Music and text have been inexorably linked for thousands of years. The desire to humanize our music-making always leads back to the expressiveness of the original musical instrument: the human voice. Compositions are sometimes named after vocal terms, such as as cantabile, Italian for 'singable'.
This Sunday morning's focus will be on the sustaining power of words and poetry.
The music will follow suit with organ works named after and embodying literary terms such as "Soliloquy," "Poem," and "Epilogue." Hymns and the choir anthem will express poetic texts by 17th century Anglican priest George Herbert and noted contributor to our New Century Hymnal, Shirley Erena Murray.
The power of words, through music.
This Sunday is indeed the Second Sunday of Lent but also the Feast of Saint Patrick. And it is to the latter that the musical selections this week take their primary cue.
Plaintive organ settings on ancient Gaelic tunes such as Bunessan ("Morning Has Broken") and St. Columba ("The KIng of Love My Shepherd Is") will be heard. For the Postlude, an excerpt from the final movement of Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford's "Sonata Celtica" will be offered. The entire movement is based on the 19th century hymn tune St. Patrick's Breastplate, which was set to text translated from a 5th century prayer of protection attributed to St. Patrick himself. Composed in 1918, the sonata is characteristic of organ works of this period: dramatic, virtuosic, and occasionally sentimental, a vestige of the 19th century.
At the 11:00 a.m. service, the Chancel Choir will sing a benediction, an "Irish Blessing" by Bob Chilcott. The well-known text, "May the road rise to meet you..." is a loose translation of an ancient Gaelic prayer. Chilcott's intimate setting has become a staple in our choir's repertoire. Finally, a few traditional Irish slip jigs will find their way into the service as well, courtesy of Harmony Tucker and her fiddle.
At 6:00 p.m., join fiddler Abigail Steidley, guitarist Scott Steidley, bassist Peter Strening, Blair and Bobby as they lead you in ancient Celtic songs and present lively jigs and reels. Afterwards, join us all for a well-deserved pint or two at McClellan's.
The Adagio from Organ Symphony No. 3 in F Sharp Minor (1911) by Louis Vierne sets the tone this first Sunday morning in the Lenten season.
The affect is solemn as well as beatific as we begin our Lenten journeys. At the 11:00 a.m. service, the Chancel Choir presents the Kyrie from Maurice Duruflé's Requiem, a choral masterwork of the 20th century. Composed first for organ and chorus in 1948, two later versions included chamber orchestra and full orchestra, both also with organ accompaniment. The entire work is based on Gregorian chant with each movement employing the appropriate chant in highly creative ways, often using techniques harkening back to the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The Kyrie will be conducted by Bryan Kettlewell, director of choirs at Thompson Valley High School. Also at 11:00, the Youth Bells will ring A Simple Dance arranged by Michael Glasgow, based on the Shaker tune Simple Gifts. To close the services, a setting of the Charles Villiers Stanford hymn tune Engelberg will be offered. Commonly set to the text When in Our Music God Is Glorified, it will be a fitting conclusion to this very musical and artistic start to the Lenten season, especially with the art installation present led by our guest preacher, Linda Privatera.
On this Transfiguration Sunday morning, we'll hear festive music as we cross from the season of Epiphany into the more introspective time of Lent.
"Fantaisie" by French-Canadian composer Denis Bédard opens the services with a seven minute opus referencing the French organ school of composers such as César Franck and Louis Vierne. A setting of Deo Gracias, the tune to the great Transfiguration hymn "O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair", by British-Canadian composer Healey Willan closes the services. The Plymouth Ringers offer the jubilant Festival Celebration by Kevin McChesney at the 11:00 a.m. service.
Also at 11:00 a.m., acclaimed British composer Will Todd's "Lighting the Way" will be sung by the Chancel Choir. Originally composed for a festival at Durham Cathedral, England in 1999, the text, also written by Todd, speaks to the Light of Christ all around us, illuminating the path ahead so that we can bring this Light more directly to others.
At our inaugural Dinner Church service this Sunday at 6:00 p.m., Bobby and Blair will lead us in song as we share the agape meal together. Hope to see you there!
The origins of The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion were in early American melodies cultivated in colonial era singing schools. These institutions sought to improve choral singing, particularly for application in a church service. Published in 1835 by William Walker, this compilation has remained unchanged since 1854 and contains tunes that have become staples of the Christian songbook, such as Wondrous Love and New Britain. Contemporary American composer Ronald Perera will be represented this Sunday morning with his "Five Meditations on Wondrous Love," a set of creative variations on the hymn tune, some serene, quirky, ethereal, and stately. The Chancel Choir will offer a setting of New Britain ("Amazing Grace") by Bruce Stevenson. For the early service communion, a setting on the tune Jefferson (from the 1818 compilation Tennessee Harmony) by Dale Wood will be heard.
At 6:00 p.m., join Bobby, Blair and banjo player Josh Beard for Americana-inspired service offerings.
What's in a name?
This Sunday morning's organ selections were composed for a purpose and simply entitled as such. For the prelude, Edward Shippen Barne's "Prelude" begins the services. Opening modestly, the work evolves into complex harmonies reminiscent of the French 19th and 20th century organ composers, no doubt influenced by his study with Louis Vierne. Vierne was the titular organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris from 1900 to his death in 1937. His ethereal composition Communion will be heard during the 9:00 a.m. service communion time. Postlude by Welsh organist and composer William Mathias ends the services in an elegantly jubilant spirit.
The Chancel Choir presents a setting of the 1847 Shaker hymn "Followers of the Lamb" by Robert Wetzler. The text, altered slightly to suit contemporary Christian sensibilities, speaks to obedience and the delight in following the way of the Spirit.
Organ works by early Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) will pervade this Sunday's morning services. He spent the majority of his career at Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) in Lübeck, attaining the post in 1668 and holding it until his death. Retirement was desired but a new music director would have needed to marry Buxtehude's daughter as part of the position requirements, a condition never fulfilled by any would-be job seeker. Buxtehude became very well known in Germany for his organ performance prowess and vocal and instrumental compositions, drawing contemporaries J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel to Lübeck to meet the master.
The sectional free work Prelude, Fugue, and Chaconne in C Major will serve as the prelude. It offers a representative glimpse into Buxtehude's compositional style that would influence the entire North German school of organ composition to follow. During the 9:00 a.m. communion, the composer's setting of the 1607 Lutheran chorale Auf meinen lieben Gott ("In my beloved God") will be played. The original text speaks to finding solace and strength in following God. Also a sectional work, the chorale variations are based on traditional dance movements of the time, such as the courante, sarabande, and gigue. Closing the services is the "Jig" Fugue in C Major, also utilizing the triplet dance rhythms of the gigue.
At the 11:00 a.m. choral service, the Chancel Choir will sing "O God, You Speak Your Beauty Every Hour" by respected sacred music composer Howard Helvey. Conceived in 2015, the work is written in the idiom of high Anglican church music and speaks to our mission of bringing Light and Love to all corners of the earth. Organist Jake Schick will accompany the choir in this beautiful offering.
Two composers for the organ from opposite ends of 19th century Germany will be offered this Sunday morning.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was very prolific during his short life and known as a guiding force in reviving the music of J.S. Bach. Fascination with fugal writing and other Baroque compositional techniques was shared also by future composers such as Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The concluding Fugue in C Major from Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 2 in C Minor will be offered. Brahms' final work was the Eleven Chorale Preludes composed in 1896, a year before his death. Clearly modeled after his life long adoration of Bach's music, the chorale preludes contain a Baroque sensibility but through the lens of the 19th century. Herzlich tut mich erfreuen ("My Faithful Heart Rejoices") is based on a 16th century hymn encouraging one to act from the heart in service to God. Brahms setting of the communion hymn Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele ("Adorn Yourself, O Dear Soul") will be offered at 9:00 a.m.
At the 11:00 a.m."choral" service, the Chancel Choir will present Abbie Betinis's canon "Love Is Love Is Love Is Love," with encouragement of congregational participation!
Two contemporary organ works by two living female American composers will be heard this Sunday morning. Libby Larsen is a Grammy Award winner and has held the Papamarkou Chair at John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress as well as residencies at the Minnesota Orchestra and Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Her music is inspired by the rhythms of the English language and has deep American roots. Her setting of the hymn "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds" opens the services. Brenda Portman was a colleague of mine at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and currently is an organ professor at Xavier University and Resident Organist at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, both in Cincinnati. Her Baroque-inspired setting of the tune Darwall's 148th (known as hymn 303 in the New Century Hymnal, "Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing") closes the services on an energetic note.
The Plymouth Ringers visit the 9:00 a.m. service with the Epiphany hymn "Brightest and Best" arranged by Terry Osman. And at 11:00 a.m.,the Chancel Choir offers composer Craig Courtney's anthem of unity and purpose in One Faith, One Hope, One Lord, based on Ephesians 4.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I felt inspired to choose several justice and peace themed chorale settings by contemporary American organ composers that would also be relevant in our present troubled times. Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult beckons us into the sanctuary, a place of refuge and peace. William Bolcom composed this jazz-tinged setting included in Book 3 of his four volume set of Gospel Preludes. In Christ There Is No East or West, originally an Irish tune adapted by African American slaves, is also given a jazz treatment by organist James Biery during the 9:00 a.m. communion. Lastly, a regal setting of the tune Duke Street, commonly paired with the text Jesus shall reign where'er the sun, by Charles Callahan will send you out into the world on a joyful note.
The Chancel Choir sings a modern translation and setting of Psalm 34.1 in Oh, I Will Praise the Lord by Michael Burkhardt at the 11:00 a.m. "choral" service. The setting is based on a canon by Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann, whose output of over 3000 works makes him one of the most prolific composers of all time.
Cantor Blair Carpenter and guitarist Alan Skowron work with Bobby at this MLK weekend's 6:00 p.m. service. Come join us for this evening prayer service as we celebrate the virtues of justice and peace in our world.
Each week, Director of Music Mark Heiskanen writes a Music Minute previewing the upcoming Sunday's musical offerings and occasionally opines on other music-related topics.
We are blessed by an engaging music program at Plymouth!
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life.