The Hymn Concertato

If the most important role of a choir is to lead congregational singing, then the hymn concertatos must rank very high on the list of choral music for worship. Folkert describes how concertatos have added to his own congregation's celebration in worship and recommends several within the range of the average church choir.

"Speak to one another in  psalms and hymns and spirit itual songs." That's what the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephe-sians. Earlier, in a dingy corner of a Roman prison, the apostle had learned firsthand of the power of praising God through hymns. The experience was one he wanted to pass on to others—to the Ephesians and to us. The church, from its inception, has been called to sing.

Over the centuries Christians have composed many different kinds of hymns and have sung them in a variety of styles and formats. One of the newest ways of singing hymns is the hymn concertato. A hymn concertato is a hymn that has been arranged for congregation, choir, organ, and various instruments (often brass). It is different from a hymn anthem, which is based on a hymn tune but intended just for the choir to sing. As in a concerto for solo instrument and orchestra, the hymn concertato contrasts the small choir with the large choir—the congregation. Everyone together is part of a work that can transform a simple hymn into a glorious celebration.

Hymn concertatos have been warmly received in many Reformed/Presbyterian churches. Some congregations have found them to be particularly meaningful for special services: Reformation Day, Thanksgiving Day, the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost.

In addition to helping Christians celebrate, hymn concertatos have served another important purpose: they have made choir members more aware of their role—giving them a sense of leadership in worship. In his book Hymns—A Congregational Study James Sydnor says, "The primary function of choirs is to join with all other members of the congregation in offering worship to Almighty God and, in doing so, to lead the congregation in worship through hymns, anthems, and in the sung portions of the liturgy" (p. 62). Hymn concertatos, then, are an effective model of what the choir's role should be.

Instead of using published hymn concertatos, many church musicians develop their own. All that's needed are some books suggesting descants, alternate harmonizations for organ, or brass accompaniments. Just as the organist changes registration to interpret the various stanzas of a song, so the choir director can study the text to determine which stanzas can better be sung by choir or with descant or with other instruments.

Two publications that may be helpful to musicians who are interested in creating their own hymn concertatos are "Hymn-Concepts" by Hal H. Hopson and Choral Fanfares by Dan Bird.

"Hymn-Concepts" is a creative tool for hymn singing. It offers introductions, interludes, descants, free accompaniments, and brass parts for eleven different hymns. Choral copies are available.

Choral Fanfares provides a series of choral introductions to various hymns. By using a fanfare to introduce a hymn, the musician can create a hymn concertato. The choir sings the fanfare; then the entire congregation joins in singing the first stanza of the hymn. Since few people have heard a choral announcement to a hymn, the fanfare usually generates enthusiastic singing.

A cautionary note: in many concertatos the text of the hymn may be altered from the text that appears in the church hymnal. To avoid any confusion over text changes or number of stanzas, it's a good idea to print the hymn text in the bulletin. However, if the text is under copyright, be sure to secure permission before doing so.

In the list on the following page, I've suggested some concertatos you may want to use— I'm certain that you'll find them to be a great asset to the worship of God in your church.