Monthly archives "November 2017"

TAO December 2017–The Gift Closet

The Gift Closet

At our house, there are Christmas secrets residing behind double doors in the hallway at the top of stairs just outside the guest room. You would never suspect that there is anything special inside. Everything looks normal, but as the season progresses its doors will begin to bulge ever so slightly. It’s our gift closet. Inside are not only gifts-in-waiting, but also all the essential accessories: wrapping paper, ribbon (pre-made bows are not allowed), scissors, and tags. Sometimes, I can even find the scotch tape!
My wife, Betsy, gives herself over completely to the season, and this is her Christmas headquarters. She is the gift closet mistress. You collect a lot of interesting gifts over the years. We have received candles covering the entire range of olfactory possibilities, picture frames encouraging us to display the virtues of family, literally anything with music notes on it, wind chimes, dish towels with witty sayings, and even a literal “white elephant!” There is a year-round philosophical conversation about the ethics of re-gifting. Let me ask–do you recycle your unwanted gifts?
Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with re-gifting. In music ministry, we do it all the time. Traditional carols, favorite anthems, and familiar scriptures carry the message of God’s great Christmas gift time and time again. How else can we understand the convergence of nature and grace, of cosmos and creation, God and humankind? Such a great mystery takes a lifetime to ponder. Music and Word keep us rooted in our ever-deepening contemplations.
While there may be a difference between recycling material gifts and recycling spiritual gifts, such as music, I am sure that the desire to give comes from the same source. In giving, are we not participating in the great ecology of love? Releasing symbols of the love we ourselves have received is a simple and direct way of demonstrating the ever-expanding nature of love itself. Gift giving is simply a reflection of God’s nature stepped down to human proportions. Simply put, there is a bit of heaven in every gift you give.
Wife Betsy is a very organized person. As you might expect, there are several neatly labeled shelves in our gift closet, each with its own unique category. Let’s look on the one marked “New Music,” where a wide range of books is waiting for us to discover. Easiest among them is a new two-staff volume of arrangements by Alfred V. Fedak. A Ring of Carols (Lorenz 70/2045) focuses his creativity on seven carols with imaginative results. He has included “Sussex Carol,” “Winchester Old,” “Huron Carol,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and two more familiar treasures. The lovely Czech carol “Nesem Vam Noviny (Come, All Ye Shepherds)” is the only unfamiliar one in the group. It meshes well with the others, creating a very flexible suite of pieces your congregation will enjoy.
The next shelf contains two new volumes for organ-plus-one instrument. First are five trumpet and organ arrangements by Sondra K. Tucker. Repeat the Sounding Joy (Concordia 97-7777) requires only a good high school player to bring them alive. And there is much life in this volume. First, a delightful “Gigue on Joy to the World” bounces into play, followed by a tender “Once in Royal David’s City,” where the melody continues to build right up to the end. If the last four measures are too much for your soloist, you can simply reverse the organ and trumpet parts for a much easier finish. The other mover and shaker in the group is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Here, Sondra keeps the trumpet part simple, while assigning intermediate-level counterpoint to the organist. Two mellow pieces complete the volume: a harmonically luscious “What Child is This” and a sweet lullaby on “What is This Lovely Fragrance.”
Augsburg Fortress has issued a second volume of Advent/Christmas tunes entitled, “Organ Plus Anthology, Volume 2 (AF 9788-1-5064-1376-1). Technical expectations for both parts extend into the intermediate range with great results. Both C and B-flat parts are provided, so that you can call upon a wide range of instruments to assist you in presenting them. Truly, there is something for everyone here! Ten composers, including Aaron D. Miller, Jacob Weber, Franklin Ashdown and David Cherwien have written twenty-two pieces extending across the entire spectrum of seasonal moods, pensive to festive. This volume will remain useful for a long time.
The next shelf is full of new music for intermediate organists. The most unique volume is J. William Greene’s Christmas Ayres and Dances, Volume 2 (CPH 97-7781). Mr. Greene is quite good at casting familiar carols into Baroque dance forms. Equally playable on chamber organ, harpsichord or piano, each variation is grounded in stylings that range across the 18th century European musical world. There are rondeaus, courantes, gigues, sarabandes, and tombeaus aplenty. The composer notes their “house music” roots. You may want to enjoy them just for yourself, but many will find these pieces useful for service playing, too.
As we have noted many times, you can spend a lot of money on new music. Anthologies can help cut the cost by collecting the best of a publisher’s catalog in one place, on one subject. MorningStar Music has just published a compilation of preludes, postludes and offertories for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, Hark! The Glad Sound (MSM 10-029). Reading these pieces is a good survey of their recent output. Here are very useful settings updating traditional carols, including Michael Burkhardt’s delightful “Hark! the Glad Sound,” John Ferguson’s mysterious “Veni Emmanuel,” Charles Callahan’s bold arrangement of “Yorkshire,” and David Schelat’s rhythmic “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” We also hear the familiar strains of composers, Paul Manz, Wilbur Held, and Robert Hobby. This one volume will serve to freshen your library of Christmas music.
If you need short pieces for your services, look at People, Look East by William Ringham (Augsburg Fortress 978-1-6064-2636-5). Covering both Advent and Christmas, these selections may be short, but they are packed with color, speaking directly to the heart. William likes to combine carols in his quieter pieces. “Veni Emmanuel” encounters “Picardy,” and “Gentle Mary” enfolds “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” His arrangement of “Silent Night” rocks gently. I was pleased to find the unexpected treasure in this volume to be his reflection on the “Sweetly singing o’er the plains” verse of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The two toccatas, one on “In Dulci Jubilo” and the other on “People, Look East” are good fun and not too hard.
If you are looking for longer pieces, the new volume of works by Aaron Shows, Sounding Joy (AF 978-1-5064-2639-6) will serve you well. The composer has lavished much time, attention, and thought in how to keep these eleven familiar carols engaging as he brings them into the 3-5minute time frame. Happily, Aaron has a lot of compositional techniques up his sleeve: driving rhythms, sudden harmonic shifts, and creative motive development make each of these pieces fun for upper intermediate and early advanced players to play–and fun for everyone to listen to. There are fresh ideas on the old standbys, “Adeste Fideles,” “Antioch,” and “Wachet Auf,” as well as with carols that need new settings, “I Saw Three Ships,” “Comfort, Comfort Now My People (Freu Dich Sehr),” “The Cherry Tree Carol,” and “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine (Resonet in Laudibus).”
Our gift closet has one shelf marked “Miscellaneous.” You never know what you will find there. You can always count on finding something unique that is waiting for just the right occasion to go on display. This year, it’s Grimoaldo Macchia’s Jingle Bells Rhapsody (FitzSimons FO672/Hal Leonard). There’s lot of fun in this piece! Starting off with a quiet 4’ flute, it moves through several colorful sound explorations, never hinting at what is to come. And that is a swinging, big-band voiced variation leading directly into a jolly Viennese waltz. Following a full-reeds fanfare, there comes a Lemmons-based toccata. The final variation is a Bach-based gigue fugue with a coda that matches all the audacity that precedes it. Even though this is not your Christmas Eve postlude, it will certainly entertain a concert crowd and earn you extra points for creative programming.
‘Tis the season to look in your own gift closet. There are real treasures in there waiting to be dusted off, or even, waiting for you to discover for the first time. When you open its doors, you are opening the doors of heaven just a crack. What came down from there was the Prince of Peace, Love, Joy, and Hope. Let your gifts reflect the same blessings to your friends, family, and to your congregation. And, let its doors remain open wide all year long. Merry Christmas!