I think that one of the things that sets Association of Lutheran Church Musicians conferences apart from other meetings of professional musicians, like American Guild of Organists conventions, is in its emphasis, number and variety of worship services. I had told you about the opening Morning Prayer, where the assembly mostly sang a capella (without accompaniment), contrasted with the very grand opening Eucharist, with the glorious National Lutheran Choir accompanied by organ and brass.
Last night we heard the Valparaiso University Bach Choir, conducted by Christopher M. Cock in an Evening Prayer service. They began with a Bach motet, Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf, BWV 226, then sang two of Frank Ferko’s Hildegard Motets. The heart of the service was Bach Cantata 94, Was frag ich nach der Welt, BWV 94 and Psalm 22 by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
But it was the intimacy and simplicity of this morning”s Service of the Word that seemed to speak to me. It was a small ensemble of piano, flute, bass guitar, oboe, clarinet, and vibes that accompanied this service, in very contemporary but appealing and lush harmonies. They even did a Peter Hallock psalm (from the Ionian Psalter) with a cantor singing the verses, accompanied on vibes! This was a new way (to us) to sing the Ionian Psalms, and sounded gorgeous! The pianist came in on the antiphon.
One of the most powerful liturgical events that happened during this service was the Anointing for Healing. Each person had hands laid upon his or her head, and a cross was drawn with oil on each person’s forehead. In past ALCM conferences, this cross was drawn on the hands of each person there, since it is with hands that church musicians play the organ, conduct choirs and play handbells. But the very act itself is significant and I loved the words of one of the hymns we sang: How clear is our vocation (from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, #581)
How clear is our vocation, Lord, when once we heed your call to live according to your word and daily learn, refreshed, restored, that you are Lord of all, and will not let us fall.
But if, forgetful, we should find your yoke is hard to bear; if worldly pressures fray the mind and life itself cannot unwind its tangled skein of care; our inward life repair.
We marvel how your saints become in hindrances more sure; whose joyful virtues put to shame the casual way we wear your name, and by our faults obscure your power to cleanse and cure.
In what you give us, Lord, to do together or alone, in old routines or ventures new, may we not cease to look to you, the cross you hung upon, all you endeavored done.