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.
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.
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.