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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Dec. 14, 2014

In keeping with the mission focus of today’s service, the processional hymn is an evangelical march.  “Stand up for Jesus” was, as it turned out, the final message of Rev. Dudley Tyng to a large crowd at the YMCA; he was tragically killed the week after he delivered the sermon.  His friend, George Duffield, a Presbyterian minister, penned this text as a tribute.  The music is by George James Webb, a British immigrant to the U.S. who settled in Boston, served as organist at old South Church for forty years, and became associated with Lowell Mason (composer of many hymns, including “My faith looks up to thee,” “Nearer, my God, to thee,” and possibly “Joy to the World!”) and the Boston Academy of Music.  – D. Boelzner

Dec. 7, 2014

The recessional, “Prepare the way, O Zion,” is a Swedish tune, taken from a collection of psalm settings published in 1697. The Swedes produced some “Gregorian” chants, which in the Protestant Reformation were recast and adapted for use in the Lutheran service, and it is possible that the tune is much older than the collection in which it appeared. The lilting triple rhythm is similar to “In dulci jubilo” (Good Christian men, rejoice), a German carol from the 14th century, and, if you are familiar with Medieval music, the rhythm may remind you of many a tune from that period. In fact, some scholars think chant was performed in the same sort of triple rhythm.  Why would triple meter be favored for church music? The Holy Trinity, of course. David Boelzner

Nov. 30, 2014

This Sunday we continue, purely by happenstance, our theme of Welsh music.  Both the processional, “Signs of ending all around us,” and the recessional, “Rejoice, rejoice, believers,” are Welsh tunes.  Note that both are in minor mode (as was last week’s communion hymn).  Maybe it is all those mountains, the rugged country, which influences the tunesmiths of Wales to write in minor.  Or maybe, like your annotator, they don’t necessarily associate minor mode with a sad or “downer” mood.  I note that our anthem, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,” is also in minor, but its liveliness makes it stirring, not the least bit sad.  – D. Boelzner

Nov. 23, 2014

The communion hymn, 610, (“Lord, whose love through humble service”), may be new to most.  In minor mode, it is a Welsh melody named Blaenhafren – “hafren” is the Welsh word for what the English call the “Severn,” i.e. the longest river in the U.K. and the boundary between England and Wales, and “blaen” means “before” or “head” – Blaenhafren Falls lie near the source of the Severn.  The tune follows an AABA form; note how the end of the break strain (B) not only breaks the melodic pattern but also stalls the lilting rhythm briefly.  The primary musical instrument in Wales is the harp, and many traditional tunes, including this one, have come down through harp collections.  Coincidentally, our anthem is an arrangement by Welsh composer R. Vaughan Williams.  – D. Boelzner  

Nov. 16, 2014

Today’s Music: The choir anthem is the motet “Locus iste” by Anton Bruckner (d. 1896), an Austrian composer best known for his large symphonies. But he was an accomplished organist, son of a church musician, and a deeply religious Roman Catholic. He was a fanatic admirer of Wagner and Wagnerian music but did not follow either Wagner’s interest in grand theatrical works or his musical style, writing more mainstream polyphony such as Bach might have written had he lived in the 19th century. Bruckner wrote the piece for the dedication of a cathedral chapel, so the text was appropriate: “Locus iste a Deo factus est” means “This place was made by God.” David Boelzner

Nov. 9, 2014

Today’s Music: The lovely communion hymn, (“Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round“), 617, suggests the topic of harmonic rhythm. Tonal harmony is based on chords of three notes each (triads), each a third apart, e.g. do, mi, sol. When music is written in four parts, each voice sings a note of the triad, with one voice “doubling” one of the notes; this results in many harmonies: there are eight triads in the first line of this hymn. But we don’t “feel” all of them, because many of these harmonies are touched only in passing. In the first line, five chords are emphasized, those occurring at the beginning and ending of the line and those on “Ruler,” “of” and “ceaseless.” The emphasis is created by holding the harmony longer or by a noticeable shift. The result is a sense of the harmony changing (the harmonic rhythm) only four times in the line. David Boelzner

Nov. 2, 2014

Today’s Music: The anthem, (“Let Peace Then Still the Strife“), this morning is another new venture for the choir, augmented by a few draftees. The composer, Mack Wilberg, directs the Mormon Tabernacle choir, and while the piece doesn’t require quite those resources, it does work better with a fuller sound. The work comprises several repetitions of the same tune, with a gradual and very stirring buildup of musical sound and texture. The tune itself is partly in Lydian mode, a major scale with the note fa raised a half step above normal; you hear this effect in the opening phrase. Wilberg also uses parallel harmonic movement to create a sense of large shifts, supporting the sweeping quality of the music. David Boelzner

Oct. 26, 2014

Today’s Music: The anthem, (“Call to Remembrance“), is by English Renaissance-era composer and playwright Richard Farrant (d. 1580). The choir will present it in “surround-sound,” which was actually a practice particularly favored in Venice in this era. The piece ends with the voices moving mostly in the same rhythm, but it begins imitatively with repetitions of a tune at staggered intervals. Our singers are reading from score, i.e. music that shows what all voices are doing; in the Renaissance, each singer would have had only his music notated, making it even trickier to be sure of entering at the right time. – David Boelzner

Oct. 19, 2014

Today’s Music: The anthem, (“Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal“), this morning is new to the choir’s repertoire, and it is a rouser. By Craig Carnahan, a composer out of Concordia College and active in Minnesota, it is an arrangement based on a Southern Harmony tune, with the characteristic pentatonic melody common among folk tunes. The tune is bandied about among the voices in a highly rhythmic setting; in one spot it is in canon, with the basses leading and the sopranos following with the same tune a beat behind. The foot stomps are called for in the music. David Boelzner