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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Mar. 29, 2015

The anthem for Palm Sunday is a lovely contemporary setting of For God so loved the world, by Bob Chilcott, British composer and former tenor with the King’s Singers, a splendid a cappella vocal group. When the main theme repeats, listen for the haunting solo soprano voice that weaves in and out over the texture of the choir singing softly. David Boelzner

Mar. 22, 2015

Today’s Music: “Text painting” is a very ancient technique, seen in some of the earliest music we know. The term refers to reflecting the text somehow in the musical sculpture. This can range from a simple, obvious melodic gesture to quite subtle effects in the harmony or rhythm. As a straightforward example, consider the first two notes of “Lift high the cross” – they rise, mirroring the lifting of the cross.  The word “world” is also highlighted with a high pitch, giving it some emphasis.  Similarly, in the processional, the rising line highlights “cross”; consider how the effect would be slightly different if “Christ” or even “glory” had been assigned the highest note in the line. Listen, too, during the anthem how the composer builds through repetition of the phrase “for thy mercy’s sake” at successively higher levels, culminating at the highest pitch with “deliver us (from all our sins).” D. Boelzner

Mar. 15, 2015

The anthem this morning is a premiere for Good Shepherd, a modern (1998) setting of the Ave Verum text familiar to most of you from the Mozart setting or perhaps others.  It is by Pennsylvanian Robert C. Lau (b. 1943), an organist (Mt. Calvary Episcopal in Camp Hill, PA), active composer and professor of music.  It begins with the basses quietly intoning a single note over which the other voices echo “Ave, ave” in a sighing sort of motif.  The piece builds toward an early climax on “immolatum in cruce pro homine” (sacrificed on the cross for man).  Listen, too, for lovely effects achieved by moving the upper voices in parallel chords, for example after “Cujus latum.”  The piece ends as quietly and somberly as it began.  – D. Boelzner

Mar. 8, 2015

Today’s Music: Dissonance is what musicians call combinations of pitches that “clash,” that sound unpleasant or unstable. Dissonance is relative and has evolved over time; two notes a third apart, do to mi, which we regard as quite consonant, were once thought dissonant. But dissonance is also affected by context. Few would dispute that the two adjacent black keys on a piano, if played together, produce a dissonance. But our anthem this morning begins with exactly those notes in the men’s voice parts. The clash is eased after a few notes by resolution to a more consonant interval. And the clashing interval is enmeshed in a chord that softens its impact. Dissonance, used judiciously, actually propels the music, creating a sense of motion, and a great deal of it passes unnoticed.  David Boelzner

Mar. 1, 2015

“Humbly I adore thee,” hymn 314, has long been about my favorite communion hymn.  It is an old tune, dating from at least the 17th century, and I think the particular joinder of melody and words at the line “face to face thy splendor I at last shall see” is one of the finest in all church music.  At any rate, I recently wrote the reflection on this tune that will be played during communion this morning.  Three repetitions of the tune occur, linked by a motif using open parallel fifths, a kind of archaic sound reminiscent of medieval music.  In each repetition the tune is always present but is woven among the other notes, sometimes in an inner part, and the character of each statement is different.  – D. Boelzner

Feb. 22, 2015

Today’s Music: The text of the communion hymn, “Kind Maker of the world,” is attributed to the revered Pope Gregory the Great (b. circa 540 A.D.). He came from a wealthy and influential family but acquired a reputation for extreme piety and saintliness. He is also credited with collecting a large volume of chant melody, hence much chant is referred to as “Gregorian.” The tune for our hymn is not from the early medieval period but rather from a collection of Christmas tunes in the early 16th century. It does have a definite modal sound, owing to use of the lowered “leading tone” (see second note of the tune), which in 19th century harmony would typically be raised a half-step; it actually is raised in the last chord in the second measure (noted by the # sign), but the melody preserves the lowered tone – indicated by the cancellation of the # in the next measure (in parentheses). David Boelzner

Feb. 15, 2015

The prelude is Raggio Verde by Ilio Volante, prolific Italian composer and tenor saxophone player, who has played with the Italian National Army Band and the Shape International Band (the official NATO Band) stationed in Belgium. “Raggio verde” is the Italian translation of “green flash,” a reference to the inspiration for the piece, an occasional optical phenomenon where a green ray or spot is visible above the upper rim of the disk of the sun just after sunset or before sunrise. (You might recall green flashes as a plot point in the 2007 movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.) Are some types of music better than other types? The short answer is no, there is well- and poorly crafted music in all genres. Taste and exposure experience mostly dictate the type of music people prefer, and taste can evolve, much as one can develop a preference for more complex or drier wines through experience. There are different levels of complexity and mastery of musical elements, requiring varied levels of sophistication in the listener. A Bach fugue contains more complex levels of musical involvement and reward than a simple folk or rock song. Usually the trade-off is between ease of accessibility and depth of engagement; a more substantial piece of music can yield more enduring aesthetic effect, but sometimes a simple, accessible piece has the more immediate emotional appeal. We seek always to employ good quality music in worship, with ranges of complexity. Hurrah for the “infinite variety of music,” as Bernstein termed it! David Boelzner

Jan. 25, 2015

Several years ago, I was venting to David, wishing for an anthem that I liked based on today’s “fishers of men” reading. The result is today’s anthem. Among the several reasons I like this setting is the irregular meter. Much of David’s “They Cast Their Nets” is written in 5/4 time. Some of the measures are 2/4 + 3/4 (secondary emphasis on beat 3), some are 3/4 + 2/4 (secondary emphasis on beat 4), representing the uneven rocking of the boat. An older choir director once told me, “church choirs can’t sing in 5/4,” however, our choir is up to the challenge. Ann Boelzner

Jan. 4, 2015

Today’s Music: The anthem by the choir is Hymn 124, “What star is this,” to the tune called Puer nobis (nascitur) – Unto us a child (boy) is born. The tune is quite old, first published in 1582 but undoubtedly dating from much earlier. The first publication was in, of all places, Finland; generations of Finnish and Swedish clerical students had studied in medieval Prague. Our hymnal attributes the tune to the 15th century Trier manuscript, but it also appears in manuscripts associated with the Notre Dame school of singing in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was the practice of singing simultaneous melodies developed at Notre Dame that is generally thought to be the origin of polyphonic music, i.e. music where more than one melody is going on at the same time, a feature differentiating Western music from that of other cultures. David Boelzner