At 9:00 a.m., a Celtic spirit informs the musical offerings for our early morning worship service. Violinist Harmony Tucker joins us for songs of cheer and haunting beauty.
At 11:00 a.m., the organ speaks in the spirit of the Baroque era with two 16th century hymn tune settings. At the Prelude, 20th century "Neo-Baroque" composer Helmut Walcha offers a delightfully eccentric reading of the Epiphany hymn "How Brightly Shines the Morning Star." At the Postlude, we go to "the source" with Johann Sebastian Bach's energetic and joyful chorale prelude on the new year carol "In Thee Is Gladness." Lastly, at the Offertory, the Chancel Choir sings the celebratory traditional Caribbean tune "Halle, Halle, Halle" arranged by Hal Hopson with unofficial resident djembist Rev. Hal Chorpenning and other aspiring percussionists.
At 9:00, the sounds of freedom, justice and big dreaming are expressed in the stylings of American folk music and jazz. Vocalist/guitarist Bill DeMarco, cantor Lucas Jackson, and bassist Peter Strening provide these inspired sounds in early morning worship.
At 11:00, the Chancel Choir sings of the sanctity of each and every human life in the gospel-tinged "Child of God" by Mark Miller. Staff Singers Alex Young and Lucas Jackson are featured soloists in this rousing anthem of equality and social justice.
From the organ come contemporary readings of two American gospel tunes. At the Prelude, the highly chromatic and lush setting of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" by William Bolcom from his "Gospel Preludes." At the Postlude, an energetic arrangement of the spiritual "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" by Richard Elliott, Principal Organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Accessible and exciting, artful elements of 20th century French organ repertoire make this work a memorable take on this simple gospel tune.
As we gather —in-person!—this Transfiguration Sunday, we meditate on the transformative power of the Light of Christ and the call to share our own little light with the world.
At the 9:00 service, we welcome the sun in the return of our eclectic early morning worship hour. Bassist Peter Strening and cantor Lucas Jackson join us.
At the 11:00 service, the organ greets you with an affirmation in J.S. Bach's chorale prelude setting of "Dearest Jesus, We Are Here." Indeed, we are! The service closes triumphantly in a joyous moment of brevity with "Fanfare on 'Gopsal'" by David Willcocks. The Handel-composed hymn tune is commonly associated with the text "Rejoice, the Lord is King", a statement of Christ's reign. The Chancel Choir also returns with an offering for this Last Sunday of the Epiphany.
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.
Wake up to a "jig" in an ode to the Baroque gigue dance in Dietrich Buxtehude's "Fugue in C Major." A song of unity and connection in "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds," rung by the Plymouth Ringers, greets you after that morning cup of joe. A joyful toccata quasi-improvisation on the hymn tune "Lasst uns erfreuen" by Brenda Portman brings us to the virtual coffee hour (more coffee!)
See you at the annual meeting.
Following the Light in this Epiphany season and New Year—in unity and hope.
Celebrated American composer Ned Rorem wrote for the organ sporadically throughout his decades-long career with several works becoming staples of the repertoire. One such collection is A Quaker Reader (1976), inspired by the ethos of his Quaker upbringing. As Rorem so thoughtfully describes:
With the present suite my intention has been to meld, finally and practically, my nominal religion with my craft. Since no Song is used—no actual musicalizing of words—each piece is headed with an epigraph from Friends' writings, many of which, in their urge toward pacifism as solution, extol absolute quiet and absolute light. The music represents a blaze of silence.
From the dying words of one James Naylor in 1660 comes the title of the Prelude this Sunday morning: "There is a spirit that delights to do no evil..." This fourth movement of the eleven part suite bestows upon the listener a sense of calm and peace. Simplicity. The words were uttered by a Quaker who was fatally wounded in a mugging and yet still clung to hope for a better world.
From Ned Rorem's Organbook III (1989), the "Fanfare" closes the service in a triumphant flurry. The composer describes the object of his three organ books of the same year as "simplicity." He further expounds:
Though I flatter myself that I compose with an experienced flair for the organ, I still hear it as an amateur. The timbre of all organ music, including my own, remains mysterious to me: I never know quite what to listen for. This ambiguity is at once irksome and thrilling, and will keep me forever intrigued.
At 97, Ned Rorem has largely retired from composition with his last organ work written just a few short years ago in 2014: "Recalling Nadia."
The Musical Offering will be presented by flutist Aaron McGrew in an arrangement of the Scottish tune "The Summons."
Come join us for next week's 7:00 p.m. Wednesday Vespers service on January 27 with guitarist Bill DeMarco and songs of tranquil Americana.
Jesus calls us, o'er the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea.
Day by day that voice still calls us, saying, "Christian, follow me."
- Cecil Alexander, 1852; alt.
William Bolcom's four volume collection of Gospel Preludes is an eclectic compendium of blues, gospel, jazz, art music, and the avant garde composed ever so idiomatically for the organ. His jazz-tinged setting of the hymn "Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult" begins the service, invoking both modernity and the Baroque in its traditional chorale prelude form.
"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" (1922) by Robert Frost is one of English literature's most well-known poems. It speaks to perseverance on the road ahead buoyed by one's sense of hope and responsibility. Our Staff Singer Blair Carpenter presents her own setting of this famous text during the Musical Offering
To close, a noble and elegant arrangement of the hymn "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" by Paul Manz in the most British manner—indubitably.
I also invite you to join us for the 7:00 p.m. Vespers service this Wednesday, January 20 for songs of hope, unity, and prayer on this decisive day in our nation. Violinist Harmony Tucker joins.
What ruler wades through murky streams and bows beneath the wave,
Ignoring how the world esteems the powerful and brave?
Water, River, Spirit, Grace, sweep over me, sweep over me!
Recarve the depths your fingers traced in sculpting me.
These words from Sunday's opening hymn by Thomas Troeger address the humble spirit of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan — an act seemingly below the stature of a would-be Messiah. But glory dwelled within this moment and carries into our lives daily if we choose to receive it.
Susan Palo Cherwien's insightful baptismal text "O Blessed Spring" is commonly paired with the English tune "O Waly Waly." For the prelude, we'll instead hear the alternate tune "Berglund" by Lutheran pastor and cantor Robert Buckley Farlee in a two-part setting by James Biery. The first section assigns the cantus firmus to the pedal with a delicate manual motif over top contrasting with the flowing tranquil mood of the closing section.
Members of the Plymouth Ringers ring in the new year with my arrangement of the Renaissance tune "In Thee Is Gladness." I set the lively and dance-like melody in the Lydian mode, a tonality composers have used to signify Light (in the Epiphany season or otherwise!). The tell-tale raised fourth scale degree offers a sense of wonder and awe in this carol for the new year: "In thee is gladness amid all sadness, Jesus, sunshine of my heart!"
To close Sunday's worship, an exuberant work also from the Renaissance entitled "Glorificamus" by John Redford, organist and composer at St. Paul's Cathedral, London during the reign of King Henry VIII (circa 1525.) "Glorificamus" was described in the E. Power Biggs-edited anthology "Treasury of Early Organ Music" as "precious evidence of the advancement of organ music in England .... freeing this kind of music from the yoke of vocal polyphony."
It is Celtic Night at this Sunday evening's 6:00 p.m. service! Now offered on the third Sunday of each month, we will enjoy the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the British Isles and celebrate the Ionian Community of Scotland and Celtic Spirituality, both of which have strong ties here at Plymouth. This week, I am joined by cantor Blair Carpenter, bodhrán player Michael Hamilton and flutist Rebecca Quillen. Come and join us in a time of evening prayer and Celtic music. Slàinte!
During the morning services, we will hear the first three movements from Organ Sonata No. 2 in C Minor by Felix Mendelssohn: Grave, Adagio and Allegro maestoso e vivace. His six sonatas are considered pinnacles of the organ repertoire on par with the works of J.S. Bach. Mendelssohn drew much inspiration from Bach and was a driving force in renewing interest in his compositions, which had fallen out of favor in the public sphere for decades. Two settings of the Martin Luther chorale "Vater unser im Himmelreich" (Our Father in Heaven) by J.S. Bach will be played during the 9:00 a.m. communion. This chorale tune was also the basis for a set of variations in Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 6 in D Minor.
At 11:00 a.m., the Chancel Choir offers up "In the Morning, Joy," a lively and spirited anthem by Mark Hayes conveying the excitement of experiencing new life in each new day.
You are the salt of the earth...the light of the world...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. excerpt from Matthew 5.13-16
From the organ, two works from Ned Rorem's A Quaker Reader will be offered.
"There Is a Spirit That Delights to Do No Evil...: are the dying words of English Quaker James Naylor, who spoke them to his caretakers after being fatally assaulted in London in 1660. The work exhibits a simple and serene character of a humble man hopeful for the ultimate demise of evil. "...No darkness at all..." is an excerpt of Elias Hicks' quote "God is light,and in Him is no darkness at all...", as recalled by poet Walt Whitman. A joyous and contemporary "Fanfare" concludes the services.
The Chancel Choir offers a Dan Forrest setting of the well-known hymn "Be Now My Vision" at the 11:00 a.m. service.