My last in-person rehearsal with my two youth choirs at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was Wednesday, March 11. I did not know until the following day, however, that it would be the last time I’d see those singers for the foreseeable future. When I found out, my heart sank. Our youth choir program has been a thriving and committed community within our congregation for over 20 years. Friendships among children and their parents have taken root over Wednesday night meals at church and after-choir games of tag out on the lawn, and lifelong singers have been nurtured. I’ve always felt that this ministry is as much about building relationships as it is about making music. Faced with the dire predictions about the pandemic, I knew that it would be important to help us all maintain some sense of connection and continuity during this uncertain time. I wanted to make sure the children could still see their friends. I wanted to keep them singing. And I was already mourning the loss of the joy they bring to my life. I needed them as much as I hope they needed me.Read More > >
When someone asks me about the benefits of intergenerational choral experiences in the church, I think of Thomas, a college student majoring in music. Throughout his childhood and youth, he benefited from a variety of musical experiences at church, including singing in the children’s and youth choirs, and, as he grew, performing as an instrumentalist. He also participated in intergenerational choirs several times per year. As a child, he heard harmony around him for the first time. When his voice changed, he gained vocal confidence because he was able to sit among strong, adult male voices. Because the combination of choirs meant increased numbers of singers and the vocal security that brings, the anthem could be a bit more musically challenging.Read More > >
by Jonathan Kohrs
Even though the season after the Epiphany is considered part of “ordinary” time (ordered, or counted, as in “ordinal” numbers: the Second, Fourth, or Seventh Sundays after Epiphany), I’d like to share with you some well-crafted—but not too difficult—pieces for this season that are a bit “out of the ordinary,” especially regarding harmonic language and voicing.Read More > >
Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
When Mary heard the good news—that Jesus was coming and she would be his mother—her world was turned upside down instantly. From that moment on, everything in her life was different from what she had imagined. Her plans, her hopes, her dreams were all challenged. At first, the angel’s words did not make sense to her. How could she give birth to a child—the Child? But Gabriel reminded her that all things are possible with God, he reminded her of the truth she already knew about God, and Mary responded in humble obedience.Read More > >
In an article that appeared online in The Atlantic (March 28, 2012), Karen Loew notes the only time most Americans sing communally is during a baseball game’s seventh-inning stretch when the crowd stands and sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” (Red Sox fans, of course, have the added privilege of singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” during games at Fenway Park.) People sang together in the past, but communal singing has virtually disappeared from today’s society. Americans do not sing together in public, yet when they go to church they are expected to join in the singing of hymns, responses, and other songs. What a peculiar, old-fashioned thing to do! While Loew acknowledges certain types of music-making continue to thrive in America (“Folks sing in religious settings as much as ever”), it is worth considering: exactly why do Christians engage in the counter-cultural practice of group singing during their worship services?Read More > >
If you’ve ever paged through the tune index of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, you may have noticed that some entries—see, for instance, Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade and Agincourt Hymn—are indented and italicized. As was practiced in Lutheran Book of Worship and Service Book and Hymnal, these specially formatted entries indicate other names used for tunes by previous hymnals or, in some cases, by other denominations.Read More > >
How do those who are responsible as congregational worship planners and leaders attend to their own spiritual health through Holy Week? The physical, emotional, and spiritual demands of even the schedule of worship in the most concentrated and powerful gatherings can stretch us to and beyond our limits, not to mention the additional rehearsals, extra practice, additional printed worship material, coordination with professional and volunteer musicians, florists, colleagues, and, and, and…Read More > >
I’m about to start a composition, and as always, there’s a problem: I don’t know what to say. It is now the beginning of Lent, which only reinforces the state I’m always in. There are many lessons Lent can teach me, and I hope to learn those better this year, but for now, in this unsettled state before starting a piece, I confess that my mind jumps ahead to the end of Lent, to the strangest liturgy of the Church Year: Easter Vigil. There is nothing remotely like the Vigil.Read More > >
It seems there is never quite enough time in any given rehearsal. No matter how well planned, I find that I am always trying to squeeze in just one more verse to a hymn, one last check on the bass line at measure 26, one final run-through of an anthem… Yet I have found over the years that the one thing we absolutely cannot skimp on, time-wise, is choir devotions/prayer.Read More > >
Zebulon Highben is a popular composer in the Augsburg Fortress catalog. In this interview, we learn how he got started as a composer, what he does today, and how he thinks about the writing process.
Could you tell us about your current job/vocation, outside of composing?
I am Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Muskingum University, a liberal arts college of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I direct the choral program there and teach conducting, choral methods, choral literature, andRead More > >