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A Chat with Stan Pethel

Jul 23, 2019


Editor’s Note:  Dr. Stan Pethel is Professor of Music Emeritus at Berry College near Rome, Georgia. He has been on the music faculty there since 1973, having served as Chair of Fine Arts from 1994 to 2013. He holds Bachelor of Music, and Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of Georgia and a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Kentucky. In addition to his duties as Chair of Fine Arts at Berry College, Dr. Pethel taught music theory, composition and arranging, world music, and low brass lessons.  He retired from Berry College in May 2016.  Dr. Pethel is a widely published composer and arranger with over 1300 works in publication with 30 different publishers.  His writing includes works for choir, piano, organ/piano duet, symphonic band, jazz ensemble, orchestra, handbells, solo instrument and piano, and various chamber music ensembles. He is a regular recipient of the ASCAP Standard Award. Dr. Pethel has served as minister of music at several area churches in the Northwest Georgia area.

He is married to Jo Ann Pethel, a pianist and music educator. They have three children and five grandchildren.

JMG:  What and when was your first published piece of music?  How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

SP:  It goes back a way.  Back in 1976 I composed a setting of Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech, four movement oratorio style, college choir level.  The Berry College Concert Choir performed it and it was a big success locally. There was a fellow in the audience that wanted to publish it, so he started a publishing company.  Well, nice idea and it sold a few hundred copies, but that company didn’t last but a few years even with some anthems added later on as well.

 My first “national” publication was a setting of a text from the 1956 hymnal, Are Ye Able Said the Master in a denominational publication titled Gospel Choir in the late 1970’s.  Those periodicals became a great outlet for my writing in those days.  It’s still rewarding to see your name in print.

JMG:  What do you enjoy most about the compositional process?  

 SP:  It varies.  Sometimes it’s a blank page to a completed work. This can happen with anything from a symphonic band piece to a piano prelude.

 Other times it is the arrangement of an existing tune in a different treatment, or perhaps an existing text to a new tune.

 Either way, it’s a matter of creating a moment in time for listeners using music.  Music for me, is basically using notes, rhythm and often lyrics to create a meaningful and interesting  experience for the listener.   The neat thing about music is that it can be re-created, maybe not exactly the same way, but basically it can happen again and again.  Just think of the classics by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, et al.

JMG:  Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

 SP:  I’m sure my fellow composers and arrangers in the church music field will agree that we have been given special gift from God to do what we do, and a unique role to play.  It is up to us to use that gift in a responsible way.

 Along the way there are those who help you develop your skills.  Here are mine:

 My high school band director, Ron Evans,  a fine musician and conductor.  He started me on trombone and became my mentor.  My arranging career started in high school doing Herb Alpert tunes and other pop tunes charts for my high school band.

 My college music composition instructor at the University of Georgia, Dr. John Corina, an oboist, church musician, organist and composer.  He made me get serious about music composition.

 JMG:  You have a musical out with JMG (on the Alfred Sacred imprint) titled “There’s a Song in the Air.”  Tell us about that! 

 SP:  I’m a child of the 1956 Baptist Hymnal and one of my favorite carols was and is There’s a Song in the Air. 

 It’s a fine melody that I could use in a simplified “leit motiv” kind of way, and it includes a lot of the Christmas story.

 It will sound great with a smaller choir and even better with a large one.  Traditional telling of the Christmas story with familiar carols and original music.  An optional drama is available on-line for no charge.

 JMG:  With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

 SP:  We have witnessed some major changes or perhaps better stated a broadening movement in church music in the last 20 years that is primarily generational in my opinion.  I remember the first time I saw a drum set in a church sanctuary about 1966 for the musical Good News.  Scandalous!  Now it’s rather commonplace.

 I would encourage today’s church music leaders not to abandon the importance of choral singing and congregational participation.  Avoid the “performers on stage syndrome” and keep the emphasis on congregational participation, quality of music, and a worship centered presentation.  Musical literacy may be on the decline, but the historical foundations of music for the church have not changed.

 There are churches of all sizes and styles these days.  Music leaders will hopefully lead in worship with both new songs and the heritage hymns of our faith.

 JMG:  Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

 SP:  Not really.  Over the course of my career I’ve composed and/or arranged for everything from unaccompanied flute to full orchestra with a saxophone section!  There’s even a concerto for trombone and orchestra from my graduate school days.  Maybe a soundtrack for a documentary?

 JMG:  Do you have a favorite story of conducting something you wrote?

 SP:  I get some comments at Composer Days that are quite interesting.

 Concert attendee:  “Every song you right is better than the next one.” (Think about that )

 Concert attendee:  “The music you write has meant so much to my husband since he lost his mind.”

 Concert attendee:  “Your music is like water to a drowning man.”

 And my favorite:

 Elderly lady:   Stan, “You look just like my third husband.”        Me:  “That’s something.  How many husbands have you had?”        Elderly lady:  “Two!”

 JMG:  “Getting to Know….Stan Pethel” -  Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

 -What is on your summer reading list?

 SP:  My two favorite authors are Joel Rosenberg and John Grisham.  I read just about anything they write.  Right now, I’m in process of reading John Grisham’s Gray Mountain.

 -What types of music do you listen to most?

 SP:  Southern gospel, jazz standards (especially anything with a good trombone soloist), and blue grass.

 -What is your favorite vacation spot?

 SP:  The Caribbean.  Jamaica, St. Lucia, Bahamas, etc.

 -What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

 SP:  Pineapple sherbet!  Mayfield preferred, but any brand will do.

 JMG:  Thank you, Stan, for your time today.  You’ve long since earned a following with music directors literally around the world for your playable and singable arrangements.  Keep up the great work, and we’re honored to have your music with Jubilate Music Group.


Browse Stan Pethel's publications here.

A Chat with Lloyd Larson

Jul 08, 2019

Editor’s Note:  Lloyd Larson has become one of most published and performed church music writers of today.  A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource person, Lloyd has been a singer, keyboard player and arranger.

Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and completed additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.

His extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, titled Worship the Lord, for the Church of God. Lloyd also co-edited the Hymnal Companion for that hymnal. In addition, he contributed to The Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber.  He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted, yet practical original compositions and arrangements.  Lloyd sat down with Jubilate Music Group to discuss his writing, career, and more.

JMG:  What and when was your first published piece of music?  How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

LL:  My very first publication was a 2-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and President of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience for me to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from "idea to publication." I'm forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.

JMG:  What do you enjoy most about the compositional process? 

LL:  For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking "I want this piece to sound like....." That's especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I'm a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I've come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.

JMG:  Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

LL:  I've already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the "giants along my path." The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn't go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for "real live singers and instrumentalists" in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn't work. I've continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.

JMG:  With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

LL:  I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I've directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our "largest small group." And I think they're right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my church....so why not?!?!?) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I'm no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That's how much I believe in them!

JMG:  You have a new cantata out this year (with Mark Hayes) titled “Seekers of the Light.”  What is the thrust of this work?

 LL:  "Light" is a metaphor for goodness and God's presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the "light of Christ" as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an on-going journey. We will never "arrive" until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the "light of the world." (John 8:12) It was a pleasure to collaborate with my long-time friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I've been a fan of Mark's music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it in the coming months!

JMG:  Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

LL:  I always have an on-going list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I'll ever get done in this life-time (kind of like my "to do" list of home projects that I'm wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won't divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don't want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas!! Ha!) One of the areas I'd love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended works on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don't get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience. 

JMG:  Do you have a story of something you’ve written?

LL:  On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day - a Friday - was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond: Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright. That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.

JMG:  “Getting to Know….Lloyd Larson” -  Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

  1. What is on your summer reading list?


  • The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)
  • Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado)
  • The Reckoning (John Grisham)
  • Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)
  1. What types of music do you listen to most?

LLI try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor Drum and Bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I'm a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big "Chicago" fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I'm not sure I have a favorite genre per se. I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes.

  1. What is your favorite vacation spot?

LL:  As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That's on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small "mom & pop" resort or modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be "Should we grill out or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?" We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down-time. It is wonderful way to recharge!  

  1. What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

LLOne of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ in the upper midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I've been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven't landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I'm working on it. Stay tuned!

JMG:  Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better.  Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom.  Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!


Browse Lloyd Larson's publications here.

A Chat with Mark Blankenship

Mar 19, 2019
Mark Blankenship

Editor’s Note: The following interview was conducted by Mark Cabaniss of Jubilate Music Group.  Mark says “Doing this interview with Mark Blankenship was a true honor and pleasure.  Mark’s work as a composer/arranger/producer/publisher and church musician has had a profound influence on my life and career…reaching all the way back to my high school days.  Mark encouraged me to follow my dreams when I first spoke to him as a 17-year old, and he has continued to be a source of encouragement and wisdom in my life and career.  I am one of countless individuals who has been inspired by his life, career and his music…and I am deeply honored to call him friend and colleague.  We’re thrilled at Jubilate Music Group to have his music in our catalog.”

JMG:  Mark, you’ve had  rich and varied career in the church music publishing industry as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, conductor, and publisher (not to mention your work as a singer on national television with Buryl Red and in the local church).  Of all of those varied roles through the years, do you have a favorite one of them all?  If so, why?

MB:  Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of it all. Most of my training was in the study of voice, and I received my Master of Music degree in Opera and Song Literature from The University of Texas in Austin.  While studying there, I also took some additional course work in composition and arranging, as well as studying orchestration.  I was a full-time music and youth minister the entire time I was working on my Master degree, as well as being married and our having a new-born baby daughter Beth.  

I began seeing many anthems being published by various evangelical publishers.  I said to myself, I think I can do that . . . and I did.  So my writing creativity was developing, and building upon my Church Music Degree I received at Oklahoma Baptist University.  Since I did not attend seminary, being a pastor’s son, attending OBU, and having Dr. Warren M. Angell as a mentor, gave me be a great foundation for my ministry work in the local church. So I really enjoyed local church music ministry, and then came all the prolific composition, arranging, orchestrating, producing recordings, and being involved in publishing church music.

JMG:  What was your first published anthem and how did it come about?   

MB:  My first arrangement was with Crescendo Press in Dallas (which is no longer in the business).  Then I had a few pieces taken by LifeWay (The Baptist Sunday School Board). That followed with a folk-rock collection of songs, which I first wrote for a contemporary high school ensemble at First Baptist Church, Midland, TX, and it was published by Lillenas. There were 10 selections in that collection called “Revelation" and that was influenced in musical style by much of what Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser had been writing in their youth musicals.

 JMG:  As a composer, you’ve written dozens and dozens of anthems through the many years…let alone several best-selling musicals (such as “Kneel at the Cross”).  But readers probably best know your song (with lyrics by Terry York) titled “Worthy of Worship.”  How did that hymn come about? 

MB:  Genevox had asked Terry York and me to write an Easter musical for the smaller size church.  We were in that process when Terry told me that he wanted to end the musical with a song that gave praise to the worthiness of our God.  He handed the lyrics to me at Ridgecrest Music Week in June of 1987. I wrote the music to “Worthy of Worship” the day after I returned home from that music conference.  The musical “Praise the Risen Savior” was released in 1988.  

Sometime in 1988 and 1989 when [the 1991 edition of] The Baptist Hymnal was being put together, Terry came to me and asked that I would put “Worthy of Worship” in a hymn format.  I did, and the committee accepted it, and the rest is history.  The hymn has been included in many hymnals and has been sung around the world.

JMG:  Through the years, you’ve had the wonderful blessing of conducting and hearing countless performances of your work.  Can you share a particularly meaningful occasion of one of those performances?  

MB:  Again, I have enjoyed conducting them all, but I guess three have remained stuck in my mind.  The first musical that I wrote (Kneel at the Cross), was written for the large adult choir and orchestra at North Phoenix Baptist Church, where I served for a short time.  It was also my first major attempt at orchestration as well.  The Lord blessed the performances there as well as when it was published and premiered at Ridgecrest and Glorieta Music Weeks in the summer of 1975.  The second musical was the youth musical The Followers, with book and lyrics by Ed Seabough.  It was commissioned by and written for the Baptist Youth World Congress in Manila, Philippines in 1979.  This was an incredible event and the musical was one of the many highlights of the conference.  The third was a commissioned musical for the 50th anniversary of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA.  I wrote both the music and lyrics for Children of God, based on the book of 1 John.  It has always been amazing to me at the quality of choirs and orchestras which were found in local churches in 1975 and beyond and Broadmoor Baptist was one of those.  There have been more musicals that have come from my pen, but I guess these early three remain strongly in my memory.

 JMG:  In your many roles in the church music industry, and as an active church musician for decades, you’ve certainly witnessed sweeping changes in worship music.  What words of encouragement and tips for success can you offer today’s church music leader of choirs?  

MB:  I have lived through many of the changes in music experienced by churches across the country.  Many have tried to relate church growth or great worship to one style of music or another.  Or even that one style or the other will reach more people or help them to worship the Lord in a better way.  This subject has been discussed in so many speeches, articles, and books for the last fifty years.  I feel there is really no easy answer or solution for a particular church.  I think that the local church must allow the Lord Jesus to direct them through their prayers and supplications, and find what is the best direction for that Church to go.  They should not just mimic a “growing church” in their city.  I personally like most styles of music, and have written in most musical styles used in evangelical churches today.  I think that most, but not all churches find the niche for their particular church by doing a blended style of worship music which incorporate most of the musical styles available today, and then may decide to emphasize one musical style over another one. 

I must admit that I am disturbed and disappointed by the blatant decision by many worship leaders to not use our rich heritage of great hymnody.  There is ALWAYS a time in worship for “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Blessed Assurance," “A Mighty Fortress,” or "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

JMG:  Jubilate Music Group is the publisher of the new “Mark Blankenship Choral Series.”  You’ve had choral series devoted to your music in the past.  What is your vision and dream for this new series?

MB:  I think that good choral music remains for a long time, though not always sung by many churches since the year in which the music was written.  I hope that some of my early writings that are not known as well to many churches might still see the light of day if they are reworked and released again for churches to use.  I also want to provide some new creative compositions that still reflect my writing style, and hope they will find a place in worship for many churches in all denominations. I am always looking for wonderful lyrics from people I don’t yet know, for excellent lyrics are hard to find.

JMG:  Although your bio says you’re retired, I know that’s not quite the case.  You’re seemingly as busy and enthusiastic as ever.  Tell us about some of your favorite things you’re doing these days.

MB:  Through the years I enjoyed racquetball, running, basketball, golf and other sports. But I find that in my "senior years” I enjoy spending more time with my wife Judy (we’ve been married 55 years), and we both love seeing much of the U.S.A. that we have never seen before.  We now live near our son Britt and his family in Huntsville, AL.  We also enjoy visiting New York City where our daughter Beth and her family live.  I find great delight in reading Biblical Commentaries of New Testament books.  To read in-depth explanations and insights from wonderful theologians is quite a treat for my soul, and I pray draws me closer to the Lord Jesus Christ whom I worship and serve, and for whom all this music has been written and will be written in future years.


Browse Mark Blankenship’s publications here.


Jan 16, 2019


Years ago (as in probably 30 – 40 years ago), the idea of a Tenebrae service was foreign to many a church.  However, the Roman Catholic Church embraced it early.  And although such a service has ancient roots, it has only become popular and more regularly practiced in Mainline Protestant churches (and even some traditional evangelical churches) in recent decades.  These “services of darkness”, as they are often called, have therefore become a “bright spot” one could say for churches coast-to-coast that are looking for fresh and creative ways to impart the Holy Week journey.

Thanks to sacred music publishers responding to the heightened awareness of Tenebrae, they have responded with a variety of publications which are ready-to-prepare-and-present as complete Tenebrae services with appropriate music and narration.

A Tenebrae is a special service for Holy Week that can be conducted on Wednesday in Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday (or of course any day of Holy Week when a church has a regular or additional special service).

“Tenebrae” comes from the Latin meaning “shadows” or “darkness,” so it is a service of shadows.  The Tenebrae service makes use of gradually diminishing light through the extinguishing of candles to symbolize the events of Holy Week from the triumphant Palm Sunday entry through Jesus's burial.  This increasing darkness symbolizes the approaching darkness of Jesus's death and of hopelessness in the world without God. The service concludes in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle (extinguished or carried out of the sanctuary, symbolizing the death of Jesus). A loud noise may also sound symbolizing the closing of Jesus' tomb. The worshipers then leave in silence to ponder the impact of Christ's death and await the coming Resurrection.

Tenebrae services generally should begin in a dimly-lit sanctuary with five lit candles at the front, along with a sixth candle, the Christ candle.  Each candle is extinguished as directed by the worship leader(s) during the service, with the Christ candle being extinguished near the end of the final piece of the work.  Some churches desire the Christ candle not be extinguished, but taken from the sanctuary in front of a silent procession with the choir as they exit.  Regardless of the approach you choose in extinguishing the Christ candle, the congregation should depart in silence.  (This direction should be given in the program, so anyone in attendance who is not aware of this tradition of a Tenebrae service can be fully informed).

During a prelude, you may choose to have the choir process, with chosen laypersons or choir members leading the procession carrying the six lit candles.  Those candles are then placed in holders in front of the sanctuary.

The narration may be read by one reader or several readers.  If you choose to have more than one reader, the readings can be divided among lines and paragraphs as desired.

A new Tenebrae service published by Jubilate Music Group for 2019 (It is Finished by Mary McDonald) offers optional PowerPoint images for projection during the service, which correspond with the mood of each piece being sung.  This additional service tool is offered as means to enhance the overall impact of the work and the events depicted during Holy Week.  The PowerPoint images change with the beginning of each anthem sung during the 30-minute presentation.

Another service option for a Tenebrae is to serve communion during the work if so desired.  This option further enhances and deepens the overall experience of the service, while engaging the congregants in the act of communion as did Jesus with his disciples during Holy Week. 

In whatever manner you may choose to use a Tenebrae service, you’ll find this ancient service still speaks beautifully to today’s worshipers (especially when utilizing one of the newest or more recent published services which help guide and provide a compelling experience for all participants).




Bring the Ring!

Oct 04, 2018
Bring the Ring!
By Sondra Tucker

I am not by any means a master gardener.  But every spring, I get excited when my local nursery begins to display their colorful annuals and perennials for sale. I shop for old favorites like geraniums and sweet-smelling marigolds, and add new varieties that are different and beautiful.  I fill my car with what I hope will be hardy plants that will grow and blossom, making my yard more beautiful, and I carefully plant, fertilize and water them throughout the summer.

Handbell choirs can be like that, too.  Each new season brings an opportunity to greet old friends and integrate new ringers into your ministry.  Providing the right mix of instruction, inspiration, and music can make your handbell ministry flourish and become an integral part of your church’s music ministry, both within your congregation and out in the community.

What are some essential steps to grow a handbell ministry?

  1. Honor the time and gifts of your volunteers in music ministry by being prepared, punctual, enthusiastic, and on task as their director. Create a rehearsal plan and know what you want to accomplish for each piece you rehearse.  Communicate your goals clearly to the ensemble.  Expect regular attendance, punctuality, attention, and willingness to work on details from each of your ringers. Walk that tightrope between worship needs and ringer availability to schedule ringing in worship.  Since it is so difficult to rehearse with missing personnel, I highly recommend maintaining a sub list, so that occasional absences are less of a problem.
  2. Meet your ringers where they are, not where you want them to be. This means selecting music that is within your ensemble’s ability to prepare and ring successfully. Music that is too easy can be boring.  Music that is too difficult can be frustrating. Just as important is allowing enough rehearsal time to adequately prepare the music you have selected.  Within the range of music in your folder, make sure to provide a variety of styles, with enough ease for working on nuance or specialized techniques, and enough challenges to provide opportunities for growth.
  3. Find plentiful opportunities in worship for ringers to be successful and which complement and enhance the worship service. Since for most groups, handbells have to be moved and set up within the worship space each time they ring in church, it makes sense to play more than just a prelude or offertory.  Resources abound for processionals, peals, and accompaniments to enhance the entire service.
  4. Find opportunities for children and youth to use handbells, both in worship and in Sunday school. Music for children is usually graded Level 1, and is for two or three octaves of handbells.  Remember: a C4 in the hands of a 9 year old is proportionally the same as a C3 to an adult!
  5. Provide good music –
  • which is at an appropriate difficulty level
  •  which is written for the size bell choir you have (2 octaves to 6 or more octaves).
    • Most published music is written in 2-3 octave or 3-5+ octave versions. It takes 7 people to ring two octaves, 11 to ring 3 octaves, 12 to ring 4 octaves, and 13 to ring 5 octaves, although experienced ensembles can sometimes get by with fewer folks.
  • which is well crafted and interesting, with creative and emotional impact. I am quite proud of our Alfred Handbell catalog, which contains music written by leading composers and arrangers in our art form, and which ranges from very easy to quite difficult, and for all sizes of ensembles.
  • which fits the worship style of your congregation. Our reproducible handbell collection Bells & Chimes for Special Times provides wonderful music for each season of the church year.
  • which combines music for bells and choir, and bells with other instruments.
    • Many possibilities abound! For example, Joe Martin and Tina English’s Ring the Christmas Bells is written for SATB with a part for 2 octave handbells.
    • Many of our handbell anthems contain parts for other instruments. One example is All Praise and Glory which is a majestic upper level handbell anthem with an optional part for organ.
  • Offer opportunities to grow skills. Attend your local or area festivals, director’s seminars, and national events. Handbell Musicians of America is an active organization, and provides a national event each year (the next one will be in July 2019 in St. Louis!), opportunities for advanced ringers to come together, and events in each of 12 regional areas. Find them at http://www.handbellmusicians.org and join!  HMA offers affordable Ringer Memberships as well! Watch fabulous groups from around the world on YouTube. Support your local community handbell ensemble, and attend live concerts whenever possible.
  • Remember that musical ministries in the church exist to support the worship of the larger congregation, but also exist as small groups, and the bonds between members of a bell choir can become precious and long-lasting. Empower everyone in your group to minister to one another.

If you “plant” your handbell ministry in the right soil, with the tender care and encouragement, you will reap the rewards of a vibrant musical garden. Enjoy!

Sondra Tucker, BSE, MMus is Handbell Editor for Alfred Handbell, a division of Jubilate Music Group. She is a retired Organist/Choirmaster and Chair of Area 6 of Handbell Musicians of America, and teaches composition at the Master Series of classes sponsored by the Guild. She is in demand as a conductor and clinician for denominational and Guild events. Sondra is an accomplished organist and flutist, and her published works include music for choir, organ, and instrumental ensembles in addition to handbells. She lives in Memphis with her husband, and has two children and two granddaughters.

  • Jubilate Music Group
  • Jubilate Music Group
  • Jubilate Music Group

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