Alice Parker. Worship Works, A National Worship Resource Network, 10619 Alameda Drive, Knoxville, TN 37932; (616) 966-0103. 56 minutes, $39.95
Alice Parker, composer, arranger, and self-proclaimed "hymn-nut," is one of North America's premier promoters of congregational song. Her long association with Robert Shaw in arranging many early American folk hymns and Afro-American spirituals has given her a broad appreciation of the many different styles of congregational song and the need to capture the mood and spirit of each hymn as a unique creation that only comes to life when a congregation sings it.
The video captures what Alice Parker does best: stand in front of an ordinary congregation and, without the help of any instrument, get them to sing old and new songs in ways that make them want to keep on singing. The video moves back and forth between her congregational workshop with Central United Methodist of Phoenix, Arizona, which had recently received the new United Methodist Hymnal, and an interview with her and Marji Tuell, the chairperson of the text committee of that hymnal.
Parker holds up the model of a song leader who lines out the songs, like the old cantor/precentor/ voorzinger who taught songs by example, rather than by instrument. While singing, she stands with book in one hand and conducts with the other, but not in formal conducting patterns. Rather, she shapes the lines to draw out the spirit and flavor of the meaning of the text.
A song leader need not be a professional; indeed, much professional training is solo-oriented and loses sight of the common and communal experience that is at the heart of congregational singing. Rather, the song leader should have a simple voice and a love of singing. Singing the notes is only a part of the picture; even more important is conveying the mood and spirit of the text by example. And Parker promotes knowledge and understanding of the origin and background of hymns: "If you don't have a point of view about a hymn, you will be communicating boredom."
Because it is hard to watch Alice Parker without wanting to sing along, anyone who leads congregational singing, organists included, would benefit by viewing this video. Parker's goal is the renewal of congregational song in which everyone contributes to a total sound that is not only greater, but much more joyful than what any person could experience singing by themselves.