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2512: Holy Trinity Lutheran, New York City

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April 8, 2013

I read the Mystery Worshipper report on the Good Friday evening service at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City. I think that perhaps the Mystery Worshipper might have been better prepared if he or she were fully aware of the customs of Lutheran Church music before visiting.

"The organist had an annoying habit of introducing each hymn with an improvisation on same, rather than a run-through as most organists do."

Specifically, in most Lutheran churches in Germany and, I suspect, throughout the world, it is an ancient custom, dating back before the time of JS Bach, for the organist to introduce the hymns not with a play-through of the hymn tune, as in most other western Christian traditions, but with an improvised chorale prelude. Part of the training of Lutheran organists is to be able to improvise short pieces on hymn tunes, to be included in the Gottesdienst before the hymn. Bach's Orgelbuchlein collection is simply "improvisations" on German hymn tunes that were written down and are exactly in this tradition and vein of the Lutheran Church.

"The organist seemed more interested in showing off his technique than supporting the congregational singing."

It isn't "showing off" - it is part of Lutheran tradition!

"There was also a choir (or, more accurately, a quartet) of four mixed voices."

Then how did they perform the Lotti Crucifixus - which is for eight voices?

Of course, I wasn't there so I can't comment on the quality of the improvisations or of the singing. But the above are misunderstandings and inaccuracies.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Stephen Lansberry

Amanda B. Reckondwythe replies:

Miss Amanda was not brought up in the Lutheran tradition, but she is no stranger to Lutheran worship. This is the United States, not Germany, and she has not witnessed this style of organ playing in other Lutheran churches she has visited.

But surely on Good Friday of all days the organ should be silent except for accompanying the singing, if indeed for that.

As for the Lotti Crucifixus, they didn't carry it off, and that was her point precisely.

She stands by her reporting. And she'll bet Dr Lansberry a Pfennig that had he been present, his opinion of the music would have been closer to hers.

May 30, 2017

I'm sorry to say that it has taken four years for this report finally to be brought to my attention. There are several inaccuracies that should be clarified.

At the time of this report, I was indeed the associate director of music, but I was not on the organ bench for any of this service. My predecessor played all of the hymnody.

There were more than four singers. In fact, there were sixteen four staff singers and twelve volunteers. The staff singers were listed on the same page of the bulletin as the rest of the parish staff and council. All of the volunteers were not. The Lotti Crucifixus is for eight parts. Whether the reporter thought the choir "pulled it off" or not, all of the parts were still sung. I would say that if the reviewer thought there were only four singers in the loft when in actuality there were sixteen, the choir did a better job of blending than they were given credit for.

As a previous comment has pointed out, it is indeed the historic Lutheran tradition for the organist to improvise on the introduction to the hymn. There's a whole genre of organ music called chorale preludes which are exactly that. Although it certainly isn't the norm in America, Holy Trinity, in many aspects, isn't the norm of American Lutheranism something that we both lament and pride ourselves on. However, though we might be in the minority, we are not alone in this country. There are a number of other excellent organists across the country who carry on this tradition as well.

I'm rather surprised that the reporter spoke with so much authority on certain issues when all of the music and personnel were behind, in a choir loft, out of sight. I can understand expressing an opinion on perceived quality and musical tastes, but on other issues I would expect a bit more graciousness in not knowing all the facts.

I would invite the initial reviewer and companion to return to Holy Trinity at some point. It has been a full three years since I was appointed to the head post of cantor and I believe they will find the music to be a rather different experience.

Mr Donald Meineke

Amanda B. Reckondwythe replies:

I stand corrected where correction is due. If Mr Meineke says he was not the organist that day, that's good enough for old Miss Amanda.

Too much time has elapsed, and I don't remember if I looked up in the choir loft to see how many singers I could spot. If I did, then I spotted only four; the other twelve were not visible. If I did not look up, then I was relying on the information printed in the bulletin, incomplete as it was, to identify the singers. Regardless, their Lotti Crucifixus was still pretty dismal both my companion and I thought so, and neither of us is a stranger to liturgical music beautifully carried off.

I understand now that the Lutheran tradition is to begin each hymn with a chorale prelude, but I would still expect the organist to support the congregational singing, which the organist that day did not.

I don't get to New York often these days, but the next time I am there I would be happy to stop by Holy Trinity Lutheran to check out their music program once again.

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