April 18, 2019

 

A Musical Guide to Easter Day

Please see last week’s blog for information on the services coming up tonight and tomorrow. This is a sneak peek of the music for Sunday, the most important day in our calendar.

Both services (8a and 10:30a) will be similar musically, and both will involve the choir and organ, but the later service will also feature a chamber orchestra and a song from our youth department. Listen for our traditional Easter hymns of praise, proclaiming the good news. The Gloria has returned to the liturgy, and the a capella tone of the Triduum has been broken.

At the offertory, the choir will sing a real classic, the Randall Thompson, Alleluia. This piece was written in 1940 for the opening exercises for a new music center at Tanglewood. Originally commissioned as a “fanfare” for voices, Thompson chose a different route- a quieter, more introspective setting. Inspired by the war in Europe at the time, he felt that a loud, joyous Alleluia would be inappropriate. And this is why I chose this piece. Considering what’s going on in our world today, and in our country certainly, I wanted to go against the traditional idea of our Easter alleluias. It’s a reminder that there is no joyous resurrection without Jesus’ suffering and journey to the cross. The resurrection of Christ is the beginning for us, not the end, and we have work to do!

The prelude will be an improvised organ fanfare based on the chant tune Haec dies (meaning This is the day, Ps. 118), which has been used for centuries as a Latin proper for Easter Sunday. The postlude will be the Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s 5th Symphony, which I love to play every Easter.

After the homily, as we prepare for a baptism, the Youth will sing a gospel song I wrote a few years back, and they sound amazing. It’s always beautiful how the themes of resurrection tie into our sacrament of welcoming a new life into our church.

By the way, everyone in the music ministry works super hard to make all the music happen from Palm Sunday through Easter. It’s a wild amount of work that starts long before Holy Week and has our committed members here almost every night before Easter. Please don’t be shy about showing your support or gratitude to our choir members, staff singers, and other musicians. Take a minute and just thank them for all they do for our parish life. We are blessed here. The HTP family is exceptionally open-hearted, engaged, and committed, and that’s something really worth celebrating!

See you at church.


April 11, 2019

 

A Musical Guide to Holy Week

As we approach the most important week of the church year, let’s take a look at what’s ahead-

Palm Sunday

This Sunday, we begin our services with the Liturgy of the Palms and the procession into Jerusalem with Jesus. A triumphal procession will end with singing the traditional, All glory, laud, and honor. As the procession enters the nave, the tone shifts towards Jesus’ Passion. The organ will be playing Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous setting of O sacred head, sore wounded. The reading of the Passion will be framed musically by the passion hymn, Ah, holy Jesus. At the offertory, the choir will sing Crucifixus, a chilling movement from J.S. Bach’s B-minor Mass.  Sung in Latin, this text comes from the Nicene creed- For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. Bach placed this movement exactly in the middle of the creed, as it represented the center of his faith. You will hear a bass line symbolically repeated 13 times, over which heartbreaking melodies sigh from different sections of the choir. A truly breathtaking piece of music. You will begin to feel a real shift in the music at this point. More music will be sung a capella, accompaniment will be subdued, tempos restrained. We begin our journey to the cross.

Maundy Thursday

This beautiful liturgy focuses on Jesus’ last supper with his Apostles. To set the tone, I will begin with an organ prelude, Le banquet céleste (The Celestial Banquet), by Olivier Messiaen. This piece, a part of standard organ repertoire, is Messiaen’s first organ composition, and contains an epitaph- He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him (John 6:56). During the foot washing, the choir will sing Ubi caritas, a motet by Maurice Duruflé, a contemporary and colleague of Messiaen. This gorgeous piece contains an ancient Latin hymn text, Where charity and love are found, God is there. This hymn has been used for centuries as one of the antiphons for the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday. At the offertory, you will hear the English Renaissance motet, William Byrd’s Ave verum corpus. This beautiful piece is based on a 14th-century hymn text, a meditation on the Eucharist. At the end of the service, as the sanctuary is stripped and the altar washed, our own Caroline Herring will sing one of her original songs, Until You Go, a tender, heartbreaking song that captures the tone of our worship. What must be going through Jesus’ mind at this point? How do you prepare to face your own death? The tone is set, and continues downstairs in the chapel. Make sure to come to the Sacred Watch after, where Caroline will sing a few more of her songs while we meditate, pray, and keep watch.

Just a heads up- after the opening of this service, the instruments will remain mute until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil, and music will be sung a capella. This is to set a very distinctive tone for the Triduum, and to make the Easter celebration that much more dramatic. It also brings our voices together as a congregation. I invite you to allow the a capella music for these three days to wash over you. Pay attention to how we as a congregation are urged to listen to each other, breathe together, and focus on the text of the hymns we sing. In the words commonly attributed to St. Augustine, “he who sings prays twice.”

Good Friday

The Good Friday liturgy commemorates the physical death of our Lord on the cross. This solemn ceremony is not a true Eucharist, but a communion meal is still shared. You will hear the music of both lament and adoration coming from the choir loft. The selected songs and chants are all stripped down, to mirror the altar and the tone. During the veneration of the cross, chilling spirituals and a haunting Taizé adoration chant. At the end of the noonday service, our own Alexis LaSalle will sing a stirring, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. This traditional spiritual expresses the pain, loneliness, loss, and desperation that we all can identify with in one way or another. At the end of the 7p service, the choir will sing a short chorale from Verena Anders’ Passion according to St. John. This excerpt, Help us, Jesus Christ is based originally on a 14th-century Latin text, an epilogue to what we all just experienced during this service. And, although there is so much wonderful music written for Holy Week, the use of silence can be so powerful. Listen for how silence is being used this week to invite prayer and to counterbalance the music, especially in this service.  

Easter Vigil

This liturgy is the beginning of the holiest day of the church year. We begin outside with the light of Christ in the darkness, as the Paschal candle is lit. After the congregation moves into the church, we will hear the ancient hymn, the Exsultet, sung by Mary Martha Clark. This hymn of praise is a beautifully elaborate Easter Proclamation. Then we begin the Liturgy of the Word, in which we hear the story of our faith through scripture, all in anticipation and vigil, with musical responses to these readings, mostly psalms and canticles. Listen for the magnificent Palestrina motet, Sicut cervus (As the deer). When the announcement is made that Christ is risen, the lights will come on and we will sing the Gloria (which we haven’t sung since before Lent), accompanied by organ and bells. Don’t be too surprised if we even have a musical offering from our children! The service continues in a familiar way. The offertory, sung by the choir, is William Billings’ Easter Anthem. This boisterous, elaborate piece comes from who is known as the first American choral composer. Billings’ music was an integral part of the American folk tradition, and this piece captures the earthy, celebratory tone of this moment in the service. Please come to as many of the Holy Week services as you can! This is the focal point of our year, the liturgy and music will be beautiful (the musicians are working very hard), and it can be an incredible journey that we all take together with Jesus.

Stay tuned next week for my blog about the Easter music.

See you at church!


April 3, 2019

 

Well, here we are, approaching the fifth Sunday in Lent! This Sunday, we hear a gospel account of Jesus being anointed in Bethany, as found in John. Stories of Jesus being anointed can be found in all four gospels, but all with different details. Despite their ambiguous history, the four anointing stories are generally believed to be independent events. However, this Sunday’s description of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet with oil easily reminds modern readers of his anointing by the unnamed woman in Capernaum, in which she washed his feet with her tears (Luke). The anointing also links to the traditional preparation for Jesus’ burial, as he will be crucified not long after. Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.

As we approach Jerusalem, the cross, and the bitter passion, this theme of tears speaks to me, and our music will reflect this imagery.

At the offertory, the choir will sing Orlando Gibbons’ Drop, drop, slow tears. This anthem, though very simple musically and texturally, packs quite a punch. The simplicity and heart-wrenching text cuts right through for me.

Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet
Which brought from Heaven the news and Prince of Peace:

Cease not, wet eyes, His mercy to entreat;
To cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
Nor let His eye see sin, but through my tears.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was one of the most influential English composers in history. He wrote not only great choral music (verse anthems, madrigals, evensong settings, etc), but also wrote extensively for instruments, especially keyboard and viols.

During communion, we will sing the familiar text, Take up your cross, the Savior said. We sang this hymn at the beginning of the season, both on Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday in Lent. This time, we return to the text, but from a different perspective. In order to signal this renewed viewpoint, the reality of our journey to the cross, I’ve set it to a different tune. We will sing it instead to William Billings’ When Jesus wept, which also ties it to our theme of tears.

Stayed tuned next week for my musical guide to Holy Week… See you at church!

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