Church musicians are always planning: planning for the upcoming rehearsal, next Sunday, next Easter. No matter the situation, planning well contributes to the success of our varied ministries.
This time of year can be the time to consider worship and music planning at the macro-level. We spend time with the micro-details, but do we carve out ample time for considering how all of our little plans work together for the good of the whole: enriching and vibrant worship? Do the various threads of church music interweave so that they are integral to worship and not merely decorative? The better we step back and reflect on the larger picture, the more our plans can be central to the assembly’s worship.
Consider these three tips as you plan for the calendar year.
1. Immerse yourself in the Word
As Lutheran church musicians, we understand church music as servant to the Word. As you plan for the year, spend time looking at the arc of the lectionary texts for the coming year. What stories will we hear this year that we did not hear last year? Is there a “hole” in your choral music library; anthems for Advent, for example? What scripture texts inspire compositional creativity such as new psalm setting or communion refrain? Do you have the perfect children’s choir anthem for a Sunday in Lent? Spend intentional time individually and in collaboration for lectionary study. You and those whom you serve will reap the benefits.
2. Begin with Holy Week and move outwards
We proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen as the center of our faith. What would it mean, then, to begin planning for the year starting at Holy Week? Oftentimes we get to this time of year and the liturgies for Holy Week can catch us off guard. Instead, consider starting here as you plan music for choirs and think about hymnody. Work backwards into Lent and Epiphany and then forwards into the Easter season.
Resources to help you: In addition to the sources above, check out Music Sourcebook for Lent and the Three Days.
3. Make a new hymn list
In his book, Introducing a New Hymnal, author James Sydnor reminds us that all congregations have a different threshold for newness. This is good to remember, especially if we may have spent the summer at conferences and other events where we learned new hymns and service music. In our excitement, we might want to come back and sing it all! Without a plan, we might try to introduce too much too quickly or we might shy away from teaching enough new hymns.
In my setting, I plan to teach six new hymns between Advent and Pentecost. Such teaching will include not only learning the hymns but learning about them in newsletter articles, online, or in service bulletins. Having this plan will help me as I plan the choir year for children and adults since, as leaders of assembly song, they will learn these hymns first so they can better lead the assembly. Remember: a “new” hymn is not necessarily a hymn recently composed, but a hymn that is unfamiliar to your assembly. This could mean teaching a gem from the past that has not yet been discovered.