January 31, 2019
Phew! Thank God we’ve made it through January! This Sunday, the music focuses on the Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You have probably heard this passage somewhere, maybe in a friend’s wedding, or maybe you’ve heard it a lot, but it’s one of my favorites. Love is patient; love is kind, love is not boastful or arrogant or rude… What a beautiful tribute to the undying power of love.
The communion and closing hymns reflect the powerful imagery of this passage and relate them to the wondrous love of Jesus. Notice how this love is expressed in the hymn-poetry of God is love and O love, how deep, how broad, how high. At the offertory, you will hear the choir sing John Rutter’s Thy Perfect Love. This 15th-century prayer is set simply and beautifully, sung twice, once by the sopranos and once by the whole choir. Check out this gorgeous text-
Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest, Thy perfect love close in my breast.
That I thee love and never rest; and make me love thee all things best,
And wounde my heart in they love free, that I may reign in joy evermore with thee.
British composer, John Rutter (b. 1945) is one of the most successful composers of all time. His music is extremely popular around the world, especially in the U.S., and nearly every choral library has a copy of at least one of his pieces. You may remember hearing his Requiem in the past at HTP. His works are mainly choral and sacred, and his melodies are contagious. He also works extensively as an arranger and editor, and collaborated with Sir David Willcocks on the epic Carols for Choirs anthology.
At communion, listen for a lovely solo from our own bass section leader, Joseph Battle. He will sing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Love bade me welcome (from Five Mystical Songs). This lush piece is a tender setting of poet and Anglican priest George Herbert’s Love (III), from his 1633 collection, The Temple: Sacred Poems. This song heavily features a baritone soloist with the choir coming in only at the end, whispering the melody of the Latin chant, O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred Banquet). The text speaks of love’s tireless invitation. The speaker feels resistant and unworthy of love, and yet love incessantly and gently beckons without reservation or hesitation. This piece is a real gem. God is love y’all.
See you on Sunday!
January 24, 2019
To help keep the imagery of light and the morning star through this season, I will set the tone for worship this Sunday with Paul Manz’ O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright. Listen for the light organ tones, all set in a high register to direct our attention upward. You will hear the chorale melody played by the feet, with motifs swirling in the hands, miniatures of that same melody.
Paul Manz (1919-2009) was an internationally-renowned American organist and composer. Writing mostly choral and organ music, he was known for his hymn festivals in Minneapolis, where an audience would sing hymns, accompanied by his improvisations, in place of the traditional concert. I’m sure you’ve heard our choir sing Manz’ famous, E’en So, Lord during Advent (we sing it almost every year!)
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear another story of Jesus confirming his mission and his path, destined by God the Father. In response, the choir will sing Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring at the Offertory. Look at the first verse-
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, Holy wisdom, love most bright.
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned with the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown, soaring, dying round Thy throne.
I’ll bet that you recognize this one. You may have even planned it for your wedding! (I can’t even count how many weddings I’ve played this for) It’s one of Bach’s most famous pieces, and it comes from his cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, actually for the 4th Sunday of Advent, although I think it applies this Sunday as well. Did you know that it was also the basis for the melody of The Beach Boys’ Lady Lynda (1979)?
At Communion, we will sing a simple Taizé chant, Ubi caritas (Where charity and love are found). This chant is easy and repetitive, and that’s just the point. Much of the music from the Taizé community (France) is meant to be learned quickly and by ear, and is repetitive to encourage a deeper meditation, a sort of litany to remove us from other distractions. Think mantra. I want to invite you to sing this with us, or even hum along, and allow yourself to forget about the music and focus on prayer and the love of God.
For something different–
Come back Sunday night at 5p for the DCM Ecumenical Service. The choir will be singing, with a surprise soloist, and you can expect to hear some different music from our typical Sunday morning. Should be a good ol’ Holy Ghost time! Come celebrate this 50th Anniversary with our church and our community!
January 17, 2019
We continue to follow the light of Christ in this season, and you will hear echoes of this on Sunday in the collect, the processional hymn, and the offertory anthem. Our opening hymn, Christ, whose glory fills the skies, and the choir anthem, O God, who by the leading of a star, both point in the direction of that which unifies us, the light of God.
O God, who by the leading of a star, is a well-developed anthem by Thomas Attwood (1765-1838). One of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s favorite pupils, he went on to earn the post as organist for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. An influential teacher, he was one of the earliest professors of the Royal Academy of Music. This anthem is one of his better-known pieces, along with Teach me, O Lord, which the choir sang at a service a few months ago.
A good portion of the music this Sunday is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, a saint in the Episcopal Church (his saint day is actually April 4, sometimes celebrated on January 15), and in honor of Martin Luther King Day. A great lover of music, I’ve picked a few of Dr. King’s favorites this Sunday, which you will hear in the organ voluntaries and during Communion. Listen for these important songs from King’s life, Precious Lord and Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Precious Lord, take my hand has a rich history. Inspired by tragic events, Thomas A. Dorsey penned this desperate prayer. It became Dr. King’s favorite song, and he would ask Mahalia Jackson to sing it for rallies and other events. Before his assassination, King’s last words were to musician Ben Branch, asking him to play this song that evening. Mahalia sang it at King’s funeral, and Aretha sang it at hers. Leontyne Price sang it at President Johnson’s funeral, and it has been recorded and performed by countless artists. Besides being hauntingly beautiful, this hymn has taken on a life of its own. I invite you to sing from this richness, from the heart, when we sing it all together at Communion.
And from our friends at PBS-
Many people are surprised to learn that Lift Every Voice and Sing was first written as a poem. Created by James Weldon Johnson, it was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, FL. The poem was set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson, and soon adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song. Today Lift Every Voice and Sing is one of the most cherished songs of the African American Civil Rights Movement and is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
I will sing a short solo during Communion, If I Can Help Somebody. Another one of Dr. King’s favorites, written by Alma Bazel Androzzo and defined by Mahalia Jackson, this song speaks of faith in knowing that your life is not wasted if you can only touch one person. A dear colleague of mine was once organist for Ralph Abernathy, and told this story in an interview about his last interaction with Martin Luther King Sr.-
My son Martin loved that song, If I can help somebody, my living will not be in vain. He said, “You understand that even Martin knew he couldn’t help everybody, not even in this church, but in life you learn to help somebody and lift back to grab someone else as you go. Don’t ever forget that.”
Children and Youth Music
Also, a reminder that this Sunday, I will meet with any interested parents or families about the new opportunities for children and youth music at Holy Trinity. I will discuss my game plan to get our young musicians going again, discuss possibilities, and answer any questions you may have. Just stick around right after the service (8a and 10:30a). Hope to see you there!
January 10, 2019
As we continue our journey through the Epiphany season, we will encounter the Baptism of our Lord this Sunday. Just a couple short notes about the music…
The music this Sunday will reflect the themes of baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit. All of the organ music will come from my own Variations on Bridegroom. The basis for this piece is the hymn tune, Bridegroom, which we will sing during Communion as the hymn, Like the murmur of a dove’s song. I was commissioned to write these variations in 2012 for the retirement of a longtime church musician, and based the five movements on Pentecost imagery from the hymn. These short movements are meant to evoke key elements in the hymn; dove song, flight, wind rush, new flame, and Holy Spirit.
The service will feature hymns that remind us of Christ’s own baptism. Christ, when for us you were baptized, Shall We Gather at the River, and Down in the River to Pray (sung by the choir), all point to recurring themes of water, freedom, and unity. The origins of the traditional Down in the River to Pray are difficult to know. It has been credited as an Appalachian folk song, a spiritual, a hymn, and a Native American tribal song. We do know that it appeared in the Slave Songbook of 1867, which was compiled by George H. Allan, but its original author is unknown. All I know is that it’s beautiful, moving, and a warm invitation to join sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers in prayer. Do you remember hearing Alison Krauss sing it in the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
We will continue to sing Natalie Twigg’s, A Service Setting, during our services in Epiphany, adding a few new movements this week. You may remember that this piece was written in dedication to Holy Trinity on its 125th anniversary. Ms. Twigg will be offering CDs of this composition with commemorative booklets very soon, at a modest price, to raise funds for the music ministry. We are grateful for the presence and gifts of our Artist-in-Residence!
See you on Sunday.
January 3, 2019
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful and restful holiday. I sure did enjoy my first Christmas here at HTP, you all really know how to celebrate! And thanks for picking some good carols last Sunday for our Christmas carol sing-along. That was a lot of fun.
This Sunday is the Feast of the Epiphany, and the start of the church’s Epiphany season. As we go through this season, you may notice some changes in the music. We will sing service music from A Service Setting, composed by our Artist-in-Residence, Natalie Twigg. Notice the differences between this setting and others that we sing. What imagery or perspectives does this setting suggest to you? How does this resonate with your own perspectives? How may it differ?
You will also hear a range of traditional Epiphany songs and music that points to the star and the ever-persisting theme of light. And what would Epiphany be without singing We Three Kings? Listen also for the organ voluntaries, all Epiphany-themed. This Sunday, I will play a prelude based on the hymn, Beautiful Savior, set by Gerre Hancock. This gorgeous, simple hymn, although appropriate almost any time, rings out to me in Epiphany. The 4th verse says-
Fair is the sunshine, fair is the moonlight, bright the sparkling stars on high;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels in the sky.
Gerre Hancock (1934-2012) was an American organist-composer who served as Organist and Master of Choristers at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York for 33 years. His compositions are widely performed and his improvisations defined the American school of improvisation. He was also one of my most influential teachers, especially in improvisation.
After the last hymn, I will play an exuberant J.S. Bach setting of In dir ist Freude (In Thee is Gladness). Notice the chorale motif popping out of the texture in different places, while another insistent melody responds in the pedals.
But the real good stuff is the special music selections we will hear from the Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers. Thanks to Mother Jenna, who sings with the group, we get to enjoy some Sacred Harp/shape-note singing. At both services, they will bless us with various hymns from this tradition. You may remember our choir singing a Sacred Harp song on Christ the King Sunday (With Songs and Honors Sounding Loud). Well, this Sunday, we get to hear from a group that sings this music regularly and with authority. I’m very excited!
Sacred Harp Music (from that week’s blog)-
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…
Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers is an informal network of people interested in participating in and promoting singing from the Sacred Harp and other shape note books in the Atlanta area. They occasionally round up a group of volunteer singers for demonstrations of Sacred Harp singing for other organizations and events. And of course, they support shape note singing with their voices at regular and special singing events whenever and wherever they can.
They sing regularly at Holy Trinity, ask Mo. Jenna for more details. Also, they have a great website that teaches you more about this rich style and tradition- atlantasacredharp.org.