Why Does Holy Trinity Change Liturgical Settings?

One Sunday, our Director of Music chanced upon a group of young parents and their children who were discussing the setting we had recently begun to chant on Sundays. So Jackie began explaining to them why we chant all three of the traditional settings to the liturgy found in The Lutheran Book of Worship, plus a setting that is very old (The Common Service) and one that was recently composed by our own Kile Smith (The Mass for Philadelphia). (Aside: Kile is not only Jackie’s husband and an extremely active member of Holy Trinity; he is also a well-known and widely respected Philadelphia composer — you could Google him.)

So anyway … Jackie began explaining why we use the different Liturgical Settings to the group of young parents, and they were fascinated! They told her she should write this information for the Echos and the Website … which she did.

Here is the article written by our wonderful Director of Music, Mrs. Jacqueline Smith:

About the liturgical settings we use on Sundays:

How are these chosen? Why do we use all these different settings? What is the plan behind different seasons having different settings? These are good questions!

We use all three of the LBW settings, and the Worship and Music Committee has recommended our using again the Common Service and Kile Smith’s Mass for Philadelphia. We will rotate these in soon.

First, about the variety: Everyone recognizes that it’s good to have variety in most everything in life. It keeps things interesting and stimulating. We also recognize that constant change is not good. It’s unsettling and can be annoying. So we try to use settings through the church year in an orderly way. Once they’re well-learned, they are comfortable to return to even if we’ve been away from them for awhile. And they’re fresh again when not used constantly. The trick is to manage it all. Some of us appreciate more variety and some, less, so as with anything in the body of Christ, we consider our neighbors who may feel differently.

Second, about the settings themselves:

Settings 1 and 2 from LBW are well-known, having been sung in Holy Trinity for decades. They fit like an old shoe. We sing both of them many weeks of the year.

Setting 3 is less familiar, but has a much more important Lutheran pedigree. It is actually Setting 2 out of the old red book (SBH), based on old Swedish Lutheran liturgical tunes. If you know much Scandinavian music, you will know that a lot of it is in minor keys and is kind of serious sounding. The hymn Built on a Rock would be a good example of this minor mode Scandinavian music—serious but not sad. People often mistakenly equate minor keys with sadness. (To note how wrong this is, consider all the joyous Israeli folk tunes like Siman Tov and Mazel Tov or Havah Nagilah—all in minor modes). Setting 3 is, however, solemn, and so we sing Setting 3 in Lent and at the End of the Church Year weeks, from All Saints through Christ the King. We’re in these weeks right now. The readings are difficult texts from the minor prophets about judgment, serious parables from Christ, etc. Instead of jolly liturgical music to accompany the prophets’ stern messages, or to accompany Lenten themes, we sing Setting 3, which has more gravitas than LBW 1 or 2.

In Advent we will return to the Common Service and remain there through the Christmas and Epiphany Sundays. I have heard a few comments that this is hard to sing, but consider: Lutherans sang this exclusively for many decades. If they could sing it, why should it be too difficult for us?

In Lent we return to LBW 3, and in the Easter season we will take up Kile’s service, which is beautifully festive and musically rich. It also is our only setting which includes the text “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast.” If you went through old Easter bulletins from years past, you would find this text spoken. In the Mass for Philadelphia, we have music for it, so it is the ideal setting for the Easter season.

If you are in church and struggling to learn the less familiar settings, please know that it is a normal process to learn these tunes over time. If you walk into a church with the congregation singing a setting they have sung for 30 years and everyone knows it by memory, you will be supported by all around you and it is simple to be swept along. If the church is undertaking to add less familiar settings, there will of course be a learning curve. This is normal. But it is not possible to learn anything without going at it time and time again. How many times do we tell this to our own children who are struggling with a new musical instrument, struggling to learn to read, to do math problems, to learn a language, or anything else new? We don’t expect to learn quality things instantaneously. We know they take work, which will be rewarded with knowledge and skill.

Luther elevated the singing of the people in worship. He gave them hymns to sing, and intended that their voices carry the liturgy. The Lutheran approach to music in the service is to have it carry the Word of God, which is a serious endeavor, and deserving of everything we put into it.

Jacqueline Smith, Director of Music

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