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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Nov. 27, 2016: Bach’s cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

Music Notes: Today’s offertory, a chorale prelude for organ, is from Bach’s cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Bach’s cantatas are multi-movement works for soloists and chorus, based on chorale tunes, the Lutheran equivalent of chant. Wachet auf was written originally for what is now Proper 27, Year A, a Sunday which does not occur all that often in the church calendar. Because the prescribed readings, 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (be prepared for the day of the Lord) and Matthew 25: 1-13 (the parable of the Ten Virgins), are also associated with the season of Advent, the cantata is commonly used during that season. Performed only once during his lifetime, the cantata is now regarded as one of Bach’s finest. David Boelzner

Nov. 20, 2016: (Where) “The Soul of Man Never Dies”

Today’s Music: Today’s anthem, (Where) “The Soul of Man Never Dies,” is a reprise from August’s Bluegrass Sunday. Major artists who have recorded this piece include Hank Williams, Sr., Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and the duo of Tony Rice and Rick Skaggs. Little is known about the composer, William Golden. Cyberhymnal suggests Mr. Golden wrote this and other music while serving an eight-year sentence in the Mississippi state penitentiary. A. Boelzner

Nov. 13, 2016: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (setting by Calvin Hampton)

Today’s Music: The anthem this morning is a lovely and unusual hymn setting by the American organist and composer Calvin Hampton. Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Ohio, Hampton served as organist from 1963 to 1983 at New York’s Calvary Episcopal Church, where he gave a popular recital series for nearly ten years. He was also influential in organ design. This hymn, like others of his, has a somewhat wistful character, sweet but without being cloying. Hampton died tragically at age 45 of AIDS. David Boelzner

Oct. 30, 2016: Canticle 12 setting from WLP

Music Notes: For many of us, the Wonder, Love, and Praise Setting of Canticle 12 may be new. The music, Whitehead, is the composition of Dr. William Bradley Roberts, Associate Professor of Church Music at Virginia Theological Seminary. Dr. Roberts was previously the Director of Music Ministry at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington DC.  His long resume includes serving as chair and founding member of the Leadership Program for Musicians (with which I did study a few years ago) and board member of the Anglican Musicians’ Mentoring Project. Ann Boelzner

Oct. 23, 2016: “Jesus, the very thought of thee”

Today’s Music: The anthem is a chant-like setting of “Jesus, the very thought of thee” by Arlen Clarke, an American composer and choral director currently serving St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, SC. The vocal lines are simply repetitions of the melody, with the variety supplied by the changing sonorities in the piano accompaniment. Clarke studied with Lloyd Pfautsch at SMU, and this piece is very reminiscent of some of Pfautsch’s work. DB  

Oct. 16, 2016: “Siyahamba” – “We are marching (in the light of God)”

Today’s Music: The anthem is “Siyahamba” – “We are marching (in the light of God)” – a hymn from South Africa. It is sometimes attributed to Andries van Tonder, an elder of the Judith church, but that claim is disputed. It was recorded in a girls’ school in Natal in 1978 by the music director of a Swedish choral group that was touring South Africa. It has been popular in churches and schools since the 1990s. the original words are in the Zulu language. David Boelzner  

Oct. 2, 2016: Descants

Today’s Music: Three of our four hymns today feature descants, counterpoint written above the melody and sung by the choir. Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote some of the earliest hymn tune descants. John Athelstan Riley (see hymn 618) wrote, “The effect (of the descant) is thrilling; it gives the curious impression of an ethereal choir joining in the worship below; and those who hear it for the first time often turn and look up at the roof!” A. Boelzner

Sept. 25, 2016: Repetition

Today’s Music: Music achieves much of its effect by continually setting up expectations and then either fulfilling them, providing a reassuring sense of “rightness,” or thwarting them, creating a spark of novelty. Key to this is repetition, which sets up a pattern that generates the expectation. Simple repetition is evident in our recessional, 429, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,” where the 5th phrase is an exact repetition of the 4th. But a more sophisticated device, the sequence, is used in the processional, 609, “Where cross the crowded ways of life.” The second half of the hymn, beginning at “above,” comprises three repetitions of the same gesture (melodic and rhythmic shape) but each time reaching higher. Bach loved this device and raised it to an art. David Boelzner

Sept. 18, 2016: Descants by Craig Sellar Lang

Music Notes: In our recessional hymn, 368, the high voices in the choir – soprano and tenor – will sing a descant on the last verse. Descants are as fun to sing as I hope they are thrilling to hear. This melody was composed by Craig Sellar Lang, a New Zealand-born British organist, choral teacher, and composer, who died in 1971. He wrote several descants that we use – for example, for hymns 94, 390, and 410. He also wrote the tune for hymn 326. David Boelzner