Thursday, October 14, 2010


For your consideration…


Feed: Fine Tuning
Posted on: Saturday, October 09, 2010 10:34 AM
Author: Phillip Magness
Subject: LOOK, MA, NO ORGAN!


We've discussed much the merits of the organ - particularly a pipe organ - for the leadership of communal singing. There is nothing like wind moving through pipes for leading a large number of human voices. And the text-painting capabilities of "The King of Instruments" are unquestionable.

But the organ is but a tool. A tool to serve the Lord's song, which consists of the words & the melody. Hymnody is not art music; it is folk song. And sometimes the organ gets in the way - especially when it is in the wrong hands (which, sad to say it often is). Some even advance the idea that they "need" to have an organ in order to sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs - even though Christians did fine without them until just a couple of centuries ago, and even as most Christians seem to do just fine without them, including many Lutherans.

Ah, but our great LUTHERAN hymns surely need the organ, some might say? Again, it is certainly wonderful to sing our chorales with organs. At least good organs in the right hands. But they are at their best when they accompany the singing. Which means the singing should stand on its own. Unfortunately, in many places our singing has become dependent on the organ. Rather than walking side-by-side, like two friends going to the store, the organist drags the congregation around. But the congregation should not be subserviently walking two paces behind. Indeed, the congregation should be free to get to the store on her own. (The only thing the Bride of Christ needs is the Bridegroom, which is the Word of God, not the sound of pipes). If our hymnody is to remain a living tradition, it must maintain the character of folksong. Folksong enjoys accompaniment, but can always stand on its own, a cappella.

In Congo, I was pleased to share our living tradition of Lutheran folk song with our brothers and sisters in Christ, who readily embraced our hymnody and who eagerly desire to learn more of it. Their instruments are not organs, but drums and the occasional recorder or imported Western electric keyboard or bass guitar. Because their music is primarily lyrical, they readily learned and adopted our hymnody when it was taught to them as folk music, not art music.

So take a look, have a listen, and let us know what you think of this version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" from our brothers and sisters in Brazzaville, Congo:

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