Last summer I polled the elders and deacons for their favorite hymns and psalms so that I could better understand “where we’re at,” musically speaking. Our church officers love singing our songs but are not (I think they’d admit) highfalutin musicians. So, I safely assume their input provides an accurate barometric reading of where we are regarding the Cantus Christi and how we use it.
After collecting all the responses, I developed a list of 70 favorite songs from the Cantus. Last fall, the lion’s share of our songs in worship were drawn from this list. But 70 songs (Christmas carols were excluded) is only the tip of the familiar-and-favorite iceberg. For example, well-known hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, O Worship the King, and Come Thou Almighty King didn’t get any votes, nor did Psalms like The Lord Hear Thee in Troubled Times, In Every Time I’ll Always Bless the Lord, or David Erb’s Psalm 149. All these (and others) are in our wheelhouse and are ones we want to continue singing with gusto. My point is this: although we learn a lot of new music at Christ Church, we are committed to our favorites and desire that these favorite songs continue to encourage our faith and build up our fellowship as a community.
So why learn new music? A couple of reasons. First, we want to be faithful in the things we’ve received, namely in singing the 150 Psalms in the Bible. Since May of 2020, when we began using the new Cantus Christi, we’ve sung over 100 Psalms but only about 50 are favorite and/or familiar. And so, we have a ways to go in getting acquainted with the Psalter.
Second, we learn new music out of faithfulness to our Christian heritage. By this I mean we learn songs new to us even though those songs can be quite old. We are big on historic Protestantism and so we are interested in the patterns of worship enjoyed by our spiritual ancestors. When it comes to songs, many have been buried in the sandbox of time—some for good reason. (We bury dead people too. We don’t just leave them lying where we fell). What I have in mind are the many diamonds in the rough, forgotten not for their lack of virtue but rather for the lack of virtue in those that allowed them to be forgotten in the first place. Good songs of the past fed the faith of our predecessors and helped make them a resilient people. We want their songs to do the same for us.
You may agree with my argument so far but have concerns about the process and pace by which songs are introduced. So here’s the plan for the coming year.
- We will continue touring the Psalms in the Cantus. Last year we covered Psalms 1-40. This year, 41-80. Some of the Psalms on the tour are already familiar; some are favorites. Others we don’t know from Adam. Ordinarily, we read these new songs at sight, if they’re easy, that is. (This is like speed dating with the Psalms. If the date went well, we get the contact info and plan another date later). If the Psalm is particularly thorny, we might have a hymn lesson on it. (I don’t have a clever relationships analogy for learning thorny Psalms. Arranged marriage?).
- We also have hymns of the month. Once a new song of worth is identified, we put it up as a hymn of the month, taking 3-4 weeks to learn it. Our December HOTM is 729, Nunc dimittis. January’s is 87/88, Psalm 44. February’s is 95a-b, Psalm 48.
- Another vehicle we use to teach and review music is our monthly/bi-monthly Psalm Sing. Folks have been showing up to these in record numbers in recent months. If you’ve never been to one, come on out. We always have a great time of singing and fellowship. And normally we have food afterward. Our next Psalm Sing will be on February 13. Location TBA.
Thank you for your commitment to worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Please let me know if you have questions about our music or about the music program generally. I am thrilled to serve as your music director and am more than happy to speak with you about what we’re up to.