Category: Music in Worship

Words Matter

Happy New Year to everyone! 

January typically is a time for many of us to catch our breath. With the rush of the holiday season behind us, there is a sense of renewal with the new year, and an opportunity to examine our pedagogy before the schedule is again heavy with performances as the spring arrives. 

Musicians/Conductors/Teachers (and we are all three in one!) constantly strive to improve on their performance and pedagogy. Self-reflection and critically examining what we do is part of our DNA. This occurs moment to moment in a rehearsal, as we formatively assess what we are hearing. It occurs on a deeper level as we reflect on the success of the last rehearsal we had as we plan for the next one. In this blog, I hope to pose questions that will instigate thinking and self-reflection pertaining to broad issues we face in working with our singers. 

For instance, consider the question of gender inclusivity. As students are expressing varying gender identities earlier, and people of all ages are becoming more confident in outwardly expressing gender not conforming to binary choices, words matter. Using “Guys,” “Ladies,” “Men,” “Boys and Girls” is not as inclusive as “Choir,” “Sopranos (Altos, Tenors, Basses),” “6thGrade,” “Friends,” “Everyone,” or any other non-gendered term. It can take a little practice to accomplish this switch, but for that singer in your ensemble who is non-binary or questioning, it can mean a lot knowing that you are making the effort to change.

Take a moment to examine repertoire for “hidden curricula.” This applies to repertoire for all ages. Consider the text of “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” and what it implies, for example. If you were to switch the gender of an individual described in a lyric, would the lyric still be appropriate and acceptable?

Don’t know where to begin? Start simple! This article published by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (, Creating a Gender-Inclusive Classroom, provides some excellent starting points. Want to learn more? has an extensive list of resources available on the web. 

This L’il Light of Mine

Dr. Anthony Leach
Division R&S Chair, Music in Worship

Many of you know that the African American Music Festival at Penn State began in 1995 with a single concert presented by Essence of Joy. The following year I invited choirs from the School of Music to participate and then in 1997, I coordinated an extended series with guest lecturers, recitals and of course a concert by EOJ. In 2003 the Celebration of African American Spirituals Festival featured commissioned works by Moses Hogan, Keith Hampton, Marvin Curtis, Rosephanye Powell, Robert Morris, Roland Carter and Glenn Burleigh. Lawrence Burnett was our guest lecturer. This festival also brought to campus collegiate and high school choirs as guest performers.

In February 2005, I decided to only present EOJ in a single concert. My friend and colleague, Dave Dietz, choral director at Central Dauphin High School, Harrisburg contacted me to see if he could bring his Women’s Choir, CD Chanson to campus for the festival. I informed him that we were not hosting a festival but he could bring his choir to University Park for Dr. Lynn Drafall and me to share time. Dr. Drafall worked with the choir during the morning. I observed the process and was very moved by their choral sound. Nathan Trimmer, PSU and EOJ alum was student teaching with Dave Dietz so he was present for the session. During the lunch break, I went to my studio with a melody in mind but no text. As I continued to work at the piano, the text for This Little Light of Mine came to mind and I began to flesh out a choral arrangement for women’s choir. The arrangement is dedicated to David Dietz and CD Chanson as well as Nathan and Aimee Trimmer.

I returned to room 110 for the afternoon session and taught the choir by rote my arrangement of This L’il Light of Mine. It worked! The kids loved it. Neal and I scored it later in the month for SATB choir because Essence of Joy and the Oriana Singers were sharing Spring Campus Concerts later in the semester. This piece became the transitional piece to get one choir off stage while the other choir emerged. Success!

Since 2005 I’ve shared this piece with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers as well as festival choirs in Pennsylvania. This past August, I presented two interest sessions at the 10th World Choral Symposium coordinated by the International Federation of Choral Musicians. This festival was held in Seoul, South Korea. I invited several members of EOJAS along with two guests to travel with me as we shared several of the commissioned works that EOJ has premiered since 2003. In that audience was Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. We are very dear friends and colleagues in choral music. He asked if he could share my choral arrangement with the St. Olaf Choir and also at Carnegie Hall this spring when he will guest conduct a high school national honor choir. Absolutely, no problem!

[pdfviewer width=”600px” height=”849px” beta=”true/false”][/pdfviewer]Preview the first two pages of Dr. Leach’s This L’il Light of Mine

So tonight, I along with several friends are traveling to Pittsburgh, PA for a concert presented by the St. Olaf Choir in Heinz Hall. This L’il Light of Mine has been sung across the USA as this choir has shared its musical offering on its annual spring tour. There is also a ‘side’ story for this piece that is worth sharing. When I invited Moses Hogan to participate in the 2003 commissioning project, he consented to do so but shared that he would not be able to do an arrangement of This Little Light of Mine. He did not say why but instead completed ‘Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me’ since all of the composers were invited to create a work that focused on either This Little Light of Mine or the concept of light as revealed through text. While listening to the 2002 Christmas program presented by the St. Olaf Choir, a strange thing occurred. The choir sang This Little Light of Mine arranged by Moses Hogan. Well now you know the rest of that story!

So in the end, Moses Hogan and I have created settings of this text that reveal regional differences in melody and harmony depending on where one lives within the USA. EOJ, EOJAS and Essence 2 presented my arrangement last November  during our ‘Give Us This Day’ concert held at Bellefonte High School. I had no idea in February 2005 that this piece would have ‘legs’ beyond that rote session with CD Chanson. Well here we are ten years later and the piece is quickly gathering momentum beyond our Penn State experience.

For that I remain humbled and grateful!

If you are interested in This L’il Light of Mine, contact Dr. Leach directly.


On-line Resources in African American Sacred Music

Dr. Anthony Leach
Division R&S Chair, Music in Worship

The internet has positively transformed aspects of the planning that teachers, musicians, worship leaders and others use to frame and/or guide their process that often results in successful programming. Within the African American community there are two organizations that have become my “go to” points of reference as I coordinate repertoire and identify worship resources in African American sacred music:

African American Lectionary

A collaborative project of the African American Pulpit and American Baptist College of Nashville has archival planning materials for a wide array of worship services that are celebrated in African American congregations across the USA. Contributions from pastors, musicians, scholars and others occurred from 2008 – 2013. Selected categories include the following: Emancipation Proclamation Day, Holy Communion and Epiphany, A Service of Healing, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday, Baptism, African Heritage Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, MAAFA Service, Contemporary Heroes and Heroines Day, Anti-Incarceration Day, Jesus and Women, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Jesus and Economic Justice Sunday, Earth Day, Jesus and Hip Hop Culture, Ecumenical Day of Worship, First Sunday of Advent & World AIDS Day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Watch Night

For each topic, scriptures, themes, hymns, choral/instrumental repertoire, liturgical dance, video and other resource materials are provided. Additional worship and cultural resources are also listed as separate links. I enthusiastically suggest that if you are seeking materials that may help you in planning worship encounters that have an African American focus, visit the website and be inspired!

NtTimeMusic is a music distributor based in Charlotte, NC. Their print, video, music transcription and audio holdings are vast in African American sacred music. In recent years they have provided downloading services for selected repertoire. Traditional and contemporary gospel, Praise and Worship, Liturgical Dance, Musicals, Children’s Choir Resources, Spirituals, Anthems and Hymn Arrangements by African American Composers are some of the broad categories that are available to the consumer. Currently there is a link on their website for compositions by the late André Crouch, composer of ‘Soon and Very Soon,’ ‘My Tribute/To God Be The Glory’ and ‘Let the Church Say Amen.’ is my “go to” resource for compositions that I perform with all of the choirs for which I provide artistic leadership as well as festival choirs around the world. If you are seeking something that they do not have on site they will probably be able to connect you with the composer/arranger for further guidance.

Summer Choir: Or, Improvising on a Shoe String

Peter Stickney, DSM
President, Maine ACDA

I want to share several thoughts on “Summer Choir” as a tool for recruitment and a positive way to enable congregants to participate in music ministry in a choral setting. When I was first approached several years ago about creating a summer choir, I must admit that I was more than a little reluctant. I called my friends and colleagues in UCCMA, AGO and ACDA. There was little positive energy around creating such an ensemble. I heard phrases like this, “Let the senior citizens sing once”, “Have the men sing one Sunday and women sing one Sunday”, and finally “Refuse to do it”.

After much prayer and soul-searching I decided that I would yield to the music and arts committee suggestion. However, we would have guidelines. Further, if the idea fell flat its head would not be raised for a good long time. We added more prayer and asked for some guidance. The following guidelines (not rules) emerged and have worked for me. I am sharing them with you in hopes that your music program will benefit.

First of all: ALL singers of ALL ages are welcome to participate in summer choir. The result has created an intergenerational group of singers with various sundry skills. It really is fun to have an energetic 5 year old making music with our wonderful 90 year old bass.

Second of all: Come one Sunday or come all Sundays. Summer choir has worked for me the Sunday after the fourth of July through labor day. The long term commitment is omitted and people feel so very happy to come and sing. The only requirement for singing is be present at 9:15 am to learn the song and how we are going to present it for the 10am liturgy.

Third: NO CHOIR ROBES or formality–we put the choral anthem towards the beginning of the service. After singing the choir disperses into the congregation. This has worked wonderfully for us. Notably, because very few want to wear a hot choir robe in the good old summer time, and many people want to sit with their families rather that the choir loft during worship.

The most important part of success of a pick-up summer choir is the adaptability of the music and the creativity of the music director. This minister of music works diligently to match choral literature with the lectionary reading or sermon title of the day. The literature itself is generally gleaned from simple choral arrangements and from the rich plethora of hymns that is part of our collective tradition. Often times I will take a hymn that will fit with the day and create a mini anthem out of it.

Initially I create an introduction, generally borrowed from my organ literature. Next, I work to add some type of pitched instrument for a recorder player to play the alto up an octave or percussion instrument for a non-verbal child or very young child who cannot read. Frequently I incorporate three or four hand-bells or hand-chimes to add a flourish to part of a refrain or paint the text. Please be aware, you can plan until the cows come home, however, your recipe for the anthem depends on the souls who show up. Sometimes we have all unison, sometimes six part harmony. In addition, if I see that we have a singer capable of a solo I have a solo verse with the choir humming under them. Frequently we do the gender verse thing with men on a certain verse and women on another. Parts are optional–My goal is excellent intonation and sometimes that means that almost everyone sings unison. I also incorporate a tiny little postludium in the same key as the singers slip into the congregation to sit with their family. All-in-all, the anthem is tailored to the singers who come to offer there talents and by what the music director is able to co-create with them.

It is my hope that the gift of music offered by a prayerful intergenerational ensemble is worthy and acceptable to our creator. I highly recommend stepping out of the traditional setting of full choir, full choir rehearsal, choir rules and regulations and step into what might be dubbed “improvising on a shoe-string”. Make sure that YOU as the leader have done your homework, have mastery of the literature and are willing to be flexible. If you are well prepared and skillful in your leadership, your singers will follow you! Most importantly bathe the situation in your most powerful magic/medicine/prayer, and have fun!

ps-bet you will get one or two new committed members from this endeavor!