GUEST BLOG: "Today’s Prelude - Church Chit-Chat" by Thomas R. Vozzella
Date: November 12, 2013
TODAY'S PRELUDE: CHURCH CHIT-CHAT by Thomas R. Vozzella
Just prior to the start of most worship celebrations, there is always some kind of music. This music has historically been used to center our hearts and minds on worship, and to introduce music being used in the service. Often times this music is viewed as a form of elevator/background music for chit-chat, a time to catch up with each other since the last time we gathered for worship, talk about last night’s hockey game, etc. However, this music is truly an offering to God just as the spoken word, praise and worship music, hymns and other parts of the service, for which we give our full attention.
One of the first “Worship Wars,” The Reformation (1500-1599), kicked off the regular use of instruments in worship. Around the 15th century, the regular usage of the organ in worship was introduced to the Western Roman Church. Prior to the 15th century, the organ was used sparingly in worship. Between the 10th and 12th centuries the organ was used in processions and calls to worship (earliest example is the hydraulis used in Roman coliseums). The organ never seemed to gain ground in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and, to this day, has not. On the flipside, the Ethiopian and Coptic churches were using percussion instruments. Lutherans used a mixture of accompanied and un-accompanied music, while the Calvinists preferred un-accompanied music.
However, it was the Lutherans and their master organist, Johanna Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), which changed the landscape forever. Through the choral prelude, based on newly composed chorales or hymns (as they are now known), Bach transformed music in worship. There were earlier composers of chorale preludes, yet, Bach alone composed 371 chorales and over 150 chorale preludes based on popular chorales of the time.
Chorale Preludes introduce the congregation to music being sung that day. This is when worshipers heard the melodies being used in the service (song books/hymnals were sparse as they were written by hand), as only printed texts were available. In Bach’s case, he had to compose the music and then learn it. Today we have prominent composers such as Paul Manz, Michael Burkhardt, Joseph Martin, Mark Hayes and numerous others that compose hymn preludes (chorale preludes), based on popular hymn tunes and songs used in church. Most organists/pianists plan preludes/voluntaries based on the hymns or themes for each worship service, as did Bach. Additionally, this music has taken many hours of preparation.
With this in mind, can we consider ways in which we can assist those that do not want to listen to the prelude find more productive ways to prepare for worship other than idle chit-chat? Here are a few examples, shared recently by my pastor, Rev. Jeff Kintner - using the time to pray, read the bible lesson(s)/reading(s) for the day, meditate on hymn texts of the music being played, sit silently with eyes closed, and many others. Are there ways in which your congregation appreciates the prelude?