It is unofficially "Baroque Week" at Plymouth beginning this Reformation Sunday and extending into the October 28 Wednesday evening Vespers. Aided by the generous gift of a harpsichord for our chancel (thank you!) and cellist Heidi Mausbach, we'll experience the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach: the musical architect of the German Reformation.
Bach composed three sonatas for the Viola de Gamba and harpsichord between 1730 and 1740 during his tenure at Thomaskirche, Leipzig. For the Prelude, the lively "Allegro moderato", the fourth and final movement from BWV 1027 in G major, will be offered. Cellist Heidi Mausbach steps in for the hoary Viola de Gamba in this delightfully joyful excerpt.
One does not need to be a Bach connoisseur to recognize the Musical Offering this Sunday....just to have attended enough weddings! "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (Jesus shall remain my joy), famously known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," is originally a chorale movement from Cantata 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" (Heart and mouth and deed and life). Based on a 1661 hymn tune, this chorale has been heard the world over in arrangements for a variety of instruments, choral settings, and even inclusion in hymnals. On Sunday, soprano Blair Carpenter presents a rendition in German with myself and Heidi accompanying.
The works of Bach are revered, studied, and performed by musicians of all kinds. He wrote for everyone including for strings, wind instruments, brass, vocalists, and choirs. Think on the masterworks such as the Brandenburg Concertos, Mass in B Minor, and his numerous cantatas. But it was a special moment for Bach when he could compose for his primary instrument, the organ. The "Fantasia in G Minor, BWV 542" is technically a stand alone work but is often paired with the magnificent Fugue in G Minor.
We'll hear the high Baroque drama of the Fantasia a la carte this Sunday....with no small allusion to Halloween as well. If I'm being honest.
The sweet discordant sounds of jazz greet you this Consecration Sunday morning with certainly a blue note or two. Guaranteed.
Bassist Ori Britton, Plymouth's Staff Singer Blair Carpenter, guitarist Alan Skowron and myself join you "from the past" in a prerecorded service this weekend.
Forest Green is an English folk song collected by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1903. Originally entitled "The Ploughboy's Dream," the tune was renamed Forest Green after the town in Surrey where the melody was collected from a certain Mr. Garman. Often paired in England with the beloved Christmas text "O Little Town of Bethlehem", we will hear it through the ears of stewardship and jazz-inflected harmonies as "As Those of Old Their Firstfruits Brought."
After we each sing to the Spirit to "Take My Gifts" for God's holy mission in our world....we "Take Five," and deservedly so! Saxophonist Paul Desmond wrote this jazz standard in 1959 for inclusion on the Dave Brubeck Quartet's seminal album "Time Out." Brubeck requested a tune from Desmond to showcase drummer Joe Morello's adeptness at playing in the irregular 5/4 time signature. The result was the most successful jazz single in history! Although you couldn't dance to it...
Signs of Autumn abound. A season of change and of stewardship: a time to assess our support of God's work in the world and our willingness to receive God's providence.
The 15th century German hymn tune "Gott der Vater wohn uns bei" (inclusively translated as "Mother God, Be Our Stay") is an ode to the protective promise of God. Paul Manz's setting is hopeful and joyful with a lively manual ritornello dancing above the cantus firmus in the pedal.
Vivaldi's Four Seasons has been excerpted plentifully at Plymouth over the years. We do so again with the opening Allegro of Movement III: Autumn. The movement signifies a country dance in the crisp autumn air. Vivaldi offers these unambiguous words to the music's intent:
Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest.
And fired up by Bacchus' liquor,
many end their revelry in sleep.
An Italian Baroque Oktoberfest!
The service ends with a "Postlude" by William Mathias. Quirky, cheery, and very British in its regal character, we jauntily walk out into the Autumn air.
It is a Sunday of "musical reunions" as we enter this stewardship season.
The organ returns! As the result of patience and due diligence, we have the privilege to hear this instrument roar and purr in the sanctuary once again.
A lively and eccentric "Scherzo" by British composer Alan Ridout gets us started. The playful yet austere "Praeludium" by German composer Hermann Schroeder closes the service with a Neo-Baroque flair.
Members of the Plymouth Ringers once again grace the sanctuary with my minimalist arrangement of the "Prayer of St. Francis", also known as "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace." While some of our beasts will be blessed following the service, let us be blessed by the presence of these folks and their musical offering.
Improvisation for some musicians is fear incarnate. It is a language to learn but also a leap to take. Jazz musicians live for the opportunity to "compose in the moment" while classical players can sometimes cease to be without a music score. In these times, improvisation in a general sense is essential for all of us. For some days, you don't know what is next!
This Sunday, we will hear a sketch, perhaps an impromptu or two. But as with any improvisation, there is always that central idea to refer back to. An oasis in the midst of uncertainty. The trusty Gaelic tune "St. Columba" will be that glue
including a setting by Matt Riley with violinist Harmony Tucker.
Amid all the ambiguity, we hope to see you this Sunday at 10:00 a.m.
During this Sunday morning's pre-recorded service, we will see the debut of Plymouth's Virtual Choir!
Utilizing the popular Acapella app, we're able to record up to 9 singers and musicians in sound and vision. The anthem in question is an old chestnut with the Chancel Choir, Natalie Sleeth's "Hymn of Promise." The tune can also be found in The New Century Hymnal as "In the Bulb There Is a Flower," hymn number 433.
This will be the beginning of regular virtual offerings among this choir and other ensembles including the Chamber Choir and Plymouth Ringers. There are also collaborations among the congregation that will surface as time goes on.
It has been a slog, to be honest. But our volunteers and friends of Plymouth have enjoyed the process of bringing this music to you. Much more to come as we persevere in these tough and confusing times. We can't be together quite just yet but the church and music program is certainly still open.
An American and a Welshman.
"Those Americans" is an abstract work from the respectable Five Dances for Organ by Calvin Hampton. While not exactly a dance in a conventional sense, the constant motion of triplet figures conveys a steady movement, a busyness. Perhaps emulating the stereotypical American in the eyes of the world as one who overworks and overachieves, losing sight of the beauty around them?
Calvin Hampton left us with many works for the church including several innovative hymns. Tenor Lucas Jackson sings "O Love of God, How Strong and True," an 1861 text by Horatius Bonar set to Hampton's DeTar, named after organist and retired Julliard professor Vernon DeTar. The scalar melody and syncopated accompaniment make for a truly unique congregational hymn.
What's in a name? Welsh organist and composer William Mathias's "Postlude" closes the service on a note of jollity and mirth. Cheerio!
Even in my peak physical condition in days of yore, I have never enjoyed sports. Can't be bothered! But these days, the skillset of hitting a mean curveball out of the park is a frequent occurrence, figuratively speaking. I believe I'm getting used to it as we all likely have during these strange times.
You may have noticed that the piano has been used quite often in our streaming services. Of late, it's a result of the organ being a bit under the weather... though soon to be remedied! I have always enjoyed using the piano in worship despite the organ's traditional role as music leader in corporate worship:. My degree training notwithstanding. I consider it an enclosed giant organ stop: another color!
Improvisation is in the air as plans are dashed for new ones. As is the courageous flexibility of our guest musicians who have sometimes stepped in at a moment's notice. Thank you!
So what of this Sunday's music program? I'm not sure! Surely the conclusion of the worst Music Minute ever written in this space. I can tell you flutist Rebecca Quillen will swoop back into town and we'll offer several selections from a lovely sonata or similar. To honor our trusty Yamaha grand piano, I'll play a selection from the 1993 film The Piano entitled "The Promise" by Michael Nyman. It only seems right.
So hope to "see" you all out there in streaming land this Sunday as we worship together. Stay tuned.
"How to approach the holy?" This is a question asked by each soul in his or her own way, knowingly or unknowingly, over the millennia. The providence of God revealed, loudly, in the blast of horns. It's the Jubilee! To Leviticus we go this Sunday morning.
"Soliloquy" by David Conte has become an oft-performed work in the organ repertoire since its publication in 1997. It is dedicated to Walter "Chick" Holtkamp, Jr., and was premiered at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1996 as part of "ChickFest," a festival celebrating his forty years of organ building. In Conte's words, this wistful work is "in simple ABA form. The principal idea is an angular, lyrical melody, at once both proud and shy, first stated in the solo flute and accompanied by a gently pulsing ostinato. The central section becomes more animated and rises to a declamatory climax. The character of the opening music returns in the final section.".
The beautiful concept of God as caretaker of all creation is perhaps expressed most clearly in the traditional spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Soprano Andrea Weidemann offers a flowing setting of the song by Moses Hogan. Known for his ambitious and thrilling choral arrangements of traditional spirituals, this solo work takes on a very different air: calm dignity barely concealing a brimming joyful conviction.
The trumpet shall sound with David Johnson's jaunty "Trumpet Voluntary in E Flat Major" at the Postlude. Composed in homage to the Baroque trumpet voluntary, the form is clear and concise. The solo trumpet theme alternates with a response on the Great Organ. A minor key 'B' section briefly interrupts the festivities before inviting the return of the main theme, its final reiteration on Full Organ. Classic.
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.
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.