February 28, 2019

 

On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the dramatic story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus, Peter, James, and John ascend a mountain to pray, Jesus shines with a bright light, prophets appear, and the voice of God is heard calling Jesus. Doesn’t get more exciting than that! The music on Sunday will help paint these images of light, transformation, and awe.

The organ voluntaries will all be improvised this Sunday, based on short phrases from the Gospel reading. …up on the mountain to pray will set an anticipatory and prayerful tone, while …from the cloud came a voice will echo the sound of God’s voice descending from the heavens.

The choir will sing Heavenly Light at the offertory. This lush Russian anthem, composed by

Alexander Kopylov (1854-1911), is widely performed by choirs around the world. It has a slow build, but points upward all the way, reminding us where God’s light comes from. Listen for the rich and dark harmonies, as well as the extra low notes from the basses, both typical of Russian choral music. Despite this being a piece about light, there is an interesting dark quality to it, perhaps reminding us that there is no light without darkness.

Sent from heaven, thy rays were given on great and small to shine. O light Divine! May each soul in sorrow’s night see the heavenly light! Thou blessing to all creation, lead us to our salvation! All those whose feet may falter, lead unto the sacred altar! Oh shine from above, Divine Light of love! Show us the way unto our God, we pray! Thou our beacon and guide shalt be! Light Divine, we praise Thee!

Before the Gospel is read, instead of our usual Alleluia, you will hear the women of the choir sing, Lift thine eyes, from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. This short and lovely movement will transport us to our mountain setting as we prepare to hear the Gospel, encouraging us to lift our eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help.

The congregational hymns will reflect the transfiguration light as well. Pay attention to the first communion hymn, O Light of Light, Love given birth. This simple text tells the whole story we hear in the Gospel, but in three short verses. The haunting tune, an old hymn called Jesu, dulcis memoria, dates back to the 12th century, attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). It has a beautiful Lenten undertone, as I’m hoping to slightly foreshadow the coming of Lent next week. The full hymn has somewhere between 42 and 53 verses, depending on the source, but I think we’ll only sing three this Sunday, you’re welcome!

After this week, the music at church will shift as we enter a very different season, Lent. Stay tuned for a musical guide to Lent next week, as we explore how changes in music will reflect a more stark and prayerful tone for worship.

See you at church!


February 21, 2019

 

 

This week, we hear Jesus teaching us to love our enemies, to see things differently and step out of ourselves. The music will reflect themes of love, with a nod to the English Tea on Sunday afternoon.

Listen for some good English music, as a prelude to the big event. Besides a good Anglican psalm, the choir will sing Philip Wilby’s If Ye Love Me. This is a gorgeous setting of Jesus’ words of love and law, of comfort and grace. Wilby (b. 1949) is an English composer and organist-choirmaster. His best known compositions, however, lie in brass band music.

During communion, the choir will share Thomas Tallis’ Verily, verily, I say unto you (I can’t imagine a more British title). This perfect motet is one of Tallis’ most popular, and for good reason. Tallis is a giant in the world of English music. There’s a character based on him on The Tudors and a feast day named for him in the Episcopal church calendar. [For more info on Tallis and this piece, see my blog from November 15, 2018.]

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In celebration of Black History Month, all of the instrumental voluntaries (preludes and postludes) for February will come from African and African-American composers. Classical music from the African Diaspora has been sorely overlooked through history, and little recognition has been given to such amazing composers as

William Grant Still, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, George Bridgetower, and George Walker, to name a handful. So I find this month to be a great time to bring more awareness to this imbalance, more exposure to this rich heritage of music that has been missing from classical repertoire for too long. This Sunday, I will play-

Adoration, by Florence Price. Price (1887- 1953) was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition performed by a major orchestra. She was closely associated with Margaret Bonds, Langston Hughes, and Marian Anderson, who all played a large part in the success of her music. Price even moved to Atlanta in 1910 and took the position as head of the Clark Atlanta University’s music department.

Allegro, from Sonata I, by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. This actually comes from a piece for violin and piano, which I have transcribed for organ. Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was a skilled violinist, composer, and conductor, as well as a champion fencer! Born in Guadeloupe to a rich planter and his wife’s African slave, he became renowned in the Paris music scene, leading a major symphony orchestra and often performing for Queen Marie Antoinette.


February 14, 2019

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Just a short blog about the music this Sunday-

We hear Luke’s telling of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Similar to the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew (four of the same blessings are mentioned), we hear of Jesus healing those in need and delivering a radical message of hope, comfort and justice. Our music will reflect all of these themes, especially the hymns and anthem.

At the Offertory, the choir will sing a simple arrangement of the great African-American spiritual, I will trust in the Lord. This spiritual speaks of hope through faith that God will provide what we need. Our faith in the Resurrection, as mentioned in the Epistle this week, is what carries us through the darkest of times. It took unshakeable faith for African-American slaves to continue in their hope for something better, and you can hear this clearly in the Spiritual. The choir will sing this in a laid-back ‘Southern gospel quartet’ style.

At communion, I will sing a short version of the Beatitudes, written by Audrey Assad. An already-established sacred songwriter, Assad brings a young voice and fresh perspective to our faith. This song speaks of the blessings mentioned in the gospel reading, and frames them with one of my favorite lines ever-

So, further up and further in, we have no place else to go.

As we plant the seeds of toil and tears, it’s beauty we will sow.

In celebration of Black History Month, all of the instrumental voluntaries (preludes and postludes) for February will come from African and African-American composers. Classical music from the African Diaspora has been sorely overlooked through history, and little recognition has been given to such amazing composers as William Grant Still, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, George Bridgetower, and George Walker, to name a handful. So I find this month to be a great time to bring more awareness to this imbalance, more exposure to this rich heritage of music that has been missing from classical repertoire for too long. This Sunday, I will play-

Yoruba Lament, a setting of a Yoruba tune (Nigeria/Benin/Togo) by Fela Sowande (1905-1987). Listen for the plaintive melody, haunting with soft sounds on the organ. Sowande is considered the father of Nigerian art music. One of the most well-known African composers of music in the classical idiom, he composed several lovely pieces based on sacred Yoruba folk melodies.

Fanfare and Chorale, by Calvin Fuller (b. 1943). This exciting piece starts with a fanfare from the organ trumpets and concludes with a more solemn chorale that ends with a bang. Fuller currently serves as organist/choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church in Houston, TX. He also worked as chorus master for the Houston Ebony Opera Guild for 15 years, and now prepares the choruses for Opera in the Heights.

See you at church!


February 7, 2019

 

This Sunday, we will hear the story of Jesus by the lake, in which He amazed the fisherman and convinced them to follow Him and fish for people. We will also hear the story of the Lord calling Isaiah. These narratives of faith and discipleship will be reflected in the music throughout the 10:30a service.

As we sing the great hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, we set the tone for our first reading, the call of Isaiah. These are the words the angels use to call to one another as they surround the Lord’s throne. You will hear echoes of this reading later, as the hymn Here I am, Lord, tells this same story from a different perspective. Our closing hymn, I have decided to follow Jesus, reaffirms our commitment to follow the example of Jesus in our everyday world.

During the offertory, the choir will sing a piece centered on the story of Jesus and the fishermen. Tú has venido a la orilla, also known as Pescador de hombres, comes from a Spanish priest and composer named Cesáreo Gabaráin. Written in 1974, it is now very popular among Spanish-speaking Catholics around the world, and was one of Pope John Paul II’s very favorite songs. In case you don’t speak Spanish, here is the English version of the text we will sing-

You have come down from the lakeshore

Seeking neither the wise nor the wealthy, but only asking for me to follow.

O Jesus, you have looked into my eyes; kindly smiling, you’ve called out my name.

On the sand I have abandoned my small boat; now with you, I will seek other seas.

This text shows the Gospel story from the perspective of Simon Peter. The style is particularly Spanish, and the choir will be joined by our own Charles Absher on guitar. The choir and soloists (Alexis LaSalle and Erin Potter Faile) will sing a good part of it in Spanish. I find it interesting that singing in different languages opens up new colors and sounds that we may not be used to hearing in English and Latin.

In celebration of Black History Month, all of the instrumental voluntaries (preludes and postludes) for February will come from African and African-American composers. Classical music from the African Diaspora has been sorely overlooked through history, and little recognition has been given to such amazing composers as William Grant Still, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, George Bridgetower, and George Walker, to name a handful. So I find this month to be a great time to bring more awareness to this imbalance, more exposure to this rich heritage of music that has been missing from classical repertoire for too long. This Sunday, I will play-

Wade in Duh Waddah!, a setting of this haunting spiritual for the organ by William Farley Smith (1941-1997). Listen for the bluesy feel and expressive nuances in the melody, combined with rich jazz harmonies in the left hand.

Father Abraham, from R. Nathaniel Dett’s Bible Vignettes. This fiery piano piece combines a Jewish hymn melody (Yigdal, or The God of Abraham praise) with spiritual melodies, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child and Father Abraham in a wild piano fantasy that covers the whole color spectrum. Dett draws parallels between Abraham in the Old Testament and the spiritual’s emotional keynote of emancipation and hope in the future. A pioneer and one of the most important early African-American composers, Dett (1882-1943) combined the spiritual with European Romantic styles in his compositions.

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