Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord

Dear People of God;

One of my earliest memories of being the Church came when I was sent climbing a dark staircase to the choir room of our South Florida Mediterranean style parish church left to us from 1923. Since I could read to an advanced level (phonetically) at the age of 6 ½ and could recall as well as match pitch, I was invited to take a seat as a probationer in the men and boys choir of my parish. It was a different time then. I was simply sent on my way alone. It all became a bit overwhelming to include the heavy Hymnal that was handed to me with my own number imprinted on its spine. Already, I was concerned over the calisthenics of carrying such a cumbersome weight, finding my place, and the possibility of forgetting my assigned number. The older boy choristers were quite proficient, extremely capable, poised and not in the least bit interested in my survival.

There came a moment that I believe involved God’s providential care and priority. A hand reached forth from the back row of basses to help me open the Hymnal and locate the correct page and hymn number. It then, silently and purposely, pointed the way to following the versification of a hymn. It only took a few moments without a word being spoken, and my entire world opened to a language and an expression that I was told was shared only with angels and archangels. In fact, the reverberation in the rafters of the church that we experienced on Sundays were the angels still singing. They simply missed the choirmaster’s cut-off because their full attention (while flying) was continually fixed on the face of God.

Within our tradition, choral and instrumental music offerings play a crucial role in defining what it is we know about God and who we are as the Church. Each and every time we open the Hymnal, we are being thoroughly indoctrinated in the right way. Children can tell you of the kingdom of God by what it is having sung on Sunday. They know that the blessed mother of our Lord and Savior now occupies an exalted position, even higher than the angels, in Christ’s heavenly kingdom by recalling the words of a favorite and often sung hymn,

O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,
lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of the Eternal Word, most
gracious, magnify the Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

However, this is a different time for us also. No longer are organists being classically and liturgically trained for our many hundreds of professional positions that once existed in the Episcopal Church. In fact, the few organists that are being trained, are not necessarily looking to spend the rest of their careers sewing together a series of part-time positions in order to make financial ends meet. Their love for music and their devotion to a particular type of choral literature has to yield to the realities of living a professional life and providing for their families. Are there exceptions? Absolutely! However, the expectation now is to seek additional resources and talents that allow us to augment if not substitute for what it is we have come to expect over many decades of our more prosperous seasons. Today, we are being called to navigate other avenues in order to come to the same location of bringing glory to God and emboldening the people He came to redeem.

On Friday, October 21st, the Diocese of Springfield will gather for the first day of her 145th Annual Synod. Under the theme Let the Amen Sound from God’s People Again, we have set aside intentional time for us to enter into a workshop entitled, “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord: Liturgical Music for Small Church Settings.” Our plan is to enter into a time of learning, discovery and large group rehearsal that will equip us well beyond the expected offering within our own settings that no longer serves many congregations, evangelizes the under churched, or edifies the people.

Beginning at 3:15 p.m., Dr. Geoffrey Williams, Assistant Director of Music and Director of St. Mary’s Chapel at Nashotah House Seminary, will lead us and guide us through particular printed and on-line resources that allow for a more robust expression of liturgical music in support of the Hymnal 1982 and The Book of Common Prayer. In addition, there are techniques and methods he would like to share that will encourage greater participation in congregational singing that traditions in rural settings have been using for centuries. What we learn and practice as a large group on Friday afternoon will be immediately employed within the Holy Eucharist following the workshop at 5:30 p.m. in the Cathedral. Dr. Williams will lead our liturgical expression musically during that service of Holy Eucharist.

This is a time for all who love to sing, or who miss some of the expressions that we have made even in our own generation, to gather around a shared passion and offering. Music leaders, choir directors, pianists, organists, instrumentalists and those with liturgical oversight are not only invited but encouraged to attend. Bring your well-tuned voices. You do not need to be a Synod delegate to attend. Come ready to be surprised how it is the Amen can resoundingly sound from God’s people again.

In the peace of God, which passeth all understanding;