I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes
In a Cathedral Aisle,
And understood no word it said
Yet held my breath, the while
And risen up and gone away,
A more Berdardine Girl
Yet know not what was done to me
In that old Hallowed Aisle.
- Emily Dickinson
To be transformed by an unforeseen source is all the more a mystery. A foreign culture. An arcane instrument. Weird music.
From Aaron Copland's 1950 song cycle Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson we hear number ten, "I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes", sung by soprano Blair Carpenter. Copland creates a sacred space of sound as the character of Dickinson's poem enters a cathedral and encounters the mysterious sanctuary pipe organ. A stranger in a strange land, brave yet altered, much like Ruth and Naomi crossing the border in the scripture reading this Sunday morning.
And indeed we too will hear the organ speak! Two selections from esteemed American composer and organist Emma Lou Diemer will be offered. First, her setting on the beloved hymn "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee": a playful and eccentric arrangement culminating in an ecstatically dissonant final verse. Second, the "Toccata for a Joyful Day": a flashy ode to joy and burst of optimism for the day ahead.
We will broadcast the UCC Rocky Mountain Conference worship service this Sunday morning, August 2, in lieu of our regular streaming worship time. As such, our sanctuary will be quite devoid of music to speak of in this weekly space! So I thought I would muse a bit about our Midweek Vespers Services streamed on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.
So what is Vespers and why are we offering it? Vespers is an ancient service, the penultimate service of the seven canonical hours within the monastic Daily Offices. Vesper in Latin literally means "evening." In this time of pandemic, we thought we would offer a midweek prayerful service for rejuvenation and healing as the day draws to a close. A service of comfort and hope. A reminder of the eternal Light in the darkness.
Vespers at Plymouth is quite diverse. Chants or hymns are sung interspersed with prayers, poems, and scripture. Musically, one can expect a broad range of contemplative styles drawing from the Celtic, Ionian, Anglican, and Taizé traditions with touches of jazz, folk, and minimalist influences. Those who have attended the 6:00 p.m. services will often find many similarities, including the regular use of the sung "Prayer of Jesus" by John Philip Newell.
So consider joining us in this Quiet Place next week. The archives on our website offer the opportunity to view past services as well at your convenience.
In Quiet Joy.
A lovely breakfast on a hazy Sunday morn: sunny-side up...gratitude to God.
The well-known hymn "Beautiful Savior" undergoes a contemporary reading via an arrangement by organ virtuoso Gerre Hancock. Beginning with ethereal lush harmonies, the tune emerges quietly from the texture evolving to a wonderfully dissonant musical tapestry before settling into the gentle conclusion.
The hymn tune "Deo Gracias" (Thanks to God) closes the service in a grand British-style setting by Healey Willan.
Violinist Amy Welsh offers an excerpt from movement 1 of Edvard Grieg's "Sonata No. 1 in F Major." Composed in 1865, Norwegian composer Gerhard Schjelderup described the sonata as "the work of a youth who has seen only the sunny side of life."
This Sunday bears the informal distinction of being the "6:00 p.m. at 10:00 a.m." service where the spiritual dimensions of "Saturday night music and Sunday morning music" (the sacred and seemingly secular) are experienced and explored. Guitarist Alan Skowron and bassist Peter Strening join cantor Blair Carpenter and I for this joyful worship time together.
The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" was composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the 1967 "One World" live international satellite telecast, the first of its kind. The lyrics were intentionally simplistic to appeal to the international audience of over 400 million from 25 countries. "Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back" - George Herbert
We sing a selection from the Compassion Camp catalogue, "Come to the Table." Accompanied by a Latin groove, this message of hope and acceptance greets us all...even a long-lost prodigal son! "Come to the table...we are all welcome...come, celebrate with us." - Amanda Meisenheimer
We "Take Five" for the Musical Offering with the classic jazz standard by Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
David Bowie's "Heroes," the title track from his 1977 album, resurfaced as an anthem in 2001 following the September 11 attack. Likewise in this time of pandemic, the song has been used to honor front line medical workers around the world. "We can be heroes, just for one day." - David Bowie
Trust the seeds, although they lie in darkness,
Stirring beyond your watchful eye.
Though they may not flower as you dreamed they would,
When the planting's over you must trust the seeds.
- from "Trust the Seeds" by Elizabeth Alexander
A lively and spirited arrangement of the hymn "Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast" by Stephen Johnson begins morning worship. Set in the asymmetrical meter of 5/8 (1-2-3-1-2, 1-2-3-1-2), the setting joyfully dances through imaginative maneuvers before ending definitively on two long chords: "Almighty God, your Word is cast like seed into the ground; Now let the dew of heaven descend and righteous fruits abound."
A stately rendering of "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" by Paul Manz closes the service on a note of grandeur. Set to the tune Westminster Abbey, composed by 17th century English composer Henry Purcell, the ancient Latin text speaks to Christ as the seed of righteousness in our souls: "Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone..."
A few jigs and a reel. Traditional Celtic tunes from the pastoral vistas of the British Isles. Violinist Harmony Tucker joins us for the Musical Offering.
Two hybrid works of genre and musical era. An ode to flowers: the "poetry of Christ."
The tried-and-true Baroque chorale prelude receives a jazz/gospel veneer in William Bolcom's "Jesus Calls Us; O'er the Tumult" from Gospel Preludes. The melody of this 19th century hymn of invitation soars above the jazz-inflected accompaniment on the hoary Cornet stop combination.
The recognizable toccata form has been in use since the late Renaissance. Italian for "to touch," it is characterized by rapid or continuous motion meant to display the performer's technique. Organist Hans-André Stamm offers a toccata on the 17th century German chorale "Lobe den Herren, meine Seele" (Praise the Lord, My Soul) but with a distinct Latin pulse in the left hand and pedal. A lively and spicy finish to Sunday worship!
Benjamin Britten composed his well known cantata Rejoice in the Lamb in 1943. Culled from the 18th century poem Jubilate Agno by poet Christopher Smart, the texts reveal an unbalanced yet deeply religious man. Written in part while confined in an asylum, Smart relates how the entirety of creation praises God by simply being true to its own nature. Cantor Lucas Jackson offers the tenor solo "For the Flowers Are Great Blessings" from this work during the Musical Offering. A leisurely yet tender tribute to nature's expression of the divine:
For the flowers are great blessings...For there is a language of flowers.
For the flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wore many hats in his lifetime: a teacher, virtuoso violinist, a Roman Catholic priest, and a renowned composer admired throughout Europe. He wrote sacred choral music and over forty operas but is best known for his violin concertos, particularly Four Seasons, excerpts of which have been presented on several occasions in our services. Despite his fame and success, Vivaldi died in poverty much as his contemporary and admirer J.S. Bach would several years thereafter. Music still loved and cherished centuries later.
Vivaldi composed a set of six cello sonatas with continuo between 1720 and 1730 and published in 1740 in Paris. This Sunday, excerpts from Sonata No. 3 in A Minor will be offered by cellist Heidi Mausbach.
An unbelievable message from a celestial visitor. So ridiculous, one would laugh. Sarah did. A musical missive — an aria — and two songs of whimsy.
An expressive solo voice on the Cornet registration guides Paul Manz's "Aria" for the organ. Accompanied by lush yet insistent chordal clusters, the work merges into an imitative 'B' section before returning to the opening soprano melody.
Flutist Rebecca Quillen offers "No. 7 in D Major", an excerpt from Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute by Georg Philipp Telemann. This capricious unaccompanied work is reminiscent of laughter in my view. A frolicking adventure for the ears.
You can't dance to it but the 7/4 meter can stir the soul. A "Toccata in Seven" by famed British composer John Rutter closes the service in a joyful blast, albeit asymmetrically.
One service at 11 a.m.
Odes to joy will be shared and sung at this Sunday morning's candidating service.
Two organ works from eminent composer Emma Lou Diemer serve as the prelude and postlude. Her setting of the quintessential song of joy, "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You," is a capricious work with rapid chord clusters and a hint of bitonality to create a musical landscape of mischievous fun. The "Toccata on a Joyful Day" is an exciting flourish of color exuding the hope and joy of a new day. The Chancel Choir offers "One, Faith, One Hope, One Lord" by Craig Courtney. Based on Ephesians 4.4-6, 13, the text is a hymn of praise and expresses the idea of unity of all people under God.
The organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach can be considered the apex of Baroque composition in their display of masterful counterpoint, virtuosic manual and pedal parts, and genius examples of word painting. But Bach's mentor and acknowledged influence Dietrich Buxtehude offers an illuminating glimpse into what so greatly inspired his wunderkind of a pupil to such great heights. Buxtehude's style was less evolved than Bach's in a sense but did possess a distinct style and passion. We hear three of his works this Sunday morning.
An Invocation to the Spirit begins worship with an ornamented chorale prelude setting of "Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (We Now Implore the Holy Ghost.) This venerable tune and text are based on several sources: stanza one from a 13th century church song based on the Latin hymn to the Spirit, Veni Creator, and additional stanzas written by Martin Luther in 1524. Buxtehude composed two settings of this hymn, both of which will be offered. At the 9:00 a.m. communion, the eucharistic hymn "Jesus Christus unser Heiland" (Jesus Christ Our Savior) will help create a sacred space of sound as we gather around the table. The composer employs a four-part chorale texture ending on an unresolved dominant chord to express the awe and mystery of this ancient sacrament. Lastly, the "Toccata in F Major" brings worship to a thrilling close in a grand display of dramatic Baroque flourishes.
At the 11:00 a.m. "choral" service, an intimate yet powerful arrangement of "O God Beyond All Praising" by celebrated composer Dan Forrest will be offered. The melody was originally a central motif from the "Jupiter" movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Holst adapted the melody as the hymn tune "Thaxted" (named after the English village he lived most of his life in) for "Songs of Praise", a 1925 compilation assembled in part by his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams. As the tune was often paired with a nationalist text, hymn writer Michael Perry wrote the present words as a "...response to a call for alternative words that would be more appropriate for Christian worship.”
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.