Music in our Worship: The Prelude and Postlude (Voluntaries)
Ever wonder why we begin most of our worship with a prelude and end with a postlude?
In very general terms, the history of preludes and postludes in worship, is quite simple. We inherited our tradition of preludes and postludes (also called voluntaries) from a 17th century Dutch tradition of concertizing before and after worship. Church organs at that time were owned by the city council, and organists were hired by the city. At the early part of the Reformation in the Netherlands, there was no place for music at all in Dutch Reformed church services, but since the Dutch people enjoyed organ music, and organs were still in churches from days of Catholicism, the city hired organists to play concerts before and after worship. Over time, this tradition voluntaries has developed and morphed into one that is quite the opposite of its beginnings. For we no longer view these voluntaries as performances that are outside of worship, but as integral offering and part of our worship, a time of centering ourselves in God and God’s goodness.
I invite you to consider these voluntaries as a sacred bridge that brings us from our worldly context into the presence of God, or in the case of the closing voluntary, one that sends us back into the world to live out our calling as children of God. These bridges are firmly anchored in holy worship on one side and our earthly world on the other. They prepare us for the consideration of sacred things. They help send us on our way to do the work of Christ in the world.
For us, music in worship is never about performance, but about an offering of praise, thanksgiving, penitence, or petition to God. While we often are often caught up in the beauty of the music or the words, the purpose is not to bring attention to the musicians or singers but to point to the Creator who makes all things beautiful and inspires creativity in us all. For me, this what makes offering and leading music in worship a very holy and sacred thing. Before each service our choirs pray together this prayer, as do I each time I don my white surplice for worship. It helps reminds about this holy and sacred duty.
Bless us O Lord your servants who minister in your temple;
Grant that what we sing on our lips, we may believe in our hearts;
And what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Choristers Prayer)
Soli Deo Gloria!
Dr. Ben Keseley, Minister of Music
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