MusicNotes, by Will Buthod

October 11, 2018

Before we begin our worship this Sunday, I will help set the tone with a short improvised prelude on the organ. This is an ornamental chorale based on the tune of our opening hymn. The ornamental chorale is a musical form that was popularized in Northern Germany in the 17th century by Heinrich Scheidemann, and later employed by composers such as Buxtehude and Bach. You will hear the hymn (or chorale) melody in one voice, treated with an elaborate and expressive embellishment. I often play and improvise instrumental pieces based on a hymn tune that we will sing during the service, in order to remind our ears of the tune and to reinforce the message of the hymn.

Over the next few weeks, you will be hearing some traditional Anglican chant from the choir, as they sing the psalm. This form of chant, unique to the Anglican/Episcopal Church, is a gorgeous way of singing psalms and canticles. Although it may have roots in plainchant (as in, Gregorian chant), it sounds very different from the single, unaccompanied melody lines of earlier chant. Instead, English chant sets an unmetrical text (like a psalms or canticle) to a simple harmonized melody, and is meant to match the speech-rhythms of the text. This style came out of the English Reformation (16th c.) and was well established by the 18th century. We are so blessed that the Anglican Communion provides many different ways for worshippers to sing the songs of the Bible. Take a moment while the choir sings these psalms to simply meditate on the text and explore what they may mean in your life. Heck, on a rainy day, if you’re really bored, visit youtube, search for Anglican psalms, and just let it play in the background. There is something hypnotically spiritual and deep about this expression of some of the most colorful and dramatic poetry of the Bible.  

During the Offertory, the choir will sing Lead Me, Lord, a short anthem by Samuel S. Wesley. Wesley, son of composer Samuel Wesley and grandson of Charles Wesley, was very influential in 19th century English church music. He wrote hymns (like our opening hymn on Sunday), organ music, and choral music, and did a lot to revolutionize organbuilding at the time. (Maybe the real reason I like him, though, is because he liked to fish, and would sometimes cancel engagements to play based on fishing trips…) The words of this anthem reflect our Gospel reading. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus telling his disciples about what is required to enter heaven, to truly follow Him. The anthem text is a plea for God to guide us, to teach us how to live in Him, to follow His paths of righteousness. It reminds us that it is “only through God that we dwell in safety.”

Our prayer for guidance continues later during the service, when we sing the old hymn, Just a Closer Walk with Thee. This great hymn, long associated with New Orleans jazz funerals, has a widely-disputed history. Although its exact origins are not clear, we do know that it was written down by 1940 and recorded the following year. Regardless, the song became so popular that it was recorded by an exhaustive list of artists across many genres, from Mahalia Jackson to Ella Fitzgerald, from Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash to Van Morrison, from Willie Nelson to Jack White. And no New Orleans funeral would be complete without it. What it is about this song? It could be the words, a simple plea for God’s guidance, protection, and presence-

I am weak, but thou art strong;

Jesus, keep me from all wrong;

I’ll be satisfied as long

As I walk, let me walk close to thee.

That’s my prayer for this week. See you on Sunday…

October 4, 2018

As we prepare our hearts for worship this Sunday, you will hear some Bach played the organ. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was one of the most prolific and admired composers of Western classical music. He was also a church organist and sacred music composer, and his huge output of music for the organ reflects this. On Sunday, you will hear a movement from a Trio Sonata, traditionally a type of piece that featured two different instruments with an accompaniment. Bach, ever the skilled organist, translated this idea to the organ, with one part in each hand and the accompaniment in the feet (pedals). Despite its simple texture, these teaching pieces can be quite demanding to play, but form the backbone of a classical organist’s training. This Sunday, the readings echo a call for unity through God, in the imagery of husband and wife becoming one flesh. This is why I selected this piece. The two separate voices in this sonata complement each other in various ways until they are finally united into one voice at the end.

To reinforce this same theme, you will hear the choir sing the well-known, Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether, at the Offertory. This beautiful anthem, by Harold Friedell, invites us to unite our souls to each other and to God, through the Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder that, “when two or three are met together, Thou art in the midst of them.” As the altar is being prepared on Sunday, you will hear the text shift its focus to the unity of Christ’s communion table and end with our promise to serve God faithfully. The piece is a classic for good reason, and hopefully it will help set the tone to begin the Eucharistic Prayer.  

During Communion, we will all sing Let Us Break Bread Together on our knees. I know this may be a familiar song, but do you know the history behind it? This haunting spiritual was written at a time when African-Americans were allowed to attend worship with non-African-Americans, but would worship in a separate area, and not be allowed to receive Communion with the rest of the church. This song is not a simple communion tune about bread and wine, but a plea for unity, that all of God’s people break bread together on their knees, with emphasis on together.

This Sunday, as the church enters the last stretch of Ordinary Time (the end of our church year), you will hear some changes in the service music (Gloria/Hymn of Praise, Alleluia, Holy, Holy, Fraction Anthem). I invite you to sing out heartily, even if a couple are unfamiliar to you. I’ll discuss it more in future blogs, but I am hoping that you pay attention to how these short pieces of music change with the seasons in our church year. Why do you think they change? To keep us from getting bored with the same music every week? Or is there something else trying to be expressed?

Now, not all of the music Sunday is based directly on the Gospel reading. As we kick off our Pledge Campaign, Fr. Greg suggested that we sing something upbeat as a closing hymn, both as a call to stewardship and as a celebration of what God is doing for us at HTP. As we sing This Little Light of Mine, I challenge you to think about how you let God’s light shine in your own lives and in others’. What gift can/do you bring to HTP that reflects God’s light? Oh…and it’s ok to have fun singing this song, by the way. I’ll have to check with the clergy, but I don’t think it’s a sin… 😉

September 27, 2018

Hello Holy Trinity Parish! This is the first of my weekly music blogs, in which I will explore and explain a little more about the music you hear on Sunday services and beyond. I want to give you some context for why particular pieces of music are chosen each week, understanding about the function of music in the liturgy, and some insight about other things going on in the music ministry here at HTP- all this to make your worship experiences through music even more meaningful.

Have you ever thought about what happens in the music department between Sundays? Ever wonder if I’m just picking my favorite hymns each week? There’s a whole lot that goes into the selection, preparation, and execution of the music each week. Selecting music that strikes a balance between the Lectionary (prescribed readings for each Sunday), the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, parish traditions and events, the need for a varied musical diet, and the capabilities of our musicians, can be quite a challenge at times. Much dedication and energy is put into preparing the music, from rehearsals to recordings to emails with choir and soloists- often musicians work for hours, weeks, or even months to perfect a piece of music that may only last about 3 minutes in a service! Then, to execute it with musical excellence and in a way that reaches hearts and minds in the worship experience is yet another level. As much as the HTP Choir and I would sometimes love to just walk in on Sunday morning, sing some songs and go home, God requires more from us. Music is a ministry, not just a house band for worship. And I want you to know how blessed we are at HTP to have not only so much talent in one place, but also abundant dedication from so many people. I hope you know that this parish a diamond in the rough when it comes to music ministry. Trust me on that one…

Only a couple short notes about the music this Sunday-

This Sunday, as we recognize our Preschool, we will also reflect this focus musically. You may notice some songs that we might not normally sing, which come from our Preschool chapel repertoire. I invite you to try them out with us on Sunday, to find your ‘inner child’ and share the joy of the Lord with our younger folks. It is important that the songs we learn early on the in the church have some connection with Sunday worship as we grow older! Also, we’re excited to feature one of our younger musicians, Jacob Arkin. During the Offertory, he will be singing and playing a beautiful hymn. Please make sure to be encouraging, of both his gift and his willingness to share with the HTP family.

As the readings this Sunday emphasize following God’s will and prayer, you will hear music focusing on discipleship and reaching out to God. The organ voluntaries (prelude and postlude) both come from the French Romantic style, and deal with prayer. The setting of Psalm 18 comes from Rawn Harbor, one of the few African-American composers writing music for liturgical settings. During Communion, you’ll hear I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, a great hymn from composer Kathleen Thomerson, who composed it for a church in Houston, TX. This hymn first appeared in Songs for Celebration (1980 supplement to the Episcopal 1940 Hymnal). I chose this hymn not only to remind us to recommit our lives to following Jesus, but also to reinforce what we all have in common- that we are all children of God, no matter our age. In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns us against putting “a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me…” (Mark 9:42), and this is worth paying attention to!

See you at church!