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?
When we talk about making music by heart, we’re not talking about singing from memory (which might be called music by head.) Rather, we’re trying to create leaders who find a way to draw everyone present into the act of communal singing, whether they’ve been in that community for years or this was their first visit. Every time a community gathers to sing a particular song our leading must begin with the assumption that no one knows it, allowing the visitor to accept the invitation to join in the singing.
Certainly those who are present week after week will know some songs from memory. This is not a bad thing and, if the song is well-loved, really is music from the heart. It helps create a culture where all the people see their role from a perspective of shared leadership and hospitality. Having “regulars” who already know a tune you are leading can be immensely helpful in drawing the newcomers into the singing. However, rather than jumping right in (“because I already know it”) as a leader introduces a melody, they will learn how important it is for everyone to listen carefully, just in case someone in the assembly that day is new and is hearing this tune for the very first time.
This is about building relationships. Singing this way can help form a community out of anyone and everyone present at a specific time and place if the leader and the community truly are attentive to everyone who is gathered.