• 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

    J. S. Bach
    Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
    (“Heart and mouth and deed and life,” BWV 147)

    Bach composed two cantatas to be sung on the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the first of these, performed first in 1723 — not long after he had assumed his duties as Kantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche — Bach adapted a cantata that he had earlier composed for use during Advent. The text presented in this cantata encourages the congregation to recognize the spirit of the Virgin Mary’s own confident expression of faith to be the model for Christian faithfulness. The opening chorus proclaims: “Heart and mouth and deed and life must bear witness of Christ, without fear and hypocrisy, that he is God and savior.”…

  • 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…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide

    The following pages describe music composed for use in Passiontide liturgies and in personal devotion during this season. A Passiontide hymn — The background to the text and music of “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle” A Passiontide hymn — The background to the text and music of “Ah, holy Jesus” A Palm Sunday hymn — The background to the text and music of “All glory, laud, and honor” “The depths of solemn grandeur” — Reflections on the aesthetics of Lamentations Miserere mei, Deus — A guide to a number of settings of Psalm 51 Morales, The Seven Lamentations — Meditations on the plight of Jerusalem and the suffering of…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, “From deep affliction I cry out to you” (Cantata BWV 38)

    During Lent, our congregation has for several years been singing settings of Psalm 51 every Sunday. Often referenced by its Latin title, Miserere mei, Deus, this psalm is one of seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Regarded by many Christians as the most powerful of these seven expressions of lament, it has been set to music by many composers. Psalm 130 — De profundis — has been almost as frequently set to music, especially in the German paraphrase by Martin Luther, published in one of the first Lutheran hymnals in 1524. Both the text and tune selected for this hymn are known by their initial German words,…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach
    Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister
    (“Scatterbrained frivolous people,” BWV 181)

    The Gospel reading for the Sunday known as Sexagesima is often summarized under the heading “The Parable of the Sower” (St. Luke 8:4–15). But the teaching of Jesus in this parable says very little about the Sower and quite a bit about the conditions in, on, and above the ground where the seeds were sown. Perhaps we should think of this parable as “The Parable of the Importance of Being Receptive to the Coming of the Sower. When Jesus spoke this story — before the disciples asked for an explanation of its symbolism — he concluded with a statement that could be read either as a description or an exhortation:…

  • 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…

  • 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…