The Basilica of Saint Clotilde, Paris houses the famous 1859 Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ played by an impressive succession of organists serving the basilica. This Sunday morning we hear compositions by three of these gentlemen: Jean Langlais, Théodore Dubois, and St. Clotilde's first Organiste titulaire, César Franck.
Franck served St. Clotilde from 1859 until his death in 1890. The exquisite tonal palette of the organ, considered the crowning achievement of the Cavaillé-Coll family at the time, provided endless inspiration to Franck's substantial contributions to the organ repertoire. His set of Six Pièces, composed between 1860-62, is to this day a staple of the organ oeuvre. "Cantabile," so named for the singing quality of the oboe stop melody, begins the services.
Théodore Dubois served the basilica as assistant organist (1858) and choirmaster (1863) until his appointment to the Madeleine Church in 1869, succeeding Camille Saint-Saëns. It is from this later period that we hear two settings of "Communion" from his liturgical collection Dix pièces pour orgue ou harmonium.
In the 20th century, Jean Langlais held the post of Organiste titulaire at St. Clotilde from 1945-1988. A prolific composer with 254 published works, his style exhibited Gregorian chant-like themes, modal harmonies, and adventurous dissonances. "Pasticcio," from Langlais' Organ Book (1957), closes the services. In music terminology, a pasticcio is a work that intentionally borrows from other composers or eras, in this case, the Medieval era.
The Chancel Choir sings an exuberant and highly imaginative setting of Psalm 27 in "The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation" by Rosephanye Powell at the 11:00 a.m. "choral" service. Pianist Danielle Snyder joins us in this wonderful rendition of the psalmist's joyful proclamation of God's enduring love and wisdom.
At the 6:00 p.m. "eclectic" service, cantor Blair Carpenter and I offer a "swampier" take on the Rosephanye Powell anthem along with music by Kacey Musgraves and David Haas.
We are called to follow Jesus: to drop our old ways and be lead by the truth as we will hear in this week's gospel reading from Matthew. We are called to be, like our Christian forebears, our own unique brand of saint.
Saint's' Days (1999) is a collection of twelve miniatures highlighting a saint feast day, one per month, by Daniel Pinkham. Excerpts from the work will be shared throughout the morning services showcasing Pinkham's distinctive discordant harmonic language but one that displays great beauty. The titles of each miniature set up a scene centered around the saint in question; the music offering imaginative plays on the subject material.
At the Prelude, three excerpts:
I. Saint Paul, who, on his way to Damascus, experienced a vision of Christ, and was converted. 23 Jan.
II. Saint Brigid of Ireland, who fed the poor with butter and turned her bath-water into beer. 1 Feb.
XI. Saint Caecilia, who, while the organ was playing, prayed that the Lord keep her heart pure that she not be confused. 22 Nov.
At the Postlude, a tumultuous musical depiction of Saint Stephen (26 December) following Christ to the ultimate end by sacrificing his life for the gospel. The glorious vision beheld at his passing is epitomized in just the final two measures of this twelfth and final movement of Saints' Days: a culmination of an agitated and dissonant journey from darkness to the light provided by resolution.
The Plymouth Ringers remind us of the season as they offer an arrangement of the Epiphany hymn "Brightest and Best" by Terry Osman.
The Chancel Choir offers "God Has Called Us" (Robert Hobby) prior to the Annual Meeting at the 11:00 a.m. service. Conceived of in an Anglican stately musical style, the text by noted hymn writer Susan Palo Cherwien asks us to heed the call of God and "answer with our lives." Amy Welsh conducts.
At 6:00 p.m., songs by Gungor, U2, and more convey the call of Jesus to follow him and be fishers of people. Cantor Blair Carpenter and bassist Peter Strening join me as we explore spiritual songs found in unlikely places.
With an eye to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, works by African-American composers and settings of spirituals will be celebrated. The music also celebrates the opportunities brought forth by social justice reforms allowing these composers and the culture they love to enter the public arena.
David Hurd is one of the most visible African-American organists working today. Currently serving as Director of Music at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Times Square, New York City, he has over 100 published choral and organ works and has contributed to numerous hymnals, including The Hymnal 1982 and The New Century Hymnal. The first movement from his Suite in Three Movements (2010) entitled "Organ Point" will be played at the Postlude. The title refers to the repetitive pedal point figure heard throughout the work, the manuals evoking an English trumpet fanfare overhead.
Two creative settings of traditional spirituals will also be heard from the organ. Robert Thompson's flowing accompaniment figures and gospel overtones create an effective rendition of "Deep River" at the Prelude. A jazz-infused arrangement of "Let Us Break Bread Together" by Charles Callahan will carry us through the 9:00 a.m. communion time.
Steven Milloy was a colleague of mine at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music matriculating for his Master of Music Degree in Choral Conducting. He currently leads the Cincinnati Men's Chorus and is also Music Director for St. John's United Church of Christ following an accomplished career as an arranger, activist for African-American and LGBTQ causes, and singer, including being a member of the eclectic vocal octet Pieces of Eight. The Chancel Choir offers his simple yet satisfying version of the classic spiritual "This Little Light of Mine" at the 11:00 a.m. choral service.
At 6:00 p.m., soprano Blair Carpenter and I continue exploring the African-American spiritual with selections from the morning and a few new ones.
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.
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.