When Covid hit, many churches started streaming or pre-recording services. Some took a break from singing. Most were forced to change their weekly meetings in some way. This, of course, also meant changes for both church congregants and staff on Sunday mornings. The Flanigans, normally worship leaders on Sunday morning, found themselves quarantined from their congregation. So they turned to the Book of Common Prayer, joining as a family to worship around the kitchen table and the family piano.
If you are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, you know that while much of its contents are meant to be sung, there is no music in the prayer book. For Ryan and Melissa Flanigan, who release music under the name Liturgical Folk, the lack of music became an opportunity for them to add their musical voice to the words on the page. The result is an eight-song album featuring all five Flanigan family members and entitled, Matins & Vespers.
While the instrumentation is largely comprised of organ and piano, it brings to mind more characteristics of an indie rock record from the likes of the Welcome Wagon or the Weepies than it does a traditional worship service. The melodies range from fun and bouncy to meditative, and each pairs nicely with the lyrical settings. I quickly found myself tapping along and joining my voice with the voices of those on the record.
Liturgical Folk, originally grew out of a friendship between songwriter Ryan Flanigan and retired Anglican priest, Nelson Koscheski. Flanigan paired his music with Koscheski’s poetry, resulting in six releases. Flanigan, with the help of his family and a couple of friends, would lead the songs Koscheski and Flanigan had written together, taking them to local communities and congregations and leading them in times of song. After the death of Koscheski, the main lyricist for the group was now gone, but his legacy has clearly continued in this latest release.
In a time of unknown, the Flanigans found comfort in the words of the prayer book and made them truly their own.
One of my favorite parts of this record is how the family comes together to not only contribute to the singing, but also share in the writing of the songs themselves. “Liam the Confessor” is a beautiful setting of the confession co-written by 11-year-old Liam Flanigan. “Keep Watch,” a new setting of the Phos hilaron (O Gracious Light), was adapted by all three of the Flanigan children: Lily, Liam, and Noelle, and features Noelle, the youngest Flanigan. The DNA of this record is present in the family’s individual execution as they each take the lead and then join together to support each other with beautiful harmonies.
Gathered around the family piano, singing for morning and evening prayer, the songs written and performed on this record both lead the family and eventually the listener through a regular return to the psalms, to confession, and to hearing a proclamation of God’s goodness. These are all aspects of a beneficial and orthodox Christian practice. While these songs are certainly performed well on this record, they are also evidence of a family formed by the practice of liturgy, and the grace of God such liturgy preaches.
In a time of unknown, the Flanigans found comfort in the words of the prayer book and made them truly their own. Listeners will certainly be blessed by this record, but they are also invited by the Flanigans to then go a step further, and gather their own households to sing these songs. Whether you hum along without the right tune, or you can teach your children to sing in three-part harmony, Matins & Vespers will be a blessing to you and your family members young and old.
You can find the full record, sheet music, and more information about Liturgical Folk at liturgicalfolk.com.