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Active participation by Christian laity in singing is a goal assumed by all liturgical leaders, scholars, and musicians. Is singing, though, the only form of active participation in liturgical music? What about listening? Drawing on discussions of listening by Aaron Copland, Frank Burch Brown, and Ronald J. Allen, it becomes clear that listening well is an active task, one for which musical leaders must prepare their congregations. Lay people should be encouraged to both receive music as a gift and to search out what it means in relationship to the congregation, the day, and the liturgical context. Congregations also need to be equipped with the background necessary to perceive the music in question, such as information about the composer or implications of a text being sung or the musical means employed. Finally, the emotional atmosphere of a piece, the musical content or language, and the relationship between performer and congregation are all critical components in the listening that takes place in worship. As church leaders equip congregation members to commune at the Lord’s Table, so church leaders should give congregations a glimpse of how the music of choir or organ or other instruments can be a vehicle for grace and for encountering God’s presence.

About the Author

Heather Josselyn-Cranson is the director of the music ministry program at Northwestern College. She has earned degrees in music composition, sacred music and liturgy from Bates College and Boston University School of Theology, and has served as a minister of music at congregations in Florida, Massachusetts and Russia. An active scholar, she has published articles on music in emerging churches, how translation affects the hymns of Charles Wesley, and women’s participation in the chant of medieval monastic communities.

Dr. Josselyn-Cranson's composition and hymn writing have also received attention. Her choral compositions for the musical Terror Texts received a special commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Choral Music from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in 2009. Three of her recent hymns have also won awards: “Every Day We See the Traces” won second prize in the Jesuit 25th Anniversary Hymn Contest sponsored by St. Peter’s Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2011; “Planets Humming as They Wander” won the Boston University School of Theology Hymn Competition in 2010; and “We Cannot Know What Worship Is” received second prize in the Congregational Justice Song Contest sponsored by the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee in 2009.



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