This year, the festival of Pentecost falls on a holiday weekend in the United States. Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer vacation, and many people choose to travel. As a church musician, I know that it is not wise to plan for a four-part anthem with brass quartet accompaniment on a Sunday like that. So how does one make a festival Sunday feel special when one has limited resources?
If you suspect you won’t have a balanced SATB choir, choose a unison or two-part anthem. A good composer can make two vocal parts sound full and complete. Aaron David Miller does this exceptionally well. His anthem “Creator Spirit” for two-part mixed voices can be very successful with a small group. The piano accompaniment ripples with arpeggios, energizing the piece to the end. It is available in the collection The New Gloria Deo: Music for Small Choirs or separately on Prelude.
“Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me” by K. Lee Scott, based on the chant “Adoro te devote,” has a tasteful organ accompaniment that fills out the texture. It is also available on Prelude.
Don’t dismiss music labeled as children’s music! There are countless musically interesting unison anthems with excellent texts that are suitable for any age to sing. “Spirit, Come Down” by Mark Patterson has an optional part for C instrument. It is in the collection ChildrenSing with Instruments and is also available on Prelude.
“Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” is composed by David Ashley White. It is a lovely opportunity to use the text by Carl Daw from Evangelical Lutheran Worship but with a different tune. The second voice part is optional.
“Wind Song” is based on a Korean melody and arranged by Helen Kemp. If you have a glockenspiel, playing the included part would add an unexpected, delightful sound to your Pentecost service. This piece is also in the St. Olaf Choirbook for Women and is available on Prelude.
You don’t need a full handbell choir to include handbells on this festival day. Anne Krentz Organ’s Four by Four: Hymns for Piano and Four Ringers is exactly what the title sounds like: hymns arranged for four ringers and piano accompaniment. “Adoro te devote” is appropriate for Pentecost, and, using just eight bells, does not even require tables. If you have a ringer who can play four-in-hand, you’d only need three ringers! All these hymn settings are simple to put together but do not sound simplistic at all. This handbell arrangement of “Adoro te devote” is available on Prelude.
If you can round up a single instrumentalist (perhaps that college student who is away during the academic year), use them to play descants on the hymns. There are also many instrumental solos appropriate for Pentecost that would help to make the day feel special. The following are all from MorningStar Music and are available as individual downloads.
“A Pentecost Prelude for Flute and Organ” by Charles Callahan is based on the tune “Veni Creator Spiritus.” Another C instrument could also play the solo part.
“The Lone, Wild Bird” by Robert J. Powell is part of the collection Reflections Throughout the Church Year: Nine Pieces for Solo Instrument and Organ or Piano. It includes a part for C instrument, but parts for Bb instrument are also available for download on the publisher’s website.
“Pastorale on Come Down, O Love Divine” by Frank Stoldt is for organ and C or Bb instrument. It includes a stanza with descant that can accompany congregational singing.
Another setting of the “Down Ampney” tune is “Come Down, O Love Divine” by Charles Callahan. In addition to the usual C and Bb instruments, parts for a variety of solo instruments are available, including bassoon, viola, and cello.
If your congregation is used to a full choir every Sunday and a loud joyful noise on festival days, mixing it up with a unison anthem or softer instrument can be an unexpected blessing, engaging people in a different way. We experience the coming of the Holy Spirit in various ways, no matter how many people are gathered.