When we go to church, we all know that sometimes we sing, enjoy special music, and pray. What we may not realize is that for those who provide music for our worship services, all of these things are actually one and the same. “Playing the organ for church is my direct connection with God,” says Peggy Graff, Organist and Associate Director of Music & Worship Arts. “When I play I feel like I’m also connecting with God in a very intimate way, like praying.”
Peggy says that this connection is available to all of us, whether we realize it or not: “It is said that when you sing hymns, you pray twice,” she explains. “When we connect in some way to the hymn text, we’re not just singing or playing the notes; we’re offering those lyrics directly to God from our own hearts.”
The Color of Music
Another thing few people realize is how Peggy encourages and supports this sacred process by applying her own understanding of both music and lyrics to help us feel the content as we sing. “As I read the lyrics of a hymn, I think about the words and phrases to plan how I will play it in a way that adds both punctuation to give people places to breathe, and transitions that allow for small moments of reflection.”
In addition to this planning, Peggy calls upon our spectacularly stirring Anne S. and Henry B. Paup Sanctuary Pipe Organ to bring each piece of music to new life, no matter how many times we’ve sung it. “I make an effort to paint the colors of the text through registration settings and re-harmonizations of our hymns, which can make an effect on how we feel as we sing them.” Just as a musical score beneath a movie sets a tone and feeling for what’s happening on-screen, Peggy sets the tone for our worship experiences in a way that is as subtle as it is powerful. As an example of this, Peggy points to the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” “There’s a stanza in this hymn, “ . . . through deep waters I call thee to go . . . ,” she says, “and when I think about the meaning of this text, I set my registrations and play re-harmonizations to depict a feeling of struggling and trudging through something muddy and uncertain in life.”
Peggy is quick to say, however, that it is she who reaps as much benefit from this careful work as the congregation. “It’s not about what I do so much as it is about the entire worship experience I get to be part of creating,” she says. Peggy adds that getting to hear the sermon and all the prayers and liturgy of each service twice each Sunday really deepens her worship experience; and the direct connection with God she feels through the music really enhances this feeling. “Some Sundays I come out of church feeling absolutely exhilarated,” she says, smiling. “That’s when I know that the planning and God’s love and grace through it all has come together for good.”
How Music Makes Words Stick
As a longtime choir director, teacher, and clinician, Peggy says that she knows all too well how setting something to music makes it “stick” more. “Math, science, and geography teachers have long known that when you introduce a musical element to anything, learning ‘sticks’ more as you relate music to words.”
Going back to this idea of “when you sing you pray twice,” Peggy says that when our choir sings an anthem — many of which are associated with scripture — they internalize at the very least an overview of the scripture, even if it is not verbatim. “I remember so many scriptures because of the music that has been set to them,” she adds. “When we learn sacred music, the related scripture can’t help but stay with us.”
In the choir, she adds, observing from her unique vantage point, there is an energy that happens — a sense of community and unity formed with the music as a spiritual connector — when they sing this material together. “The Spirit is definitely experienced more through choral singing than anything I know of,” Peggy says. “And to some degree, this same kind of synergy happens in the congregation when we sing hymns together.”
It is for this reason, Peggy says, that she so thoughtfully selects the hymns we sing in worship each week according to the scripture that is chosen by Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster and the worship team. “I first look up scripture, read it, and then go to several different resources to find hymns that feel relevant,” she says.
Peggy says that sometimes she feels very strongly led to different kinds of resources and more contemporary settings for even old, familiar hymns. “Sometimes I find myself looking at a resource I hadn’t heard of or thought of for years, and I find just what I’m looking for,” she says. “It’s an amazing, special process that really brings me a lot of joy; and God certainly has His hand in it!”
Whether or not singing is your particular gift, Peggy says it is important to realize that singing congregational hymns offers us a powerful vehicle for individual and collective prayer. In the very act of lifting our voice to God in song, we express directly to God our most heartfelt prayers as they relate to the words we are all singing together.
Peggy Graff is an active member of the American Guild of Organists. She has been awarded certification in the organization through an exam process, and is a Collegue (CAGO) with the AGO. This past spring, Peggy gave a public organ recital of prescribed organ literature and was later adjudicated and passed Section 1 of the AAGO (Associate) exam.
Hello. My name is Katie Roderick. My husband, Kyle, and l have been members of FUMCFW since 2010, though we were gone for a couple of years around 2014 when work took me to the Dallas side of the metroplex. We have a 2-year-old son, Matthew, who loves going to Sunday School every week. I’ve been a member of Choral Union for almost as long as we’ve been at the church.
When Kyle and I got engaged in 2010, we were looking for a church not only to get married in, but to join and attend each week. We were both studying music at TCU, so we knew music was going to be an important part of that decision. The first time we visited FUMCFW was an Adoramus Sunday. As we watched Mister Mark run them through a last-minute rehearsal, we looked at each other and we both just KNEW. This was the church for us.
The last seven years haven’t exactly been easy, and things have never gone the way we planned. There have been times when things were hard that I’ve really struggled to feel God’s presence in my life. But even in the hard times I’ve always felt closer to him when I’m singing. Every Wednesday night at 8:30 we sing the Lord’s Prayer together, and it’s like I can feel God’s hand on my shoulder, filling me up with faith and hope for the week to come.
I want to thank each and every person here for making that happen. Your gifts enable us to make such beautiful music each week. I hope that our music helps you feel closer to God too.