Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.

When reviewing the use of the solo voice in Lutheran Worship, three questions must be asked.

1. What is the history of the use of the soloist in worship?

The use of the solo voice in worship finds it roots in the Old Testament Psalms. The cantorial tradition in the Jewish temple, and the continuation of elements of psalm chant of the early Christian church comprise the two main forms of solo singing in the church. In Lutheran worship, it was these two forms that continued and expanded during the time of Luther and Bach. During the latter16th century, counterpoint, or intertwining melodic lines became the compositional norm. Obviously, this compositional technique was not easily adaptable to the solo voice. However, numerous composers wrote for solo voice and solo instrument as a contrapuntal technique. It is this musical style that is most commonly found in our church today.

2. What is the function of the soloist in worship?

Similar to that of the Lutheran Church choir, main emphasis must be placed on the use of the solo voice as a liturgical function. Where a solo voice is used during the service, for example at times when a choir is not available, a Lutheran understanding of corporate worship assumes that the solo voice is really a one-voice choir. Therefore, the soloist must provide the liturgical music necessary for the particular point during the service. Then when possible and desirable, the soloist may present additional attendant music according to his or her ability. The Lutheran Liturgy offers many opportunities for participation by a solo voice in ways – characterized by a spirit of modesty and restraint – that give richness, variety, and enhanced meaning to liturgical worship.

3. Who should be used as a soloist during the worship service?

Specifically, soloists from the church choir where the singing of appropriated liturgical music is the norm will recognize their function in a liturgical context rather than that of presenting "special" music. This is predominately true if the choir is being educated and taught the ways of liturgical worship during their weekly rehearsals. Soloists need not only come from the church choir. However because of rehearsal schedules, musical styles, and selections, they often serve in the best capacity for the congregation.

Buszin, W.E. (1958). Luther on music. New York, NY: Lutheran Society For Worship Music, and the Arts, by permission of G. Schirmer, Inc.
Schalk, C.E. (1983).  Music in Lutheran worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.