How can I create simple liturgical music for free?
Liturgical music is intimately connected to the proclamation of God’ Word and the celebration of the sacraments. It supports the appointed scripture readings, and allows the entire congregation to participate. Creative simplicity often accomplishes this far better than anything too complex. Two moments in the service of Holy Communion that lend themselves to this are the singing of the psalm and the gospel acclamation, which announces the reading of the gospel. Simple step-by-step directions are given here to begin an exploration of creating authentic and original liturgical music for your choir or soloist and congregation. These processes may be done alone by a director or can become a group educational activity. Creating psalm antiphons (refrains) is especially effective with children.
CREATING PSALM ANTIPHONS
The psalms are the earliest hymns of the church. This vast treasury of devotional material is intended to be sung. Creating a simple antiphon, or refrain, allows the congregation to participate easily.
- Read the appointed text for a particular day.
Example: Consider Psalm 104 for Pentecost.
- Select a key verse or phrase (from within the psalm or another seasonal text) to serve as the antiphon (or use the antiphon suggested in the lectionary). Verse 31 has a direct mention of "Spirit:" "You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth."
- Read the text over and over to discover the natural rhythm. Edit or paraphrase the text, as needed. It is possible to put the rhythm into music notation. This is not necessary, however. You can keep the rhythm in your head. To create a more singable text, the verse might be edited as follows. One rhythm may be:
- Look for important words as well as natural high or low points. Key words seems to be "Spirit," "Lord," and "renew." Based on our rhythm above, "Lord" and "renew" already have received longer notes. Let "Spirit" receive the highest note.
Send forth your Spi - rit, O Lord,
and re - new the face of the earth.
- Translate the shape into pitches, using the natural rhythm discovered earlier. Be daring! Start singing -- going up and down with your line. Soon you’ll discover a pleasant and simple melody.
- If possible, transcribe your melody and rhythm into musical notation. Again, this is not necessary. You can sing the melody to a congregation once and ask them to repeat it. They will learn it by ear. When written out, the finished melody appears like this:
- You now have a refrain to the psalm. Verses could be sung by a soloist using a simple LBW psalm tone. Or create your own. They’re only 8 notes! Tone one (see LBW, page 291) would be one that would work with this antiphon. If you are writing out the music notation, you will sometimes need to transpose a tone, depending on the key of your antiphon.
CREATING GOSPEL ACCLAMATIONS
In the service of Holy Communion, the rubric just before the gospel says: "The appointed VERSE is sung by the choir, or the congregation may sing the appropriate Verse below." Unfortunately, congregations with no choir (or choirs with little time or budget) often use only the default version ("Lord, to whom shall we go. . . "). An excellent compromise is to keep the appointed verse in place sung by a soloist (or choir), and to use a simple, familiar alleluia sung by the congregation.
(Alleluia & Verse)
Select a key verse or phrase from within the texts, usually the gospel, to serve as the announcement of the Gospel. Or simply use the verse suggested in the lectionary.
- Read the appointed texts for the day.
Select an alleluia refrain from a hymn or song or create your own. Start with something familiar. This method can work with any style! Some possibilities are:
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones – ELW 524
Good Christian Friends – ELW 288
For All the Saints – ELW 422
The Strife Is O’er – ELW 366
O Sons and Daughters – ELW 386, 387
Caribbean Alleluia – ELW 172
Celtic Alleluia – ELW 174
Chant Alleluia – ELW 168
Sinclair Alleluia – Worship & Praise Songbook
- Select a psalm tone that will work with the refrain. It may need to be transposed to the same key. The verse can be sung to the tone.
- Put the pieces all together. The whole thing would work like this for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany:
A cantor (soloist) sings the refrain:
The congregation repeats the refrain.
The cantor sings the verse to ELW psalm tone 7 (transposed to D Major):
The congregation repeats the alleluia refrain.
- The process can be expanded to make use of more verses and many more alleluias, especially during Easter!
Both of these ideas can be used with or without keyboard or guitar accompaniment. Depending on the season or day, rhythmic instruments, bells, or melodic instruments could be added. There are many excellent published musical settings of psalms and gospel acclamations that include the congregation. If resources are tight, however, the ideas suggested here can be a life saver. Even if resources are plentiful, creating homegrown liturgical music for a specific community can create a powerful sense of ownership, especially when created by a group of members.
Sundays and Seasons. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. A comprehensive worship planning guide based on the Revised Common Lectionary and the church year. The resource contains three major sections: annual introductions to the year, the Gospel and Lectionary; seasonal overviews that include "images of the season," environment and art for worship, a worship music overview and a comprehensive set of alternative worship texts (including the weekly prayers.)
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leader's Edition.