It is wonderful for church musicians everywhere when composers compile selections that are usable throughout the year. Joseph Martin and Mary McDonald have created some very promising work in these two collections, and your choir and congregation are sure to appreciate the variety and use of familiar hymnody and original material in both works.
My initial reflection upon these musical selections is that they are incredibly versatile. Inasmuch as the music is interesting to listen to, it also aids the worship planner and leader by giving flexibility of presentation that can work well within different worship settings. Let’s look into them a little more to see how.
The Song Everlasting: A Sacred Cantata Based on Early American Songs is built upon older American folksongs, including the shape-note tunes HOLY MANNA, NETTLETON, RESIGNATION, PROMISED LAND, and BEACH SPRING, and spirituals such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Wayfarin’ Stranger.” It would be easy to see this work as an “all-or-nothing” approach to Holy Week, and many churches may choose to use this as a cantata around Easter. However, I would strongly recommend its value throughout Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter season. Yes, after seven to ten weeks of early American songs, the interest of your congregation may wane in this style, but again this piece shows its versatility. Find the movements that express what you are searching for from the scripture readings for those days, and use them accordingly. Don’t feel like you have to use the whole thing in one season! Another way to offer this piece is just as Martin has proposed: three sections based upon the ministry, humility, and victory of Jesus Christ. This approach corresponds very well with the Lenten journey and can serve as three distinct worship presentations. Regardless of how you can use this work, I certainly recommend that you do so with excitement. It is a wonderful collection that is as practical as it is musical.
Yes, My Jesus Loves Me, on the other hand, is a collection of SSAA works that focus upon the love of Jesus. Women in choirs everywhere will enjoy the well-balanced approach of original compositions with arrangements of familiar hymns, as well as the variety of styles, from hymn singing to gospel music. As found in selections such as “Joy Down in My Heart,” “I Must Tell Jesus,” and “Walking in Sunlight,” Mary McDonald is not afraid to deviate from a slower, lyrical approach to women’s music, which so often becomes the norm for women’s choirs. This collection will definitely encourage your sopranos and altos to pursue regular singing as a women’s ensemble (and to get their “gospel” on)!
As church musicians, I encourage you to continue to find creative ways to use these compositions in worship. These resources have a lot of musical and practical interest to help plan engaging and vital worship experiences for churches everywhere. And, even more so, they will inspire your congregation to sing!