December Choir Corner by David Williamson

As we approach the two shortest seasons of the Liturgical Year, I’m reminded of the old saying that Good Friday belongs to the Roman Catholics, Easter belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, but Advent, Christmas, and all the Holy Days dealing with the Incarnation are the domain of us Anglicans. We are militant in refusing to celebrate Christmas without thoroughly preparing ourselves though Advent. Our hymnody embraces and reinforces the dual preparation for both the celebration of the first coming of Jesus and the proclamation of his return in glory. Among the Advent favorites in our hymnal are “Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding,” “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry,” “Prepare the way, O Zion,” ”Sleepers Wake,” “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” and “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

The Gloria in Excelsis (the song at the beginning of worship that begins, “Glory to God in the Highest...”) is given up for Advent but will return in our worship on Christmas Eve in the metrical form of “Angels we have heard on high.” This is appropriate since the first lines
of the Gloria in Excelsis comes directly from the angels’ mouths as they announce the birth of Jesus to the shepheards.

During Advent, we will once again sing the Schubert’s Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy upon us...”) and Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy Lord...”) along with Mark Schweitzer’s “St. James’ Christmas Service” setting of the Agnus Dei (“O, Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world...”) to the tune “Greensleeves.” Greensleeves is the tune most are familiar with as the setting of “What Child is This?”

The Choir Corner: Pentecost

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

As we speedily fly through the Great Fifty Days of Easter, seemingly faster each year, I'm putting in a new communion hymn on The Day of Pentecost from the contemplative Taize' Community. The community is an ecumenical monastic order in France, near Cluny, founded by a Swiss Protestant, who felt called to minister to young people and work towards greater cooperation among Christians.

Their worship and their songs were made to be accessible to the brothers and pilgrims, using mantras, short repeated phrases like antiphons. Usually a cantor provides the rest of the text of the psalm or Canticle. We have used "Ubi Caritas" for a while now. For Pentecost we will use "Veni Sancte Spiritus." Both were written by the late French organist Jacques Berthier, who composed much of their music. In the past fifteen years or so this invocation of the Holy Spirit has gradually replaced the "Veni Creator Spiritus" as the musical prayer at the laying on of hands at ordinations, so many of you have probably already heard it.

The Choir Corner: The Great 50 Days of Easter

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

In our 10:30 service, we typically sing the Gloria ("Glory to God in the high-est...") at the beginning of worship, just after the opening sentences. During the Great 50 Days of Easter, however, we are instead singing the Easter Canticle, the Pascha nostrum (which means Our Passover) in place of the Gloria. We are singing a metrical version of the Pascha nostrum by the Rev. Carl Daw, which sets it to the familiar tune "Sine nomine," which you know as the same tune as "For all the saints." Daw's Paschua nostrum first came out as an anthem in the 80's, and I was overjoyed that it became available for congregational use by being included in the popular, authorized supplement to the hymnal, "Wonder, Love, and Praise" from which the choir often sings.

The Choir Corner: Epiphany, Lent and Easter

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

David Williamson, Choirmaster and Organist

Looking at Hymn 135, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” one notices that this is a seasonal hymn addressing the themes of this Epiphany season. The repetition of "manifest" reminds us of the manifestation of Christ to all, not just the descendants of Israel. It covers the Baptism of Christ and the Transfiguration, which are the focus of the first and last Sundays after Epiphany. The wedding at Cana is also alluded to for those years with a longer Epiphany in which we hear in the lectionary Jesus’ first miracle. The tune name is "Salzburg," harmonized by Bach, representing some of the best hymnody in the German/Dutch/Swiss Protestant tradition.

Contrasting to this is Hymn 448, "O Love how deep, how broad, how high," which is used extensively in both the Lenten and Easter seasons, and usually several times in the Season after Pentecost. The allusion to the Love of God is obvious in the title, and regardless of the season, it sometimes is the most cohesive choice for coordinating with the Collect, Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel of a given Sunday. The Tune is "Deus tuorum militum," alluding to the original Latin text, "O God of your soldiers." It is French in origin, written just after the death of Bach, and represents the "new school" of Roman Catholic hymnody that emerged as a result of the Counter Reformation.

A Note from Peter (March 2017)

With the 2017 Speaker Series this weekend and Nativity hosting Happening #85 the following weekend, one could be excused for forgetting that Ash Wednesday is March 1! But indeed it is, and so, at 12:05 and 5:30pm we will gather to pray for the world; to have ashes imposed on our foreheads; and for the invitation, once again, “to the observance of a Holy Lent.”

For the last ten years, my observance of Lent has always included listening to the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach. This massive work of classical music recounts and reflects upon the story of the last supper, Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It was originally written to be performed on Good Friday in the church where Bach served as church musician. Truly, this is a piece of classical music meant to be an act of worship. It is crushingly beautiful, and at times inspiring, mournful, and surprisingly joyful in places. Each Lent, it allows me to dwell deeply in the story of our Lord’s suffering and death and his love for us.

My hope, this Lent, is to share that gift with you all in an adult forum class I’m calling “Bible Study with Bach.” We’ll read together Matthew 26 and 27, pausing periodically to watch a performance of the Passion from the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris. In the performance, you get a sense for Bach’s own spirituality, how he interprets the biblical text, and what he thinks it all means. And just like reading scripture with any other friend, how Bach reads the story might shape how you read the story. These days, when I read of Judas giving back the money for which he betrayed Jesus, I hear the depth of his repentance that Bach puts into music. When I think of Peter in the garden denying Jesus, I hear the mourning that Bach puts into Peter’s voice. Two years ago, my entire Palm Sunday sermon was inspired by the music Bach composed for two words St. Matthew wrote: “wept bitterly.”

I’ll be assisted in this undertaking by our friend Ben Arnold, assistant professor of music at MVSU and known to many as a bookseller at Turnrow. St. Matthew Passion moves me on a deep level, but when it comes to talking music history and theory, I get out of my depth very quickly. I am grateful to Ben for helping me out in that department. In addition, David Williamson has given an introduction to Bach and the Passion elsewhere in this newsletter. As David points out, all of you already know music from the St. Matthew Passion. It’s in our hymnal, and it’s in a lot of weddings too!

This offering begins March 19 and will continue through Easter Day. Whether you’re a big music lover or not, why not take this Lent and this opportunity to spend a little more time with the story that makes all the difference in the world?