The Triduum begins with a two-part service this Maundy Thursday: the commemoration of the Lord's Supper leading into the Office of the Tenebrae (Latin for darkness).
"Le Banquet celéste" (the celestial banquet) is an impressionistic work by Olivier Messiaen based on the words of John 6.56: "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him." Composed in 1928, it was Messiaen's first published piece and was meant to connote the sense of eternity present in the Eucharist, reflecting his devout Catholic faith. "Choral dorien" by Jehan Alain closes the service as a musical meditation: serene, mysterious, and hopeful. The Chancel Choir will offer a setting of "Ubi Caritas" (where charity and love are, God is there), the traditional antiphon for Maundy Thursday used at the washing of the feet rite. A beautiful setting of "O vos omnes" by Spanish Renaissance composer and priest Tomás Luis de Victoria will be sung by the Chamber Choir near service's end. Based on Lamentations 1.12, this text is commonly used for Holy Week rites and specifically as part of the Holy Saturday Tenebrae Responsories.
On Easter Sunday we will be joined by the Plymouth Brass in joyful hymns, Handel's infamous "Hallelujah Chorus" and an exceptional Chancel Choir anthem by Joel Martinson, "Three Days Had Passed." The Chamber Choir will lead us into the Call to Worship with the introit "Whom Do You Seek" by Roy Stewart. The Plymouth Ringers will also be on hand as we celebrate the Resurrection with Easter hymns during communion. The organ works will be decidedly French with the monumental "Chorale No. 3 in A Minor" by César Franck opening the service. It is a fifteen minute work that could be interpreted as two themes, Life and Death, dancing around each in battle with the chorale theme (Life) winning in the end. This was Franck's last organ work, completed in the year of his death in 1890. The service concludes with the majestic and wonderfully dissonant "Acclamations" from Jean Langlais' "Suite Médiévale". It is based on a two-note chant melody with the text, Christus Vincit (Christ Victorious).
At the 6pm service, we'll have a Dixieland Easter!
On this Palm Sunday marking the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, organ works of solemn procession will be heard. The "Cortege et Litanie" by Marcel Dupre opens the morning services. A cortege is a solemn procession, usually one involving the casket of the deceased. The musical theme depicting this action is followed by the litany motive. Coupled together, this work is often used by organists on Palm Sunday, Robert Hughes' grand Recessional send us out into the world. The Chancel Choir reminds us of the passion narrative commonly associated with Palm Sunday in Handel's "Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs," a famous chorus from the seminal work Messiah.
In this week's reading, Jesus foretells his death.
Music to reflect the gravitas of this revelation to his followers can be found in Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, in an arrangement for organ by William Strickland. Upon the Cross Extended by Camil van Hulse continues the solemn affect as we near Holy Week. The Chancel Choir offers "Trust the Seeds" by Elizabeth Alexander, set to her original poem about nurturing the seeds of faith, entrusting their growth to God.
The Threshold Choir will also join the morning services. They are part of a national movement to offer solace and comfort to those on the threshold of life through song. Their songs of peace and tranquility will be a welcome offering to all of us this Sunday morning.
Our present day calendars are ten days ahead of the Old Style calendars of Bach's era, making Bach's date of birth March 31 in comparison. And so this Sunday, I'll take the opportunity to pay tribute to this master composer and his influence on generations after him.
Composers such as Franz Liszt and Max Reger offered works in honor of Bach by 'signing' his name into their music using the pitches B, A, C, and H (German indication for B flat). We'll hear Robert Schumann's Fugue No. 3 in G Minor on the Name of BACH and Alice Jordan's Largo on BACH this Sunday morning as two fine entries utilizing this compositional device. Bach's own well-known "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578 will close the services.
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.
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.