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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Feb. 22, 2015: “Kind Maker of the world”

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: “Raggio Verde” by Ilio Volante

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: “They cast their nets,” by David Boelzner

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: “What star is this,” hymn 124

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

Dec. 28, 2014: “Noel” by Louis-Claude Daquin

Today’s Music: The postlude is a famous Noël (Christmas carol setting) by French composer, Louis-Claude Daquin (d. 1772), a slightly younger contemporary of Bach. Daquin was of Jewish ancestry; an uncle was a professor of Hebrew at the College de France. He was a musical child prodigy, playing at the royal court for Louis XIV at the age of six, and being appointed organist at the Sainte-Chapelle church at the age of 12! His playing was renowned for its brilliance and he was reputed to play with “unfaltering precision and evenness,” a feat that many organists today have difficulty with.  David Boelzner

Dec. 24, 2014: “Still Shining in the Holy Light” by Glenn Rudolph

Tonight’s anthem is “Still Shining in the Holy Light” by Glenn Rudolph, a composer educated at the Cincinnati Conservatory and Duquesne University, active in church music in Pittsburgh. It begins and ends with a plaintive melody presented by the viola, meant, according to the composer, to reflect the music first heard by the shepherds in the hills surrounding Bethlehem. The melody is then developed throughout the piece, first by the women, then the men, then full choir. The harmonic idiom is rather lush, comprising chords that include notes outside the usual triad and resulting at times in adjacent notes seeming to clash but sounding good in the overall harmony. David Boelzner

Dec. 14, 2014: “Stand up for Jesus”

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: “Prepare the way, O Zion”

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: Hymns in minor mode

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