There are churches in all denominations in this country where congregations do sing well, and it is always because there is at least one person who is actively expecting it.
—Alice Parker, Melodious Accord
1. Know your congregation’s threshold for newness.
Some congregations are willing to learn a new hymn each month, while others can handle a few new songs each year.
2. Let the assembly hear it first.
Consider playing a new tune as a prelude or during the offering. Getting the tune into the ears of the assembly can be the “getting acquainted” step in the learning process.
3. Utilize the choir or other vocal ensemble.
Have them sing a new song once or a few times before asking the assembly to join.
4. Teach the hymn or song to a small group first.
Can the song be part of Sunday school, a council retreat, or a confirmation event?
5. Sing a new text to a familiar tune.
For example, your assembly may know the tune beach spring, often sung to “Lord, whose love in humble service” (ELW 712). This same tune is paired with the texts “Come to me, all pilgrims thirsty” (ELW 777) and “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters” (ELW 445).
6. Teach the hymn before worship.
This can be done in a variety of ways: the choir may assist or the cantor may sing the hymn or song line by line. Such teaching can be by rote (for songs with simpler texts) or may use a hymnal, screen, or service folder.
7. Provide background information about the text and tune.
People may be more inclined to embrace something new when they know something about who wrote it, when, and for what occasion. Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship includes information about every text and tune in the hymnal. That information could be shared orally or briefly summarized in the worship folder or church newsletter.
8. Introduce gradually.
This is especially true when introducing a new musical setting of the liturgy.
9. Keep it simple.
When learning a new hymn, keep musical introductions straightforward: a clear melody and a steady tempo are essential to any hymn playing, but especially for something new.
10. Repetition is key.
After singing a new song for the first time, do not wait too long before you sing it again. For example, if you are learning a new song for Advent, sing it all four weeks. Consider singing the same gathering hymn for a few Sundays during the summer months.
From Leading Worship Matters: A Sourcebook for Preparing Worship Leaders (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).
Introducing a new piece to your choir? Want to add some variety to rehearsals? Try some of these warm ups and rehearsal strategies as suggested by composer Zebulon Highben from a session he led at Augsburg Fortress Music Clinics in the summer of 2013:
Continued blessings to you and your music ministry.