• 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…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Mendelssohn Church music

    Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family in 1809. His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was one of the most prominent Jewish intellectuals of the Enlightenment. But in 1816, Felix and his three siblings were all baptized into the Christian faith at his parents request by a Reformed Protestant minister in Berlin. As a young man, Felix would later disclose that he had become a follower of the Prussian Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. Neither his baptism nor his numerous compositions of Christian sacred music were mere formalities. The best-known of his sacred choral works are the larger, longer, concert-sized works, especially the oratorio Elijah (1846). But there are many shorter…

  • Service music

    Music for Trinity 25 (November 18, 2018)

    Although the Pilgrims never planned it so, our national harvest festival (some of us still call it Thanksgiving) occurs near the end of the Church’s liturgical year. Families and friends typically gather together at this time in a faint, secular echo of our Eucharistic feast, which in turn anticipates the great wedding feast ushered in with the second advent of our Lord. The music in our worship this Sunday resonates with Thanksgiving and anticipates Advent. Our processional hymn, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” has often been sung at Thanksgiving as a national hymn, the “We” taken to mean “America.” It is important to remember that the “We”…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Selected works by Monteverdi

    On Trinity 24, our choir sang the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei from a Mass by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) published in 1641 (see here for more about the historical  significance of Monteverdi’s work). The Messa da Capella a quattro voci is a relatively late work by Monteverdi, and it demonstrates how he was able to write music that sustained the rich polyphonic textures of previous generations of composers (employing the “Stile antico”) even as he pioneered the innovative musical techniques of the early Baroque. This Mass was part of a collection called Selva morale e spirituale, “A moral and spiritual forest.” In the words of conductor Harry Christophers, “It is jam packed…

  • Service music

    Music for Trinity 24 (November 11, 2018)

    During Communion on Sunday, we will sing a familiar hymn text to a not so familiar tune. The bulletin will feature an insert with the music to “O Food to Pilgrims given.” You may recognize the words as almost exactly the same as hymn #192 in our Hymnal, “O Food of men wayfaring.” The story of the two different tunes and the slightly different texts is told here. The music sung by the choir during the Offertory and during Communion is from a 1641 setting of the Mass by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). This page offers more information about this work, and this article presents a introduction to the significance of…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Hail, gladdening Light

    Originally released in 1991, this collection of 23 short pieces is sub-titled “Music of the English Church,” as the pieces have become standards in the choral repertoire within the Anglican tradition. Some of the pieces, however, were originally written for use in the Roman Catholic rite, some for use in a domestic setting (back in the good old days when people gathered to sing multi-part music together rather than watch TV). The performers are the reliable Cambridge Singers, a choir of 28 or so voices assembled by conductor/composer John Rutter from former members of the many Cambridge chapel choirs. The composers represented date from the early 16th century (John Taverner,…

  • Service music

    Music for Trinity 23 (November 4, 2018)

    The Collect for this Sunday speaks of God as our refuge, an image referenced in our opening hymn, Charles Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of my soul.” Originally titled “On Temptation” — since sin and temptation are the foes from which the believer is most urgently seeking refuge — this hymn was first published in 1740, about two years after Wesley’s conversion experience. The words of the opening lines were sometimes regarded as too intimate for public worship, so, in the nineteenth century, some hymnal editors altered the text to describe God’s love less vividly. Our sermon hymn, “O God of earth and altar,” with its prophetic text by G. K. Chesterton, first…