Songs for Lent and Easter
He Is Lord
One of the best-known and most versatile Easter choruses from the mid-seventies started out as a single anonymous stanza. Typical of many praise choruses, the very structure invited expansion, and the expanded version found here also came from an anonymous source.
This song can be sung with great joy and acclamation, especially on Easter Sunday or when celebrating the Ascension of Christ. But the text could also be sung rather meditatively. The simple four-part setting by Dale Grotenhuis can be played majestically as well as meditatively; even the tempo can vary, depending on its role in the service. Shari Baar’s setting for keyboard and three trumpets definitely should be saved for a festive Easter or Ascension
celebration. This setting is not only festive, it is also majestic, and should be sung at a majestic tempo so the trumpets sound grand and glorious, rather than hurried and busy. That will take some rehearsal.
Perhaps your church has sung this song too often. If so, give it a rest. But whenever you do choose it for worship, the first thing to decide is its place and function in the service. Here are a number of suggestions from the leader’s edition of Sing! A New Creation:
- During Lent, sing the simple setting with the hymn “When I Survey” to remind us that every Sunday, even in that dark season, is a “little Easter.” Juxtapose appropriate stanzas (“thorns compose so rich a crown” into “He is King” or “save in the death of Christ” into “He is Life”).
- During the Easter Season, or on Ascension Day, use the festive arrangement, including trumpets.
- As a closing song any time of year.
- Use only one stanza as a closing refrain at the end of a service.
Click to listen [ full ]
In addition to the recommended Celtic resources on page 30, here is an Easter hymn that has become very well-known throughout North America and beyond. The “Celtic Alleluia” is so named because of its character and its Irish origins.
The refrain came first. In the summer of 1981, the Irish Church Music Association premiered the Mass of the Annunciation by Fintan O’Carroll, which included this refrain. Soon after, O’Carroll died, and English composer Christopher Walker received permission to expand the alleluia into a composition of his own as a tribute to O’Carroll. The stanzas included here are his, but perhaps because of the popularity and exhuberance of this celebration of the resurrection, many others have added stanzas as well. The alternative stanzas offer a trinitarian hymn of praise that would make an excellent doxology to conclude a worship service. Gather (GIA) includes eight other stanzas of praise to Christ.
Here are some additional notes for this song from the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation (CRC Publications, 2002):
Celtic music is to be played with a lilt, but not without energy. Feel this song in two (qk = 66), and build your accompaniment around guitar or piano. This song works well on any and all instruments, but for Celtic sound, invite a fiddle player to join you, or a recorder player, or maybe someone with a good ear who can make a penny whistle sing on the descant. A percussionist is nearly essential. Even if you don’t have a bodhrán, the traditional Celtic drum, its unique sound may be effected well enough on a trap-set tom-tom. For an interesting contrast, try singing the refrain in unison, accompanied only by percussion and a string (violin or viola) drone on A and E; slide up to those pitches for a wonderfully Celtic feel. At first, consider using soloists or a choir on the stanzas, but soon everyone will want to sing it all.
You may wish to listen to a recording of this song with your worship ensemble before trying to lead it in worship. (A brief version can be found on the Web at www.ocp.org/catalog/collection/ celtic-mass.html.) It is also helpful to repeat the last bar of the verse to help cue the congregation into the refrain.
Ideas for Use
- Sing the entire hymn during Eastertide and whenever new life in Christ is celebrated.
- Introduce only the refrain to your congregation at first, perhaps as a response to Eastertide prayers or readings.
- Use the refrain as a response to the gospel reading (its original use) or as a response to an assurance of pardon. You may even begin the string drone and drum pattern during the reading of this assurance, building in strength until the congregation bursts out its celebratory response.
- At the opening of an Easter service with congregational acclamations, as shown in the following three examples:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
(All sing “Celtic Alleluia.”)
Christ is in our midst!
Was, is, and ever shall be!
(All sing “Celtic Alleluia.”)
Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed;
therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia!
(All sing “Celtic Alleluia.”)
Vengo a ti, Jesús amado/
Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness
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One of the songs recommended on page 44 is another old text set to a new tune, in this case a communion text by the great German hymn writer Johann Franck, known in various hymnals as “Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness,” or as the Psalter Hymnal translates it, “Clothe Yourself, My Soul, with Gladness. The English translation here is from the Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg, 1978), as found in Libro de Liturgia y Cántico (Augsburg Fortress, 1998). Here again, an older text speaks with freshness in a lovely and accessible melody by Evy Lucio, with a completely new refrain.
The melody is presented only with guitar chords, which in this collection follow the more common pattern in South America of using the “do re mi” system; the first chord “la m” stands for A minor. In this case, the melody is very accessible rhythmically. Take a very relaxed tempo to allow time for the many words of this rich text time to sink in; feel a gentle lilting 3/4-pattern of a Latino dance, but with a ritard at the end of the second line, and especially before moving into the refrain. Guitars (classical rather than steel string) and/or keyboard could be sufficient, but also consider adding castanets and shakers.
During a communion service, have soloists or choir introduce this song in English, or if possible, in the beautiful Spanish, and after one or two stanzas, invite the congregation to join on the refrain.
I always stand amazed at the communion of the saints that is celebrated whenever we sing hymns that unite voices from different times and places and languages in praise to God.
I Need Thee Every Hour
The website www.igracemusic.com introduces a ministry of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, that takes old hymn texts and combines them with brand-new tunes (see “What’s on the Web,” p. 42). Kevin Twit, campus pastor at nearby Belmont University (where many would-be professional musicians in Nashville get their training), has composed some of the new tunes, including one set to the nineteenth-century gospel song “I Need Thee Every Hour” by Annie Hawks (for more on Hawks, see www.cyberhymnal.org/bio).
Still familiar to the older generation of American Protestants, this gospel song has not been included in many recent hymnals. But Twit thought the text would connect with a younger generation that, incidentally, is not at all bothered by the thees and thous of the older language.
He set the text (only slightly adapted) to a tune that is typical of many contemporary melodies in that the rhythm is more easily learned by hearing than by reading. The many anticipations (where the syllable comes before the beat) require excellent musicianship—to lead the song in a way that keeps the melody on target rhythmically, yet is pliable and plastic for group singing, not just for solo singing. The complex look of the melody is one of the reasons text only, not music, is provided for the congregation, who can learn a melody like this better by listening than by reading. Even good readers of traditional hymn tunes would be daunted when trying to negotiate these rhythms, though the pitches and the overall impact are accessible. This “lead sheet” format of melody and chords is all well-trained contemporary musicians need; keyboard and bass players improvise from the melody and chord chart. The best way for musicians to learn how to lead this song is to listen to the recording (www.igracemusic.com). Consider singing this song after the assurance of pardon, before the preaching of the Word, or as part of the congregational prayer.