From the organ this Sunday, two distinctive settings of tunes from the African-American tradition on this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.
Composer William Bolcom's collection of "Gospel Preludes" for the organ are a
celebrated and artful ode to the African-American songbook. At the Prelude, we'll hear "Jesus Calls Us;O'er the Tumult", a 19th century hymn beautifully illustrating how Jesus beckons us over "life's wild, restless, sea" inviting us to find solace in his presence. Bolcom sets the work in a traditional Baroque ornamented chorale prelude form while employing harmonies based in the blues, gospel, and jazz idioms.
Composer Richard Elliott, well-known as Principal Organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Temple Square, offers a sprightly and exuberant setting of the spiritual "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" at the Postlude. An accessible work that also references the chromatic characteristics of French organ composers such as Vierne and Widor, the piece joyfully exclaims the excitement and wonder of the Spirit at work.
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.
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.