The Parable of the Mustard Seed opens us to the mystery of the Kingdom of God—seemingly miraculous growth from an unlikely source with Joy and Peace aplenty.
Rhonda Larson composed a lovely solo flute work entitled "Be Still My Soul" in 2003 which incorporates the famous Jean Sibelius theme and hymn tune "Finlandia." This Sunday, we hear Plymouth member Aaron McGrew's adaptation of the piece for flute choir. By recording the solo with selective elements of the auxiliary accompaniment part, Aaron creates a layered tapestry of evocative timbres including effects such as singing into the flute.
From the organ we hear two selections from the Emma Lou Diemer catalogue.
First, her whimsical arrangement of the nature hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful," a delightful and fanciful ode to God's creation. Lastly, her "Toccata for a Joyful Day," a piece that is faithful to its title.
At the 6:00 p.m. outdoor service, we will learn to trust the seeds and cherish the holy ground we stand on—this soil of God. Bassist Peter Strening joins Blair and I for this early evening worship service out on the green.
It has been nearly two years since we convened
For worship at Rolland Moore Park, so pristine
Celtic folk tunes
'Murican ones too
Give thanks for the fellowship out on the green!
See you Sunday at 10 a.m.!
Songs of faith and devotion—moved by a higher love (a new mode)
The tune for "Sweet Hour of Prayer" (1861) was written by William Bradbury, who also composed music for such well-known hymns as "Just As I Am" and "Jesus Loves Me." Based on a text attributed to William Walford, a blind English minister, the hymn expounds on the joy of being with God in prayer. The setting by William Bolcom from Book 4 of his Gospel Preludes serenely projects this moment of sublime communion in a highly chromatic idiom with surprising and interesting harmonic resolutions.
"How Firm a Foundation" is one of Christendom's most enduring and popular hymns of faith. Written by the enigmatic "K." (published in 1787), the text is usually paired with the familiar early American melody "Foundation." The toccata setting based on this tune by Craig Phillips is an exciting flourish of creative sections which keeps the well-known hymn tune ever front and center.
Violinist Amy Welsh offers the opening movement "Caprice" from Arches by American composer Kevin Puts. The entire five movement work alternates between caprices and arias and utilizes a pattern of key centers and arch-like figurations that provide an architectural symmertry to the entire work as a whole — arches.
At the 6:00 p.m. live in-person service, an eclectic blend of songs from the Iona and Taizé comunities will be shared on this Trinity Sunday evening. Violinist Amy Welsh (fresh from Sunday morning:) joins us again with lovely descants and a reprise of "I. Capriccio" from Arches.
Songs of the Spirit for this Pentecost Sunday.
Subtle rhythms reminiscent of a tango gently percolate in Mark Sedio's setting of the hymn tune "Down Ampney" at the Prelude. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the tune named after the village of his birth to the Pentecost text, "Come Down, O Love Divine." The work easily conforms to the arranger's performance instruction of playing it "Unhurried, with sultry elegance."
Johann Sebastian Bach's concise yet glorious choral prelude on "Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist" (Come, God Creator, Holy Ghost) closes the service. Based on a 16th century Lutheran hymn with texts supplied by Martin Luther himself, the two-part BWV 667 is from the "Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes," a set of mature works by the composer. The first section has the melody set in the soprano and is also the abbreviated version found in Bach's "Orgelbüchlein" (little organ book.) The second section places the cantus firmus in the pedal while a flurry of notes streaming like the wind flows overhead on the manual.
Members of the Chancel Choir greet Pentecost Sunday with the choral anthem, "Come, Gracious Spirit" by Alfred Fedak. The folk tune "Danby" is treated sensitively in this simple yet artful two-part arrangement. This musical offering also marks the first time in this pandemic that choral music has been recorded live in the sanctuary.
Come join us for the live in-person 6:00 p.m. "eclectic" services beginning this Pentecost Sunday! It is such an appropriate time by chance that we would be able to come together in-person after so many months away on the "birthday" of the Church. Songs of the Spirit will continue as well as songs of hope and healthy change by musical artists Kacey Musgraves, Horace Silver, and David Bowie. "Veteran" 6:00 p.m. bassist Peter Strening joins cantor Blair Carpenter and I for this exciting and blessed opportunity as we near the end of this trying pandemic.
Songs of pilgrimage and discovery—hopeful for enlightened paths ahead.
The anticipation of summertime and nature's complete transformation after the budding spring is the topic of the 16th century German chorale "Herzlich tut mich erfreuen die liebe Sommerzeit" ("My faithful heart rejoices; the summer comes at last"). Johannes Brahms' final work, the Eleven Chorale Preludes of 1896, contains a lovely and passionate setting of this tune. The melody plays clearly above a swirling accompaniment figure gently interrupted by tender fleeting interludes.
"The Road Home" by esteemed composer Stephen Paulus is based on the early American melody "Prospect" with text by notable poet Michael Dennis Browne. Originally a four part choral anthem, soprano Blair Carpenter presents this solo version with the message of a wayward traveler finding the way back to truth—home.
The lively Welsh hymn tune "CWM Rhondda" (pronounced "koom rahn-duh") is given a Handelesque treatment by famed composer of hymn tune settings Paul Manz. The ode- to-the-Baroque opening fanfare appears throughout this chorale prelude between sections of the tune played loudly by the Festival Trumpet stop.
Join us at the 6:00 p.m. service with visiting scholar Wesley Granberg-Michaelson and American/English folk tunes telling the tale of travel on the road. Guitarist Bill DeMarco joins in on this Sunday evening pilgrimage.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Welsh hymn tunes form the basis of Three Preludes for Organ (1920) by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This Sunday morning, two of these beloved melodies will be offered.
"Rhosymedre" (sometimes simply entitled "lovely") is named after a village in Wales where the composer Father John David Edwards served as vicar from 1843 until his death in 1885. Williams' tender organ setting of the tune is a staple of the organ repertoire and famously was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana and the wedding of her two sons, Harry and William.
"Hyfrydol" is the tune of one of Christendom's most recognized texts, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." The exuberant rendition which closes the Welsh collection employs pleasantly dissonant harmonies displaying grandeur and gravitas with the well-known hymn tune clearly heard above it all.
At the Musical Offering, flutist Aaron McGrew plays the famous "Meditation" from the opera "Thais" by Jules Massenet. Originally scored for violin and orchestra, the work serves as a reflection where upon Thais, at the behest of a concerned monk, ponders the decision to leave her hedonistic life behind and instead follow God.
The 6:00 p.m. service also welcomes flutist Aaron McGrew as we together offer songs of life, love, and light.
What's in a name?
Musical titles that simply state their intended purpose or form can come across as somewhat lazy and, well, boring. Titles such as "Prelude in E Major," "Postlude in D MInor," and — wait for it—"Offertory" are classic examples heard in a church setting. But what if these seemingly banal titles offer a vital clue to the composition's reason for even being and deepens the listening experience? Well, that's different then!
"Opening" from Glassworks (1981) by Philip Glass begins the morning services in a lush inviting cascade of hypnotic polyrhythms. Glass intended the six movement chamber work for a general audience— accessible pop-oriented art music suited for the masses.
The Musical Offering is my minimalist arrangement of the communion hymn "Come With Joy" played by the Plymouth Ringers. The joyful treatment of this tune from the Southern Harmony (1835) recalls the message of unity and love in verse 3: "As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends."
"Festival Voluntary" (published in 1958) by Flor Peeters is an excursion into the classic English cathedral tradition. A prominent Belgian organ pedagogue and recitalist, his compositions often employed characteristics of Renaissance music and contemporary polytonality and polyrhythms. This more straightforward work was dedicated to his close friend Reverend Father Canon Titus Timmerman.
At 6:00 p.m., cantor Lucas Jackson joins us along with minimalist piano offerings by composers Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.
Off into the Baroque on a path less traveled by.
A pastorale is a music form intended to convey nature—the pastures of shepherds and their flock. Though often associated with the Christmas season, we hear at the Prelude a sectional work in this style by Italian composer Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726.) Zipoli interestingly became a Jesuit missionary who spent his final years teaching and composing among the Guarani people in Peru.
The Musical Offering brings us to the French Baroque with the dance-like "Gavotte" by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). A leading music theorist and composer for opera and harpsichord, this fanciful work for violin and keyboard is an excerpt from his 1745 opera-ballet, "Le Temple de la Gloire" (The Temple of Glory). Violinist Harmony Tucker joins.
Sending us out into the world is a Postlude technically not from the 18th century but composed in that idiom with faithful accuracy. Based on the German Easter hymn "Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag" (Appeared is the Splendid Day), this 19th century setting by Austrian composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) employs common Baroque compositional techniques such as canon, imitation, and the use of the cantus firmus (i.e. the hymn tune) in the pedal. As a devotee and champion of J.S. Bach's music, the Master's influence is easily felt throughout this chorale prelude.
At the 6:00 p.m. service, bassist Peter Strening and cantor Blair Carpenter lead songs of the Good Shepherd and offer sounds of jazz and an inadvertent song of the Easter season by the band Coldplay.
Spring and Eastertide are intrinsically linked in my mind, even if Easter Sunday comes early in a particular liturgical year. They are seasons for new beginnings, growth, transformation—resurrection! So back to the lush greenery of Ireland we go for musical inspiration.
It's been said a fiddle is nothing more than a violin with a good Irish beer spilled on it. This week, that definition will do! Fiddler Abigail Morgan offers "Sí Beag, Sí Mór" (Small Fairy Mound, Big Fairy Mound) attributed to 17th century harp composer Turlough O'Carolan. The title refers to two small hills thought to be burial mounds in the northern region of Ireland. The traditional Irish tune "Be Thou a Smooth Way" is given a reading with the services ending in a collection of traditional jigs and reels, mostly.
The music of the Triduum has always been among the most poignant, dramatic, and meaningful to me over my decades in music ministry. Beginning with the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, merging into the stark character of Good Friday and concluding with the glorious Alleluias of Easter Sunday, the Triduum is meant to be experienced as one uninterrupted space of worship—whether seated in the pews (watching on your pc screen!) or going about one's day. The music tells the story of Christ's Passion and Resurrection just as much as the verbal narratives we will hear this week.
This Maundy Thursday, Olivier Messiaen's ode to the Eucharist, "Le Banquet Céleste" (The Celestial Banquet), opens worship on a most mystical note—a work meant to embody mystery and eternity. Cellist Heidi Mausbach offers musical responses during the Tenebrae portion of the service by J.S. Bach and a collaboration on the Gregorian Chant-based setting of "Ubi Caritas" by Jeanne Demessieux. The sublime "Choral Dorien" by Jehan Alain brings the service to a meditative close.
The noon Good Friday Musical Meditation and Prayer event is a brief presentation for you to reflect upon this holy day. Settings on hymns of the Passion such as "Ah, Holy Jesus", "My Song Is Love Unknown" and "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" will be offered and concluding with Arvo Pärt's tranquil "Pari Intervallo."
This Easter Sunday morning heralds the return of the Plymouth Brass, our resident brass quintet, in works by Michael Praetorius and Sigfrid Karg-Elert. The Plymouth Ringers and Chancel Choir will also be present as we celebrate the Risen Christ in two settings of Paschal hymns. The gloriously transcendent "Acclamations" from Jean Langlais' "Suite Médiévale" closes worship with an imaginative set of variations on the two-note Gregorian Chant motif "Christus Vincit": Christ victorious.
On Easter Sunday evening at 6:00, we center ourselves around the Road to Emmaus story as bread is broken and shared, revealing the Risen Christ. Guitarist Alan Skowron joins us for songs of transformation and resurrection by Gungor, U2, and Easter carols of yore.
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.