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.”
Music and text connoting peace, eternal light and life, and the Church Triumphant will be presented this Totenfest and All Saints' Sunday morning.
An elegy can be defined as a lament for the dead, a sad poem. This literary term, as with many other literary terms, have musical counterparts as well. Such an example is the meditative "Elegy" by George Thalben-Ball, his most well-known work. It was conceived during a live religious service broadcast on BBC radio during World War II. The service ended earlier than planned and so he improvised a piece which, due to interest by listeners, was reconstructed and published as "Elegy". And so this Sunday's services begin in an introspective space as we remember those who have passed on over the year. For the closing voluntary, a joyous setting of the hymn tune "Lasst uns erfreuen" (Let us rejoice most heartily) reminds us of the bliss that awaits. The tune has been paired with several texts over the centuries. Our Doxology this fall is an example as are the hymns "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" and "All Creatures of Our God and King."
On this special Sunday of the liturgical year, we will also hear two choral offerings by two of Plymouth's vocal ensembles.
The Chamber Choir, an auditioned group of Plymouth members and fine vocalists from the community, offer the sublime "Illuminate (Lux aeterna)" by Matthew Wheeler at both morning services. The anthem was composed in memoriam to his father and expresses a journey from the shadows of despair to the promise of Light's return. "Lux aeterna" (Latin for "perpetual light") and additional select texts from the traditional requiem mass are interwoven into the English text creating a tapestry of personal feelings of loss and hope with an ancient liturgical underpinning. At 11:00, the Chancel Choir sings "We Are Surrounded" by Joseph Martin. The words by J. Paul Wiliams, based on Hebrews 12.1-3, call us to heed the will of God as those saints before us have done so well.
At 6:00 p.m., join us for a service of simplicity and peace as we share a humble meal together and sing chants from the Taizé tradition. Bobby and Blair are joined by flutist Aaron McGrew for this beautiful service of evening prayer.
In celebration of Consecration Sunday, the Chancel Choir offers Bob Chilcott's A Little Jazz Mass during the 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. services.
British composer Bob Chilcott composed the mass as a commission for the 2004 Crescent City Children's Choral Festival in New Orleans, debuting at St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans in June of the same year. The work is a Missa brevis (Latin for "short mass") in five sections. Chilcott expresses several facets of jazz throughout this twelve minute work: the Kyrie has a groove, the Gloria truly swings, a serenity permeates the Sanctus, the Benedictus has an easy strut, and the blues is felt in the Agnus Dei. Pianist Bobby Brannock and bassist Cameron Collums will help bring this quirky yet elegant reading of the traditional Mass text to life.
For the Prelude, a selection from William Bolcom's Gospel Preludes, "Sweet Hour of Prayer", will set the musical tone in a hybrid of art music, jazz, and gospel. The perennial hymn of the Reformation, "A Mighty Fortress", is given a contemporary and rhythmic setting by Charles Ore for the Postlude.
At 6:00 p.m., the strains of jazz will still be heard as Bobby and Blair are joined by bassist Cameron Collums and guitarist Alan Skowron for original arrangements and a head by Wayne Shorter.
Webster's Dictionary provides two definitions of a fanfare: "a short and lively sounding of trumpets" and "a showy outward display." Fanfares have been used in art music since the 14th century as introductions and exciting instrumental flourishes with or without the traditional brass instrumentation. This Sunday morning, three fanfares will be presented in three very different ways though all expressing the character of a fervent musical announcement.
Italian organ virtuoso/composer Marco Enrico Bossi concertized and wrote prolifically for the organ until his untimely death in 1925. His Piccola Fanfara (translated as "little fanfare") is a brief work that is both playful and exclamatory, expressing characteristics of a scherzo. Gopsal, one of only three hymn tunes composed by G.F. Handel, is the subject of a British-style fanfare treatment by Sir David Willcocks. An opening toccata with the melody underlaid in the pedal leads to a Tuba stop punctuation of the closing phrase, culminating in a grand long final chord. The Plymouth Ringers offer Fanfare Allegro by Jeff Batdorf. Beginning with a regal chordal statement, the piece then introduces a Latin-flavored rhythm pulsing under a florid melodic motif which continues throughout this quirky light-hearted work.
The Chancel Choir sings The Splendour of the House of God by famed Iona Community composer John Bell. Arranged for chorus by Frikki Walker, the anthem was commissioned for the restoration of the Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Glasgow, Scotland. You, the congregation, will be invited to sing on the refrain of this hymn-anthem declaring the glory of God's church on earth.
At 6:00 p.m., Bobby and Blair will be joined by harpist Alaina Bongers and flutist Rebecca Quillen for an evening of contemplative and Celtic sounds.
To the early Baroque period we go this Sunday morning with selections from across the European continent.
From the Netherlands, a set of variations on the 16th century Lutheran hymn "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" (To God Alone on High be Glory) by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621). Sweelinck spent the majority of his life in Amsterdam as a renowned organist and teacher. His students and influence would help create the North German organ tradition to follow resulting in luminaries such as Dietrich Buxtehude, Friedrich Zachow, and J.S. Bach. French Baroque organ music developed quite differently from other European traditions, emphasizing color and ornamentation over counterpoint. The "Elevation" from Francois Couperin's "Mass for the Convents" demonstrates this beautifully with sweet flute tones supporting a melody on a Tierce combination stop with pedals providing only harmonic undertones. Francois Couperin was the most well-known member of his family's musical dynasty which spanned nearly 150 years. A similar musical lineage occurred in Germany with the Bachs, of course, but also in the Pachelbel family, prominently Johann and his sons Wilhelm Hieronymus and Charles Theodore. The father, famously known for his "Canon in D," wrote organ works influenced by southern German composers such as Forberger and the Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi. His works were succinct and direct, as evidenced in "Toccata in E Minor."
The Chancel Choir offers a decidedly non-Baroque work by Mark Miller in "God Has Work for Us to Do". It is a call to action in a world rife with injustice and corruption. A welcome complement to this month's focus on stewardship and support for the mission of Plymouth.
On this World Communion Sunday, a prelude by Spanish musicologist and composer Nemesio Otaño sets a meditative tone for worship at 11:00. At the early service, percussionist Michael Hamilton and I offer an arrangement of "Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ," a Eucharistic hymn set to a Jamaican folk song. A Latin-flavored toccata on the hymn tune "Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele" (Praise the Lord, my Soul) by German organ virtuoso Hans-André Stamm closes the services. The Chancel Choir offers "One World" by Linda Kachelmeier featuring percussion, soloist Blair Carpenter and a vocal trio of Karen Dawson, Janet Hanlon, and Jennifer Stimson. This work was commissioned for World Communion Sunday 2012 by First Presbyterian Church, South Saint Paul, Minnesota for the composer's twenty years of music ministry there.
Hermann Schroeder (1904-1984) was a German composer, organist, conductor, and professor who spent the majority of his professional life in the Rheinland. As a Catholic church musician, he had a distinguished tenure as organist at Trier Cathedral, the oldest church in Germany with roots tracing back to the 3rd century. Schroeder's primary contribution in his sacred music output was to reintroduce medieval musical concepts to counter the prevailing Romantic influence of the day. This included the use of Gregorian chant, modal scales, the fauxbourdon (melody displayed in the tenor voice) combined with quartal/quintal harmonies and the occasional quasi-atonal approach characteristic of contemporary Paul Hindemith.
Two choral preludes on German hymn tunes will be offered this Sunday morning. "Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (We Now Implore the Holy Ghost) opens the services with an invocation to the Spirit. The Baroque technique of placing the cantus firmus in the pedal with counterpoint figurations in the manuals is employed, albeit with quartal, quintal, and contemporary harmonies, which one would not expect to find in traditional 17th or 18th century music. "Schönster Herr Jesu" (Most beautiful Lord Jesus) also sets the melody in the pedal but the manuals play sustained suspension-filled passages reminiscent of the 19th century. The hymn tune is originally of Silesian origin but was paired with the German text (commonly known as "Fairest Lord Jesus") in 1842. The opening movement of Schroeder's Six Preludes and Intermezzi, Opus 9, "Praeludium," closes the services with a majestic soundscape reminiscent of medieval organum with modern tonalities weaved in throughout.
At 11:00 a.m., the Chancel Choir offers Will Todd's "Lighting the Way," an anthem indicated as "A Song for Pilgrims" by the composer, who also wrote the text. He speaks to God being the Light of our own lives and how we then share that light with others, lighting their way.
This Sunday morning we hear music exemplifying consolation, peace, and hope in these difficult days in our country and around the world.
Our somber yet hopeful plea to God is reflected in "Soliloquy" by David Conte at the prelude. Composed in 1997, the work begins and ends in a plaintive single voice with a grand chorus of sound between. "Chant de paix" (Song of Peace) by Jean Langlais sets a calm, ethereal, even healing tone during the 11:00 a.m. offertory. J.S. Bach's "Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist" (Come, God Creator, Holy Ghost) from his Great Eighteen Choral Preludes, composed in the last decade of his life, closes the services by invoking the Spirit.
The Plymouth Ringers offer a hauntingly serene setting of the ancient tune Picardy by Sandra Eithun entitled "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." While primarily a Eucharistic text, a message of hope is also revealed: Christus vincit.
At 11:00 a.m., the Chancel Choir will lead us in the final hymn, "All Our Hope in God is Founded" with a glorious setting by Michael Burkhardt.
At the 6:00 p.m. Service of Ordination, "The Ground" by Ola Gjeilo will serve as the musical centerpiece with a string quartet and Bobby Brannock on piano accompanying. Based on a chorale from the final movement of Gjeilo's "Sunrise Mass" (2008), the work is intended to convey a sense of, in the composer's words, "reaching a kind of peace and grounded strength after the long journey of the mass...".
Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Anton Bruckner are 19th century composers known to most listeners as producing sprawling symphonies, quintessential piano works, and choral masterworks. This Sunday morning, we will hear examples of their, for most, little known organ works.
Beethoven wrote only three published works specifically for organ, two of which are part of opus 39: "Prelude Through All Major Keys". As the title implies, the work seamlessly moves through all twelve key signatures before returning to C major. Opus 39 was composed when he was only nineteen. Liszt's large scale organ works are pinnacles of the repertoire to organphiles but is overshadowed by his piano output to the general public. Liszt's gentle "Adagio in D Flat" will be offered at the 9:00 communion service. Bruckner was a renowned organ improviser in the latter half of the 19th century but composed very few works for what was his favorite instrument. His "Postlude" (or Nachspiel) will close the services in an ode to the Baroque era.
The Chancel Choir offers a rousing setting of the spiritual "Standing in the Need of Prayer" at the 11:00 a.m. choral service by Moses Hogan. Hogan arranged dozens of spirituals for chorus in such creative and exciting ways before his untimely death in 2003. A vocal trio of Karen Dawson, Jennifer Stimson, and Andrea Weidemann are featured in this fun uplifting work.
At 6:00 p.m., come join us for a service on the labyrinth! Bobby will lead us in song as we together come and find the quiet center in the Spirit.
Two famous cousins from the Baroque era frame the morning services with chorale preludes based on two well-known hymn tunes.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) composed several settings of "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier" (Dearest Jesus, we are here). This week, we hear BWV 731, the ornamented four-voice chorale setting with soprano played with the right hand, alto and tenor in the left, and bass in the pedal. The Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748) setting of "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen" (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty) also utilizes four voices but in a quasi-fugal style. Fragments of the hymn tune become the unifying motive throughout the brief chorale prelude.with large reeds in the pedal exclaiming the jubilant melody in its entirety.
During the 9:00 a.m. communion service, a setting of the 13th century Eucharistic hymn by Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro te devote" (I devoutly adore you), will be offered by 20th century British-Canadian composer Healey Willan.
At 11:00 a.m., the Chancel Choir sings the evocative anthem "I Believe" by composer Mark Miller. The text is based on an anonymous poem found written on a cellar wall in Cologne, where jewish citizens purportedly spent years in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. The paraphrased text reads: "I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining. I believe in love, even when I don't feel it. I believe in God, even when God is silent." May these words of faith, hope, and comfort empower us in these difficult days as well.
At 6:00 p.m., Bobby and Blair are joined by resident Plymouth ukulele guru Stuart Yoshida, bassist Peter Strening and steel guitarist Chris Kennison for an eclectic selection of spiritual and sacred songs featuring a taste of the "Sacred Steel" tradition. Come and experience this unconventional service of evening prayer and unique sounds!
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.