Jesus calls us, o'er the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea.
Day by day that voice still calls us, saying, "Christian, follow me."
- Cecil Alexander, 1852; alt.
William Bolcom's four volume collection of Gospel Preludes is an eclectic compendium of blues, gospel, jazz, art music, and the avant garde composed ever so idiomatically for the organ. His jazz-tinged setting of the hymn "Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult" begins the service, invoking both modernity and the Baroque in its traditional chorale prelude form.
"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" (1922) by Robert Frost is one of English literature's most well-known poems. It speaks to perseverance on the road ahead buoyed by one's sense of hope and responsibility. Our Staff Singer Blair Carpenter presents her own setting of this famous text during the Musical Offering
To close, a noble and elegant arrangement of the hymn "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" by Paul Manz in the most British manner—indubitably.
I also invite you to join us for the 7:00 p.m. Vespers service this Wednesday, January 20 for songs of hope, unity, and prayer on this decisive day in our nation. Violinist Harmony Tucker joins.
What ruler wades through murky streams and bows beneath the wave,
Ignoring how the world esteems the powerful and brave?
Water, River, Spirit, Grace, sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced in sculpting me.
These words from Sunday's opening hymn by Thomas Troeger address the humble spirit of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan — an act seemingly below the stature of a would-be Messiah. But glory dwelled within this moment and carries into our lives daily if we choose to receive it.
Susan Palo Cherwien's insightful baptismal text "O Blessed Spring" is commonly paired with the English tune "O Waly Waly." For the prelude, we'll instead hear the alternate tune "Berglund" by Lutheran pastor and cantor Robert Buckley Farlee in a two-part setting by James Biery. The first section assigns the cantus firmus to the pedal with a delicate manual motif over top contrasting with the flowing tranquil mood of the closing section.
Members of the Plymouth Ringers ring in the new year with my arrangement of the Renaissance tune "In Thee Is Gladness." I set the lively and dance-like melody in the Lydian mode, a tonality composers have used to signify Light (in the Epiphany season or otherwise!). The tell-tale raised fourth scale degree offers a sense of wonder and awe in this carol for the new year: "In thee is gladness amid all sadness, Jesus, sunshine of my heart!"
To close Sunday's worship, an exuberant work also from the Renaissance entitled "Glorificamus" by John Redford, organist and composer at St. Paul's Cathedral, London during the reign of King Henry VIII (circa 1525.) "Glorificamus" was described in the E. Power Biggs-edited anthology "Treasury of Early Organ Music" as "precious evidence of the advancement of organ music in England .... freeing this kind of music from the yoke of vocal polyphony."
We hope you will join us tonight at 7:00 p.m. for this year's Christmas Eve celebration in a prerecorded service of carols, bells, strings, organ, and choral music of Christmas past and present.
While recorded well before this Holy Night, the spirit of the season —and the Good News—is wholly manifested in the expressions of our communal worship together, albeit virtually.
A stable lamp is lighted whose glow shall wake the sky...
a barn shall harbour heaven, a stall become a shrine.
– from the carol "A Stable Lamp Is Lighted" by Richard Wilbur
Just a few days later, on the First Sunday after Christmas, a casual service of carols and stories. Join us for a relaxed worship hour of Christmas meditations and song as we gather around the piano and sing just a few more carols this year! There may even be a bad Christmas sweater or two. Sorry.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
– from the movie "Elf," spoken by the title character Buddy Hobbs (a would-be elf) played by Will Farrell.
Songs of Mary
Marcel Dupre's Opus 18 contains fifteen improvised interludes based on vesper psalms and antiphons. Two Marian selections will be heard this Sunday: "How Fair and How Pleasant Art Thou" and the fifth movement from his six part "Magnificat," an ethereal depiction of the Magnificat text, "As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham, and his seed for ever."
Soprano Blair Carpenter sings "Christmas Lullaby" by Jason Robert Brown, a musical theater-inspired offering from the perspective of a modern-day Mary.
On December 23, we offer the annual Longest Night service in lieu of Vespers, with harpist Alaina Bongers and flutist Rebecca Quillen.
Songs of Expectation and New Life
"Rorate caeli" (Drop down, ye heavens) are the opening words of Isaiah 45.8 in the Vulgate bible, the late 4th century Latin translation of scripture. By the seventeenth century, this text was fused with other selected passages to form the Advent Prose and subsequently applied to liturgies and choral anthems for the Advent season. The Gregorian Chant melody ascribed to "Rorate caeli" is set beautifully in a tranquil setting by Jeanne Demessieux from her 12 Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes, Op. 8 from 1950.
Two carols of the Advent season follow: my minimalist setting of the chorale "Savior of the Nations, Come" played by members of the Plymouth Ringers and a voluntary on the tune "Morning Song" by Richard Proulx, often paired with the text "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns."
Next week's Vespers offers a Celtic Advent theme with bassist Peter Strening joining us..
Songs of Advent from the ages: two chorale preludes and a chant. Come, Jesus, Come.
J.S. Bach intended his Orgelbüchlein (little organ book) to be a source of pedagogy for aspiring organists and also contain works covering the entire liturgical year. While never fully completed, two works from the Advent section will be heard this Sunday: "Gottes Sohn ist kommen" (Once He Came in Blessing) and "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" (Savior of the Nations, Come.)
Simple works, yet ever artful. The 14th century tune "Veni Emmanuel" (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) is given a minimalistic treatment in my setting for the Plymouth Ringers.
At our next 7:00 p.m. Midweek Vespers on December 9, an Advent Taizé service will be offered with violinist Harmony Tucker.
We welcome the Advent season with variations on "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" (Rejoice greatly, O my soul) by Baroque composer Georg Bõhm. This tune from the 1551 Genevan Psalter is most associated with the Advent text by 18th century hymn writer Johannes Olearius, "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People."
A gentle reprieve is offered at service midpoint by violinist Harmony Tucker in the "Adagio" from G.F. Handel's "Violin Sonata in F Major, HWV 370."
For Vespers this December 2, a service of Advent hymn and carols in the folk tradition with guitarist Bill Demarco.
Songs of gratitude and thanksgiving. Overflowing praise.
Invited into worship by J.S. Bach's setting of the hymn tune "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier" ("Dearest Jesus, We Are Here"), we soon hear the virtual efforts of members of our Chancel Choir in the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," interwoven with the infamous "Pachelbel's Canon" in an arrangement by Donald Moore.
Lastly, familiar to anyone who has owned an E. Power Biggs organ album, the rousing and triumphant strains of Sigfrid Karg-Elert's play on the ultimate hymn of thanksgiving: "Now Thank We All Our God."
The Thanksgiving Eve Vespers service offers an international expression of praise from Scotland, Taiwan, and Africa. Ukuleleist Stuart Yoshida joins us.
Join us for a hymn sing this Sunday! The age-old tradition of coming together in song may be very different these days, but we can still be together in the Spirit: same time, different location.
Consider these words by hymn writer Rev. Fred Pratt Green, who so thoughtfully captures the spiritual dimensions to music-making in worship.
When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,
How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound
So has the church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue:
And did not Jesus sing a Psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always:
Two brief versets on the Gaelic tune "Bunessan" by Richard Proulx accompanies your morning coffee this Sunday morning. The melody, most associated with the lyrics "Morning Has Broken" (thank you, Cat), is initially presented in a slightly jazzy chorale setting. Following, the tune transforms into a dream-like state: a meditative repose.
A tintinnabulation ensues courtesy of the Plymouth Ringers! Sure to keep your attention, my musical setting of this term coined by poet Edgar Allen Poe in his work "The Bells" relates joy and alertness, if somewhat ambiguously...
The ecstatically triumphant "Chant de Joie" (Song of Joy) by Jean Langlais closes the service in no uncertain terms however: in hope, in faith, and, oh yes, joy.
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.