November 29, 2018

 

Happy New Year! This Sunday begins the new liturgical year as we celebrate the season of Advent. You may notice several changes musically in the next four Sundays to mark the new season. Hopefully the music will not only remind us that it’s Advent, but also help create an atmosphere of more solemn anticipation.

This Sunday, I will play a familiar organ prelude, Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme (Sleepers wake), by Johann Sebastian Bach. It just doesn’t feel like Advent to me without playing this classic. Listen for the Sleepers wake melody woven into a gorgeously simple countermelody that seems to never end. Bach never wrote notes that he didn’t need, he was very concise, and this is evident in that fact that the accompaniment to these melodies is just a single line, played in the pedals. During Communion, we will sing this same chorale as a congregational hymn.

You will hear other familiar Advent hymns through this service and through the season. We begin with the mighty hymn, Lo! He comes with clouds descending. The first Communion hymn, O Word, that goest forth on high, comes from the 1940 Hymnal, and is set to a recognizable chant tune. O come, O come Emmanuel will be sung at the end of each service, with different verses selected each Sunday. All of these reflect themes of expectation and readiness, of longing for light, peace, and joy in the darkness. If you look closely enough, you may also see ties with Lenten themes and the Passion.

At the Offertory, the choir will sing Keep your lamps!, an African-American Spiritual, arranged by André Thomas. The idea of hope for a better tomorrow is very present in the Spirituals. It is that very hope that allowed slaves to move forward towards freedom, although this hope was born from suffering and oppression. This simple arrangement reminds us to be ready for what God is going to do in our lives.

 

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, the time is drawing nigh. Children don’t get weary, ‘til your work is done. Christian journey soon be over, the time is drawing nigh.   

 

You may also notice that the Psalms are sung in a different way during Advent. Instead of elaborate Anglican chant, you will hear the plainchant version of the Psalm, with minimal accompaniment. This simplified style of chant still follows the natural rhythm of speech, but is in unison, and follows a very simple pattern of note changes. The choir will sing it this week, if you all will help us sing the short antiphon before and after. In a few Sundays, we will invite you to join us on the Psalm, so that we can chant it all together.

Now, as for the organ, you will hear a change in tone for Advent. In general, the organ will be a bit more subdued during hymns and service music. Aside from selecting different service music, I find that a change in the style and color of organ accompaniment makes a big difference in a more meditative, expectant season. And in some cases, it’s what you don’t play, rather than what you do. For example, I will omit the organ postlude during Advent. It may feel a little awkward at first, as we’ve all gotten into a rhythm, but after the dismissal, the organ will be silent, please don’t be too shocked. I want to create a mood of anticipation, and I invite you to just be present in that moment, perhaps even taking some silent time for yourself to meditate and pray.

See you Sunday!


November 20, 2018

 

Happy Thanksgiving! And congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of the church year. This Sunday is the last one after Pentecost, sometimes known as Christ the King, and the final Sunday before we hit the beginning of the new church year, Advent. Even though we don’t celebrate Christ the King as a principal feast, the readings for this week are quite “kingly” and the music will reflect this.

 

All four readings this Sunday mention kingship in some way. Notice the contrast between the ideas of a king “sitting on his throne” and Pilate asking Jesus if he is “King of the Jews.”  I will help set the tone during the prelude, using a piece by Jean Langlais, his prelude on the tune, CORONATION. Immediately following, we will sing this same tune, as All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. I invite you to consider the idea of this kingship, especially when we sing the line, “and crown Him Lord of all.”

 

The other hymns reinforce the picture of Christ the King, but from different angles. The King of love my shepherd is, King of glory, King of peace, and Crown Him with many crowns all tell a different story, using a different texture.   

 

During the Offertory, the choir will sing With Songs and Honors, a piece that comes from the Sacred Harp tradition. I wanted to find a piece that gave glory to God, our King, without the pretense of a royal coronation. Since serving a king is, of course, a concept very foreign to us here in America, I wanted something more grounded and full of heart, not pomp.

 

Sacred Harp singing, sometimes called shape-note singing, may have early English roots, but it’s an American tradition that came from New England in the 1770s and eventually moved to the South. It is a very participatory style, based on a simple music notation system. It focuses on just making a joyful noise, singing boisterously & whole-heartedly, instead of executing complex music with a controlled uniformity of sound. This music is meant for anyone to join in, and its notation makes it easy to learn. Notice how differently the choir sings this anthem, compared to last week’s Tallis motet, for example. If you’re interested in exploring this style of singing, talk to Mother Jenna, she’s the real expert!

 

At the end of the service, I will play the Emperor’s Fanfare, an organ piece by Antonio Soler. Soler (1729-1783) was an important Spanish composer, especially for keyboard music. Today, Spanish repertoire does not have as strong a presence in European classical music as its German, French, and Italian counterparts, so I always love a chance to play some Spanish music. Soler was born in Catalonia, and became a monk at the age of 23. Padre Soler contributed greatly to keyboard music in Spain, while also writing for strings and choirs. Listen for the regal trumpet rhythms, which are almost more like drum patterns than a trumpet melody.

 

See you Sunday!


November 15, 2018

 

On Sunday, I will help set the tone for worship on the piano, with a solo version of Lead Me, Guide Me. This great hymn, written by Doris Akers in 1953, speaks of our desire for God to direct our steps. The refrain says-

Lead me, guide me along the way, for when you lead me I cannot stray.

Lord, let me walk each day with Thee. Lead me, O Lord, lead me.

Akers, who the Smithsonian called “the foremost black gospel songwriter in the United States” in 1992, was a friend of Mahalia Jackson, and wrote an abundance of gospel songs that became very popular. This particular tune was covered by several well-known artists, including Elvis Presley.

During the Offertory, let’s try singing a hymn together, instead of the choir singing an anthem. It is Well with my Soul, echoes our need to trust in Jesus. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus warning Peter, James, John, and Andrew that “many will come in my name…and they will lead you astray.” He instructs them to remain calm when they hear of wars, calamities, and famines. This hymn reminds us that when we face challenges in life, our souls can find rest in our Savior, that with Jesus’ guidance, it can be well with our souls.

It is Well with my Soul, as some of you may already know, has a touching story behind it. The author Horatio G. Spafford was having a very difficult season of his life. His young son died in 1871, then he lost his fortune overnight in the Great Chicago Fire that same year. Two years later, his four daughters died when a French ocean liner sank after a collision with another ship. Spafford took the next ship to find his wife, who had survived the incident, and wrote this hymn as he passed over the place where his daughters died. Not only a heart-wrenching story, but a real testament to Spafford’s faith.

The choir will sing a beautiful motet during Communion. Thomas Tallis’ Verily, verily I say unto you is an absolute gem. The text comes from John 6. The King James version says-

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

I invite you to meditate on these Eucharistic words as you receive Communion. Allow the unfolding harmonies and interplay between voices to bring you into prayer. Listen to how the mood shifts when the choir sings and I will raise him up on the last day. There is a reason this music has survived for centuries, it has a transformative power, a prayerful presence that can’t be denied entry to hearts.

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) was one of the most influential English composers in history. His diverse style bridged the gap between European styles and English liturgy. He was a pioneer in printed music, sacred music written in English, and was one of the first to write music for the English liturgy. A fictionalized version of him was even a character on Showtime’s The Tudors. And, in fact, next Wednesday is Tallis’ official feast day in the Episcopal Church liturgical calendar! What are you doing to celebrate??


November 8, 2018

 

After a busy week for the Music Ministry, we forge ahead this Sunday with some beautiful music.

This week, you will hear some English music for both organ voluntaries. To help set the tone for the service, I will play a Fantasia, for a Double Organ, by the great Orlando Gibbons. Gibbons (1583-1625) was one of the most influential English composers in history. Besides writing tons of great choral music, he was one of the first to start publishing keyboard music collections. Most of this music did not specify a particular keyboard instrument, and could have been heard on organ or virginal. This double organ piece refers to an instrument with two contrasting sounds that form a dialogue with each other. Listen to how the four voices played on the organ have a similar texture to a choral piece.   

At the Offertory, as we remember the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, we will sing a congregational hymn, O day of peace that dimly shines, to the tune JERUSALEM. I invite you to pay attention to the text, and how poignant it is, especially in our world today. The tune for this hymn also holds a special significance. 102 years ago, Sir Hubert Parry wrote this tune for an 1804 poem by William Blake (And did those feet in ancient times…). It was written during the darkness of WWI, and became popular immediately. It became the anthem for the “Fight for Right” movement of WWI, and later the hymn of the Women Voters movement, as well as the Women’s Institute in 1924. It is sung regularly for major events in Britain, and is almost regarded as a second national anthem. JERUSALEM clearly stirs the hearts of many, so don’t be afraid to sing whole-heartedly!

During Communion, our two songs reflect this Sunday’s Gospel reading, in which the widow puts all that she has into the treasury. The first communion hymn, Just as I am, without one plea, affirms this offering. Then, please join us as we sing a very simple worship song, I Give Myself Away, by William McDowell. With a simple refrain, I invite you to repeat it with us and allow yourself to just be present in the moment. Not a lot of words, not a complicated melody, nothing to distract you from the presence of God in the receiving of the Eucharist. Be open to meditating on that Gospel lesson, and exploring how we can give of ourselves more every day.

Now, of course, no annual meeting-Sunday would be complete without a hearty sing of Christ is made the sure foundation. Even if this hymn may be familiar to you, what if you took a moment to just read through the text, without the music? It is important, as we have celebrated All Saints and All Souls, and before we begin our new year, that we celebrate Christ, who unites us. In a turbulent world, we can have comfort in the fact that Christ is our rock and stronghold. Our faith tells us that, trusting in His goodness, we can follow Him through all of this and be the light in the darkness.   

In that celebratory mood, I will play Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Tune as a postlude. Purcell (1659-1695), was another English composer who really changed the game. He defined an English style of Baroque music, and his fame surpassed most other British composers. You may recognize this tune from your wedding! It is often played as a processional/recessional for weddings and other festive occasions. A “trumpet tune” or “trumpet voluntary,” despite its name, is a common type of composition for keyboard, usually organ, with a solo trumpet stop. You will hear from our magnificent trompette-en-chamade (the big 18-wheeler truck horn in the back), which really sounds incredible in our nave. Apologies in advance for the noise. #sorrynotsorry

See you Sunday!

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