Behind the Scenes: Preparing music for an Easter service

In RW 35, John Haines writes about the struggle many churches are experiencing as they try to blend together a variety of traditional and contemporary musical styles. John is trained as a classical pianist, with a masters degree from Eastman School of Music. He has broadened his repertoire for service in the church and is studying theolog)' at Reformed Theological Seminary. In Kearney, he works not only with organ and choir, but also with a "rhythm section" and "worship team." Currently, his church has no organist, and he writes: "As you can see, I am an advocate of the organ. I cannot stress to the contemporary churches enough how indispensable the organ is. At this time I don't have an organist. They are hard to come by in Kearney. I will pray and wait until the Lord gives us a good one. In the meantime, the brass ensemble gives us the sustaining power."

Since many church organists and choir directors have little experience with the demands of leading such a diverse group of musicians, we asked him to give us notes detailing how he would prepare for a specific service that Includes both contemporary and traditional music.

In preparing the following service, readers should be encouraged to assess the talents that are available to them and not be afraid to experiment with the suggestions. This service assumes several things. First, it assumes an organist and pianist, both of whom possess solid musical skills. Second, it assumes a basic rhythm section consisting of a bass guitar player, drummer, pianist, and/or keyboardist. Third, it assumes a choir, worship team (small vocal ensemble), or both. Fourth, it assumes that the congregation will have the words to all of the music printed in the bulletin or projected on a screen.

Gathering for Worship

Prelude: "Praise and Glory to the King" (Moen , Hartley, and Williamson)

[From Mighty Cross ©1994, Integrity Music, Inc., Mobile, Alabama. This is a fairly lengthy prelude for rhythm section, although a good organist will be capable of providing variety and power. Full orchestration is available, but it is best to order the choral book (#4320) for each rhythm-section member.

The choral book contains all of the chords as well as the music. It is helpful to listen to the arrangement on cassette or CD first (4320 CS or 4320 CD) to allow the drummer and the keyboardist to hear some of the dramatic sounds that they may be able to imitate or enhance. Recently, we performed this piece for a prelude using the basic rhythm section only. The piano played the written piano score from the choral book as the keyboardist improvised on the vocal lines.]

Call to Worship: "I Call You to Praise" (John G. Elliot)

[From Songs of Worship and Inspiration, Book 1, © 1990, BMG Songs, P.O. Box 121474, Nashville, TN 37212-1474. Sung as a solo accompanied by rhythm section with optional choral or worship team background on the refrain. Do not "transition" into this piece. The few seconds of silence between the Prelude and this Call to Worship are an effective means of capturing the attention of the congregation. Drums should not enter until the refrain. At that point they should be foundational and steady. Again, a good organist will be an enhancement. When the song is concluded, the rhythm section should play through both the first and second endings back to back; otherwise the piece ends too abruptly.]

Opening Prayer (including confession)

God's Greeting (including pardon for sin in the name of the risen Lord)

Hymns and Songs of Exaltation

Hymn: "Alleluia! Alleluia!" (Text : Christopher Wordsworth ; Tune HYMN To Joy)

[Organ transition into "Hail Thee"]

[From The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (215), with introduction. Short and joyful organ introduction. Organ accompaniment throughout. If possible, compose a descant for sopranos and tenors for the final verse<.]/em>

Hymn: "Hail Thee, Festival Day!" (Text: R. Vaughan Williams; Tune: SALVE FESTA DIES)

[From PH 120; Hymnal 1982 175. This hymn has much potential for creativity. The congregation sings the refrain while the choir, worship team, and selected soloists sing the verses with organ, piano accompaniment or a cappella. End the hymn triumphantly and dramatically with a modulation to repeat the refrain. All sing with strength and victoiy. As congregation is seated, the rhythm section modulates on cue into "He Is Exalted."]

Song: "He Is Exalted" (Paris)

[From Maranatha! Praise Book, expanded 2nd edition. Rhythm section accompaniment with piano. Keep up tempo. Sing through the song twice then repeat to measure 11 and sing to the end. After this, "tag" the last four measures (that is, repeat them) twice before a final ritard at the end. End the last note one octave higher to keep the energy more praise-oriented. Follow with the transition into "OLord, Our Lord."]

Song: "O Lord, Our Lord, How Majestic Is Your Name" (Smith)

[Available with orchestration in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (30). Rhythm section accompaniment with piano. Congregation sings through entire chorus twice. On the second time through, choir and/or worship team sings the following four-part descant starting on measure 5 after the second ending. Sing with great fervor! Have congregation rise as they begin the second time through.]

The Word of the Lord

Old Testament Reading

Psalm 92: "Lord, It Is Good" (Talbot)

[From Songs for Worship (73), Birdwing Music. This is a fine contemporary antiphonal psalm, which can be accompanied by a number of different solo instruments. I suggest using solo acoustic guitar or solo piano. Avoid the use of drums and bass guitar as they tend to cloud the simple beauty of the melody. The cantor should be experienced in leading the congregation. The words of the antiphon (sung by the congregation) as well as the verses (sung by the cantor) should be printed in total and in the order sung. Keep this simple. (As the enjoyment of singing psalms increases, it is very satisfying to use this simple antiphonal formula to make original compositions.)]

New Testament Reading


Response of Prayer and Praise

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hymn: "Jesus Lives, and So Shall I" (Gellert/Cruger)

[PsH 399, TH 706. Organ accompaniment. Sing stanza 4 a cappella. Then modulate into next song:]

Song: "Jesus, Name Above All Names" (Hearn)

[From Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book, expanded 2nd edition. Organ alone for accompaniment. Must be played very legato, very slowly, and very quietly. Sung one time only.]

Intercessory Prayers

Offering and Closing Hymn: "Because He Lives" (Gaither)



[Organ only. Victorious and joyful. Traditional/classical]




If you have never formed a rhythm section before, here are some helpful techniques to get you started.

1. Look for an excellent pianist/keyboardist. He or she is your key to success.

2. The drummer need not be highly accomplished. He or she needs to be sensitive to the worship environment and be willing to play as softly as directed. Above all, the drummer must be able to play cleanly and keep a very steady beat.

3. The bass player need not be highly accomplished. He or she needs to either be able to read music or the chord chart and be able to play accurately. For good players who do not read music, write out a simple chord chart.

4. A rhythm section takes time to "season." If your players are rusty, plan on a solid month of two rehearsals per week for two hours to learn this particular service. Don't be discouraged if they sound horrible at first. If players practice hard at home, the music will come together.

5. Listening to recordings of the music is extremely helpful to the guitarist and drummer.

6. Seat the drummer and guitarist directly behind the pianist. In this way, they can watch the pianist's left hand and will be able to play together.

7. Insist on simplicity and accuracy. There is no room for impromptu improvisation until the group has been playing together for a very long time.

John Haines is associate pastor of worship and music for the Evangleical Free Church of Kearney, Nebraska.


Reformed Worship 38 © December 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.