches, the necessity for fresh versifications of the psalm texts, set to sturdier tunes, also exists.

To cope with the new dimensions in music will require Christian creative thinking. The schools must establish an environment conducive to the many facets of creative expression. Creativity as well as musical ability can be developed, and to elicit and encourage creative response is the task of the teachers. Young people who are artistically gifted must be encouraged to prepare themselves adequately and to devote years of training to work within the church. Dr. Slenk pleads for this “training of mind (which) is a long and costly process, and our churches must be prepared not only to demand it, but also to finance it. This is the crucial step out of the swamp. Without it there can be no real progress.”9

Another real step would be courses in church music for future ministers, who not only choose the hymns, but who, by their interest or otherwise, greatly influence the musical climate of a congregation. Leonard Ellinwood, in The History of American Church Music, says the seminaries are at fault in not providing the future clergy with an adequate grounding in church music. “For how can our clergy guide what they know not of?”10

Experiments in Worship the Answer?

Attempts to involve youth more fully in the church have led to many innovations and experiments in worship music. “Pop” music invaded the field of church music in 1956 with the appearance in England of Geoffrey Beaumont’s 20th Century Folk Mass, a setting of the liturgy of the Eucharist in a popular style, It was intended to find a common contact between the church and “normal” people. Seven years later Erik Routley evaluated the Mass and said: “…in practical experience, young people 10£ the kind it wished to evangelise have sometimes found it unsatisfying; and those who have manifested the greatest interest in it have been intellectual Christians who thought it a useful vehicle of evangelism, …it has shocked and terrified the conservatives…It has not filled the churches with pop-worshippers, or done anything to transfer their worship away from the popidols.”11

Evaluations of experiments in America are varied. The Rev. Canon Don H. Copeland of the World Center for Liturgical Studies believes that “experiments with various current musical styles such as folk, pop, and jazz music have their proper place as part of general experimentation… Much… will be ephemeral, but some will undoubtedly be integrated into the musical expression of Christian people.” He believes, however, that liturgical experimentation must be “controlled, responsible experimentation. It must rest on sound theology, psychology, historical knowledge, catechesis, and liturgics.”12

Denominational spokesmen have not always spoken so favorably. Roman Catholic Ralph Thibodeau, associate professor of music at Del Mar College, Texas, criticizes these masses in no uncertain terms. He says: “In both congregational hymn singing and ‘folk’ Masses, the rationale of the incompetent authority has been to cater to the Lowest Common Denominator, to ‘give people what they want’…so we need not be surprised that the process has created a…cultural wasteland in the churches.” He continues: “The idea of a good folk Mass seems to be to celebrate the joyful news of Redemption with a carnival, with appropriate carnival music…all in the name of a rather nebulous dogma that youth must be served, and all the rest of the good ‘People of God’ who are young at heart.”13

An ordained Episcopalian, Dr. Lowell P. Beveridge, professor of speech and music at Virginia Theological Seminary, says that the use of new music in the latest popular style “leaves unanswered the vital question of the relation of music to the liturgical text and action….This music has been fairly effective in getting young people involved in the life of the Church, but whether it has led to a deeper understanding of the meaning of worship and the message of the Gospel is another matter…I question whether it is more than a passing fancy.”14

A Lutheran, Gerhard Krapf, says that the church must “guard against the kind of musical apologetics that would uncritically invite and employ everything and anything that promises to serve as a popular drawing card, irrespective of its theological, liturgical, or musical value, function, or relevance.”15 In Krapfs opinion experimental worship is indicative of a wrong approach implying that:

we want to move ‘far out’ so as to close the ‘credibility gap’ of the space-age generation, or we want to appease our uneasy conscience by doing something extraordinary once in a while in order to atone for the uninspired, routine conduct of our musical office. Frequently such ‘concessions’ take the form of patently unfunctional, ill-considered, incongruous, even deliberately offensive dabbling reflecting all too clearly a certain vacuum in vigorous, professional leadership.16

The writer of the editorial essay, “New Music For the People’s Song,” provides the answer:

What is needed is not cheap. sentimental, disposable music for congregations to grow out of, but simple, strong, powerful music for congregations to grow into. Then, and only then, will liturgical music as the people’s song have the opportunity to be the living, vibrant, corporate act it is intended to be, rooted in the church’s past, yet speaking with force and strength to Christian congregations today.17

1. Don H. Copeland, “Liturgical Renewal Today,” Church Music (68.1) 25.

2. Howard Slenk, Music: An lntruision in Reformed Worship (Palos Heights, JIlinois: Trinity Christian College Press, 1968), pp. 12–13.

3. Carlton R. Young, “The Changing Shape of Parish Music,” Church Music (67.2) 17.

4. Leonard B. Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 7.

5. Ibid., pp. 39–40.

6. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, “Christianity and Aesthetics: Conflict or Correlation?”, Christianity Today , XII (May, 1969), 7–8.

7. Young, loco cit.

8. Gerhard Krapf, “The Current Scene,” Church Music (69.1) 68.

9. Slenk, op.cit., p. 8.

10. Leonard Ellinwood, The History of American Church Music (New York: Morehouse·Gorham Company, 1953), p. 181.

11. Erik Routley, Twentieth Century Church Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964 ), p. 167.

12. Copeland, op. cit., p. 27.

13. Ralph Thibodeau, “Threnody for Sacred Music, 1968,” Commonweal, LXXXIX (December 13, 1968), 379.

14. Lowell P. Beveridge, “Church Music: Pop or Pro?”, Christianity Today, XlII (March 14, 1969) 8.

15. Krapf, loc. cit.

16. Ibid.

17. Carl Schalk, “New Music for the People’s Song,” Church Music (68.1) 31.

Mrs. Vander Baan, a Christian school teacher from Whitensville, Massachusetts, served as editor of two hymn books for children and young people, THE CHILDREN’S HYMNBOOK and HYMNS FOR YOUTH both published by the National Union of Christian Schools.