Since Synod London 2010 mandated augmentation of the URCNA Songbook Committee with a member from each classis not already represented, four new members have been appointed in recent months.
Dan Zylstra (Lynwood URC; Lynwood, IL) was appointed to the Songbook Committee at the September, 2010, meeting of Classis Central. Denise Marcusse (Faith URC; Holland, MI) and Joel Pearce (Covenant Reformed Church; New Holland, PA) were appointed at October meetings of Classis Michigan and Classis Eastern US respectively. And Dr. Scott Finch (Redeemer Reformation Church; Regina, SK) was appointed at the January, 2011, meeting of Classis Western Canada.
They join current members Rev. Rand Lankheet (Covenant Reformed Church; Toronto, ON) who is from Classis Southern Ontario and chairs the Committee; Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen (Kauai Reformation Church; Kauai, Hawaii) from Classis Southwest US; Rev. Christopher Folkerts (New Covenant Reformed Church; Twin Falls, ID) from Classis Pacific US; and Angeline Vander Boom (Zion URC in Sheffield, ON), who serves as secretary for the Committee.
The four longer-term members of the Committee were primarily responsible for finalizing the Hymn Proposal (the proposed hymn section of the anticipated URCNA songbook distributed to the churches at Synod London 2010). Rev. Lankheet quickly adds, however, that 8-10 others have served at various times on the Committee over the past ten years and contributed to the production of that proposal.
While the churches consider the Hymn Proposal, the expanded Committee moves ahead on the psalm section of the URCNA songbook.
“Currently, all our committee members are actively participating in the process of evaluating songs in the psalm section of our blue-covered Psalter Hymnal and seeking to find the best psalm-songs which accurately render the biblical psalm,” says Rev. Lankheet. “We are also striving to find music which is singable for our members, or can be easily learned. We have 7 or 8 primary sources from which we are drawing psalm-songs.”
In the past, the Committee has held online meetings in a chat room hosted by the Cornerstone URC of London, ON. Recent meetings have been held via Skype, a computer program that allows participants to see and hear each other through the use of webcams.
“We try to meet at least once a month by means of digital technology,” says Rev. Lankheet. “And we have met twice a year in face-to-face meetings. Our last face-to-face meeting was held at the church facilities of the Lynwood URC in Illinois. Our next face-to-face meeting is scheduled at the facilities of the Faith URC in the Holland, Michigan, area from April 5-7, 2011.”
Dan Zylstra grew up in a Christian home and attended Christian schools from kindergarten through his graduation from Dordt College in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education. He currently teaches music in the Hammond, IN, public school system. He serves as the Clerk of Deacons at Lynwood URC (Lynwood, IL), is active in his church’s music ministry, and regularly accompanies worship services as a pianist.
Following his September appointment to the Committee, he has hit the ground running: getting up to speed with correspondence, participating in online meetings, and helping host November’s on-site meeting at Lynwood URC.
Having seen the Hymn Proposal, he is “very pleased” with it.
“A great deal of time and work went into the roughly 280 hymns chosen,” he writes, “and I believe the proposal will serve as an excellent starting point for a denominational dialog at the consistory, classis, and synod levels.”
Dan and his wife, Lisa, have a nine-month-old daughter, Emily. He composes music on a regular basis, including a duet composition that he and Lisa sang at Emily’s baptism.
The Songbook Committee listed several requirements for appointees, including “an understanding and appreciation of poetry as an art form” and “a passion for working with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Mr. Zylstra was asked how he meets these two requirements.
“I have always appreciated good literature and poetry,” Mr. Zylstra relates. “As a songwriter, I have experience grappling with the competing interests of rhythm, rhyme, and meaning. As someone who’s always been active in congregational singing, choirs, and other musical ensembles, I have a strong passion for selecting and performing great works of music from our Reformed past and present.”
Denise Marcusse has 35 years of experience with church music and is employed as an accompanist at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, MI. At Faith URC (Holland, MI), she accompanies worship services and directs the choir in addition to leading the women’s Bible study and serving with her husband (Rev. Ed Marcusse) as youth leaders.
“Being a practical church organist, I have approached each song with congregational singing in mind,” she says. “Of each song I ask: Does the text fit the tune? Will the congregation be able to sing it in a way that brings praise and glory to God?”
Although instrumental music can glorify God by being beautiful, Mrs. Marcusse believes text in church music goes “the ultimate step in bringing praise to God.”
“For this reason,” she says, “it is crucial that our words and poetry be scripturally sound, theologically correct, and God glorifying. This is the challenge in finding songs for a hymnal.”
Mrs. Marcusse understands the challenge because she has served on two hymnal committees in previous churches:
“I know the careful scrutiny involved in the selection of each song, the copyright permissions required for selected songs, the consistory’s approval of every song, and then the printing and distribution process. Being on a hymnal committee is definitely a team effort with much give and take. It is a tedious job and yet, in the end, very rewarding.”
As a mother and grandmother, Mrs. Marcusse contributes a maternal passion to the Committee.
“I come to this committee with my children and grandchildren in mind,” she says. “This is a hymnal to be used by future generations. Because of this, I have the desire to pass on the faith through the gift of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, tunes, words, and poetry that are man edifying and God glorifying.”
Classis Eastern US
Joel Pearce has had a lifelong interest in church music. Mr. Pearce graduated from Grove City College in 2006 with a BA in communications and from Old Dominion University in 2009 with an MA in Humanities. He is employed at a university library in Reading, PA, and is working toward his MSLS (Master’s in Science in Library Science) from Clarion University with his anticipated graduation (“Lord willing”) in December, 2011.
Mr. Pearce is Music Coordinator at Covenant Reformed Church in New Holland, PA, where his wife, Elizabeth, is the church’s “very accomplished” accompanist, according to Pastor Steve Arrick. The Pearces recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Mikayla Grace, on January 12.
Mr. Pearce has served on several church committees and has had many opportunities to work in group settings through past and present employment and professional organizations. Like Mr. Zylstra and Mrs. Marcusse, he already participates in URCNA Songbook Committee meeting and is helping the Committee work through the psalms.
“Being a team player working for consensus is critical in all committee contexts,” he says, “And this Songbook Committee is no different. We have a great group of people on the Committee with extensive experience, expertise, and passion!”
Mr. Pearce additionally helps with administrative issues as they arise and has examined the Hymn Proposal.
“I have reviewed the proposed hymnal, and I really appreciate the very hard work done by the committee to put together an excellent, God-glorifying, and church-edifying collection of songs,” he says. “It’s great to see so many churches excited about the proposal and incorporating many of the suggestions into corporate worship already. We look forward to each respective classis’ suggestions and encouragement in the months to come.”
Classis Western Canada
Scott Finch has a bachelor’s degree in music from Covenant College, a master of music degree from Temple University, and is a doctoral candidate in musical arts with the University of Arizona. Interestingly enough, he studied Hebrew while working on his dissertation: The Prominence of Hebrew Syntax in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.
As the Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Arts at Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, SK, Dr. Finch regularly works with ensembles, evaluating and coaching poetry in languages other than English. He has teaching experience in conducting, voice, musicology, theory, and composition. He has composed original work and has written contemporary arrangements of traditional hymns. He also has had frequent opportunities to work toward consensus and collaboration with other people in group settings.
Dr. Finch has worked directly (sometimes professionally) in Reformed circles since 1995, and has worked in four church contexts over the past 15 years. He serves as an elder and worship accompanist at Redeemer Reformation Church in Regina, SK.
Redeemer’s Pastor Brian Cochran writes that “Scott has a love for the arts. And when it comes to music, Scott approaches it not simply as math but also as an art.”
“God’s people are to be characterized by singing skillful praise to His name,” says Dr. Finch, “my calling is to promote a fervency towards that end.”
Due to his current teaching schedule, Dr. Finch has been unable to participate in the Committee’s Skype meetings. He has, however, worked through portions of the Hymn Proposal and provided some reflections to the Committee.
“My teaching responsibilities may be such that it only enables me to provide written reflections on the strengths and challenges of selected compositions,” he writes. “I’ve completed several of those type of reflections.”
He is “thankful for the careful work being accomplished” by the Committee and adds, “Choosing appropriate text realizations and tunes is a high calling that requires great amounts of time, wisdom, experience, and energy. I look forward to joining this effort. I hope to help produce a document that will encourage the singing of praise by all ages that is both historically informed and engaging.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8-11 of the April 6, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.