Working through the syncopations, rhythms and languages of Africanand Spanish hymns, they bring a new tradition to the worship at PeaceLutheran Church every third Sunday: music from around the world.
In fact, "Siyahamba," a South African piece known as "We AreMarching in the Light of God," has become such a favorite that it is nolonger sung solely by the choir. Sometimes the congregation sings along,and a bell choir plays it, too.
"This is one you can really just open out," enthused ChristineHowlett, a first soprano who travels from Mount Ranier, Md., to sing inthe choir. "You don't have to have any reserve. You can sing your heartout."
Global church music -- particularly from Africa, Asia and LatinAmerica -- has trickled down from occasional international Christiangatherings to average worship services across the country. And, in thelast decade, publishing houses have issued new hymnals and hymnalsupplements for denominations that feature more music from foreignlands. Others have published smaller volumes that highlight globalmusic.
C. Michael Hawn, a church music professor at Perkins School ofTheology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, is editor of"Halle, Halle: We Sing the World Round." Published last year withsinger's and teacher's editions, it includes background and performancetips on three dozen songs.
Hawn said some churches have embraced global music in an effort tobe more hospitable to the wide range of people they hope to attract totheir weekly worship. Other congregations find they learn about theirown faith by worshipping as others do.
"No one culture has the corner on God's revelation," he said. "It'sthat sense of moving beyond our little view of the world."
Part of the attraction of the music is movement itself -- theirresistible need to mark its rhythms with swaying or toe-tapping. The dozen or so Messengers of Peace, most sitting on high woodenstools and sharing music stands covered with song sheets and hymnals,grin from ear to ear as they sing and tap their thighs or beat the airwith their feet, inches from the floor.
"The simplicity of this kind of music is enchanting," Howlett said. Choir director Paul Sticha, who has directed the group since 1982,said it used to focus on American folk music, but has expanded itsrepertoire to include more songs from across the globe.
"Sometimes I think getting the music from a different culture canreally highlight some of the message in the Word," said Sticha, aresearch psychologist who also conducts the church's three bell choirs.
For example, at the service on the January weekend when the MartinLuther King Jr. holiday was observed, the liturgy featured the words ofKing's writings and the music of South Africa.
"It was a very moving service," he recalled.
Scott Weidler, associate director for worship and music for theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America, said newer hymnals hisdenomination has published in cooperation with Augsburg FortressPublishers have included more global music. "With One Voice," forexample, was published in 1995 as a supplement to the Lutheran Book ofWorship and includes the Zimbabwean "Come, All You People" and otherhymns sung by the Messengers of Peace.
"It's a sampling of music from all around the world as well as somemore traditional kinds of things," said Weidler. "Since that time, many,many congregations are, at the very least, dabbling with all sorts ofmusical styles that they hadn't done in the past."
In addition to denominational hymnals, special collections forinternational conferences end up reaching down to the congregationallevel.
The Rev. Clay Morris, liturgical officer of the Episcopal Church,said multilingual hymnals from World Council of Churches gatherings andthe Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church have infused someEpiscopal congregations with international music.
"Bishops come to that conference and then take the hymnals home andstuff spreads around," Morris said.
Three months out of the year, Hawn leads "global immersion"weekends with congregations, preparing the choirs on Saturday andguiding a special Sunday service using what they've learned. Some oldermembers say the international music reminds them of earlier foreignmissions work and young people, who often are learning other languagesin school, enjoy applying a global experience to the church setting.
Hawn encourages congregations to let global music be part of regularservices, rather than solely at an annual celebration of Pentecost orWorld Communion Sunday.
"What I think is the norm is when this kind of music is notsegmented as a special event but it becomes part of the reservoir fromwhich we draw for all of our liturgical experience," he said."`Otherwise it becomes a bit of a tokenism."