TAO December 2018–Abiding Tidings

Unless you have experienced personal loss during the season, loss is not something you typically associate with Christmas. Since my Dad’s death in 1989, December 1st has become a darkened gateway to the season of light. We sang “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide!” at his memorial service. Only recently, at another memorial service, I realized that this elegiac hymn also contains a little bit of Christmas in the last stanza: “…shine through the gloom and point me to the skies: heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
Christmas celebrates the entry point of the eternal Presence, the Spirit that abides in and among us, the Spirit that dispels the gloom of worldly care. Perhaps the prayer of presence in E.S. Eliot’s “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” is more familiar this time of year, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart today.” This is truly a Christmas “Abide in Me” prayer. May the Divine Presence abide with you and in the music you offer this Christmas season!
While Advent admits the darkness of our human situation, Christmas is about Joy! Waiting for Christmas is a universal trial for children, whose eyes gleam with anticipation. In my experience, people want to sing Christmas carols from Thanksgiving on. Bad news–Grownups, too, must wait! So, Advent has become an exercise in delayed gratification. Organists always want to match suit with congregational customs. So, if you are looking for good Advent music to present, here is Robert J. Powell’s new Five Advent Preludes (Paraclete 00531), a useful volume of easy-intermediate arrangements, including “Sleepers, Wake,” “Savior of the Nations,” “Comfort, Comfort Ye, my People,” and “Helmsley.” Also written on two-staves, Grimolado Macchia’s People, Look East (Lorenz 70/2030S), is a little more challenging. There are exciting Advent toccatas, along with a sensitive pastorale on “Gabriel’s Message” for your exploration.
Regardless of when the waiting is over, the international character of Christmas music is waiting to delight everyone. This lovely book of seven carols, A Ring of Carols (Lorenz 70/2045L), covers many of the most familiar countries. Alfred Fedak’s easy, two-staff writing remains creative and engaging throughout. Truly international in vision is David Sims’ Wondrous Birth (Augsburg Fortress), where each carol receives a creative setting along with a hymn introduction and a fresh harmonization. With this volume, you can enlarge the range of your library: Philippines’ “Kalinga,” Japan’s “Mabune,” Iona’s “Columcille,” mix with France’s “Besancon” and “Un Flambeau,” and the American spiritual, “Rise Up, Shepherd.”
I am pleased to see well-known composer, Daniel Gawthrop, provide Joy to the World (Lorenz 70/2106L), a volume of intermediate pieces for the season. Along with extended arrangements of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World” for congregational singing (you can easily extract portions for service playing purposes), he has written a jolly set of variations for “God Rest Ye, Merry” and two quiet settings of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with 4’ pedals carrying the melody. Perfect for communion!
Also on the quiet end of the spectrum are Two Christmas Preludes by Byron Adams (E.C. Schirmer 8690). Rich flowing textures create a serene, meditative atmosphere for “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” and “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light.” Truly, the Spirit abides in this music! The Spirit is also revealed in two new volumes of music for violin and organ by Daniel Burton. Both retain his characteristic gentle touch, while exploring a varied range of movement. Nowell, Nowell: Eight Traditional French and English Carols (MSM 20-105) and Four Traditional German Christmas Carols (MSM 20-127) are easy on the organist and only require an intermediate violinist. Both of these books may be downloaded on the MorningStar website, www.morningstarmusic.com.
Truly festive music is the touchstone of the season. I highly recommend Kristina Langlois’ creative combination of “God Rest You, Merry” and “Noel Nouvelet.” This is one of those pieces that is as much fun for the audience to listen to as it is to play! Other pieces in Postludes for Organ on Festive Tunes (Augsburg Fortress), include another extended fantasy on “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord,” as well as a shorter, but equally dynamic “Lasst uns Erfreuen.” Early advanced players will relish the riches that David Cherwien has included in his Partita on “Creator of the Stars of Night” (MSM 10-438). Here are five movements displaying the range of his imagination, from a flowing 9/8 setting, to a gentle pastorale, through a highly chromatic passage over a pedal cantus firmus, a luxurious chorale, ending with a fiery toccata that ends much too soon.
Christmas isn’t over until it kisses Epiphany on January 6th. How about Three verses of “O Morning Star” (Concordia 97777818) to celebrate the new year? The first Andante explores some very colorful harmonies, while the second movement deftly illustrates the text, “A ray of purest pleasure,” with gentle rocking motions and pure D-major harmonies. Composer, Christopher M. Wicks, has saved the fireworks for the last movement, “What joy to know,” with a variety of 16th -note passages, both scalar and chordal, where your organ’s best pedals sounds can sound forth on the hymn tune.
Whatever darkness looms in your life, may “Break forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” be our prayer. Let the Spirit of music be a gift to yourself and to your congregation. Abiding Tidings of the season to all!

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