• Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Advent at Ephesus

    Not far from the ancient city of Ephesus is a small stone building traditionally known by Christians and Muslims as the “house of Mary.” Since the 19th century, the building has been maintained as a shrine to the Virgin Mother of Jesus. About 5,900 miles away — an hour’s drive north of Kansas City, Missouri — is the site of the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus. It is the home of the small community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The sisters living, working, praying, and singing there recognize a connection between their vocation and the house of Mary As their website explains: This little home is the…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday in Advent (December 9, 2018)

    This Sunday, our processional hymn is “Savior of the nations, come.” For some reason, this venerable hymn didn’t get included in the 1940 Hymnal we sing from (although it is in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church and in the recent Book of Common Praise, the hymnal used by our brothers and sisters in the Reformed Episcopal Church). We’ll sing it from an insert in the bulletin with a harmonization taken from the final chorale of one of J. S. Bach’s cantatas for Advent. Our sequence hymn will again be “Creator of the stars of night.” Some remarkable arrangements of this melody are featured on the recording of Advent music I…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: German Advent Music

    What might one expect from an album with the subtitle German Advent Music? From what genealogy does this music emerge? In Music in Early Lutheranism, an introductory guide to the tradition that gave the Church some of its most enduring musical achievements, Carl Schalk writes: The first two centuries of the Lutheran Reformation — the period between Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach — produced a singularly impressive body of music written specifically for the worship life of the church. Less often noted is that this music developed as a clear result of Lutheranism’s understanding of worship and the important place it gave to the art form it considered next in importance to…

  • Repertoire

    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 2: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland II

    In Lutheran Germany in the early 18th century, the first Sunday in Advent was the last time until Christmas when any elaborate music would be heard in church services. The relative austerity of the second, third, and fourth Sundays in Advent served to focus attention on the prospect of Christ’s return in judgment. It also gave church musicians an opportunity to concentrate their energy on preparing for the grueling demands of the Christmas season. Advent of 1724 was J. S. Bach’s second season as Kapellmeister at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. For the first Sunday in Advent that year he wrote a second cantata based on Luther’s Advent hymn, Nun…

  • Service music

    First Sunday in Advent (December 2, 2018)

    This Sunday, the choir will commence our Advent observation with a choral prelude just before the processional hymn. “Come down ye heavens from above” is a setting of portions of Rorate caeli. This text its sometimes called the “Advent Prose,” and is often sung in masses during Advent. Composer Judith Weir (b. 1954) has taken the plainchant tune for this ancient song of the Church and embellished it for a cappella choir. Our processional hymn is Charles Wesley’s “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” and our sequence hymn during Advent is “Creator of the stars of night.” Our sermon hymn, “O Word, that goest forth on high,” is sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas,…

  • Repertoire

    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 1: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland I

    In 1714, while he was a court musician in Weimar, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a cantata for the first Sunday in Advent. It was first sung on December 2 of that year. The text for the opening chorus was from a very early Lutheran hymn, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, “Now come, savior of the Gentiles.” This cantata — as do all of Bach’s cantatas — takes its name from that opening line. There is sometimes a Roman numeral I at the end of the title, to distinguish it from a later cantata with the same opening text and hence the same name. (N.B.: This cantata is also known as Cantata #61, or…

  • Online resources

    Advent service from St. John’s, Cambridge, on the BBC website

    At 3:00 PM (GMT) on the first Sunday in Advent (December 2), the BBC will broadcast “A Service for Advent with Carols from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge. You may listen to a recording of that broadcast here. The program for the service is as follows: Carol: Adam lay ybounden (Boris Ord) Processional Hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel! (Veni Emmanuel) Carol: E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come (Manz) I The Message of Advent Sentence and Collect Antiphons: O Sapientia and O Adonai First lesson: Isaiah 11 vv.1-5 Carol: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day (James Burton) Second lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5 vv.1-11 Sacred Song: Einklang (Hugo Wolf) II…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Advent at St. Paul’s

    In a 1952 essay called “The World’s Last Night,” C. S. Lewis critiqued one of the great modern myths, a belief he called “developmentalism.” We have been taught to think of the world as something that grows slowly toward perfection, something that “progresses” or “evolves.” Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell (which would be more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without; an extinguisher popped onto the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play — “Halt!” Lewis went on to urge Christians to give more attention to…

  • Service music

    Sunday next before Advent (November 25, 2018)

    This Sunday’s Holy Eucharist will be one of our a cappella services. In lieu of an organ prelude, the choir will sing a chorale by J. S. Bach, taken from Cantata BWV 38, Aus tiefer Not schrei’ ich zu Dir. This cantata is based on Martin Luther’s early (1524) paraphrase of Psalm 130, and we’re singing this chorale since that text is the focus of some attention in the last few weeks of the Church year; the Offertory and Communion propers feature a verse from Psalm 130: “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.” The story of the tune and text for…

  • Repertoire

    Happy St. Cecilia’s Day!

    We know very little about St. Cecilia’s life, other than the fact that it ended in martyrdom, probably in the early to mid-third century. Many stories associate her with singing — in acts of prayer as a young woman and in the face of her torturers. In the middle ages, she was named the patron saint of music and of Church musicians. In works of art and literature that extol the mysterious, cosmic power of music — connecting earthly with celestial music — St. Cecilia is often referenced. John Dryden’s “An Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687,” for example, is about the creative power of music, not about St. Cecilia, although she…