Reflections on Holy Week

Well I’ve made it! My first real life experience planning and playing in holy week services.  This post is largely non-theological and very much practical.  Though I’ve participated in holy week services almost every year of my adult life, I have never had to be the person in charge.  I had a great time with it, am totally exhausted, and will need at least 11 months before I’ll want to do it again.  Good thing is I hear it’s going to happen again in about 12 months.

At TCC we had a total of seven services throughout the week:

Palm Sunday (2) – We sang “All Glory, Laud and Honor” with kid’s choir, adult choir, organ, trumpet, and palm fronds galore!
Maundy Thursday – A communion service with choir and organ reflecting on the last supper and Jesus instituting a new commandment – love one another.
Good Friday – A tenebrae service of shadows where we read through the passion narrative of Luke interpolated with passion hymns like “O Sacred Head”, “How Marvelous” and “Stricken Smitten and Afflicted”.  I brought in my friend Josh who is a fantastic cellist to play excerpts from the Bach cello suites.  The service ended with the congregation coming to the front of the sanctuary to literally nail their sins (written on prepared slips of paper) to the cross.  I plan on keeping these to use next year, when we will burn them into ash for our Ash Wednesday service.
Holy Saturday – Our newest worship service (dubbed “saturday night life”) which had little to do with a traditional holy saturday or easter vigil service, but was easter themed.
Easter Sunday (2) – He has risen! We brought back the kids choir, adult choir, organ, and waving streamers and crosses singing ‘lift high the cross’ with our resident brass ensemble.

The last supper table.


Well needless to say, I went home on Sunday afternoon after the last Easter service and slept for a few hours.  Never. Slept. So. Well.  I loved planning the services and leading the music, but have learned a few things in hindsight:

1) You can never prepare too much.  As much as I thought I had everything together, something always fell through the cracks.  I was making photocopies for the choir and adding another song to the overhead screens on Easter morning at 7:57 am.

2) I don’t have to do it all.  I had many wonderful helpers who directed and managed the children’s choir, and staff support for bulletins and projections.  That being said, this year I tried to plan and execute all of the services myself.  Next year I hope to have someone help manage the choir (including photocopies and tracking attendance).  Next year I hope to have someone else plan and lead one of the services.  Next year I hope to have someone else create the bulletin and projections.  It’s not that I didn’t have the help, it’s that I didn’t know how to properly delegate.

3) Trumpet players are a hot commodity on Easter.  Though I had thought I had booked a quintet back in January, some last minute changes left me with a quartet – forcing the french horn to play the trumpet part and the tuba to play the trombone part.  Not the end of the world, but it could be avoided.

4) Some people come to church only on Christmas and Easter.

5) At the end of the day, it’s about worshipping GOD.  I need to constantly remind myself that in my preparation I am bringing God glory.  Though on Sunday at 9:30am I don’t always feel like I am having a “worshipful experience”, my preparation and professionalism does bring God glory by allowing other people to enter into worship.  To some extent, I cannot get ‘lost in the moment’ as a worship leader, because I always need to be thinking ahead.  I’m learning to be okay with that.  (That being said, the kid’s choir never ceases to get me choked up…that’s why someone else conducts them.)

That’s all.

What happened at your church?  Any fellow church musicians out there that have holy week reflections to share?

“Special music”

Communal worship, despite my differences in taste, is so valuable to me.  It can be an incredible experience to be surrounded by hundreds of people singing together.  And this is largely the accepted idea, in terms of corporate worship as a church body, but what about music as art?  Music where we ask the congregation to sit and just listen?  Is there a place for that in the reformed church?  I agree, the modern church ought to be communal; we eat the bread and drink the wine together, we sing together, we pray together, but should we also listen to music together in the same way we listen to a sermon together?

In a few weeks we’ll be starting up the choir at Santa Barbara Community Church in preparation for holy week service of Good Friday.  I always look forward to working with this enthusiastic group of singers.  For many, the church choir is the only time they get to make music outside of normal Sunday worship.

In selecting music to share with the congregation at the service, one of the issues that came up is the language.  Simply put, I believe that to limit our repertoire to only our native language would eliminate 90% of choral repertoire.  As wonderful as they are, we must share more than the sounds of Britten, Vaugh Williams, and Billings.  And since choral music stems from a tradition of latin chant and polyphony, it makes sense to begin there.

I selected two of Victorias Tenebrae responsories, as I have sung (read: fallen in love with) them a few times, have a managble range, realistic division (SATB throughout), and not to mention, are BEAUTIFUL.  The first issue that came up with the our worship pastor, is the question of language.  Can the congregation easily connect with this music even though they do not know what the text means?  The simple solution here is to put on our projection the text allongside the translation.  But even so, will the process of reading a text and translation while simultaneously listening to the music create an unneccisary barrier in experiencing the divine?  Or on the contrary, might it actually encourage deeper thought and understanding?

I’m currently in the camp that agrees with the latter.  We ought to give our congregation more intellectual credit.  The latin language is beautiful, and anyone who has studied a latin based language might be able to decipher some of it themselves: Moritur (latin) ~ mourir (french) ~ to die (english).  At the same time the mental process of reading a foreign language works a different part of our brain.  We’re thinking harder, and I think that’s a good thing.  Though congregational music should be easily singable, but that doesn’t mean all music in church should be “easy.”

Then there’s the question of polyphony.  I could explain why I think its great, but why not use the power of the internet to direct you here.  For centuries the church has debated use of polyphony so I’ll refrain from discussing it here, but I sincerely hope that the choir at Santa Barbara Community Church can not only sing their notes beautifully, but also get an idea of the incredible contrapuntal fabric that Victoria has created.  Even if just one person gets it, I’ll have done my job.