A Worshipping Community Learning New Musical Styles

The issue of Liturgy entitled “Communities of Musical Practice,” guest-edited by E. Byron Anderson, looks at many aspects of how music shapes –– and is shaped by –– worship in a variety of communities. What follows is an excerpt from Lorraine Brugh’s essay on chapel worship at Valparaiso University in Indiana. –– Melinda Quivik



In 2016 the chapel [at Valparaiso University] commissioned a new liturgical setting, including “This Is the Feast,” for praise band, composed by Paul Friesen-Carper, a Valparaiso University alumnus, church musician, and published composer. The praise band led this setting during the late Pentecost season in November 2017 and again from Epiphany into Lent (February and March [2018].)

This level of liturgical leadership throughout the service was new. Previously, the praise band had occasionally led on Sunday mornings with a hymn or song from its corpus. While this had prepared worshipers to associate the band at times with Sunday mornings, the setting met initial resistance from some who expected to hear these liturgical texts in a more traditional musical form. Some students and others found the music jarring to their sensitivity for Sunday morning. For many, the band was loud and the use of microphones offensive. One particular hump for many in this group was singing the liturgical music of the day with the praise band. While they realized that many students find a home in this music and sing contemporary music at other services during the week, Sunday morning was another matter.

We confronted their expectation with teaching and rehearsal sessions before Sunday worship. I explained Luther’s understanding that music is a gift of God and a good part of God’s creation. We can apply our human gifts to use music for God’s praises in all kinds of forms. I used the first weeks of the liturgy’s presentation to talk with the congregation about the incorporation of the band. I pointed to the way we already integrate many musical forms and styles into worship as vehicles for God’s praise. In that respect, the band is no different, offering our liturgical texts in a contemporary praise style.

I pointed out that music at the chapel is not restricted in its style or form. Rather, the criteria for music in our worship is its ability to draw the community into full participation. . . We are formed into the body of Christ as we sing the scriptural and liturgical texts that have formed the generations before us. We add our voices in our own media, through the composers and singers of our generation.

Over time, I believe, most have come to hear that this new setting offers an authentic musical voice. . . .

At the same time that we commissioned Paul Friesen-Carper’s setting, we also invited a seasoned traditional composer, Robert Buckley Farlee, to compose an organ-led liturgical setting. We introduced that setting, following a similar pattern of introducing it for a few weeks, then returning to a more familiar setting. I expect that this setting will have an easier time finding its place in our community. Nonetheless, I will take the opportunity to introduce the importance of always looking for ways we can “sing a new song to the Lord.”

By this double commission we are modeling the idea that the church’s music moves forward in many and simultaneous directions. A more diverse musical canon makes the church’s music both broader and richer and invites formation through various media.

Dr. Brugh’s full essay in Liturgy 33, no. 4 is available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Lorraine Brugh, professor holding the Frederick J. Kruse Endowed Chair in Church Music and Director of Chapel Music at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, is also, for 2017–2019, the Director of Valparaiso’s Cambridge Study Center in England.

Lorraine Brugh, “Communal Formation at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana,” Liturgy 33, no. 4 (2018): 13-20.

David Turnbloom