Monthly archives "February 2015"

TAO March 2015

Do you ever dread Lent, even just a little? Lent, with its extra services to practice for; Lent, with its extra anthems to prepare; Lent, with its acceleration into Holy Week, right on to the Big Bang of Easter? Why do WE have so much to do just when it’s starting to look like spring might arrive after all? Well, my friends, it’s because our people need us. They need us to help them reach deep down where soul struggles to understand something just out of reach—help in connecting with the mystery. They need us to roll out the message of the season: despite all appearances, Life lives on! “Hallelujah” is not for the faint of heart–nor the weak of finger.
Organ literature is particularly rich with atmospheric music for your Holy Week services. Jehan Alain’s Chorals (Dorien, Phrygian, Cistercien) capture Good Friday quite well. They are now available on IMSLP. Many of Jean Langlais’ Vingt-quatre Pieces also serve well (in two volumes, Editions Combre). Look at #11-“Priére pour les Morts,” #15-“Priére,” and #22-Chant Élégiaque. While you are there, be sure to look at the sumptuous, #1-“Prélude Modal,” which is one of the most useful pieces I know. You might take another look three pieces in Langlais’ Organ Book (Elkan-Vogel): “Prelude” and “Choral in E Minor” are quiet harmonic labyrinths evoking the night’s despair, while “Epithalamium” moves from a similarly dark state to a more affirming conclusion. (Yes, I know it’s a wedding piece…)
Husband-wife creative team, Susan and David Cherwien have published a set of organ meditations, Good Friday Reflections (MorningStar 10-365), organized around the Stations of the Cross. They have written a complete liturgy, which includes readings and congregational hymns. The liturgy is optional, but you really must take a look at David’s marvelous arrangements of classic Good Friday hymns, including “Ah, Holy Jesus,” “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” and “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” The latter arrangement, captioned, “mockingly,” reaches into the highest artistic realm as it combines the bitter poison of the crowd’s taunts with the agony of its victim. Equally rich are his non-hymn based descriptive pieces, “Jesus Dies on the Cross” and “Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.”
Music with a more affirming tone might be what you are looking for. If you don’t mind a minor amount of transcribing from the piano score, you can find Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies on the same IMSLP website. Your congregation will appreciate these quiet pieces for reflective times, including memorial services. In a similar vein, Scott Hyslop has transcribed Stephen Chatman’s Grouse Mountain Lullaby for organ (MorningStar 10-788). His Timeless Transcriptions for Organ (MorningStar 10-784) contains a new arrangement of Marcello’s “Adagio” from the well-known Oboe Concerto in D Minor, which sustains all the pathos of the week. If you are up for a little more practice, Nigel Potts has transcribed one of Bach’s sacred songs. Mein Jesu, was für Seelenweh (MorningStar 10-629) is as rich and transcendent as anything Virgil Fox’s ever arranged.
With all these extra services, I often think getting to Easter morning is miracle in itself. What to play to elevate the emotions of the day? I have three new volumes to explore with you. Easter Mosaics (Concordia 97-7646) offers shorter arrangements by Jacob Weber, who knows how to write well while honoring our technical limitations. Standard hymns include “Easter Hymn,” “Hail Thee, Festival Day,” “Gelobt sei Gott,” and “Alleluia #1.”
Franklin Ashdown’s Glory of the Easter Feast (Augsburg Fortress, ISBN 9781451494075) is not afraid to celebrate the Victory! His “An Easter Triptych” is an extended work that builds from Easter dawn to a triumphant quote of “Easter Hymn.” In “Glory of the Easter Feast, he doesn’t wait for dawn; it is six pages of pedal-to-the-metal glory—a perfect postlude. The same is true for his arrangements of “Hail Thee, Festival Day” and “The Risen Christ.” The gem you might really love, though, is his partita on “Now the Green Blade Rises.” It is mostly manual work that will be fun to learn.
The Paschal Lamb, James Biery’s new book (Augsburg Fortress, ISBN 9781451494099), is an exploration of less well-know seasonal hymns, including “Cardinal,” Kingdom,” “My Neighbor,” “Nelson,” “ Promise,” and “Raabe.” Isn’t it great that our composers are showing us the way to new, fresh hymns for our congregations? Even if you don’t know any of these, you still want to consider this volume for two reasons. First is the rhythmic, one-footed “Mfurahini, Haleluya.” Whether you know this hymn or not, it truly captures the Easter spirit. Even better are the Latin-based rhythms in “Santo Domingo” (Aleluya! Cristo resuscitó). It might not be your Easter postlude, but your congregation will love it whenever you play it.
Liturgy is literally “in our hands.” We bring worship to life through the notes we play. Music makes a meeting place where divine and human come into touch. Liturgy is made up of words and actions, but it is music helps us understand it all means. And, nowhere is music more needed than in Lent, where we encounter the most difficult part of the Christian journey. We help tell the Holy Week story in all its dimensions. We bring hope to the guilty, comfort to the afflicted, and joy to the despairing–all with the pulling of a stop and the stroke of a key. It’s holy work. It’s joyful work. It’s OUR work. Be a blessing this season.

Can we return to the past?

Here is a letter I received this week:
I wish to commend you on your very fine monthly articles in the TAO. I always enjoy reading them every month. The February issue concerning “Is Lent Changing” is an exceptional one. Having worked almost exclusively in liturgical churches for many years, I have devoted countless hours and planning and the practicing of music for Lent and for the Passion. For many years, at Christ Episcopal Church, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in both worship, (mainly on Good Friday) and for Lenten Recitals and other concert situations,I played many selections from the Le Chemin de la Croix by Marcel Dupre, for which I spent countless hours practicing on this very difficult and challenging music. Now, especially that I am no longer in a liturgical church, I certainly won’t be playing any of this music again. It all saddens me as to the direction that so many churches, of all denominations, are going now. Church music now seems to be more entertainment oriented now and the organ does not have the emphasis that it once did. Much of the great literature is seldom played as Praise Bands seem to be the “norm” now and every Sunday seems to be almost the same now. Please give me your views on this. Please keep my name confidential but the other views are certainly O.K. to mention and to discuss. What, if anything, can be done to reverse this trend? It is certainly discouraging to many of us church musicians who have devoted a very large part of their lifetime in diligent study and practice in trying to maintain and uphold high musical standards that no longer seems to be wanted.