We can experience transcendence through music—a brush with another spiritual realm. One person may feel exhilaration at a high decibel heavy metal show while another is uplifted by the sweet melancholy of a band like The Cure. The ancient melodies of Gregorian Chant can bring the faithful to tears while the roar of a pipe organ leading a congregation in a majestic Germanic hymn could be heard as glorious. The styles and modes of transmission can be so varied and seemingly contradictory in intent. But they are unified by our individual spirits looking upward. Engaged. Stirred.
Songs of Unity this Sunday, then.
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.