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.
Two prominent contemporary American organ composers will be presented during this week's morning services. Gerre Hancock was known as a master improviser of all the classic forms including fugues, trios, and even entire organ symphonies. This ingenuity is very present in his choral and organ output as well. The atmospheric and tonally adventurous setting of the well known hymn Beautiful Savior opens the services. Ned Rorem left an indelible mark on contemporary organ repertoire as well as the vocal, choral, and operatic genres and in literature as a diarist. At 95 years of age, Mr. Rorem has retired from composing but enjoys his works performed regularly throughout the world. Fanfare from OrganBook III and "...No darkness at all..." from A Quaker Reader will be offered.
The Chancel Choir will present a setting of the familiar Isaiah 9:2-6 text prophesying the advent of the Light to the world in Arise and Shine! by John Paradowski.
Come later to the 6:00 p.m. service for a Celtic evening of jigs, reels, and beautifully haunting tones from the British Isles. Violinist Abigail Steidley and guitarist Scott Steidley joins Bobby and Blair for this exciting worship experience.
The Feast of the Epiphany falls on Sunday this liturgical year, a day sometimes referred to as Three Kings Day. Christians around the world have commemorated the visitation of the Magi to the Christ Child on January 6 for centuries. But the Epiphany season is much more than this. It is the season of light, the Light of Christ revealed to the world, at first, via a guiding star. Throughout this portion of the liturgical year, ending on the Transfiguration on March 3, we will hear many references to light through the organ and choral works and hymnody.
This Sunday morning, two 20th century settings of German Baroque chorales by Helmut Walcha will be offered: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (O Morning Star, how clear and bright) and O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht (O Christ, our true and only light). Walcha was a blind organist who composed in what can be a called a "Neo-Baroque" style: employing common Baroque composition techniques such as counterpoint and exposing the chorale melody in the texture (a cantus firmus) with contemporary harmonies and a modern aesthetic. A noted scholar on the works of J.S. Bach, Walcha recorded the master's complete catalogue twice: once in mono, followed by a recording in stereo. It is fitting then to also present Bach's setting of In dir ist Freude (In Thee Is Gladness), a hymn of hope for the new year, declaring Jesus as the "sunshine of my heart."
At the 11:00 service, the Chancel Choir will sing Paul Halley's arrangement of Infinite Light, an Epiphany anthem based on a traditional English text and melody.
At 6:00, Bobby and cantor Blair Carpenter will continue our Epiphany observance with beautiful musical offerings of light and love.
The final composer in this month's Advent Baroque composer series will be Jean-Adam Guilain (c. 1680 -1739). Guilain was born in Germany but spent the majority of his life in France. Not much is known of him but his surviving musical output demonstrates an embracement of the French Classique tradition over the North German organ composition ethos. This Sunday morning, we'll hear excerpts from his singular collection of organ works entitled Pièces d'orgue pour le Magnificat sur les huit tons différents de l'église published in 1706. Each of the eight suites is based on the Gregorian Chant melody of the Magnificat in all eight church modes. The suites were intended to be sung in alternation with the chanted verses of the Magnificat and will be treated as such this Sunday morning with cantor Blair Carpenter, utilizing tone two.
Two other Marian works will be represented this Sunday morning as well. At 9:00 a.m., Blair Carpenter will sing Hugo Wolf's art song Nun, wandre Maria during the communion time. At the 11:00 a.m.service, the Chancel Choir will offer Ave, Ave, the Angel Sang, by prolific contemporary composer Robert Lau.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) will be the organ music focus this Sunday morning as part of the Advent Baroque composer series. The four Advent works of the Orgelbüchlein ("Little Organ Book") will be offered. Composed mostly in Bach's Weimar period from 1708-1717, the collection contains 46 works representing the major feast days of the liturgical year, a small number completed of the 146 planned works. Bach describes the purpose of this collection in his foreword: "In which a beginning organist receives given instruction as to performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since in the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato. In honour [sic] of our Lord alone. That my fellow man his skill may hone." The Orgelbüchlein was a pedagogical guide, study in compositional techniques and a religious statement. The four Advent works, BWV 599-602, are Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Come now Saviour of heathens), Gottes Sohn ist kommen (The Son of God is come), Herr Christ, der einge Gottes-Sohn (Lord Christ, the only Son of God), and Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott (Praise be to God Almighty).
At the 11:00 a.m. service, the Chancel Choir will sing composer Robert Hobby's setting of the Charles Wesley Advent hymn, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus. The text is set to the tune JEFFERSON from the 1835 early American shape note and song book, Southern Harmony. Amy Welsh will conduct.
At 6:00 p.m. the annual Longest Night service will include harpist Alaina Bongers, flutist Rebecca Quillen, the Plymouth Ringers, and our newest ensemble, the Chamber Choir. Advent selections include an arrangement of the 16th century plainsong chant Divinum Mysterium by Alaina Bongers and the Anglican choral classic A Spotless Rose by Herbert Howells.
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.