On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Vision and Light of Christmas grows nearer illuminating the receding and darkening days of wintertime.
In the morning, the birth of one to be known as "Immanuel" (God with us) is foretold. A prayerful and jazz-laced setting of "Veni Emmanuel" begins the services and opens our hearts to the coming of Christ. At the early communion service, two Marian songs will be offered by soprano Blair Carpenter: "A Slumber Song of the Madonna" by Samuel Barber and "The Stable" by Royal Brantley. "How Fair and How Pleasant Art Thou" by Marcel Dupré began as a series of improvisations based on Vespers Antiphons for the Assumption of Mary. So well-received was this music that he was compelled to notate them for publication. Dupré's antiphons have been described by Pipedreams host Michael Barone as "grave yet rapturous."
Gustav Holst was a pioneer of the now common hymn-anthem for church choirs. His setting of the Marian-themed communion hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" will be offered at the 11:00 a.m. choral service.
The annual 6:00 p.m. Longest Night Service celebrates the hope of Advent while acknowledging the Winter Solstice (December 21) and the inevitable colder days and longer nights ahead. Accompanied by harp, flute, cello, organ and piano, songs and musical expressions of solace, hope, and ice will be offered in this richly contemplative service.
The Chamber Choir will sing Bob Chilcott's setting of the ancient text "Nova! nova!" (News! news!) reminding us that even in darkness, the Good News of the Birth of Light in Christ will soon be upon us.
At all three services this weekend, we experience a taste of the Anglican Advent Carol Service through lessons of prophecy and carols from this season of Advent.
From the organ this Sunday morning, Brahms' adored setting of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" brings us to a time of centering silence. An inventive setting in irregular meters of "Savior of the Nations, Come" by Kevin Hildebrand accompanies the early service communion. From the Advent portion of Bach's Orgelbüchlein, "Lord Christ, the Only Son of God" brings the services to a majestic close.
At the 11:00 a.m. Choral Service, two traditional responses for an Anglican Advent Carol Service will be sung by a quartet: Palestrina's Matin and Vesper Responsories. The Chancel Choir will offer Libby Larsen's "Lord, Before This Fleeting Season," a setting of a poem by Mary Ann Jindra widely circulated this time of the year. Be inspired and enlightened by these words in this busy season:
Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us, Let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
And the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.
The Second Sunday of Advent takes us to the proclamation of John the Baptist: prepare your hearts for baptism in the Spirit by one greater than he. The foretelling of Christ's birth and the arrival of Light and Peace to the world becomes this Sunday's muse.
The morning services begin with excerpts from Georg Böhm's twelve movement partita "Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele" (Rejoice Greatly, O My Soul). The tune, originally composed by Louis Bourgeois for inclusion in the 16th century Genevan Psalter as Psalm 42, is most well-known today as the Advent carol "Comfort, Comfort O My People." The playful and highly imaginative variations on this sprightly tune effortlessly evoke the affect of Baroque Joy. During the early service communion, an intimate setting of "Rorate caeli" by virtuoso French organist Jeanne Demessieux will be played from her collection Twelve Choral Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes. "Rorate caeli" is the opening Latin text of The Advent Prose, first line translated as "Let the heavens drop dew from above," originating in the Roman Catholic tradition. At services' end, a joyous setting of the Advent hymn "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates" by Dutch organist Jan Bender manifests well the hymn writer's exclamation in the closing verse: "Thy Holy Spirit lead us on until our glorious goal is won; eternal praise, eternal fame be offered, Savior, to thy name!"
The Chancel Choir presents "Come, Jesus, Come," an elegant setting of an insightful and contemporary text by the Reverend Carl Daw, an Episcopal priest and respected hymn writer. Organist Linda McGinn and flutist Aaron McGrew will also join.
The beginning of a new liturgical year, and so the time of Advent, is upon us this Sunday.
We greet the season in part with two organ selections based on traditional Advent carols. "Once He Came in Blessing" is a 16th century German carol written by a contemporary of Martin Luther, Michael Weiss. The setting by J.S. Bach from his Orgelbüchlein collection will be offered during the prelude. The cantus firmus (or tune) is clearly expressed on a reed stop in the pedal with the manuals gently playing the tune in canon using a three part chorale texture. The tune Morning Song, commonly paired with the Advent text "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns", closes the services with a boisterous setting by Richard Proulx.
At the 9:00 service, violinist Harmony Tucker plays "Abendlied," from Josef Rheinberger's 6 Pieces, Opus 150, a collection of duets for organ and violin. Abendlied translates as "evening song," a precursor to our darkening days as winter quickly approaches.
The Chancel Choir offers an "Advent Message" by British composer Martin How. Conducted by Amy Welsh, the work provides a synopsis of this fleeting season as we prepare our hearts for the renewed birth of Light and Christ in our hearts.
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.
For each Sunday in the remainder of Advent, the seasonal chorale-based output of a Baroque composer will be focused upon from the organ.
This week, it will be German composer Georg Böhm (1661-1733). He is known as the father of the chorale partita, a composition which offers a succession of creative variations on a chorale tune. Excerpts from Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, O my soul) will be heard at the morning prelude and postlude and during the 9:00 a.m. service communion. The chorale melody is known to us as the Advent hymn Comfort, Comfort O My People, a tune compiled in the 16th century Genevan Psalter. The Chancel Choir will offer Felix Mendelssohn's How Lovely are the Messengers from the 1836 oratorio St. Paul. A paraphrase of Romans 10.15 & 18, the chorus praises the harbingers of peace on earth and the coming new kingdom of God on earth.
At 6:00 p.m., Bobby, cantor Blair Carpenter, and bassist Peter Strening will lead us in song as we continue our Advent journey.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was an Italian composer, virtuoso violinist, instructor, and priest whose influence on composers was widespread even in his day. At this Sunday's morning services, we will hear his Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 11 with violinists Harmony Tucker and Katrina Nelson. The work is one of twelve concertos published in 1711 originally entitled L'estro armonico (the harmonic inspiration). The D minor concerto was highly revered by contemporary J.S. Bach and transcribed for organ as Organ Concerto in D Minor, BWV 596. Bach transcribed several other Vivaldi works as well. At the 11:00 a.m. service, I will play a transcription of the final movement of Vivaldi's Winter from The Four Seasons as we anticipate the cold days ahead.
At 6:00 p.m. Bobby and vocalist Hannah Walters will offer a contemplative jazz-inflected musical experience on this First Sunday of Advent. Hannah is organist and Administrator of Music and Education at Peace With Christ Lutheran Church here in Fort Collins.
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.