Daily archives "July 6, 2015"

TAO August 2015 — A Song for All Seasons


Who cares about the Liturgical Year? Clearly it’s out of sync with the cultural calendar most of the time: Advent is a New Year’s celebration? Pentecost on Memorial Day? Even worse, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days aren’t anywhere to be found! Church insiders, who always seem to know everything about these things, will tell you that the whole point of the liturgical year is to keep the church accountable to God’s time, not human time. I am sure you will agree with me that practical church musicians like us get caught between these clashing calendars on a regular basis. Whatever calendar you are looking at today, don’t get whiplash turning its pages!
Whether or not your church follows this ancient annual cycle of seasons and celebrations, much of our organ and choral music is organized to coordinate with it. So, it’s helpful to understand enough how the year is organized: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, then that long season with no agreed-upon name. Some call it “Kingdomtide;” some call it “…after Pentecost;” most call it “General.” It’s a challenge to keep up with all the music subtitled, “Organ Works for the Church Year.” So, this month, let’s look at some volumes that will get you something to play almost any time of the year–truly songs for all seasons.
First up, some manuals only items. Robert Lind has written Organ Works for the Church Year (see, I told you.) This handy volume will take you around the year in twenty-seven moderately easy pieces, two or three pages at a time. These are simple in harmony, counterpoint and rhythm. (Paraclete Press PPM01149). The much-loved Austin Lovelace gave us three volumes of The Church Year (Wayne Leupold WL60017,8,9). Volume 1: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (WL600117); Volume 2: Lent through Trinity (WL600118); Volume 3: Ordinary Time through Christ the King (WL600119). Each volume includes about twenty different tunes, simply arranged in sets of variations. All this music can be useful for a variety of purposes. Combine several seasonal tunes into a suite. Use them for hymn introductions or for short transitional moments. Clearly, these are not the only manuals-only liturgical year materials available. Ask for more recommendations if you need them.
Adding pedals gives us an even wider range of music to choose from. Oxford recently published a second volume of Rebecca Groom Te Velde’s Hymn Miniatures, doubling her output of delightfully constructed one and two page chorale preludes. I do believe she has written something on every hymn I know. You can use these in ways similar to the keyboard pieces I described above. In addition, improvisers can use these as models for creativity.
Finding songs for all your seasons got a big boost when Douglas E. Wagner compiled thirty-eight arrangements in Hymn Tunes A to Z (Lorenz 70/1843L). While you may already own a few of these, more than half are new arrangements. Only easy to intermediate skill is needed to master this trove of American evangelical and English hymn favorites. Composers range from past favorites, Dale Wood and Fred Bock, to current contributors, Emma Lou Diemer, David Cherwien, and Mary McDonald. I will keep this one close to my organ bench for a long time!
Right alongside Wagner’s book on my bench, you will find Edwin T. Childs’ new arrangements of American Folk Hymns for Organ (Augsburg Fortress ISBN 9781451494051). Without cheating, I probably would not be able to name eighteen American folk hymn tunes. How about you? Yet, we all know these songs as friends from the hymnal and from several well-loved choral arrangements. Childs uses simple means to create moderately easy settings that range from sensitive to dynamic. So does Benjamin Culli in New Songs of Celebration (Augsburg Fortress ISBN 9781451494082) and Jacob Weber with his Lord of Glory (Augsburg Fortress ISBN 9781451499063). Both these volumes maintain an approach similar to Childs, but covering a different range of hymns. Culli has skewed his choices toward the Lent-Pentecost part of the calendar, while Weber has chosen something for every season there is. These are all useful volumes to explore when you are looking for something new to program.
Two of our publishing houses are in the process of taking “Songs for All Seasons” to a new level. Both Concordia and Augsburg Fortress are engaged in long-term projects that are making major contributions to the hymn-based literature. Even though they have taken very different approaches, you can benefit from both of them. First, Concordia is in the middle of publishing Hymn Tune Library, a twelve-volume set of chorale preludes that correlate with their hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. As of today, editor Kevin Hildebrand has released seven volumes of relatively easy organ writing. He has made it a priority to commission composers of every generation, who are tasked with writing all new compositions in a variety of styles for the series. The entire project is organized alphabetically. They are only up to the M’s, so you will have to wait for something on “W zlobie lezy.”
More “Songs for All Seasons” are waiting for you at Augsburg Fortress, where they have published the eleventh volume in its Augsburg Organ Library. This series is organized by liturgical season up–and then some. Having completed all the major liturgical seasons, they have found material especially for “Summer,”“Autumn,” even the month of “November.” Their most recent volumes cover the special services of the church: “Marriage, “Baptism & Communion, “and “Healing & Funeral.” You will find that the choice of composers extends well beyond their own stable. As a bonus, there are a couple of non hymn-based pieces from the late 19th to the 20th centuries in each volume. The writing ranges from moderately easy to more challenging.
At an average forty dollars per volume, both of these series represent a substantial investment. Before you blanch and bolt, stop to consider the benefits: you don’t have to buy many composers’ works to get a wide variety of musical styles. Though they are new, they are likely to stand the test of time. The music is already correlated with the music your congregation is going to sing. No, I’m not a salesman: these are volumes I have invested in and continue to enjoy. What more recommendation do you need?
Every season deserves a song all its own. Summer songs remind us of the goodness and the fullness of life. Remember, someone in the service this Sunday needs to hear your song. People come to church with all kinds of needs. Music can speak to them all: songs of comfort to the distressed, songs of encouragement for discouraged spirits, songs bursting with exuberance and joy. So, as you enjoy your own summer, let the sun shine through the notes you play. That’s what we organists do—play the songs of life, whatever the season. Play abundantly!