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Easter Sunday — Music Notes

April 16, 2017 (Year A) | Holy Week: Through Death to Life Worship Series
by Rev. Jackson Henry

Order of Worship Preaching Hymns Music  Planning Formation Groups Resources

Up from the Grave He Arose

Oh, the drama! There are few hymns that evoke such dramatic experiences and responses as this longtime favorite by Robert Lowry. Especially as recommended in this service, singing the stanzas apart from the refrain allows the story to unfold without the constant appearance of the refrain. I encourage you to sing the stanzas slowly and softly, but approach the refrain triumphantly, with a livelier tempo. Accompany with piano, organ, or ensemble. A brass choir or quintet works particularly well with both the stanzas and the refrain, in their respective characters. Segue immediately into “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Read History of Hymns: "Up from the Grave He Arose" »

Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

Charles Wesley’s hymn far surpasses the reach of The United Methodist Church, as many churches in other denominations include this Easter classic as a part of their hymnic repertoires. This hymn creates the standard to which all other Easter hymns are written, with its proclamation of the risen Christ, scriptural references, and the exciting and melismatic (numerous notes on one syllable) Alleluias. Make sure to pull out all the stops for this hymn--organ, brass, orchestra, percussion, piano, or whatever you have at your disposal. Many concertato settings for choir and congregation are also available from a variety of publishers, so you will be able to find a setting that is right for you. If you would like a way to make the hymn interactive and different for your context, take a couple of stanzas and sing by dividing the room in half, with one side of the room singing the first two measures of each line, and the other side singing all the Alleluias. Work to find ways to make its singing diverse and engaging! Read History of Hymns: " Christ the Lord is Risen Today" »

Confessing in Song

This section features a number of hymns moving strictly one to another after one stanza of each. I recommend an organ or piano to move quickly through these, and below you will find a quick means of transitioning from one key to the next. If you are keen with improvisation, feel free to do so with your own creativity! These are merely suggestions.

The Day of Resurrection (D)

D—Fsus—F as a dominant chord into “Easter People, Raise Your Voices”

Easter People, Raise Your Voices
B—Gm—A as a dominant chord into “Thine Be the Glory”

Thine Be the Glory—The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done
Both of these selections are in D, and no transition is needed. However, I recommend having an antiphonal choir begin the Alleluias of “The Strife Is O’er” from the back of the room, with brass, as the congregation sings the last word of “Thine Be the Glory.”

Christ Is Risen (Maher)

Matt Maher has created an interesting song that departs from traditional hymns, but the language of the sting of death and victory of hell (the grave) is still present here. He finishes the questioning of sin and death by offering an invitation to the church to “stand in the light.” This song may be sung with piano or guitar only, but full band is preferable, especially on Easter Sunday. The original key (G) is good for singing, but is not the best for many bands. In addition, the bridge gets quite high for almost all congregations to sing. Singing this in E puts a lot of notes around the vocal break for most people, so my recommendation is the key of D, but this, in turn, makes the rest of the song quite low.

Christ Is Risen (Riddle)

I am especially grateful that Jeremy Riddle created a hymn that speaks to the theological understanding that Christ was raised by the power of God. Many modern songs label Jesus as having conquered the grave, but as we see in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus was raised from the dead (“He has been raised”) by the power of God. Riddle’s setting of this is bold, big, and dynamic. There are a couple of issues that need to be considered, however: syncopation and vocal range. If you are using vocal or lead sheets from CCLI, the melody is highly ornamented to match what Riddle has sung. Find a way to normalize the rhythms and make them more singable in your context. You know what your congregation is or isn’t capable of doing, so sing the adjustments accordingly. For vocal range, the recommended key is G, but note that the Alleluias in the bridge can get quite high if sung according to the CCLI score. Plan accordingly as to how your band will approach the singing of this song--which parts are congregational and which are not.

God of Wonders

Taylor Burton-Edwards has skillfully weaved in added text to this song to be sung this week in the Eucharistic prayer. Have the band, piano, guitar, or other accompaniment instruments enter softly under the last statement before “God of Wonders” in the spoken liturgy to ensure a seamless segue into this response. It would be a good idea to rehearse this with the presider to make sure the timing is correct. The intent is to sing the chorus from this song, and then follow it with this text, sung to the same melody and rhythm:

Jesus Christ who comes in our God's name, you are worthy, worthy!
Lamb of God who died and rose again, you are worthy, worthy!
Hosanna we sing! Hosanna we sing!

The first syllable of “Hosanna” would involve using a slur to move between both notes of “Lord of” in the original chorus. The key of G works best with this song and is what is printed in Worship & Song.

Agnus Dei

This modern worship music song has become a classic. I recall first hearing it sung by the band Third Day in the 1990s, and I developed a deep love for it during my college years. The text invokes the image of the choir of angels in Revelation 5:12, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (NRSV) If using percussion with this song, make sure the drums do not play the triplet rhythms every time. Too much of the wavering rhythmic patterns can make the congregation a bit “seasick.” Continue a four-beat pattern instead. The ideal key for congregational singing is the original key of A, and accompaniment can range from solo piano or guitar to full band.

Death Was Arrested

A relative newcomer to Easter music, this new song from 2015 uses a lilting, folk-quality tune to do something many modern worship songs do not: It addresses sin as sin, not as “shame.” I think you will find that the song is quite singable, despite the presence of so many syncopated rhythms. If accompanying with piano, do not double the melody. Allow the voice to lead through the tricky rhythms. Accompanying with a folk ensemble (guitar, violin, string bass, other string instruments) will add to the character of the tune. The ideal key is A.

Salvation Story

I have created this new hymn as a way to trace the path of the salvation narrative through Scripture. It is a simple song that was composed on the planning retreat for the Holy Week resources and contains two choruses, one for use on Palm Sunday and one for Easter Sunday. From creation to exile, from death to life, this short song moves toward a chorus of Hosannas and Alleluias. Accompaniment can be as simple as a solo guitar or piano, or as complex as a full band. Ideal key can range from D to E, depending on the singing range of your congregation. The score is presented in E. View and download Salvation Story »

Salvation Is Created

This choral work by Pavel Chesnokov is a classic example of Russian choral singing, featuring very low bass parts and lush harmonies, particularly in the tenor and bass sections. The women’s parts vary in range, but sopranos must expect to sing high and low. This is a beautiful work if you have a choir able to sing it. If a cappella singing is not an option, accompany lightly with organ to support the voices. Never let the organ come remotely close to overpowering the voices. Both files found on the site at the link in the body of the worship service will work appropriately.

He Lives

A favorite among many congregations, this Easter hymn calls us to rejoice in the resurrection of Christ, even in the midst of weariness and tragedy. Oftentimes, congregations will balk when asked to sing above a D on the staff, but I have found “He Lives” to be an exception as the congregation will heartily sing a high F (with the added fermata, too) at the end of the refrain. Accompany with organ or brass ensemble if one is present for your Easter worship services. The tempo will vary from context to context, depending on the style of music in the service. Whether fast or slow, make sure it has a joyful quality.

Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble

The 1990s produced a number of modern worship songs we continue to sing today, and this particular song has been sung by churches, youth ministries, and other places throughout the church for years. A number of rhetorical questions are sung at the beginning of the song to offer some imagery-driven considerations before offering an imperative to “fling wide” the gates of heaven and allow the Spirit of God to flow throughout the world, bringing hope and an end to injustice. Many bands I have heard sing this song do so in the original key of D, but there is a big hiccup when you arrive at the chorus if this is the chosen key. The melody is too high for congregations to sing, and most will either quit singing or awkwardly leap down an octave once they notice it is too high. Save them the trouble and make the invitational choice to sing this in the key of B. The verses themselves may be low, but it is worth it to make sure the congregation can sing the entire song with confidence.

Christ Is Alive

Closing the service with this hymn offers a great opportunity to musically model the Resurrection by strategically offering upward modulations (key changes) within this hymn. I would suggest beginning the hymn in C. Then allow the choir and congregation to sing stanza 2 a cappella, and have the organ begin an improvised modulation to the key of D for stanzas 3 and 4. At the conclusion of stanza 4, instruct the organ to modulate again to the key of Eb, with the brass joining on the last stanza. This is a high key for this hymn, but TRURO is known well enough in most churches that this should be possible. Plus, the vowel formations within the words, “till earth and all creation ring” (the highest point of the melody) help support this upward movement naturally. A well written alternate harmonization and soprano descant are also contained within The United Methodist Hymnal Music Supplement. Read History of Hymnns: "Christ is Alive" »

 

Categories: Year A, Easter Sunday - April 16, 2017