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.
This Sunday morning we worship in the style of our 6:00 p.m. service! Spiritual songs of joy and praise reveling in the images of God will be experienced at the 11:00 hour.
Kacey Musgraves' "Rainbow" was released in 2018 and soon became an anthem for all who have struggled. Especially embraced by the LGBTQ community, it has now resurged as a balm in this pandemic era, recently performed by Kacey on the Global Citizen "One World:Together at Home" benefit concert. The chorus offers these words of comfort and optimism: "Hold tight to your umbrella, well darlin’ I’m just trying to tell ya, that there’s always been a rainbow hanging over your head.”
"No Longer" is a hymn text about unity written by a fave here at Plymouth, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Paired with the traditional Yigdal melody "Leoni," this musical offering will receive a jazz-inflected reinterpretation.
"Yahweh" is a song by the Irish rock band U2 appearing on their 2004 album "How to Dismantle an Atom Bomb." Described as a "closing prayer" to the record, the song took on a new life in the recording process when lead singer Bono spontaneously sang the lyrics and melodies in one take. He further noted, "I had this idea that no one can own Jerusalem, but everybody wants to put flags on it. The title's an ancient name that's not meant to be spoken. I got around it by singing. I hope I don't offend anyone."
Guitarist Alan Skowron and bassist Peter Strening join Blair and I for this "6 at 11" worship experience. We hope you may be present with us as well. Selah.
Wordless expressions of a blessed Christian community through ordered sound: music. An invocation. A hosannah. A hymn of praise.
"Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (We Now Implore the Holy Ghost) was composed by Martin Luther in 1524 and based on a well-known medieval leise (a 13th century vernacular church song). Numerous settings of this tune were composed in the centuries to follow including this week's ornamented chorale prelude by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). An expressive invitation to the Holy Spirit as we enter worship.
Robert Borger plays Franz Liszt's heroic "Hosannah" (1862) scored for trombone and organ. Based on the chorale melody "Heilig ist Gott der Vater" (Holy is God the Father), the work is an instrumental setting of "Alleluja" from Liszt's large scale choral work "Cantico del sol Francesco d'Assisi." An acclamation of joy and triumph.
The hymn of praise "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren" (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty) is a shared treasure across denominational lines the world over. Paul Manz's celebrated setting from 1975 perfectly encapsulates the fervent spirit of this venerable text: Bold. Rousing. Enlivening.
Sounds of spring. Words of comfort from the Good Shepherd through the ages. Two chorale preludes and a bit of Vivaldi.
The Irish tune Saint Columba is often associated with the hymn text "The King of Love My Shepherd Is," a lovely paraphrase of Psalm 23 by Henry Baker (1868.) The tune receives a florid interpretation by British composer Robin Milford during the prelude. Interestingly, this setting was also adapted for an orchestral version in an episode of the original Star Trek series. The postlude is an energetic and joyous Toccata on the Easter hymn "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain" (tune: Gaudeamus Pariter) from James Biery's collection Three for Easter.
The musical offering is movement one from the "Spring" portion of Antonio Vivaldi's infamous concerto Four Seasons. Violinist Harmony Tucker joins us for this well-known excerpt here in the heart of springtime.
The Road to Emmaus. A pilgrim's tale. Where Christ is made known in the breaking of the bread.
Two Easter season chorale settings will frame this Sunday morning's worship time. "Vruechten" was originally a 17th century Dutch folk tune and a love song. It soon after became an Easter carol with the text "This Joyful Eastertide" becoming most associated with the tune. James Biery's contemporary setting evokes the Baroque era with an ornamented melody overlayed a florid accompaniment. The tune "Victory" was composed by Palestrina in 1591, commonly known as "The Battle Is O'er; the Strife Is Done." Alfred Fedak offers an improvisatory and exhilarating setting of this classic Easter hymn.
For the musical offering, Charles Callahan's jazz-inflected rendition of the famous communion song "Let Us Break Bread Together" will be presented.
On this Second Sunday of Easter, we reflect upon our role as stewards of this island home called Earth. So let us have an environmental sabbath day with music celebrating nature, the Resurrection, and new life.
The familiar tune of the ecological hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" receives a whimsical and playful treatment by esteemed composer Emma Lou Diemer. An excerpt from her Folk Hymn Sketches for Organ, this brief character piece begins with a chirpy registration (perhaps alluding to morning bird chatter?), transitions to sonorous timbres in the verses ("The purple-headed mountain..."), and back to the cheerful refrain.
Soprano Blair Carpenter will present a solo interpretation of the choral anthem "Trust the Seeds" by Elizabeth Alexander. On this Sunday in Eastertide, we often will hear the story of doubting Thomas: the disciple in need of proof of Jesus' resurrection as faith alone would not do. Alexander's text speaks to the virtue of faith in botanical terms, encapsulated in the poem's final phrase: "There is joy in planting if you trust the seeds."
We sang the Paschal hymn "Now the Green Blade Rises" during last Sunday's Easter service. This Sunday morning, an instrumental reprise is offered during the postlude in Mark Sedio's toccata on the hymn tune Noël Nouvelet. This French carol was likely written in the late 15th century with the medieval folk quality readily apparent. It was originally paired with a Christmas text, translated as "New Noel, Noel let us sing here." The well-known Easter text was written by English priest John Crum in which he compares Christ to grain sprouting miraculously from the dark earth.