The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Borning Cry’ guy

Sing in harmony through all seasons of life

Many in the ELCA are delighted that our “new” Evangelical Lutheran
Worship is the inclusive worship book that it is. You can literally “sing your way around the world” through cultures and traditions including Germany and Scandinavia, Africa and Central America, and the American folk tradition.

One “folk music champion” among the ELCA’s musical leadership contributed three hymns to the new hymnal. John Ylvisaker, whose roots are Norwegian American, embraced traditional folk music early in his career. He ended up writing more than 1,000 spiritual songs and ballads.

“My best work has always been writing ballads,” he said. “The best folk music pieces are ballads.”

Ylvisaker, who is 75 this year, will be honored at a June 1-2 celebration at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa (www.borningcrycelebration.com). It will be something of a lovefest on the part of contemporary church musicians who have embraced Ylvisaker’s music style. The list includes Agape, Ken Medema, the singing duo Lost and Found, and Jonathan Rundman.

Lutherans have occasionally debated what sort of music is appropriate for worship. Ylvisaker entered the fray when he became convinced that Lutherans don’t sing very well at worship, and that young people may be dropping out altogether in part because of music they can’t — or won’t — embrace.

A study of ethnomusicology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, helped convince Ylvisaker, who grew up on classical music and sang in the Concordia College Choir (Moorhead, Minn.), that worshipers need some tunes they can easily embrace—and arrangements that enable them to sing in harmony, if they’re so inclined.

That raised a point of controversy for worship leaders. The celebrated Lutheran theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famously argued that Christians should not sing in harmony at worship, but only in unison. This would encourage, he was convinced, a unity the church badly needed.

By contrast, the famous choral director (whom some believe “invented” the Lutheran college choir movement), F. Melius Christiansen, embraced four-part harmony for performances and for worship alike. Ylvisaker stands with Christiansen.

“I was disappointed when the Lutheran Book of Worship changed so many of the hymn arrangements, making them difficult for the congregation to sing in harmony,” Ylvisaker said. “Our new Evangelical Lutheran Worship has restored a lot of those good harmonies.”

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