March 28, 2019
The fourth Sunday in Lent is often referred to as Laetare Sunday, Rose Sunday, mid-Lent, or a host of other titles. Laetare, coming from the Latin for rejoice, refers to the traditional introit for the day, which begins, Rejoice, O Jerusalem. In several traditions, this Sunday is considered a break from Lenten disciplines and a reminder that Easter is within sight. The music this Sunday, though still very Lenten, will have a slightly different color.
The Gospel this week tells the amazing story of the Prodigal Son. We will hear a different take on this parable during the Offertory. Our own Charles Absher will sing an original song, The Prodigal Son. This bluesy tune tells the entire story from a very understandable perspective. Absher will be backed up by the choir, and you are also invited to sing along with the refrain-
My son was lost, but now he is found. Let’s celebrate, so gather all around!
Don’t worry, it’s okay to have a little bit of fun this Sunday…
In contrast, at communion, the choir will sing Richard Farrant’s classic English anthem, Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake. Farrant (1525-1580) was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1552 and was successful both in church music and in English drama. He was the first to pioneer the verse-anthem, which became popular with other English composers, including Byrd and Gibbons. This Sunday’s anthem reflects the mercy and forgiveness shown by the father in the Gospel reading, and is a prayer for guidance to ‘walk in a perfect heart.’
Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake, lay not our sins to our charge,
but forgive that is past and give us grace to amend our sinful lives;
to decline from sin and incline to virtue,
that we may walk in a perfect heart before thee now and evermore.
See you at church!
March 21, 2019
Instead of writing about this Sunday’s music, I’ll focus on the music for the upcoming recital and choral evensong on Monday night. I hope you can be there!
To celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation at HTP, we will have an organ recital followed by an evensong service. For all you fans of the pipe organ, I’ll play a short organ recital (the best kind) that will feature the Bach Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, the Franck Prelude, Fugue and Variation, and an improvised suite. A touch of flash, a touch of lyricism, and something fun. The Bach, with its stormy opening (the basis for the Poulenc Organ Concerto I played in the fall) and intricate fugue, is an old warhorse and Bach at his best. The Franck is plaintive and haunting, with a simple texture. Then, on the spot, I will improvise a suite of five short movements based on a surprise theme. The different movements will highlight some of the beautiful tones and colors of Holy Trinity’s instrument.
If you haven’t experienced an evensong before, then you’ve missed out. If you have, you already know what an enchanting liturgy it can be. For me, it’s always been a moment when I can truly hear our prayers reaching to God, a moment of real peace and awe.
An old English tradition (it has its roots in the English Reformation), the musical development of this service started taking shape during Queen Elizabeth’s rule, in the late 1500s, and has grown to be a service popular with Christians and non-Christians, because of its peaceful nature and beautiful music. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is simply a musical setting of the Evening Prayer service (from the Book of Common Prayer). If you’ve ever prayed any of the daily offices (Morning Prayer is very similar), then you may recognize the liturgy. Because of its strong roots in English tradition, our evensong will be sung in its Rite I version, with several parts taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
About some of the music-
The Preces and Responses are a set of prayers that are sung in alternation between officiant and choir, a few at the beginning of the service, and a few more later. We will sing a setting that I wrote in 2006 for the choir at the American Cathedral in Paris. This will be the Atlanta debut of these responses.
The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are canticles that are sung between readings. The Magnificat is the Song of Mary (My soul doth magnify the Lord…), and the Nunc dimittis is the Song of Simeon (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…). The setting for both of these is from American composer, Robert Lehman, based on English composer William Croft’s Funeral Sentences. This version is very simple and beautiful, in early English Baroque-style.
The Phos hilaron is an ancient Christian hymn (O gracious light) that is sung towards the beginning of the service. Our sopranos and altos will sing a version by composer Sister Élise, who is a composer and Episcopal nun from the Community of the Holy Spirit in New York City.
The Angel Gabriel will be sung by the choir later in the service, as an anthem. You may be familiar with the text (the same as what we sing around Christmas), but this setting by Alec Wyton has a different color altogether. Wyton (1921-2007) was an English-born composer who became a legend in the U.S. He led the music at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (NYC) for 20 years, and taught at Union Theological Seminary and Westminster Choir College.
As you can see, we got a lot cooking for Monday! Please come out and enjoy beautiful worship and some good music.
See you at church!
March 14, 2019
Just a couple notes about the music this Sunday. Last week’s blog, A Musical Guide to Lent, should give you most of what you need to know for these next few weeks.
This Sunday, the choir will sing a beautiful anthem, Veritas mea, at the offertory. This haunting and dramatic a capella anthem was written by British composer, George Malcolm (1917-1997). English conductor Jeremy Summerly describes the piece like this-
George Malcolm’s Veritas mea inhabits an atavistic soundworld.
Grounded in neo-Renaissance modality, it absorbs the church harmonies of Bruckner and
transforms them into a mixed-style creation of deep sincerity.
What I especially love about the piece is the text. Coming from Psalm 89, this text has been set musically for centuries by composers including Dufay and Palestrina. In case your Latin is rusty, here’s the English translation-
My truth and mercy shall be with him,
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
I chose this piece as a response to this Sunday’s Gospel. We hear of Jesus healing and casting out demons, while the Pharisees warn him of the danger ahead, that Herod wants him killed. Jesus remains strong in his truth and in the fulfilment of prophecy. As Jesus clearly knew the Psalms well, I wonder if this text from Psalm 89 ever came into his mind. How does this resonate with you? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to lean hard on your faith, despite the perils of what those decisions might mean?
See you on Sunday.
March 7, 2019
A Musical Guide to Lent
Throughout the liturgy, you will notice a lot of changes for Lent. You’ll see and feel a starker atmosphere in the nave of the church, with icons and crosses covered, purple on the altar, and a generally quieter space. Our alleluias cease and our service takes on a more penitent tone. The music will still be beautiful, God-willing, but will be stripped down, purged of the elaborate and the extraneous. In a world of growing distraction, the music’s aim is to focus our attention on what is truly necessary, a season-long conversation with God.
-Alleluias are omitted in this season. That includes the alleluia before the Gospel and the ones that occur in psalms and hymns.
-The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is not sung during Lent.
-The psalms will be sung in plainchant. This should be reminiscent of what we did in Advent, but even starker, without the accompaniment of bells and organ you heard previously. Allow the simple and repetitive melodies to focus your attention on the poetry and rhythm of the text, without any extra musical distractions.
-Each week, we will sing the Taizé chant, O Lord, hear my prayer, by Jacques Berthier, at the sequence (right before the Gospel reading). This haunting tune is easy to learn and, when repeated, can inspire a prayer that transcends the words and music.
-The mass setting has also changed for the season. We will sing the Trisagion (Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One), the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), all coming from David Hurd’s New Plainsong.
-Focus will be placed on the human voice, and not instruments. Accompaniment will be more subdued and we will be singing even more a capella. The organ voluntaries (prelude and postlude) will be absent. In fact, there will be no purely instrumental music during Lent. The instruments will be used, but only to accompany singing. All of this points to the most expressive tool we have to worship musically, the voice. The “original instrument,” the voice is stripped away and vulnerable, powerful and human. When we focus on singing better together, then we focus on breathing together, listening to each other, and uniting with each other in prayer.
The music is going to feel different. It may even feel a little awkward at times. But that’s kind of what this is all about- stepping outside of our rhythm to see things in a different way. I invite you to just try to embrace it, to take this journey with us, a journey that ultimately leads us to the cross and glorious resurrection.
Best. Ending. Ever.