Sunday, April 25, 2021

You Want Us to Prepare a Worship Video that Will Follow a Sermon by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton? Yes! We'd Love To!

 (A version of this article appeared in the "Messenger" of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church.)

“Lutherans Restoring Creation is a grass roots movement promoting care for creation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”


Last September LRC premiered a creation-centered worship service that 600 churches, including St. Mark’s, viewed as their Sunday morning worship service. It was an inspiring service of hymns, music, readings, prayers, and nature featuring photography.


Pastor Sarah Locke is on the board for LRC. When she told me they were preparing another virtual worship service and invited our St. Mark’s musicians to participate, I was happy to say “Yes!”


We were assigned a hymn that was completely new to me – “God Created Heaven and Earth” (ELW 738).


Immediately I saw a challenge of presenting this Taiwanese hymn in a way that didn’t westernize it.


A traditional Korean windchime.
Will handbells work?

Asian music, including much of its hymnody, is different from what we are used to. Western ears hear music vertically – each note of the melody has implied harmonies. We expect certain sequences (cadences) at the end of musical phrases.

But Asian melodies do not imply harmonies in the same way. They are more about forward motion and the turn of musical phrases.


I noticed right away that the tune was based on a 5 – note pentatonic scale. (If you play the black notes on a piano in sequence, you have a pentatonic scale. You can play these notes in any combination and find a pleasing sound.) This meant our accompaniment could be randomly played notes that would add an ethereal quality and provide its own harmony.


I decided to do something that alternated instrumental verses (oboe and viola, of course!) with singing.


At the very beginning a drone is struck, signifying the Spirit of God brooding over the waters as we hear the instruments play the melody for the first time. A simple drum rhythm leads us into the first stanza which is accompanied by random handbells gently ringing notes from the pentatonic scale.

The instruments come back, this time playing the melody in canon – or in a round. This allows the melody to create its own harmonies.

The drum leads us into stanza two, accompanied by a few additional bells with gentle random ringing.


A photo from our recording session.

The instruments come back with a simple bicinium stanza – two independent voice parts. In this case the oboe takes the melody while the viola plays a counter melody that mirrors the activity of rain as it falls to the earth and evaporates back to the atmosphere.


The drum leads us back into the final sung stanza. We add more bells. Their ringing is still random, but it’s also faster and majestic so that “All earth’s creatures, small and great, praise God for that blessed state!” A final chord is struck and the sound is allowed to fade.”

See the full worship service here:

See a version of "God Created Heaven and Earth" by itself:

This video was  premiered as part of our prerecorded Easter Vigil service and was also included in the Lutherans Restoring Creation worship service - right after a sermon by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.

Thank you to everyone who participated in creating it, Pastor Sarah Locke for the invitation, and to Pastor Daniel Locke managing our recording session.

Windchime photo: 
This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0,

Musician's Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship

Evangelical Lutheran Worship

Monday, April 19, 2021

St. Mark's Has Much to Celebrate on April 25, 2021

 “Triority” is my favorite non-word. It rhymes with “priority” and refers to three things that all have to done first. It also has a certain sense of urgency that comes with it.

This Sunday we have three things happening during our worship at St. Mark’s – but there is no sense of urgency, at least not in the usual sense. We simply have three things that are happening at the same time.

First, it happens to be the fourth Sunday of Easter. The gospel reading is the comforting “I am the good shepherd” teaching of Jesus and the psalm is Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd. . .” During the Word portion of the service, we’ll all sing “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” to the gentle Irish tune “St. Columba.”

Second, it’s St. Mark’s Day! Our parish is named for St. Mark the Evangelist. The gospel of Mark was probably the first to be written and he is often symbolized by the winged lion – a symbol that comes from the book of Revelation.

It’s also Church Music Sunday! On the fourth Sunday of Easter we pause to recognize and bless the work of our musicians who rehearse diligently to lead the church’s song at St. Mark’s. Thank you to our handbell ringers and singers, and also to our instrumentalists whose music enhances our worship at St. Mark’s.

And we have a bonus event! Lutherans Restoring Creation has produced another on-line creation-based worship service for Earth Day. Watch the service to see some familiar faces from St. Mark's. Members of our Festival Choir, St. Mark's Ringers, and Eric and Ellen Olson collaborated to present the Hymn of the Day - "God Created Heaven and Earth." (ELW 738)

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton brings the message.

Thank you to LRC board member Pastor Sarah Locke for inviting us to participate! 

Follow this link to learn everything you need to know about viewing the service.

Singers, Ringers, and Instrumentalists preparing
"God Created Heaven and Earth"

Celtic Cross image:  CeCILL,

Mark image: By Vittore Carpaccio - Google Art Project, Public Domain,

Monday, April 12, 2021

Singers from Our Festival Choir Participate in the Third Virtual Choir Video Project from the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians

 (A version of this article first appeared in The Messenger, the newsletter of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Florida.)

Every facet of society experienced shock from the shutdown that began March 2020 as we faced a global pandemic. Church choirs also felt the impact, especially since a choir rehearsal in Washington State was labeled as the first superspreader event in the United States. Things we had never seen before happened quickly: the American Choral Directors Association hosted an expert-packed seminar that mostly advised its members to not hold rehearsals, masks specially designed for singers hit the market, church services instantly moved to on-line platforms, and “virtual choirs” became a thing.

Recordings and videos of choirs have been around for a long time - but singing in a pandemic required new techniques allowing musicians to sing and play together without actually BEING together.

The Association of Lutheran Musicians attracted a great deal of attention with its first virtual choir project – “O Day Full of Grace” – a hymn for Pentecost. The project, a new arrangement by David Cherwien, attracted more than 1,300 singers and instrumentalists.

This is how it worked.

We received very complete instructions including a recording of someone singing our part (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) with a simple background accompaniment. Our first challenge was to take the musical score with this video and learn the music on our own. (This is very different from learning your part with the whole choir, including the singers in your own voice section.)

Eric O. prepares a video for a virtual choir

The second step required two electronic devices (in most cases a laptop computer and a cell phone) and a set of headphones or earbuds. While listening to the recording through earbuds, musicians used the second device to make a new recording (recording B) that had only their voice or instrument with no background sound from recording A.

The third step may have been the most challenging – uploading recording B so it could be added to the growing cache of videos for final processing.

The final product included not just sounds, but all the videos that were submitted. See it at this link: If you watch carefully, you will see Bill Ahrens and myself floating with all the other singing heads.

At St. Mark’s we did our own virtual choir video for our prerecorded Advent Lessons and Carols service. You can still see this video on St. Mark’s YouTube channel at this link: The virtual choir piece, Nancy M. Raabe’s setting of “Savior of the Nations, Come” begins at the 36:49 mark.

A screen shot from the Festival Choir's first virtual choir selection.
"Savior of the Nations, Come" setting by Nancy M. Raabe
The ALCM has created its third virtual choir video - an arrangement of the beloved Easter hymn “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” by Kevin J. Hildebrand. This video has an added component with a customized third stanza that highlights the videos submitted by our own singers. (You still hear the full ensemble performing.) Thank you to Bill Ahrens, Ruth Voss, and Mark and Lynette Weber for submitting videos. Our St. Mark’s community enjoyed this video at the end of our prerecorded Easter Vigil service.

Videos from Festival Choir singers in "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"

The finished product combined the efforts of 1, 784 instrumentalists and singers and was made possible by the generous financial support of Mark and Kathy Helge.

Here is the link. It includes the words so that you can join in the singing wherever you are:

Some of the 1,784 singers and isntrumentalists

Friday, October 2, 2020

Looking for Peace? Find It in Daily Prayer


When I was growing up, people often referred to their daily quiet time with God as “devotions.” I always loved that word. It described a holy time in the day – not a time for Bible study or theological reading, but a time for simply being in the presence of God and meditating on the written word.

Much later I discovered the services of Daily Prayer. First, as an Episcopalian, I found the service of Evensong – often expressed in the church with chanting, hymns, and the sublime music of a carefully rehearsed choir. (Even today, I often call myself a Lutheran with an Episcopalian aesthetic.)


Later, I used the forms in the Book of Common Prayer, for my own devotional time. I learned that  Daily Prayer has been part of our Christian heritage for some time – closely tied to the ancient monastic practice of praying at certain hours of the day.

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to provide Daily Prayer services on YouTube during this season of “Covidtide.” – not an official season of the church year, but one that provides some unique opportunities.


I hope that people will use these services in their homes. Using this resource will also help you to become familiar with these services as presented in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.


Both services include a reading that is updated for a specific day. If you wish to use a different reading, simply pause the video and fast forward. Check the comments for readings that may be used on subsequent days. Both services also allow you to include your own petitions during the prayers. If you need more time, feel free to pause the video. Also, everything you need (music and texts) is included.

Here is more of what to expect:

Morning Prayer
(usually less than 15 minutes)
An opening dialog begins the service.

A setting of Psalm 95:1-7, also called the Venite. Start by learning the refrain, then sing the entire psalm.

The reading comes from a lectionary that complements the Sunday lectionary and can be found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

The Gospel Canticle is set with an assembly refrain and stanzas sung by a cantor.
The Prayers include thanksgiving and intercessions, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.


Evening Prayer (a little over 20 minutes)

An opening dialog begins the service.

A Hymn of Light is sung. Music and text are provided onscreen. For now, we are using “Christ, Mighty Savior” – a modern tune with an ancient Mozarabic text from the 10th century. The people who first sang it were Christians living on the Muslim-controlled Iberian Peninsula.
The Thanksgiving for Light recalls the creation (“Let there be light!”) and God leading Israel through the wilderness – by a pillar light!
The Evening Psalm has an assembly refrain with stanzas sung by a cantor.
The Word (readings) is the gospel reading from the daily lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.
The Gospel Canticle is a metrical setting of Mary’s Magnificat set toa joyful Lutheran choral tune. We usually sing “In Thee is Gladness” with this tune.
The Prayers follow. They include the current list of prayers from the people of St. Mark’s as available at the time of recording. It also includes the Lord’s Prayer.

A blessing concludes the service.

Additional Notes

I like to prepare for Morning Prayer with a tall glass of cold water. It helps me to remember my baptism and makes me thankful for God’s nurture of all creation.

Since a candle is often lighted for Evening Prayer, you may want to light one at home.

Both services can be used by individuals or small groups.

Look for these services on our YouTube channel at

May God hold you close as you use these services, and may peace be with you.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Planning In the Time of Covid-19


One of my favorite things about being a Cantor is planning! I love choosing new music and hymns that complement the readings for Sunday and help us focus on the seasons of the church year. You can see how excited I was about planning in this Facebook post from a year ago:


A lot can happen in a year – but who could have guessed a global calamity like Covid-19 would make even the simple act of planning so difficult?

Choirs can’t even meet to rehearse; so how can they gather on Sunday morning to lead the church’s song? How do I plan choir music for this situation?

Then there are the cries from social media platforms and the news outlets. I know you’ve heard them too:  



To be honest, I’m proud of the church and how we’ve responded – and not just at St. Mark’s. We (all the church) immediately learned new technologies and moved our services online while our members joyfully welcomed us into their homes. At St. Mark’s, Pastor Daniel Locke got “trickier and trickier” with each new service. Who will ever forget this powerful sermon that honored our feelings and also caused hope to spring up within us?

One benefit of on-line worship (for me) is that I can visit lots of Sunday morning worship services and see what my colleague/friends are up to. I haven’t just heard great music, but some very fine sermons too. One of my favorite services came from Norway where the liturgy (very ably sung by the Pastor) was accompanied by the church’s cantor on an accordion! I was deeply moved. You can view that service at the following link. It’s in Norwegian, but don’t be surprised if you know exactly what is going on – at least most of the time.

Yes, the choirs are mostly absent, but not in all cases. Some churches, through the use of choral scholars (masked and socially distanced), have still provided high-quality choral music. Others have used smaller groups and soloists. Organists and pianists proclaim the gospel through preludes and postludes while praise bands lead people to sing in their homes. The church’s song, though perhaps stifled, has persevered.

So, where is my planning for St. Mark’s now?

I haven’t ordered new music for the fall, or even for Christmas – but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a choir.

For the Sundays we are able to meet in the house of the Lord, I have a plan for choir rehearsals that looks something like this:

We’ll have “virtual” choir rehearsals in addition to our Wednesday night meeting because our time together will be reduced.

We’ll wear masks during rehearsal. Choir members will be asked to warm-up on their own and be ready to sing as soon as they enter the choir room.

We’ll practice for 20 minutes, then take a 20- minute breathing break OUTSIDE so people can distance and remove their masks.

We’ll meet in the nave for a final 20- minute rehearsal, still with masks and lots of distance between singers.

With a 40-minute rehearsal (instead of the usual hour and a half) we’ll only be able to work on music for the coming Sunday instead of working 4 -5 weeks like we normally do.

Our St. Mark’s Ringers will rehearse every week – socially distanced and wearing masks, of course. If we are scheduled to play on a Sunday where church will not be live, our music will be pre-recorded for inclusion in the on-line service. (BTW, we have room for two more ringers. Let me know if you’d like to play!)

Even these plans are flexible. We may need to make changes based on CDC guidelines and guidance from government officials.

Some day we will have a vaccine against Covid-19 and we’ll be able to gather, speak, and sing freely while standing next to each other. We’ll shake hands and hug our neighbors as we say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” Until then, the church’s song still goes on, proclaiming the good news of God’s love to all the world.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Music for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: August 2, 2020

Opening Voluntary Two Settings of “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” (Schmücke dich)

1. Johann Gottfried Walther, 1684-1748   2. Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

The text and tune are at Evangelical Lutheran Worship 488.

Gathering Hymn Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness (Nettleton) ELW 843 

Hymn of the Day All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly (Grace Eternal)

This hymn appears in ELW with the tune Holy Manna, but today we sing it with a newer tune by Jacksonville composer Bob Moore. His tune, Grace Eternal, feels like a folk hymn you’ve been singing your whole life.

Moore recently released a full choral version of All Who Hunger that our Festival Choir was to sing just before Covid-19 caused Sunday morning gatherings to go on hiatus.  Don’t worry, it’ll be back in our choir folders as soon as we’re able to rehearse again. We can’t wait to share it with you!

Music During Communion Holy Manna  setting, Don Hustad, 1918-2013

Hustad’s career as a church organist includes work in six different decades – including appearances with the popular gospel singer George Beverly Shea. This is a setting that I’ve enjoyed playing for a very long time and I chose it because it is the tune that ELW pairs with All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly. It’s also a nice excuse to feature our organ’s clarinet stop.

Sending Hymn O Living Bread from Heaven (Aurelia) ELW 542 

Closing Voluntary O, When Shall I See Jesus? (The Morning Trumpet) setting, Don Hustad

During this season after Pentecost, you may have noticed that I’ve been pairing the psalm refrains with tunes from folk songs, folk hymns, and early hymnody.  Only a few have fit easily – some needed a bit of coercing.

This morning I chose a tune by Benjamin F. White (1800-1879), The Morning Trumpet – a Sacred Harp tune. This is a setting of the full hymn with its text by John Leland (1754-1841), an American Baptist minister.

We’ll hear two trumpets from our organ; first the (pipe) petite trompette that was installed with the organ in 1984, then the (digital) festival trumpet makes a brief appearance at the end.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Music for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: July 26, 2020

Opening Voluntary Hymn Partita on “Jesus, Priceless Treasure

(jesu meine freude)      

chorale settings from Service Book and Hymnal (pub. 1958, Augsburg Publishing House) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pub. 2006, Augsburg Fortress)

Organ settings:

Jan Bender (1909-1994

David A. Schack (b. 1947)

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)


During these summer months and this time of pandemic, I’ve been taking some classic Lutheran hymns (for more on what makes a hymn “Lutheran,” see a former post at and having sung stanzas interlined with organ settings. I’ve decided to start calling these arrangements “partitas.” A partita is a suite of pieces – I’ve just elected to fill my suite with the voices of different composers writing on the same tune.

 jesu meine freude comes from a secular song written in bar form, which is to say it is arranged in three phrases where the second is a repeat of the first – or AAB form. Many Lutheran hymns, including some by Martin Luther, utilize bar form. At some point, a non-musician got ahold of this knowledge and started the rumor that Martin Luther based all of his hymns on tavern songs. It has been a hard story to live down. Although some Lutheran tunes began in the secular realm, it is more like singing What Child Is This to Alas, My Love, You Do Me Wrong, than it is to singing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God to A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall. (That doesn’t actually work, by the way. I’m just making a point.) Incidentally, jesu meine FREUDE, or Jesus, my joy, “was originally Flora, my joy. . .

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field. . .

 In his cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12), J. S. Bach “buries” this well-loved tune in an aria for tenor. You can hear the aria, hear the tune, AND see the score at this link: The entire cantata is worth your time, but you can skip to the 18:58 mark to hear just this aria.

This is the most recent Bach cantata sung at St. Mark’s – and we used an oboe instead of a trumpet.

"Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" Bach Vespers orchestra and choir at St. Mark's
November 17, 2019

Gathering Hymn O Day of Rest and Gladness (haf trones lampa färdig)

If someone ever asks “Why do Christians worship on Sunday?” you can respond with verse 2 of this hymn.

This hymn appears in ELW with the tune Ellacombe but I’ve never felt that was a good pairing. The Episcopalians sing it with a tune that I adore – Es flog ein kleins Waldvögelein – but I try not to introduce new tunes for online worship. A perfect solution seemed to be Haf trones lampa färdig, the Swedish folk tune that we sing with “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers” in Advent.


Hymn of the Day Neither Life nor Death (neither death nor life)

ELW 622

The refrain for this hymn by Marty Haugen is easily learned. In fact, you may have it memorized after the second stanza. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming it later in the week. Thanks to Pastor Daniel for leading this hymn and playing it on his guitar!

Marty Haugen is a prolific composer of hymns and liturgical music. Probably his most famous work with Lutherans in “Holden Evening Prayer.”

Sending Hymn Give Thanks for Saints (repton)

ELW 428

I’ve loved this tune for awhile now, at least since 2009 (but longer, really). Here’s proof from a Facebook post in 2009:

 Closing Voluntary When Morning Gilds the Skies (laudes domini)

setting, Robert Lind

“May Jesus Christ be praised” no only when morning gilds the skies, but also “when evening shadows fall.” 

And it’s not just a song for humankind to sing, but also the earth, “sun and stars of space” and all creation. The text begs for this refrain to be sung all day – and not just this day, but forever.



Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship