Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Giving up Musical Instruments for Lent

Giving Stuff Up. 
Each year I wonder at the notion of giving something up. It is admirable of course, and can lead to new spiritual depths in the process. However sometimes the giving up of chocolate, grog, or coffee becomes almost a boast in some. One year I had a friend who gave up car travel for Lent. Great. But in reality instead of driving her own car, she constantly pestered her friends and family for lifts increasing their fuel bills and eating into their time. Unless something becomes of the denial, the action becomes a gratuitous exercise.


Why give up musical instruments?
Lent would seem to me to be the best time to have an A Capella Sunday. This is a day where the gathered people sing without instrumental accompaniment, in unison, in rounds and in part harmony. What is A Capella Sunday. 


To my mind the 'denial' of music instruments in worship turns out to be an unexpected trove of spiritual riches which bind the community in new ways. A Capella Sunday takes you out of your comfort zone. Whether you believe Lent is a personal or corporate pilgrimage, a capella singing in Lent nourishes both. 


The key here is access. If people perceive the exercise to be too difficult for them, or as something only the musicians in the community can do, there is something wrong with the approach.The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT decision you will make is about seating arrangements. MUST READ: A Capella Sunday for seating and preparation tips.


What to Sing?
As suggested previously, the key to a successful A Cappella Sunday is preparation. Another key is repertoire choice. If you decide to have all 4 part harmony pieces led from the front, the message is that they are the focal point. Most people will become disconnected and possibly antagonistic. A Capella Sunday is about participation, and it's about community - NOT performance.


As a guide, I would choose:
  • 1 well known hymn sung unaccompanied with assistance of simple drum to keep time
  • 1 round or canon
  • 1 echo song
  • 1 simple 3 part song (usually one male part and two treble parts)
Many of our well known hymns did not start out as hymns at all, but as pop songs, folk tunes, dances and even beer drinking songs. Choosing one that works well unaccompanied is as easy as trying it yourself. If you sing the hymn as you go about your day, you'll notice it takes on its own life, free of accompaniment constraints. Go with it. The pace and mood will be altogether different. For more on this: Revisiting Old Treasures.


Rounds, canons and simple 3 parts songs are relatively easy to access thanks to the prolific and quality resources published by the Wild Goose Resource Group. Among their collections of songs from around the globe are There is One Among UsMany and GreatWe walk his way and Come All you People. There are also many possibilities included in the Altogether seriesAll Together Now (1980), All Together Again (1983), All Together Everybody (1991), All Together OK (1996), All Together Whatever (2001) and All Together for Good (2007)


You already have a store of songs in your memory at your disposal. Everybody knows Kum by Yah and Jubilate Deo which are both wonderful for Lent. What's stopping you writing your own words to a round your community knows. Oh come on, you know you want to. While Row your boat doesn't quite do it for me in Lent, songs like Frere Jacques, Oh How Lovely is the Evening (trad German), Within a Shady thicket, Twinkle Twinkle little star all work as rounds.


Use pentatonic hymns and songs like Were you there, Be thou my vision, Kum by Yah, Standing in the need of prayer, and Train is a Comin' oh yeah, which all invite people to make their own harmonies. There is no such thing as a wrong note.

You are welcome to share your 4 songs for A Capella Lent with others via the comments facility on this past. Let us all know about what worked and what didn't. Why you did, or why you'll never, give A Capella Lent a guernsey.

You may also be interested in
A Capella Advent
Getting Gatherings to Sing

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David Powell said...

For some instrumentalists, their instrument is truly their 'voice', and this would indeed be a sacrificial Lenten discipline for them.
For those who especially love to sing, a service without song would perhaps be equivalent.
Would that also be worth trying?

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