Posts Tagged 'Singing'

Interview with Gert van Hoef

gertRecently I had the opportunity to interview 25-year-old Dutch organist Gert van Hoef for Christian Renewal. We covered a wide range of subjects, including the place of the Psalms in corporate worship, the history of the Genevan Psalter in the Netherlands, and advice for aspiring young organists.

I asked Gert what it takes to be a good church musician. His response is worth pondering:

Church organists should always realize that they do not only play for themselves. They are to enjoy themselves, and it is their own worship, but they are also playing for the congregation. The principle is that those with talents are supposed to use them to serve the body. So church musicians are responsible to do their very best to make beautiful music as servants of the church. That was something I had to realize. The music should not be too complex but should reflect the meaning of the text. When I first started, I tried to show people how great I was. This attitude in myself was not good. Fast and glorious passages are sometimes appropriate, but our job is to serve and lift people up and encourage them. Also, they should not play pieces that are too difficult and cause them to make many mistakes. When I’m in the congregation singing, I should not have to think about the organist. I should be able to trust the organist and sing without interruption.

Click here to read the full interview.

Trinity Psalter Hymnal Recordings

Eenige Gezangen

Today I’ve collected a list of YouTube videos to go along with the portion of the psalm section of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that is in the public domain or administered by the OPC/URCNA Joint Venture. All in all, there are about 60 videos, between a fifth and a quarter of the total psalm selections in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Hopefully this number will grow as time goes on.

Thanks to the gracious permission of our friends at Hymnary.org, I have adapted a table of contents from their online documentation of the songbook, which already includes many psalm and hymn texts and page scans. Now the table links to texts, page scans, and videos when available. You can view the finished product here.

These links can help pastors, musicians, and church members in several ways, particularly during this season of livestreaming services.

  • The page scans make it easy to dive into the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. It is almost effortless to pull them up on a phone, tablet, or computer, as well as to integrate them into a conferencing platform (depending on your church’s livestream setup). Of course, only a portion of the book’s contents are available this way, and you should really buy a complete digital PDF edition of the songbook if you or your church are planning on using it in electronic format long-term.
  • Even when a particular page scan isn’t available because of a copyrighted tune, you can still often read the complete lyrics. This means members can sing along to many selections without needing to have their own copies of the hymnal handy. Of course, it would be ideal if churches could loan their pew editions of the songbook to families until they are able to hold corporate worship services again, but quarantine restrictions in some areas might have already made this a logistical nightmare.
  • Choosing videos to include wasn’t easy, but I searched long and hard for recordings that would be easy to sing along with. Some are a cappella, some with voices and instruments, some with instruments alone. The musical styles vary. For some, the quality is pretty shabby. But I looked for recordings that provided a simple, effective rendition of the psalm setting that will be easy for musical and non-musical members alike to follow.
  • Both during and after this season of uncertainty, pastors and musicians can use the video links to become familiar with the tunes of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal in order to make the most fitting choices for worship services.

Will I be able to add videos for the hymn section next? I’d like to. But no promises.

That’s all for now–please feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments.

–MRK

Resources for Remote Worship

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created numerous challenges for churches in many countries where public gatherings are now temporarily forbidden. As church leaders wrestle through questions of live-streaming services, singing is a major question. To my knowledge, no free streaming platform can deliver the synchronization needed for a group of church members to sing digitally together.

So, at this point, many of us are settling for second-best options. One of these is simply for the pastor to lead the singing as part of the livestream, if he has a strong singing voice. Another option is to gather a small slice of the congregation in person to provide the music for the livestream, which other members can follow along with from their own homes. Still another option is to leave singing out of the livestream entirely and to encourage families to sing together in a separate time of household worship before or after the service.

There are plenty of online resources that can assist with some aspects of planning music during this time of upheaval and confusion. For the sake of time, I will only mention two right now; I will gather more resources as I have the opportunity.

  1. The publishers of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal have announced temporary permission for churches that already own the songbook to use any of its music that is under the public domain or copyrighted by the OPC and URCNA in livestreamed services until May 11, 2020. At this point I am not clear on whether this includes digitally reproducing the sheet music for these songs, or merely for streaming a recording of them.
  2. The website Hymnary.org, the most comprehensive index of hymns and hymnals available to my knowledge, includes a vast array of free resources including sheet music and sometimes audio recordings. Page scans of all public domain songs and OPC/URCNA copyrighted songs from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal can be viewed for free on this website. A more limited set of resources is also available for the 1959/1976 CRC Psalter Hymnal (blue).

Worship leaders may also find some of the archives of URC Psalmody useful during this time. In particular, our YouTube channel includes playlists with many recordings of the songs in the blue Psalter Hymnal. (Unfortunately, there is no such resource yet available for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.) Many of these recordings were created by congregations and choirs and are thus easy to sing along with. Some of the recordings even have lyrics integrated into the video.

The West Sayville URC has asked me to provide a list of songs available online to suggest for family worship tomorrow, and I am including them here in case they are helpful to other churches as well. Depending on how the next days and weeks play out, I may continue to post suggestions for singable family worship music here for future Sundays.

(The numbers are coordinated with the Trinity Psalter Hymnal for those who have personal copies of the songbook.)

148b. Hallelujah, praise Jehovah
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/148B
Recording with lyrics: https://youtu.be/g4_i-6QPjZ0

415. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/page/678
Recording (lyrics for v. 1 only): https://youtu.be/l6gAE_ODosM

476. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/page/745
Recording (no lyrics): https://youtu.be/_jonnV9j4-c

245. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/245
Recording (no lyrics): https://youtu.be/zuMIDDNK2b0

I am sure we all look forward to worshiping with one another in flesh and blood as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so. May God get the glory during this time of change and uncertainty.

–MRK

Abraham Kuyper on Church Music

9780802863935The Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) knew how to poke where it hurts when it comes to Reformed church music. But his words are an important reminder for church musicians in a variety of settings and styles:

The congregation had to sing, but in the north of Europe, where Calvinism was especially strong, the people as a rule sing neither in tune nor with accuracy, and neither do they excel in melodious voices.

They tried to correct this shortcoming in two ways–by introducing the organ, and by using a choir or precentor. Of course, it would have been most desirable if they could do without the organ. The pure singing of only human voices is far superior to organ music; the organ comes in to lead only when the singing falters. Leading of congregational singing can also be done by a choir or a precentor with great vocal power. Such precentors, however, can only rarely be found, and should they be found, they often exude their personality too much and thereby become a diversion. A choir is easily assembled, but a choir usually concentrates on the art, seldom on the spirit and contents, and soon the congregation, seduced by the beautiful choir, will keep silent in order to better listen to the singing of the choir. For that reason churches gave preference to organ music . . .

There is nothing objectionable about this organ music, provided that the church council makes sure that the organists do not try to push themselves to the fore. Their task is to lead, support, regulate, and promote the singing; the organ should never assume the right to let itself be heard. It has to serve the singing of the congregation and be dedicated to improve it, to elevate it, to inspire it, and to enter into its spirit. The organ must not overpower the song, but the song must be rendered all the more gloriously because of the organist’s support. When the organist seeks to serve himself and not the congregation and tries to attract attention to himself, the congregation is offended. Our great organists have always been able to avoid this evil; it is only the half-baked organists who, understanding neither the requirements of art nor the sacredness of the worship service, continually try fancy tricks for their own promotion.

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship (Onze Eeredienst), edited by Harry Boonstra, translated by Harry Boonstra, Henry Baron, Gerrit Sheeres, and Leonard Sweetman (1911; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 56-57.

–MRK

Announcing “Psalms for the King” Giveaway

2014 Genevans CD Insert COVER frontOne of the most common questions I receive on this blog is from readers looking for good recordings of the psalms. The list of psalm-singing recordings available on the web is already quite large, including some enjoyable (though outdated) recordings of the blue Psalter Hymnal and entire websites devoted to Scottish metrical psalmody. Today I’m happy to announce a wonderful addition to that list with the online release of one of my favorite CD’s, Psalms for the King.

Psalms for the King was recorded by my college choir, The Genevans, during the season that included a three-week international tour in the Philippines and Malaysia (you can read about that tour here). A freshman at the time, I got to sing all of these pieces as well as accompany a solo psalm setting on the organ (Track 14, “The Lord is my Shepherd”).

With the exception of the organ piece, Psalms for the King is entirely a cappella. That’s not for principled reasons as much as for practical ones: when you’re visiting concert locations that require piling into jeepneys and hiking through jungles, you can’t always guarantee there will be a piano or organ at your destination. But if you thought a cappella singing represents a single musical style, think again. Psalms for the King bridges the worlds of congregational psalmody and sacred classical music, with everything from Bruckner’s spine-tingling Os justi (Psalm 37:30-31) to a jazzy version of Psalm 118 arranged for men’s chorus by our director.

A lot of college choirs choose repertoire that shows off their technical skills. And The Genevans certainly have the chops for difficult music, including Mendelssohn’s motet on Psalm 2 and a choral fugue on Psalm 150 by J.S. Bach. But when the choir sings simple tunes, they do so just as beautifully. Despite my appreciation for intricate choral counterpoint, some of my favorite tracks are the traditional CRIMOND setting of Psalm 23 and a setting of Psalm 16 by Dr. Bob Copeland.

A drawback of this recording is that a few selections are sung in different languages, so a casual listener might not immediately benefit from those particular psalm texts without consulting the liner notes. However, the second half of the disc more than compensates for this shortcoming. Overall Psalms for the King remains one of my favorite psalm albums to listen to—not just because of my emotional attachment to the choir, but because it captures some of the best of psalm-singing from a wide variety of times and places. Below is a sample track from the album, a new setting of Psalm 130 by Geneva College professor Dr. Byron Curtis.

Psalms for the King was released in early 2015, but the album wasn’t available online until very recently. Crown & Covenant, the publishing house of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, has just begun selling the CD’s on their website for $15.

Even better, I’ve obtained permission to hold a contest for a free copy of Psalms for the King on CD (the first of its kind on URC Psalmody!). Simply submit your information here, and the sixth person (in the US or Canada) to contact me will receive a free copy. I’ll even cover the postage!

Even if you don’t win the contest, consider getting yourself a copy of Psalms for the King. It will bring joy to your ears and your soul.

–MRK

Buy Psalms for the King (C&C) »

Enter the giveaway contest »


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