Notes from Nola – Teaching a new song or hymn …

The Moravian Music Foundation preserves, shares, and celebrates Moravian musical culture.

We’ve all been there. There’s this amazing song with words that are just perfect for the occasion you’re planning, but the tune isn’t one everybody knows, and you know how THAT goes. You don’t want your people so focused on the notes that they can’t take in those marvelous words! So what do you do?

You teach it!

How? It’s not that there are ready opportunities in most worship services where you can go over and over and over a song until everyone knows it. So you must prepare, and introduce that new music over time – maybe even over weeks.

Your goal is to have that music played enough so that when your congregation tries to sing it, they already have it somewhat in their ears; they already, to some extent, know how it goes. Here is one way of making that happen.

Use it as the “hymn of the month”, in these ways:

Week 1. Have the organist/pianist play it, as is. If they can find one, have them play the setting to be sung, and then an organ/piano prelude based on it. If they can’t find such, just have them play the tune as a prelude or interlude. Perhaps they can play it through 3 times, with different registrations (or in a different octave on the piano), or with an instrument playing the melody, for the prelude. Perhaps they can play it softly as an interlude following the offering or at another quiet time during the service. If you have a band or instrumental ensemble, have them play it.

Week 2. Call attention to it in the announcements, and let the congregation know that this is a song they will want to know. Then have someone sing it as a solo, perhaps as a call to worship or as the offertory. Continue to use it as a quiet interlude or response to prayer or the benediction.

Week 3. IF AND ONLY IF you have copyright permission, print the words in the bulletin. Invite the congregation to take these words home and reflect on the meaning. Continue having the pianist/organist play the tune at various times. If you have a midweek program, use this song as part of the program – talk about the words, what it is that makes you want them to know the song, perhaps the scripture references in the text, how it fits in with what you’ll be doing in worship. Invite the participants to sing through the song a couple of times, letting them know it will be a part of Sunday worship the next week.

Week 4. Have the congregation sing it in worship! If it has several verses, have the choir or a soloist sing at least the first one. On later verses, have an instrumentalist play along on the melody to reinforce the congregation’s singing.

After that – don’t let them forget it! Sing it every so often just to keep it fresh in their minds. And start over with a new song next month. With planning, over a couple of years, you can add many new songs to your congregation’s memory bank, and they won’t remember not knowing them! Do you remember that “Join We All with One Accord” was new to the American Moravian church with the 1969 hymnal? Now it feels as though we’ve always known it!

You’ll note the one essential element of this procedure – planning. You can’t decide on Thursday that you’re going to introduce a new song on Sunday and expect them to know it and like it. So you, as the worship planner, must plan ahead. Take some time to look at the hymnal or whatever worship resource you use, and choose several new songs to introduce over the next few months, and make your plans.

Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing, all the earth!

Next time … the Star-Spangled Banner in our holdings!