This simple refrain is from Taizé, the ecumenical community in eastern France that has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people each year (see Reformed Worship, Issue 8) who gather to participate in beautiful and simple worship. Since people come with so many different languages and from so many worship traditions, the community has developed a profoundly rich and simple style of worship music. Its simplicity lies in the short repetitive structures (see also "Eat This Bread" in Reformed Worship, Issue19). Its richness lies in the varied textures that can support the singing.
Many Taizé songs are constructed as canons, or rounds, with different instrumental descants that can be layered on in kaleidoscope fashion to build a shape that can rise and fall in intensity. The worship leader/music director must determine the "right" moment to end the singing, a choice that depends somewhat on the congregation, on the role the hymn plays in the service, and on the number of instruments. If only keyboard is used, two or three repetitions may be sufficient. Using additional instruments creates the potential for building up and sustaining the singing for more repetitions.
Try using "Prepare the Way" as the call to worship for the month of December or Advent. It would make an excellent prelude if your congregation sings "gathering songs." It would also make an excellent processional. If you wish to develop a plan for a month of singing this refrain, consider the following suggestions:
The first week, the prelude concludes by moving into the "Basic Accompaniment." After a pianist or organist plays the song two or three times, a male soloist from the back of the church sings the refrain in a firm voice. (There is nothing wimpy about John the Baptizer or about this call—sing it with strength!) Then a choir' (children and/or adult) could pick it up and sing it through once or twice more, perhaps going into the round. If the choir is in the front of the sanctuary, this antiphonal call to worship will surround the congregation.
The second week, again begin with soloist or choir singing one time through, and then bring the congregation in. Depending on how adept your congregation is at reading or singing in harmony, have them sing once in unison, and then once more in canon. (For more on congregations singing in canon, see RW 30.) This time add one or more instruments.
The third weekand fourth Sundays, have the choir add the alleluias, layering them on top of the congregations singing after the singing is going well. Add more instruments too.
On Christmas Day, drop the "Prepare" text, and have the choir only sing the 'Alleluias" during part of the service, perhaps after the reading of the gospel lesson.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 33)
Consider the following suggestion for use with children:
This song can be sung in canon, with children from the back of church, announcing the Advent season or service
If you have strong and sure kids, have them surround the sanctuary and sing the 4 part canon.