Paperless Songs for Weddings

  • Paul Vasile is a interim/transitional church musician, consultant and composer based in New York City. He has been a member of the Music that Makes Community Board of Trustees since 2014.

    Chanda Rule's Come My Beloved is a wonderful song for weddings.

    My first experience with paperless wedding music was on an organic farm in western Chicago, a beautiful but unlikely setting. While planning the service, it became clear that those in attendance would need to play a musical role as we wouldn’t have an organ, piano, or string quartet to play processional and recessional music. But if guests were reading a piece of music from the program they would be faced with a difficult choice: sing and miss seeing the entrance of the wedding party or not sing at all. The solution was Love, Joy, Peace, Goodness, a layered, paperless song that we sang as they entered. And the Recessional was an arrangement of Ana Hernandez’s joyous Antiphon for Whirling for voices, accordion, clarinet, and djembe.

    Over the past years I’ve had the opportunity to witness the beautiful ways that paperless music can be used in weddings and commitment ceremonies. As I’ve shared paperless options alongside the standard trumpet voluntaries, marches, and hymns, it has helped spark couples’ imaginations and led to more creative, participatory services.

    Paperless music can serve as a powerful welcoming gesture, unifying the diverse voices that have assembled, regardless of religious tradition or musical experience. Paperless wedding music provides a unique opportunity for guests to bless the couple with the gift of their voice as well as their presence. Singing together can also make space for the couple and guests to be more fully present, to relax into and savor the moment.

  • What Do We Mean By "Music By Heart"?

  • Scott Weidler is Program Director for Worship and Music at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Chicago, IL. He is a Music that Makes Community Presenter and has been Board of Trustees Member since 2014.

    Scott Weidler lead Khudaya Rahem Ker at the MMC Presenters' Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in September, 2015.

    When I first got involved with Music that Makes Community and was starting to spread the word across the church, it was not uncommon for people to think I was talking about a workshop on using screens and projection in worship. Sadly, that was the only kind of “paperless” experience they had had.

    When I had a chance to describe what we were up to, people very often would respond with something like, “Oh, how wonderful it is when a congregation knows something so well that they can sing it from memory.” Mm, well, yes, it might be wonderful, but that isn’t really what we’re about either. How might a visitor feel in that context?

  • A Song for Epiphany by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

  • Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is a Psalmist from small-town Iow. He was a participant at Music That Makes Community in Minneapolis in 2014. He serves events across denominations and publishes via PsalmImmersion.com. 



    Epiphany is one of my favorite liturgical seasons because its very theme points to participation: manifest this Holy Presence that we have longed for in Advent and have celebrated at Christmas. 

    A paperless song holds the possibility of full engagement by the community, leaving no one out because of reading ability. A few years ago, when I was part of Marcia McFee's Worship Design Studio podcast, I was craving that full-participation feeling on behalf of my community. That's how "Your Light Has Come" arrived as a kind of processional chant. 

    The lyrics hover around Isaiah 60, a text that hits "refresh" on the screens of our imaginations: "Pay attention. Something big is happening and you are part of it!" "Your Light Has Come" intents to help us be in touch with that invitation and call. 

           Lift your head, raise your eyes, look around:
                Your light has come! Your light has come!
           Light the world, heal the earth, bear the Christ:
               Your light has come! Your light has come!

  • A Simple but Great Idea for Christmas Week: Paperless Caroling

  • Jennifer Baker-Trinity serves as a church musician and writer in the scenic Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania and was a participant at MMC in Chicago in 2011 and 2014.

    This experiment Rev. Rob Boulter did with O Come O Come Emmanuel at MMC in Baltimore is one idea for how to use the practice of a paperless song leading to sing Christmas carols with groups who may not know all the words or tune but want to participate. How great would a setting like this be on a busy street corner full of dazed last-minute shoppers?

    A few years ago, my husband who is a pastor met with a family caring for their ailing mother with Alzheimer’s. It was Christmastime and my husband offered to sing with them. He began to sing “Away in a Manger,” making the incorrect assumption that they would join in the singing. One woman sang, the mother whose memory was failing her. Her family, however, remained quiet. What kept them from singing? Unfamiliarity with the song? Uneasiness with singing in general? Something else?

    When leaders of Music that Makes Community gather people for singing, they are wise not to assume that some are “in the know” and others are not. A leader doesn’t preface teaching with “Well, most of you know this, but...” The assumption is instead that all of us have something to learn; we are in this together.

    Now is the season when many church or community groups will go caroling. Songbooks are gathered and groups go out in small or larger numbers to sing for others. It is considered a ministry, a way to bring the gift of music and the holiday spirit to those who are homebound or lonely. Yet as I think about this tradition, I wonder if the experience of MMC can refresh this practice?

  • Singing Together: Navigating a Medical Emergency

  • Rev. Cricket Cooper is Rector at St. Stephen's Parish in Pittsfield, MA. She has been a member of the MMC Board of Trustees since 2014.


    Several years ago, I attended Emily Scott’s workshop on paperless music at the Episcopal diocesan convention in Vermont.  The afternoon workshops were followed in the evening by a large, diocesan dinner for a few hundred people, in a ballroom of a local hotel.

    In the midst of the din of food service, clattering flatware, jovial conversations and reunions, suddenly a frightened voice pierced the room, calling for a doctor.   Amid the sounds of scuffling and raised voices far in a corner of the large space, most of us were instantly drawn into that horrible place of unknowing.  What had happened?  How serious was it?  Could we help?  What should we do?

  • Jason Chesnut is a Co-Pastor of The Slate Project, a new worshipping community in Baltimore, MD. He was a participant at MMC in New York City in 2014 and is co-hosting our event in Baltimore November 20-21, 2015.

    When I walked into St. Peter's in midtown Manhattan for the Music That Makes Community conference, I honestly had no idea what to think. I mean, I like music. I like singing. But an entire conference on this? It seemed unnecessary. 

    A few days later, I was stunned. Not only had I stretched myself like never before at any conference (and I'm a Lutheran pastor, y'all - I go to a lot of conferences); I had also learned a skill that I have used almost every single day since then. Our own #BreakingBread (worship rooted in the ancient and the arts) regularly employs the skills of paperless music in Baltimore.

    It might sound like hyperbole. Well, so be it. Music That Makes Community is indispensable when it comes to creating a unique and enigmatic worship space. I'm so lucky I went.

  • How Paperless Music Can Help You Have Better Meetings

  • Jacob Slichter is an MMC presenter, writer and drummer based in Brooklyn, NY. He has been a Board of Trustees member since 2014.


    Cricket Cooper lead "Teach Us to Care" at our MMC Presenters' Retreat in September, 2015. 

    Various members of the congregational council are milling about just outside the meeting room, talking about the news, their kids, problems at work.  Suddenly, someone bursts into song and invites everyone else to join in.

  • Scott Weidler is Program Director for Worship and Music at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Chicago, IL. He is a Music that Makes Community Presenter and has been Board of Trustees Member since 2014.

    Burkat_at_wall_of_tears.jpg
    Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat at the Separation Wall in the West Bank.

    I was in the West Bank visiting a small village that had been cut off from neighbors and family when the Separation Wall was built through their town. This was shortly after becoming involved with Music that Makes Community. I was privileged to be part of the staff that accompanied the ELCA Conference of Bishops to the holy land. My job was coordinating their worship and leading their singing.  That day in the West Bank, half the group of bishops was in a town hall listening to heart-wrenching stories while the others were at the Wall planting olive trees as a sign of peace and solidarity with the Palestinian people. It was a poignant day for everyone.

    The printed schedule (which changed by the hour) said that the two groups would reconvene together for “worship” near a particular gate in the wall (which was chain link fence with barbed wire, at that point) at a certain time.

  • The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia is Rector of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Albuquerque, NM and has been a presenter at Music that Makes Community events since 2013.


    Here's a video of Sylvia leading I Feel It in My Heart at our MMC Presenters Retreat in September, 2015.

    I’m a new rector (that’s Episcopalian for “senior pastor”).  I’ve been in my current congregation for four months now.  We’re a small Episcopal parish (50-75 people on an average Sunday) with an amazing location across the street from the University of New Mexico.

    Over my first few months as a new rector, I’ve been profoundly grateful for the ways that my leadership—not just my musical leadership, but my spiritual leadership—has been shaped by the practices of Music that Makes Community.  Improvising, risk-taking, listening, inviting, noticing, making mistakes, sharing leadership, negotiating uncertainty, claiming authority with grace in order to help a community discover it’s voice—this is what pastoral leadership, at its best, is all about.

    I’m also curious about how the practice of singing paperless music is already beginning to shape and re-shape our community. It’s definitely a stretch for them.  I mean, transitions are hard, so the community is already a little anxious.  They are anxious, in part, to do things “right” and to please and impress me, their new rector. I know that won’t last, which is why I decided to jump right in and start introducing a few paperless songs in worship right away, before the magic wears off.

  • Silence is a powerful and often overlooked liturgical element.  

    1. Silence provides cognitive space for meditation and reflection.  

    2. Silence connects us to the physical space in which we are worshipping by way of allowing us to hear the room’s ambience.

    3. Silence connects us with each other, because even in silence with our eyes closed we have an acoustic awareness of everyone else in the room.

    4. Silence connects us with what lies on the other side of the church walls.  During silence, might hear the sound of nearby traffic, airplanes overhead, distant lawnmowers, sirens, the sounds of people talking on the street.  Rather than distractions, these can be important points of focus and enhance our sense of our connection to the world.

    5. Silence is an easy element to introduce into a meeting or gathering outside of a regular liturgy, and it adds a powerful sense of connection.

  • If I Can Do This, You Can Too


  • This is a video of me leading song I wrote at our Presenters’ Retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in September. I’ve been reading the series of books named after the lines of the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” by the British veterinary surgeon James Herriot, and this song came to me one night after reading. I didn’t even know the lines came from a hymn until I shared it at our retreat! Getting to teach my version to our talented group of presenters was a small, joyful moment that never would have been possible for me without Music that Makes Community.

    It is a clear April day in Salt Lake City, Utah and the middle school choir is preparing for our big moment during the upcoming graduation ceremony when all the eighth graders will sing “Let It Be” in front of the students, parents and faculty for our K-12 school. We’re singing “Mother Mary comes to me…” when the music teacher comes over to where my friend Jessie and I are standing at the end of a row. She stands there for a minute looking at us while we all keep singing, Jessie and I looking at each other and wondering if we’re in trouble. She stops the singing and says, “Jessie honey, you don’t need to sing, you just move your mouth ok?”

    Another middle school day around that time: during morning announcements there’s an invitation to come to a Eucharist service during lunchtime. Its an Episcopal school but services aren’t part of the regular schedule, so this is optional. The school chaplain is a warm, friendly woman who wears her long hair in bangs and barrettes who goes by her last name, Raggs. Sometime that morning I decide to go but don’t mention it to anyone. 

  • Welcome to our new Music that Makes Community Blog!

  • Welcome to the new Music that Makes Community blog, where we will ask the question, “What Did You Notice?” This is a question we ask at every Music that Makes Community event. In many ways it is the foundation of everything we do. At Music that Makes Community, we are working to equip leaders to use the practice of paperless music to build connections in their congregations and communities. The foundation of that work is observation and inquiry, and a spirit of learning imbues every part of our approach.

    I’m creating this new forum in order to keep that conversation going in the times between our gatherings and workshops. I’ll write some of the posts myself, and I’ve asked our presenters to contribute as well.

    Here are the types of posts you can expect to see in the coming weeks and months:

    What we do.
    Music that Makes Community workshops have been happening since 2007 (the first workshop was held at St. Gregory of Nyssa in June of that year, and there have been more than thirty events across the US and Canada since then). We’ll use this space to explore our history and tell stories about those experiences and things we’ve learned along the way. We’ll explore the pedagogy we use for our teaching, as well as the theology and philosophies that underpin that teaching.

    How we do it.
    Anyone who’s tried it knows that learning to lead singing well is work that is never finished. The blog will also be a place you can come to for tips and advice for implementing paperless song leading.

    Why we sing this way.
    The reason MMC has had such staying power is that many people who attend MMC workshops are deeply moved by the experience. The work we’re doing has touched a deep nerve in the church as musicians, clergy and lay people search for ways to change and adapt to the needs of contemporary society. We’ll tell stories of witness and testimony about the transformations this work has affected in the lives of our participants and leaders.

    Who “we” are.
    The Music that Makes Community network includes over 1000 people who have participated in or presented at the workshops over the years, and we are a diverse, smart, creative group of people. I’ll be using our blog to post interviews with presenters and participants, as well as inviting guests to post about their work using paperless music in community life.

Music that Makes Community
paul@musicthatmakescommunity.org
(929) 266-4662
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New York, NY 10030