Prepare the Way (Isaiah 40:3, 52:10)

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Following the Song of Zechariah celebrating the arrival of his son John, the one who was coming to “prepare the way” of the Lord, comes this text from the prophet Isaiah as quoted by John the Baptizer. During Advent we prepare for the coming of the One who is the “salvation of our God.”
Sing!  A New Creation

Tune Information

E♭ Major


Musical Suggestion

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 week and 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)
— Emily Brink

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.
— Diane Dykgraaf

Hymn Story/Background

For an increasing number of North Americans, the name Taizé evokes a certain style of singing that has become popular in more and more churches, retreat centers, and campus parishes. Taizé is in fact an ecumenical community of brothers located in the small village of that name in the Burgundy region of eastern France.
Taizé began with one man, Brother Roger. In 1940 he came to what was then a semi-abandoned village in Burgundy, his mother’s native region. He was twenty-five years old, and he had come there to offer a welcome to Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution and to work out a call to follow Christ in community, a community that would attempt to live out the Gospel call to reconciliation day by day. Today, the Taizé Community is composed of around a hundred brothers. They come from different Christian traditions and from over twenty-five different countries, and make a life commitment to live together in joy, simplicity, and mercy as a “parable of community,” a sign of the Gospel’s call to reconciliation at the heart of the world. Tens of thousands of people, mainly between the ages of 17 and 30, come throughout each year from around the world to spend a week going to the roots of the Christian faith. They join in the community’s worship three times a day, listen to Bible introductions on the sources of the faith, spend time reflecting in silence, and meet in small sharing-groups. The community encourages participants, when they return home, to take back what they have discovered and put it into practice in the concrete conditions of their life – in their parishes, their place of work or study, their families.
Life at Taizé, following the monastic tradition, has always turned around three main poles – prayer, work, and hospitality. The three times of worship create the basic rhythm of the day, with a very meditative form of prayer in which singing and silence have always played a large part. When the number of visitors to Taizé began to increase, and more and more young people started arriving, the brothers felt the need to find a way for everyone to join in the prayer and not simply be observers. At the same time, they felt it was essential to maintain the meditative quality of the prayer, to let it be an authentic encounter with the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Finally, it was found that chants made up of a few words repeated over and over again made possible a prayer that was both meditative and yet accessible to all. They were happy to develop a form of sung music that can be used just as well by a small group of students who meet weekly in a dorm to pray as in a celebration that fills the cathedral of a large city. The “songs of Taizé” thus make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world to be linked in common praise of God.
With the help of the musician Jacques Berthier, friend of Taizé, different methods were tried out, and a solution was found in the use of repetitive structures, namely, short musical phrases with melodic units that could be readily memorized by everybody. The use of some very simple words in basic Latin to support the music and the theme of prayer was also dictated by pastoral needs. From practical experience it was the only way of solving the unavoidable problem of languages that arouse at international gatherings. On the other hand, living languages are widely used. Increasingly, song collections around the world, Protestant and Catholic, include songs from Taizé for congregational worship.
GIA Publications is the North American publisher of the many recordings and song collections from the Community of Taizé.
-from http://www.giamusic.com/bios/taize.cfm

Composer Information

A son of musical parents, Jacques Berthier (b. Auxerre, Burgundy, June 27, 1923; d. June 27, 1994) studied music at the Ecole Cesar Franck in Paris. From 1961 until his death he served as organist at St. Ignace Church, Paris. Although his published works include numerous compositions for organ, voice, and instruments, Berthier is best known as the composer of service music for the Taizé community near Cluny, Burgundy. Influenced by the French liturgist and church musician Joseph Gelineau, Berthier began writing songs for equal voices in 1955 for the services of the then nascent community of twenty brothers at Taizé. As the Taizé community grew, Berthier continued to compose most of the mini-hymns, canons, and various associated instrumental arrangements, which are now universally known as the Taizé repertoire. In the past two decades this repertoire has become widely used in North American church music in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.
— Bert Polman
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.