William Bolcom and William Albright were colleagues in the composition department at the esteemed School of Music, Theatre, and Dance of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Their collaborations together produced the ragtime revival of the late 1960's as well as numerous organ works inspired by each composer's artistry. This Sunday morning, we experience a few examples of their eclectic catalogue.
The Gospel Preludes by William Bolcom are a four volume collection of hymns and spirituals set in a gospel, blues, jazz, and even avant-garde manner. They are as spiritually compelling as they are artistic, even strange. For the prelude, the 19th century hymn "Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult" is similar in form to a Baroque chorale prelude (cantus firmus on one manual, accompaniment on another with pedal) but harmonically evokes jazz, blues, and gospel. A gentle setting that beckons the ear to listen deeply to Bolcom's complex chromatic writing.
The title "Carillon-Bombarde" by William Albright refers to the bell peal figure heard throughout the piece in both manual and pedal and the use of the large French reed stop: the Bombarde. Commissioned in 1985 for the re-dedication of the historic Chapman tracker organ at St. Margaret's Church, Straatsburg-on-Hudson, New York, the work is thrilling, almost typical, yet inescapably imbued with Albright's characteristic quirkiness.
The Musical Offering this Sunday is a solace for prayer and reflection in George Frideric Handel's "Andante" from Sonata No. 1 with violinist Harmony Tucker.
This Sunday at 6:00, join us for an eclectic evening worship experience with the musical sounds of gospel, jazz, blues, the Celtic folk tradition, and an ethereal instrumental from the early days of the band Genesis. Guitarist Alan Skowron returns to this newly reinstated evening service.
Morning worship begins with the gentle yet playful strains of the second movement from Organ Sonate II (1937) by Paul Hindemith. Titled "Ruhig bewegt" (peaceful, with movement), the work's construction of elegant contrapuntal lines with 20th century sonorities owes as much to J.S. Bach as to compositional sensibilities of the time. To close the service, we hear Bach's setting of the 17th century German chorale "Wer nur den lieben Gott läst walten" (translated in The New Century Hymnal as "If You But Trust in God to Guide You") from the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) composed mostly from 1708-17. Bach employs an anapest (the "joy motif") continually throughout— two short notes followed by a longer note value—to clearly represent the elation of living in the Light.
A moment of peace and tranquility will be found at the Musical Offering in "By Kells Waters" by Kelly Via. Flutist Aaron McGrew plays all the instruments in this flute choir work based on the traditional Celtic folk song.
At the 6:00 p.m. Zoom service, the Celtic sounds carry over into the evening with bassist Peter Strening, cantor Blair Carpenter, and I offering songs from the Ionia Community and Irish rock band U2. Come join us for the return of this intimate and cherished service of evening worship and communion.
A well-lit path to new beginnings: the message of this fleeting Epiphany season. Marching into the Light of God.
Two venerable chorales of Light reinterpreted by 20th century composers for this Transfiguration Sunday:
17th century German hymn "O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht" (O Jesus Christ, True Light) is set in a Neo-Baroque style for manuals by Helmut Walcha. The cantus firmus plays distinctly in the right hand with contemporary flourishes dancing in the left hand throughout. The original text was essentially a prayer for those who are lost—a poem for enlightenment.
The 15th century tune "Deo Gracias" (Thanks to God) is commonly associated with the Transfiguration Sunday text "O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair!" Also known as the "Agincourt Hymn," the original folk song recounted the English army victory over the French in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt.
Lastly, the idiosyncratic flair of composer Daniel Pinkham's "Festive March" sends you out into the world with a spring in your step.
Selections from the chorale partita "Jesu, meine freude" (Jesus, my joy) by Baroque composer Johann Walther will be heard at next week's 7:00 p.m. Ash Wednesday Zoom service. Please join us as we walk together into this season of Lent.
Let us talents and tongues employ, reaching out with a shout of joy:
bread is broken, the wine is poured, Christ is spoken and seen and heard.
Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again,
pass the Word around: loaves abound!
- from the New Century Hymnal # 347, Fred Kaan (alt.)
We gather once again in virtual worship at this Sunday morning's prerecorded service. Separated by time and space — ever in communion.
The esoteric strains of "Communion" by Louis Vierne, famed titular organist of Notre Dame Cathedral from 1900-1937, begins worship with a meditation on the mysteries of the Eucharist. A virtual offering from members of the Chancel Choir in "Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ" greets you during the Musical Offering. Can you hear the steel drums in this Jamaican folk tune praising our nourishment at the table? I believe you will. A chorale-inspired voluntary from a member of the famous Wesley line of theologians and musicians, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, in "Choral Song" closes worship on a particularly jaunty note. Quite.
And please join us for the last 7:00 p.m. Vespers service next Wednesday, February 10: a service of meditative chants by composer and UCC minister Kathy Eddy. Violinist Abigail Morgan joins cantor Blair Carpenter and I in this nurturing midweek oasis for a troubled time. A space of comfort and peace. And hope.
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.