December 20, 2018
Well, this is it! Last Sunday of Advent coming up. Musicians around here may look a little weary, after Lessons and Carols and with all the preparations for Christmas Eve, but you can still expect some beautiful music this Sunday.
I will help set the tone for this service with two short Bach pieces, based on the Advent chorales, Savior of the Nations, Come and God’s Son is Coming. These both come from Bach’s Liturgical Year, a collection of 46 chorale preludes that he wrote while in Weimar. These short pieces are meant for church use and span the entire Christian year. Many believe that some of this collection was even written while Bach was imprisoned in 1717.
On Advent IV, we hear the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. This canticle comes from the Gospel reading this Sunday, which tells of Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth (who is pregnant with John the Baptist). Elizabeth encourages Mary for her strong faith, and Mary responds with the Magnificat, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… There are countless musical settings of this gorgeous text, which are often heard at Evensong.
This Sunday, you will hear the Magnificat echoed a couple different ways. At the Offertory, the choir will sing a very simple version, with an even simpler congregational refrain. Please join us and sing heartily as we celebrate Mary’s joy, you’ll pick it up in no time! During Communion, you will hear a short movement from Bach’s Magnificat. Our amazing soprano, Erin Potter Faile, will sing Quia respexit, accompanied by our brilliant Artist-in-Residence, Natalie Twigg. The text is only a portion of this canticle (…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed). We chose this piece for this Sunday, as it focuses on the penitential mood of our Advent expectation. This hauntingly beautiful movement is very simple and minimal in texture. Also notice that Natalie will use an Oboe d’amore, an 18th-century instrument that was employed quite a bit by Bach. How does this instrument sound different to you from the standard oboe?
The rest of the service follows the rhythm we’ve established for Advent. You will hear the Psalm in plainchant with a simple chant refrain, and we will sing the next two verses of O come, O come Emmanuel at the end of the service. This Advent has been a wonderful journey of preparation, self-examination, and expectation. This Sunday gives us one more chance to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of new life and hope. It might not seem like it to some, but we may well be preparing for the best Christmas ever! With God, all things are possible.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Well, there’s not a whole lot to say about Christmas Eve. We’ve planned beautiful Christmas Eve services with all the trimmings that you might expect. Get ready to sing Christmas carols and to hear the choir and orchestra present some lovely and joyful music. You don’t want to miss the children’s Christmas Pageant at the 4:30p service, and an extended prelude at the 8:30p service.
Be sure to read the bulletin notes about the 200th anniversary of Silent Night being written. This year, we will celebrate the anniversary with an organ prelude on the great hymn by Samuel Barber, as well as some guitar accompaniment from Jacob Arkin, Charles Absher, and Caroline Herring Crespino. Why guitar? When the song was first performed for Christmas Eve, the organ was not functioning, and this song was composed so that it could be accompanied by guitar only.
Christmas Day will be a lot of fun. As usual, we will celebrate Christmas with a simple, joyful service in the chapel at 10:30a, singing favorite Christmas carols and praying together in thanksgiving for God’s many blessings. Then, after this service, I will promptly pass out for a good while…
See you at church!
December 13, 2018
This Sunday is often referred to as ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, from the Latin ‘rejoice.’ This is taken from the first word of the entrance antiphon that is prescribed for the day. Always celebrated on the third Sunday of Advent, it focuses on joy in the midst of sadness. A liturgical break, of sorts, from the penitential, expectant mood of Advent, priests will sometimes wear rose-colored vestments (instead of the Advent blue), the rose-colored Advent candle will be lit, and music will reflect a different tone. The uniqueness of this Sunday is part of the reason that Lessons and Carols was moved to Advent III from Advent II. What better way to ‘rejoice’ and share in the joy of God’s coming than to share special musical selections, carols, antiphons, and Advent readings?
Lessons and Carols
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was born out of the desire to sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. It was organized into a formal service with lessons at Truro Cathedral in England in 1880. At the time, the new cathedral was being built, and the service took place in a wooden structure, with about 400 people in attendance. Since then, it grew in popularity, largely because of King’s College, Cambridge. Starting in 1928 and continuing to this day, their Lessons and Carols have been broadcast on the BBC every single year (with one exception), and even during World War II. It has become a tradition for many families to sit around every Christmas Eve, listening to the program. And you can still hear it live this Christmas Eve on NPR; maybe it can become a new tradition for you! Although originally Anglican, this service has been adopted into the liturgy and books of prayer/services by numerous denominations around the world.
Lessons and Carols at HTP
My guess is that, for many of you, this is not your first Lessons and Carols. I know that we celebrate it every year here at Holy Trinity, but I’m very excited about this year’s service. Our service is an Advent Lessons and Carols, with a little different flavor from the Christmas version we often hear. But the music will still be beautiful and fun. You will hear a range of selections from the choir, including traditional English and American anthems, some German music, a spiritual, and some bluegrass. After the ninth lesson, our wonderful soprano, Emily Tallant, will sing my setting of the Ave Maria, which some of you may have heard last Christmas Eve. I have also prepared some special pieces on the organ, including a transcription of ‘Rejoice greatly,’ from Handel’s Messiah. Get it, rejoice? And don’t worry, we’ll still get to sing some Advent carols all together. You won’t want to miss this Sunday…
What are the ‘O’ Antiphons?
Before each carol, the cantor and choir will sing a short antiphon. These eight antiphons make up what are called the ‘O’ Antiphons, each one beginning with ‘O’ followed by a name for Christ, found in scriptural descriptions. For example, O wisdom, O Emmanuel, or O king of the nations. These antiphons date back to the sixth century, and are traditionally sung at Vespers during the last week of Advent, as we celebrate the imminent arrival of Christ. The ones you will hear on Sunday are based on the original Latin chants, but sung in English. In the monastic tradition, it was an honor each year to be asked to sing these antiphons, to sing the names of our God, and the cantor selected would traditionally invite all the other monks or religious to his or her room afterwards for a drink and celebration. Sounds Episcopalian, right?
December 6, 2018
On this second Sunday of Advent, we will continue our journey of anticipation, examination, and the search for light. Just a few short notes-
Notice that in place of the Psalm this week, we will sing Canticle 16, the Song of Zechariah. Like last week, we will all sing the simple antiphon at the beginning and end of the canticle, and the choir will chant the verses with minimal accompaniment. This song, also called the Benedictus, comes from Luke, as does the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving from Zechariah, proclaimed on the circumcision of his son, John the Baptist. Although we don’t sing a lot of canticles at Sunday eucharists, we always find them at Morning and Evening Prayer. On Sundays, we most often sing a canticle as a hymn of praise (towards the beginning of the service), i.e. the Gloria (Canticle 6) or Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers (Canticle 13). If you ever find yourselves with time on your hands, take a look at the canticles (there are 21 in our hymnal, and more elsewhere). They are rich and full of beautiful language and imagery. You will hear another canticle again on the fourth Sunday of Advent, can you figure out which one?
The Offertory anthem this week is a setting of the familiar text, Lo, He Comes, by David Hogan. This simple piece is based around a beautiful and bold melody, which is harmonized in different ways by the choir and organ to reflect the changing moods of the expressive text. Composer David Hogan (1949-1996) was a long-time tenor soloist for the Washington National Cathedral (for those of you who caught President Bush’s funeral this week), who became a well-known composer and director of the Choeur International Gai de Paris, a successful gay men’s chorus in Paris. Hogan’s life ended tragically onboard TWA flight 800, when the plane exploded and killed all passengers and crew. It was a great loss to the Episcopal musical community and beyond.
At the end of the service, we will sing a few more verses of what we sang last week, O come, O come Emmanuel. We will continue this hymn through Advent, as we make our way week-by-week to the manger and the coming of our Redeemer.
Next Sunday, December 16th, will be our Advent Lessons and Carols at 10:30. You won’t want to miss it! The choir and soloists have prepared some beautiful music and it will be a great celebration of the third Sunday of Advent (Rejoice Sunday). More about that next week…
See you at church!