• Advent,  Repertoire

    “The melodies and the notes are precious”

    On the First Sunday in Advent, our congregation will sing (at the 10:30 Mass) a hymn that is not included in our Hymnal. “Savior of the nations, come” has a very interesting history, a genealogy which I explored in a recent audio program produced for Mars Hill Audio. You may listen to that program below. And you may download a pdf of the hymn here. Part of that history involves a plainchant setting of an Advent hymn written by St. Ambrose (340–397). Our choir will be chanting that hymn during Communion in the 10:30 service tomorrow. Here is the audio of the feature about “Savior of the nations, come” and its…

  • Repertoire

    Mary visits Elisabeth; music ensues

    “At the end of the day when twilight falls, and again at the beginning of a new day when the lustre of the rising sun becomes visible, the beautiful song of the birds is heard in the open. Accordingly it does not surprise us that in the twilight of the Old Testament dispensation and in the morning splendour of the New Testament dispensation we hear various persons, favoured by God, of Elisabeth, Mary, Zacharias and Simeon and the hymn of the angels.” So wrote Norval Geldenhuys in his commentary on the Gospel of St Luke. This observation introduces his remarks on verses 39 to 56 of the first chapter of…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Easter

    The following pages describe music composed to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. Hymns for Easter — Recordings of six of the most popular Easter hymns, including our 2020 “Choir in Quarantine” recording of “Jesus Christ is ris’n today” Jean Richafort (c. 1480–c. 1547), Christus resurgens — This setting of verses from Romans 6 is by an early Renaissance composer from the Low Countries Jean l’Héritier (c. 1480–1551), Surrexit pastor bonus — A motet by a French Renaissance composer declares “The good shepherd has arisen” Francisco Guerrero (1528–1599), Maria Magdalena et altera Maria — One of Spain’s greatest composers depicts the arrival by women at an empty tomb Peter Philips…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion: An Introduction

    The first Lutheran hymnal was printed and published in 1524. Two hundred years later, at the Vespers service on Good Friday of 1724, the Lutheran congregation in Leipzig heard the first performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. This was a liturgical event, not a concert. And it commenced with the congregational singing of the Lutheran chorale, “Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund,” “When Jesus stood at the cross.” They probably sang all ten stanzas of the hymn, seven of which repeat the seven last words or sayings of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do;” “Today you will be with me…

  • Hymns

    Music for St. Patrick’s Day

    One of the favorite hymns in our parish is “I bind unto myself today.” The text of this hymn is a prayer for protection and is attributed to St. Patrick. Singing it amounts to the donning of armor, and so the hymn is often called simply “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.” (A certain member of the parish — in his frequent adjuration for me to schedule this hymn in an upcoming service — never bothers mentioning the hymn’s name, simply declaring, with a smile: “268!!” That’s the number of the hymn in our Hymnal.) You can read more about the origins of the text of this hymn on this page, where the…

  • Repertoire,  Service music

    Singing the Collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

    If our choir were not currently sidelined, we would probably be singing this Sunday a setting of this week’s Collect an anthem composed by Orlando Gibbons: “Almighty and everlasting God.” In addition to his stature as one of the finest composers of the Elizabethan period, Gibbons (1583–1625) was celebrated in his day as a master of keyboard music. When 21, he was appointed organist at the Chapel Royal, a post he held until his sudden death at the age of 41. In 1623, Gibbons contributed 16 tunes for use in George Wither’s Hymnes and Songs of the Church, an important collection of Elizabethan psalmody. Six of those tunes are in our…

  • Christmas,  Recording reviews

    Recordings for Christmas

    In 2018, I spent the 12 Days of Christmas compiling a short list of some of my favorite recordings of Christmas music. If I were to do the same thing this year (or any year) the list would probably be different, as I discover new albums or revisit some that I had long forgotten. The 2018 list also evidences my interest in commending a range of different styles and eras, not just polyphony from the Renaissance (which forms a large portion of my listening). Below are links to the 12 posts that introduce the albums I surveyed in 2018. Most of the posts include embedded performance tracks that provide a…

  • Hymns

    True lights that lighten every land

    On July 25th, we celebrate the Feast of St. James the Apostle. The epistle reading for this day is from the Book of Acts, and includes a reference to Kng Herod’s command to execute St. James and St. Peter. Our sermon hymn this year is “The eternal gifts of Christ the King.” Dating from the fourth century, this hymn (#132 in our Hymnal) recognizes Christian martyrs as princes of the Church, a great occasion for joy in the New Jerusalem. Since it is new for our parish, our choir recorded the first and last stanza to introduce the melody. On this page, you can hear the melody chanted in its…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: An introduction

    As one of the greatest pieces of music in the Church’s treasury, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion can be more than a bit intimidating on first hearing. But repeated exposure to Bach’s sensitive and insightful telling of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus — and of the response of faithful believers to the event — brings rich rewards. In 2019, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Academy of Ancient Music recorded the work in a live performance. The part of the Evangelist was sung by tenor James Gilchrist. In the Spring of 2020, Gilchrist recorded a 30-minute guide to the work. His comments are illustrated with excerpts from the…

  • Psalms,  Service music

    A Psalm for Lent

    During Lent, when weather permits, we will be chanting Psalm 51:1–13 as part of our parking lot hymn-sing. The Anglican chant setting we will be using is by Charles H. Wilton (1761–1832), an English violinist, singer, and music teacher. We have sung this setting as a parish in the past, and you may download a pdf of the text and music here. As part of our Choir in Quarantine project, our choir has made a recording of this Psalm setting for use by the parish.