Sunday is Easter, where sanctuaries usually are bursting with congregants and extended families are gathering for one of the most important days in the Christian church year.
This year is anything but usual, with worship teams facing empty pews in hopes of reaching people via livestream platforms.
Mark Baumann, 63, of Marion, learned at an early age the importance of music in the worship experience.
Coordinator of music ministries at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids since Palm Sunday 2009, he grew up singing in the choir at Zion Presbyterian Church in Coggon, began piano lessons at age 10, then organ lessons the following year, and by age 14, was playing organ at his church.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, and a master’s degree in organ and doctorate in musicology, both from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and is certified as a Colleague of the American Guild of Organists.
In addition to his duties at St. Paul’s, he also teaches piano and organ privately and at the Orchestra Iowa School. He also is the organist at Cornell College in Mount Vernon and Saturday evening cantor and organist at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids.
Q: What role has liturgical music played in worship through the ages?
A: From the documents we have, music has been with worship since the very beginning, which comes from the Jewish music, then transferred into the Christian church. It’s always been there.
Q: How has it evolved?
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A: With the little we know, since chant wasn’t noted, the Hebrew psalms being sung then morphed into the early decades of chanting things, because there’s (information) from Milan and Rome that goes to the very beginnings around Pope Gregory in the fifth and sixth century, then those got expanded text-wise. They started including other things, and that’s how the development of the Mass went.
The early Renaissance is when the choral-type music started to develop.
Q: What does church music look like today? Do you do a mix of contemporary and traditional music? How is it chosen?
A: In most places, a director is given that responsibility. My theological basis is the fact that God is the audience and we are the people on stage, which is not the way things always are looked at. We’re making an offering to God of our worship.
In lots of places it’s, “Let’s make people feel good.” But that should be a result of what we do for God.
In general situations, music is selected as a complement or as Luther said, the handmaiden to the scripture, the preaching, the focus of the day or the moment of the calendar (like) Easter.
Q: Nowadays, we can hear Christmas music 24/7 on the radio, television and in stores, but we seldom, if ever, hear anything associated with Easter beyond “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”
A: That’s part of the big difference between sacred and secular. It’s all about merchandising. What happens in the final quarter of the year? Sales go boom, boom, boom so we can get them (into) the black, and in the first quarter of the year, nobody’s concerned about that.
Since we’re all supposedly spending lots of time at home, you could go and listen to the St. Matthew Passion — I found one with English subtitles — as a devotional piece and seeking further insight when we have all this time at home.
Q: What role does music play during Holy Week and Easter?
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A: To accentuate those theological principles. Everybody will show up for church on Easter, but they won’t go to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And if you’re a good Catholic and some others, Holy Saturday, because they were the first ones who said you really don’t experience the high of Easter unless you hit the depths before it.
Q: How does the mood of the music change during Holy Week?
A: Maundy Thursday might involve something that deals with Holy Communion, since that was the institution of the Lord’s Supper. However, since it’s called “Maundy,” which is from the word “mandatum” — I give you a new commandment that you should love one another — that’s where the “maundy” comes from.
That can certainly be a musical, music that deals with the depth of that scripture. ... That’s why there’s foot washing as an example of “love another” — wash their dirty feet. So there’s lots of music that weaves around that piece of scripture, as well.
Good Friday is quieter, but more reflecting about the cross, whether that be a solo or choral — some sing choral requiems on Good Friday. There’s good and bad about that. Those weren’t meant to put Jesus in the ground.
I’ve read that if you’re going to sing a requiem on Good Friday, you should sing the Brahms Requiem, because that’s more about the hope that’s to come, rather than a Latin one like the Mozart Requiem. But that’s a much deeper subject.
Q: What about Easter?
A: Then the joy of the resurrection comes. In a lot of denominations, it’s about the theology of the cross — the cross gets us there. There is no Easter without a cross.
Q: What does this music bring not only to the choirs and instrumentalists, but also to the listeners and those who sing along, whether or not they can carry a tune?
A: It’s all about that offering to God. For singers, there’s the collegiality, and that’s part of what the church is, too — people coming together, which is really hard at this moment right now.
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Worship music is done in person because that’s the body of Christ coming together to read Scripture, to preach and to have music around all of that. So it’s kind of interesting now while we’re livestreaming. People make comments that the music was beautiful; It makes so much sense, thank you for serving at this moment in time.
There’s a lot of angles that happen. I sent a message to all the choirs the other week and said even though many people are staying at home and there’s those who still have to be out, and we can’t come into the church building, ministry can still happen by how you take care of people and communicate in other ways.
Q: What precautions are you taking at St. Paul’s when you’re doing these worship livestreams?
A: When we do this, there are no more than 10 people in the room. We use our spacing as best as we can. Even people upstairs are spaced apart from each other in the control booth. (On Palm Sunday), those two flute players were spaced probably 20 feet apart, and I’ll do the same on Easter. I’ll have two trumpets in those same two places. ...
(On Palm Sunday), since the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came out with the recommendation, everybody was wearing a face mask. Everybody except the pastors were wearing a face mask during the sermon. When the flutes played, they just pulled down their face masks and played, then when they were done, they put them back on. We’re trying to follow the guidelines from CDC and not put anybody in harm’s way.
Since we got into this and we’re trying to include music, because it’s an important part of this, I always ask, are you comfortable doing this and playing in an empty sanctuary — and making sure people are safe.
Q: What’s it feel like to look out there and see nobody?
A: Most of the time, my back’s turned. It’s very different. You use your head and your heart to know you’re connected in a different way. ...
I’m looking at the future in this — maybe we should look into continuing to livestream. It catches people out and beyond, and is a better evangelism tool than some things. Maybe even better than putting things on the public service channel. I don’t know yet.
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