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Meaning in music—that must sound very strange for most people. Particularly in the West.  It’s here in Russia that the question is usually posed: What was the composer trying to say, after all, with this musical work? What was he trying to make clear? The questions are naďve, of course, but despite their naďveté and crudity, they definitely merit being asked.  And I would add to them, for instance: Can music attack evil? Can it make a man stop and think? Can it cry out and thereby draw man’s attention to various vile acts to which he has grown accustomed? to the things he passes without any interest?

    --Shostakovich, "Testimony," p. 234
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Godmusic---> music for 2011-12 at Faith UMC in Champaign, Illinois, USA

This page contains the music, bulletin notes, and additional commentary (online only) for the organ and piano music for traditional services at Faith United Methodist Church in Champaign, Illinois.  The music is chosen with respect to the other elements of the service.

Music for August 22

from "Three Preludes on Gregorian Melodies:"
     I. Lento    (the morning offertory)

Impressed by the beauty of Gregorian chant, 20th century composer Ottorino Respighi wrote three preludes for piano based on these ancient and venerable melodies,   Unlike the surprisingly turbulent second prelude which we heard last month, the mood here is mostly one of calm as the placid tune unwinds itself to a gently undulating accompaniment,  Respighi allows the chant pride of place, but his rhythmic setting, and the lyrical and sometimes passionate treatment of each phrase show the composer fully engaging with the ancient musical text in his own contemporary voice.

I have a variety of methods for finding pieces of music to play in church. Despite having an advanced degree in piano performance and a good knowledge of the piano literature, I didn't know these pieces until I came across them on a discussion page on the internet a couple of years ago. I played the second in July for a sermon on dealing with adversity. (If you know the piece it makes sense!)

The idea here is to show a modern composer dealing with an ancient musical text. Like modern bible readers, who have to come to terms with something that comes from a very different time and place, something invested with authority, but whose contents may in some instances seem alien and irrelevant, musical expression too has changed a great deal since the tenth century, when Gregorian chant began being preserved. (Gregory himself dates from the eighth century.) 

It turns out that our pastor didn't really talk much about this aspect of Biblical 'Authority,' focusing instead on the Word who was Jesus Christ. Which really would have made the second selection more appropriate. I didn't know that when I began planning several weeks ago. Being able to play works that you don't just happen to have under your fingers of any real difficultly--if you want to play them well--means planning ahead, sometimes months. This year gives an unprecedented opportunity to do that, since the entire schedule is laid out until April. It will be quite the journey.

Music for August 29

Let the Amen                Marteau

This alternate version of the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" is a bit different than the majestic, stately version in the hymnal. It is more of a wild dance. At first the tune is heavily ornamented (as if chirped by birds?), but after a particularly thunderous passage (one is reminded of the writings of the Psalmist, in which even the mountains are dancing) it pokes out in splendid simplicity. In the end, the piece really goes to the birds, who try their best at learned counterpoint (if only they could stay in the right key!)

musical buzzwords: counterpoint--two or more melodic lines happening at once.

Sometimes the connection between a musical selection and the theme of the service is obvious, other times it is more creatively rendered; in other words, I make the imaginative leap myself. Usually I have the courtesy to explain myself to the congregation! Although the choice of the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation" seemed like a pretty good choice the week we discussed creation, the thrust of our pastor's sermon is responsible for the way it was presented in the bulletin notes above. Wes described the two different accounts of the creation in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, and suggested that they appeal to two different kinds of people; those who appreciate neat, orderly accounts with no surprises (chapter one) and those who think outside the box and like imaginative fancy (chapter two). Rather diplomatically, he found things to appreciate about both accounts!

"Let the Amen" is a 'chapter two' take on the 'chapter one' of the hymn that we sang this morning. Interestingly, at our opening hymn sing, someone suggested "This is My Father's World" which was also the anthem our soloist sang, though in a sufficiently 'chapter two' version that I don't think anyone minded the repetition. Her version, by arranger --- was also a chapter two take on a chapter one hymn, particularly the version in our hymnal, which contains about two chords and a bass line that consists almost entirely of Ebs and Bbs.  (You can tell I'm largely a chapter two sort of a person)
Music for September 5, 2010

        Durch Adam's Fall ist ganz Verderbt
                       J. S. Bach

Bach's "little organ book" (orgelbuchlein) contains 61 short harmonizations of the hymns of his congregation, including today's selection, "Through Adam's Fall Everything was Corrupted." The tune is presented in the upper voice along with a falling motive in the pedals, and lots of slithery chromaticism in the two inner voices (one of which can be heard here), which leaves us guessing at times whether the chord is major or minor, all contributing to the unease of the listener.

musical buzzwords: chromaticism--using all the possible notes (pitches) on a keyboard instrument instead of only those notes belonging to a major or minor scale. [Listen for the difference here (a major scale followed by a chromatic scale.]

This week's selection seems like a good opportunity for some ear training. (Bach wrote his 'little organ book' for the training of organists. Not that the pieces are particularly simple, but simple is relative in Bach's case. They are short, anyway.) As to what to listen for, that can be accomplished clicking on the blue words in the program notes above.

The difficultly comes in when Bach layers all of these things on top of each other, and the listener has to sort it all out 'on the fly.' This is one reason I provide such guided tours in the form of notes in the church bulletin, which I am able to amplify here. Someone from my congregation let me know again this morning (August 29) that this approach is appreciated. I'm glad. I realize that to many music is a foreign language, and like Paul, I would rather be able to communicate with my congregation rather than just mystifying them with musical sounds.

Did Bach similarly try to communicate with his congregation? We don't know that he wrote any program notes, or gave any lectures. Such a format may not have been available to him (I've been in situations where such attempts to get the congregation inside the music was not encouraged). A phrase in a book I read last week sticks with me. Bach's congregation, the writer asserts, may have thought that this setting of what would have been for them a familiar hymn was little more than "artistic high-handedness." In other words, they might have thought that Bach was just showing off, that he was being Mr. Artistic Fancypants, for no good reason. I've come across a lot of writing that discourages or forbids any artistic approaches in worship precisely because it is all interpreted that way.

And yet, it looks as though Bach was doing his best to not only be faithful to the text of the hymn, but to make it relatively clear what he was doing and why he was doing it--if you have the imagination to make the connections.

For one thing, there is that falling motive. It is not a particularly pleasant musical drop off, and he keeps doing it, again and again for the entire run of the piece. And the slithery inner voice (sorry; we're talking about the snake and the garden of Eden this week, and the word slithery won't get out of my mind) which probably sounds to most listeners, Bach's and ours, a little uncomfortably uncontrollable. Where is that voice going, anyhow? And where is the stable center? Chromaticism, (which actually means 'colorful') basically divides the scale into more notes than belong to any one key. It makes it easy to get from one key to the other, but, like modern transportation, which allows us to get across the world easily, it can also cause musical jet-lag. We can't tell where we are so easily anymore. D major? G minor? A new center every measure? Which way is up? Historically, music kept getting more and more chromatic in the century and a half after Bach until some people were writing music that had no center at all. Although chromaticism has resulted in some really fine music, it is still under a certain cloud of mistrust to the average ear. No accident that both the Phantom of the Opera and Jaws have themes that are entirely chromatic! It is often heard as threatening, sinister.

The barrier comes when we put all that together and realize that Bach's piece makes us uncomfortable, and then realize that it is supposed to make us uncomfortable. If we think all music should be nice, then we won't get the point. Sin, however, is not a pleasant thing. So Bach wrote some unpleasant music about it.

What Bach was doing is usually referred to as text painting--taking ideas in the text and making musical gestures that correspond to them. Writers on music have been debating whether that is really a good idea for a long time. It can, after all, be a little obvious, come across as gimmicky, and often it will lead to some less than great music. If, every time there is something in the text that can be made into a particular musical line (going up, going down, running notes to represent a musical waterfall or climbing notes to represent a staircase) it can lead to a series of disconnected musical episodes. Still, I think this can be a legitimate way to write music, and something to listen for in some of it. Just don't expect all music to operate that way.

Music for September 12, 2010

        Prelude and Fugue in Eb, "St. Anne"
                          J. S. Bach

A fugue might be thought of as a kind of 'covenant' between the composer and the listener. The very first thing you hear will be the fugue theme by itself. Then other 'voices' will enter one by one, each beginning with the fugue theme. For the rest of the piece, the various parts will pass the fugue theme back and forth. It might be heard more slowly, turned upside down or the themes piled on top of one another, but in essence, the composer has agreed to spend the entire piece 'discussing' the theme he or she has given out at the beginning.

In the case of this morning's fugue, the theme is identical to the first eight notes of the hymn "O God, Our help in Ages Past" (#117, a reminder of covenant!) whose tune name, "St. Anne," is where the piece gets its nickname. In the spirit of our pastor's theme words for each week, you might try to note how many times you hear this theme in the course of the piece. It's tricky! And just when you think you have your game on, the piece suddenly speeds up (level 2!) and again (level 3!) Still, there are some helpful hints:

Once the notes starting to fly in parts two and three, the theme is slower than the surrounding material. Listen for the slow parts.

Most of the booming bass (pedal) entrances are fugue themes. The only exceptions are a couple of fast, dancing pedal lines.

Bach is a master of transformation. In the second and third parts, the theme sounds a little rhythmically uneven, but the tune is still there. Listen for the rising melody. If it sounds like the hymn, even if it is off by a note or two, or wanders off after a handful of notes, it counts!


Music for September 19, 2010

       Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
                       J. S. Bach

It would have been natural, in Bach's church, after a chorus declaimed the drama of a scripture passage and a soloist expounded the feelings of one of the main participants, for a familiar chorale (hymn) melody to follow, putting the congregation in the midst of the action, perhaps giving them a chance  to participate (we don't know if they really joined in or not), and prescribing their reactions to the events related to that point. This simple setting is not from one of Bach's 'sermons in sound' (his weekly cantatas) but from a collection of short organ settings of the various hymns of the church year.

For those of you scoring at home, this is my third week playing Bach. I try not to do that too often. There are some organists, I suppose, who play Bach practically every week, and, since Bach worked at churches for most of his life, and because his composing purpose was through, he wrote something to cover every Sunday of the church calendar, and every hymn that his congregations sang. So you really could play Bach every week!

There are many topics that Bach did not cover, however. His church, like many of ours, put most of the emphasis on the gospels, often to the exclusion of all of the other parts of the bible. Since our church is working its way through the 'Old Testament' (for the first time in our pastor's 30 year career, incidentally!) this is a little more evident. Yet here I am playing a 'Jesus' piece on a Sunday in which the Hebrew people are crying out in bondage in Egypt. It's not something I normally like to do.

Since our pastor made the strong here-and-now connection between this once and ancient event and the ongoing need for deliverance from bondage in our own lives, this actually turned out to be a good choice.

Music for September 26, 2010

                       ASP Sunday

Every year, a couple dozen youth from our church and several adult leaders make their way to Appalachia to rebuild homes, fix things up, and just generally be useful. Each year they come back with glowing reports about how the experience has changed them. After months of planning and raising money for the trip to Chavies, Kentucky, and a week participating in this Appalachian Service Project, this year's team will again lead our worship service at all three services this morning.


Music for October 3, 2010

Speigel im Speigel
(mirror in mirror)

Arvo Part
Arvo Part has become known as one of the "holy minimalists." His simple music often produces feelings of serenity and calm, and is based on a small amount of musical material which is in no hurry to do or be anything else. This piece is based on a method he calls "tintanabalism" (a word derived from the Russian word for bells) in which the entire piece is based on one chord (F major) in the piano part, and one scale (also F major) in the violin. The piece lasts about eight minutes and rewards its hearer with a reflective beauty in which time seems to stand still.

I have to admit, part of me thinks of minimalism as a bit of a gimmick. For starters, it is really, really simple. Much of our theological notions work that way, too, and that can get us into trouble when our lives don't quite go the way we were so sure God intended (it can also be very unpleasant for some of the people around us when we reject those people out of hand based on our own simplistic notions of goodness and badness). Arvo Part and a few others, known as the "Holy Minimalists," who once composed some very complex and difficult music, each had a time in their lives when they had a personal and/or artistic crisis, after which, seeking the serenity of simple sounds, they began writing music as if they had retreated into a musical abbey.

It happens, though, that I find this piece to be very beautiful. It's been on the radio in Champaign a couple of times recently, and I found myself staying in the car to listen/meditate to the rest. And despite the fact that this music plays into the kind of atmospheric shut-off-your-mind-and-soak-in-the-pretty-sounds ethos that I find pretty limiting, and despite some of the more extreme statements by some of these composers, who are not simply content to reject everything outside of their newfound simplicity, but must declare it theologically suspect for anyone who does not do the same (e.g., John Taverner once said, "I think evil and complexity are closely aligned")--despite all of that, music does have the ability to calm us in an often harsh world. We may overuse and abuse this notion when it comes to religious music, but it does seem to me to be a legitimate expression. So, for anyone who wishes to quiet themselves for 10 minutes on Sunday morning and listen, or pray to, or escape from life's demands, via this soothing music, here it is!

(unfortunately, the music itself is under copyright, and at present I have not attempted to deal with the licensing requirements to post such music. So, at the risk of the foregoing sounding like false advertising, you can't hear the piece on Pianonoise. But here's where you can get the sheet music, and a recording, if interested.)

Music for October 10, 2010

Gideon: Savior of the People of Israel

Johann Kuhnau


Gideon was one of the most famous warrior-heroes (a.k.a. Judges) predating Israel's turn to Monarchy. His story is told in Judges chapters 6-8.  Kuhnau's fifth “Biblical Sonata” traces, in six sections: "1) Gideon's doubts  of God's promise of victory to him, 2) His apprehension at the sight of the enemy's great army, 3) His growing courage at hearing the foe's dream and its interpretation 4) The blaring of trombones and trumpets; likewise the smashing of the pitchers, and war-cries, 5) The flight of the enemy and the pursuit by the Israelites, 6) The joy at the remarkable victory of the Israelites" (these are the composer's own descriptions).

If the opening section does not seem to your ears a compelling depiction of doubt, you aren't alone! It is a pretty tune in a major key, and features, halfway through, a turning upside down of the theme to arrive at the next page's music (part 1B)--whether this has anything to do with Gideon's odd request to God that, having given Gideon a sign of his promise, he should reverse that sign and do it again (see Judges 6:36-40) , or whether this is simply another Baroque composer who enjoyed turning themes upside down is an open question. It is a simple enough matter for Kuhnau to represent stylized battle-noises--courage is merely a fanfare, and the pace of warfare is a series of repeated notes and trumpet calls. The word fuga, besides being the name of a kind of musical composition,  is Italian for "flight"; Kuhnau gives us no fugue, but merely a lot of rapid passagework, which is succeeded by  a nice, royal-sounding dance (it could have been written for one of King George's courtly happenings); this rounds out the piece.

Reading about Mr. Kuhnau this week was a little depressing. Bach's predecessor in Leipzig should have, according to the commentary in my edition of the Biblical Sonatas, had a very enjoyable time there; instead, it was a struggle. All the best players went to the university or the opera and it was difficult to uphold decent standards in the church, which was Kuhnau's passion. It isn't much different today. After all, it's "just church," right? We also have to compete with the university which dominates this college town, and when push comes to shove our college students are often unreliable (as our choir director knows well). I've had some of them ask me if I've played a prelude or an offertory in concert, and often the answer is no. I actually prepare for the church with the same time and attention as for the concert hall. Of course, that is easier to do when you are no longer a student. It is easy to see, with the constant demands for music, why church musicians had to learn to improvise. But some of it comes from the attitude--if we see something as unimportant (it's a small congregation, or we will do it again next week anyway, or there isn't much money involved, or most people don't notice the mistakes, etc.) then we won't give much to it. And Kuhnau probably had the same problems with the budget--the best players wanted the most money and the church didn't have any. Well, I haven't heard God complain that he is always getting our least. He's been very patient about it, actually. And there are some who will make of this whole situation a virtue!

By the way, the references to part numbers ("1B") in the commentary above refers to the various sections in the piece, each with programmatic titles. At the risk of being a bit silly, we actually posted signs by the piano with the number of each section. This was because I started the prelude about 10 minutes before the service's advertised start, and, not wanting anyone to be completely lost if they entered five minutes into the piece, I wrote the titles of each section with numbers (of my own) in the bulletin, and then asked a choir member to put up the signs (Vanna White style) as I started each section. We like to have a bit of fun anyway, and I didn't think this was the sort of piece that demanded high seriousness.

My comment about the 'doubting section' above is related to one very large debate in the musical community over program music. Does music have the ability to tell stories, paint pictures, reflect moods, and so forth? There have been some pretty strong opinions issued from both sides. My intention wasn't to settle the issue, once and for all, it was simply to comment that, in this particular instance, I failed to see much of a connection between the music and what it is supposed to 'represent.' Kuhnau's six Biblical Sonatas were perhaps the first programmatic (i.e., story-telling) keyboard sonatas, which makes them historically important, musical merit aside. Modern audiences probably find them a bit quaint, but this one, in particular, has some nice writing.

What does doubt sound like, anyway?

Music for October 17, 2010

Variations on "Salve tu, Domine"

W. A. Mozart

Saul had barely become king before he lost the respect of Israel.  The people demanded the security that a king was supposed to provide, but how secure was the king himself? With a powerful priest aligned against him and fears that the captain of his own bodyguard (David) would seize his throne, he succumbed to fits of depression and rage.

What does this all have to do with a set of piano variations by Mozart? The piece's title translates basically as "Hello, your Lordship" and it comes from an opera by Paisello, a fellow composer in Vienna when Mozart arrived. In it, the singer is trying to impress his girlfriend's father, who is a nobleman and tries to be an educated philosopher. The young man address his Lordship in all manner of musty (and dignified) Latin phrases, but in several rapid asides, tells the audience what he really thinks of the old man, which is not very flattering. In other words, he is paying respectful lip service to the older man, but only to get what he wants. Mozart used this piece as the basis of six variations for piano. Mozart's understanding of the situation in the opera (he may have seen it) might explain why there are several sudden changes of character in the midst of the each variation (which is a pretty odd thing to do otherwise!). Whether he was aware of the irony, toward the end of the piece, Mozart can't help himself and insists on showing off via several rapid runs up and down the piano, which sound harder than they really are, and don't add anything of substance to the music--in other words, empty phrases! Still, the piece ends with amiable good humor.

A reading from the book of Mozart: it is nice to be able to share some Mozart with my congregation. I don't do it that often (I once memorized all the Mozart piano sonatas so I have a lot under my fingers). Like Salieri in the largely fictional movie "Amadeus," I have a problem. How do you get Mozart's music to 'fit' liturgically? He did write specifically religious music, but not for keyboard. The answer in this case depends on a rather creative connection between the material in the sermon/scripture reading and the music itself. This is one of several methods for choosing music in a service--the one thing I don't do is play Mozart just because I feel like it, or simply because it is good music. It imposes a discipline on me which acts in tension with the desire to share the bulk of the keyboard literature (which is almost always written for purposes other than church services) and makes for an interesting ministry.

Music for October 24, 2010

Prelude, op. 13, no. 1

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

Alexander Scriabin's short life ended on the eve of the Russian Revolution and shortly after the start of World War I, two epic disasters for his native land (it is estimated there were about 20 million deaths under the Stalin regime at this time). Scriabin says a lot in this two minute prelude, whose mood is principally one of majesty and foreboding. The ominous themes gathered here will only be fully explored in the remaining five preludes in the set. Here, after a series of waves, they swell to a terrible climax. But, in the manner of prophetic writing, there is consolation as well. The prelude now grows quieter and, for now at least, the music comes to rest on a hopeful C major chord.

I suspect I am in a distinct minority with regard to playing Scriabin in church. But I can't help finding in the music of this revolutionary a note similar to the prophets, particular Jeremiah. One year I matched up several lectionary readings with his music. Given that our theme this week is 'warning'--and not just a kind of 'watch out or you'll get gum on your shoe' warning, but a 'repent or this nation is headed for disaster' kind of warning, it seems necessary to go outside of the lines of the nice, the comfortable, and the institutionalized sanctity. But I do that a lot.

Music for October 31, 2010

Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor
                    J.S. Bach

Adagio for Strings
                    Samuel Barber
                   Arr. William Strickland

What an interesting combination of events we have today! Today is of course most popularly known on our Civil calendars as Halloween. Originally a pagan holiday, the date was assimilated into the church calendar as All Hallows Eve, or the day before All Saints day. During the Middle Ages it became one of those curious 'dual holidays' where opposite impulses of humanity get recognized. First people explore their irrational fears in the gathering darkness of an earth preparing for harsh winter, then the gloom is dispelled in the sober light of ceremony and dignified pageantry which accompany more doctrinally sound thoughts on death.

Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor has nothing to do with Halloween, actually, but because of its thrilling character it, along with its more famous cousin, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, will probably be piped out of several neighborhood houses this evening. It consists of 20 repetitions of the same bass pattern in the pedal with variations whirling above and culminates in a fugue-like concoction in which everything is happening at once. Bach probably wrote it simply to exercise his skill and show what could be done with this kind of piece. Much of his remaining organ music is connected with the Lutheran church service in some way, but this is not.

Bach's employment was made possible by another event that occurred on this date. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked 95 propositions, or Theses, to a church door in Germany and sparked the Protestant Reformation. A century of bloody religious wars followed and eventually the modern state was born.

Our theme today connects both of these--fear and warfare--an angry God thunders his pronouncements through numerous prophetic voices, and an unrepentant people are finally punished in a terrifying manner. Their state is destroyed by bloody conquest and its people are deported to the land of the foreign invader. Not surprisingly, this is not one of the most popular themes! And we are ruminating on the consequences of sin, however personal or wide-ranging. For Israel, these consequences were enormous, resulting in the destruction of everything they knew.

In a week's time the themes will be restoration, comfort, the solemnity of honoring those who have preceded us in death. But this is the week of ancient Israel's desolation--and a time for searching contemplation for us as well.

During the offering today you'll hear what has become almost the official anthem of American mourning (heard often in the days following 9/11): Barber's "Adagio for Strings," played in an organ transcription by William Strickland.


Music for November 7 and 21, 2010

Sonata in D, op. 28

Ludwig van Beethoven

I. Allegro

IV. Allegro
A week has passed, and we have made the transition from punishment to comfort, from catastrophe to restoration, and musically, from the thrilling but terrifying shouts of the pipe organ to the low, sweet tones of the piano. Beethoven (of all composers!) soothes us with his 15th piano sonata, subtitled "Pastorale" (by others)--in the same vein as his "Pastorale" Symphony, to which Beethoven not only uncharacteristically gave a nickname, he supplied a program, complete with thankful and joyful shepherds and a halcyon countryside. Here the repetitive low D of the Sonata's opening represents the other side of the same musical idea (repetition) so prominently featured last week--in place of the inexorable fatalistic drive of the Passacaglia's repeated bass pattern, we get an impression of stability and tranquility, reassurance rather than fear.

Here is a brain teaser for the organist: how does one illustrate 'uprightness' in music? Is there obedient sounding music? What about the reams of dignified but barren English cathedral music from the 18th century? Perhaps a better approach is through the word 'joy.' The Psalmist is constantly reminding us what a joy it is to follow God's commands, and to meditate on God's laws. The final movement of the sonata begun two weeks ago, though its middle reminds us of the storms of life, erupts in an ebullient song of joy with a rapturous finale.

I love transition--and the church year is filled with them. In fact, many of our church holidays, like Halloween/All Saint's Day, have had an existence as dual holidays, though, with the passage of time one tends to win out over the other (Christmas and Twelfth Night being another). Interesting that outside the church walls it is Halloween that makes the most noise. The part where we are all scared silly and thrill to fear is followed by a restoration of dogmatic assurance and domestic comfort and ritual--only the world at large only hears the first part of this story. At Christmas, the situation is just the opposite. The holiday of peace and joy is followed twelve days later by a kind of April Fool's day in which the world is turned upside down, pigs are dressed up as bishops, sheep preach sermons, societal order is threatened--well, that holiday died out a while back. And at Easter, how many protestants will be ignoring the crucifixion part of the story and just going to church for the 'good part?'

It wasn't the holiday that got our musical notice so much as the sermon series. Disaster followed by restoration, or the exile followed by the return from it--in two consecutive weeks. That is quite a lot of ground to cover, and runs the gambit of human suffering and solace.

Immediately afterward, I boarded a plane to Germany to see my wife, gone all year on dissertation research abroad. That is why there is no music for the 14th. And on the 21st, having not touched a piano for two weeks, I played the finale of the same Beethoven sonata I had started two weeks earlier (talk about serial installments). I am rather proud of the fact that I prepared the piece so well (also playing it for a late night mini-concert while exhausted from a day of rehearsals) that people assumed I had been able to practice while in Germany. That is called planning ahead--and having a pretty good idea what you can get away with, and how hard you will have to work to get away with it!

Music for November 28, 2010

The Unanswered Question

Charles Ives
"Why am I suffering?" Job wants to know. Why do good people suffer? That surely is among the 'perennial question(s) of existence" at the heart of Ives' curious ensemble piece "The Unanswered Question." After 40 chapters of silence, during which Job's friends try to 'help' Job by giving easy answers (which revolve around blaming Job) God appears and upbraids Job for daring to ask the question in the first place ("Can you create the world? I didn't think so. Keep quiet, then.") but giving no answer. Ives' piece similarly provides no answer. His musical drama consists of three characters: the slow-moving strings, whose placid course is unaffected by anything happening in the flutes and trumpet, the trumpet, which intones a five note musical question six times, and what Ives called "flutes and other people" which try to answer the question with increasing force and growing desperation but finally "mock the question and disappear," leaving the trumpet to pose the question one final time as the strings recede into silence.


Music for December 5, 2010
Giovanni Battista Martini

Prayer of St. Gregory
Alan Hovhanes

Galliard Battaglia
Samuel Scheidt
Trumpeter Jeremy McBain joins us today with three selections from his doctoral trumpet recital which was given here at Faith in October. Our choir is also giving a full program this morning, including selections from John Bell's "Songs of Mary" and anthems by Craig Courtney and Pepper Choplin.


Music for December 12, 2010

At A Certain Church

John Wesley Work III
John Wesley Work’s ‘Certain’ Church packs a good deal into two minutes! After an introductory tolling of bells, it is time for the hymn “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” (hymn #724) a hymn of hope for salvation. The hymn is first presented in an uplifting gospel style, but then, to an agitated accompaniment, the hymn switches to the minor mode before resuming the major key after a short pause and ending in the affirmative. This reflects the hymn’s history. When the hymn tune was first introduced in 1835 it was in a minor key, but later was rewritten in the major, an example of what Carlton Young, Jr., in the Companion to the Hymnal, calls the “fate” of similar tunes being recast in a sunnier major mode during the later 19th century.  It could be argued that these dual versions show us a speaker who, according to the hymn, ‘casts [his] eye toward Canaan’s fair and happy land’ while still standing on the opposite, ‘stormy’ side of the river, and yet, through the use of the major mode, is already confident in the eventual fulfillment of the promise.

The commentary above is almost longer than the piece, which is a good thing. On the page everything looks peaceful, but in reality, the second week of December is the busiest week of the year. At our 9:00 service in the Worship and Life Center we have a 'Unified Christmas Drama' which features the band, the choir, the drama team, the children's choirs, the plumbing team, the--just seeing if you're paying attention. Meanwhile, back in the North Sanctuary, we still have two other services to lead, the first of which takes place will we in are rehearsal for the other. And if your sub doesn't show up (see comment about unreliable college students, above!) you are literally running in the halls (don't do as I do, kids!) Anyhow, we all survived. And I hope the rest of you had a very enjoyable Christmas season. Let's do it again bigger and badder next year.
Music for December 19, 2010

The Christmas Carol Varied as a Rondo for the Piano-forte

Samuel Wesley
Samuel Wesley was the son of Charles and the nephew of John Wesley.  This piece, from 1814-15, is a series of excursions on the tune "God Rest ye Merry, Gentleman," in a slightly different form than we know it today. In less progressive England in the early 19th century the piano was still known under its original hyphenated name (the 'soft-loud,' which referred to the groundbreaking technological innovation that allowed it to be played at a range of volumes based on the player's touch). Despite its academic-sounding title, this is no strict set of variations, but, like its eccentric author, wanders unpredictably through many keys and moods.


Music for December 24, 2010

Cradle Song

Even in our own time and place, childbirth and thoughts of raising a young child are filled with anxiety, to say nothing of the times and places when infant mortality has been high, or life in general has been dangerous. Bringing a child into first century Palestine could not have been easy, with the threat from Rome or the political intrigues between Jewish factions. Thoughts like these might explain why so many lullabies have moments of sadness in them. Gottschalk's Lullaby is mainly a tender, songful melody, with moments of charm, wonder, and agreeable piano sonorities. But mid-way through there is an episode in a minor key that has an air of quiet tragedy. The clouds vanish--then the process is repeated again before the song of peace returns and the piece ends in a holy calm.

The lullaby the choir sings right after is in a minor key, or more exactly, the Dorian mode, an ancient collection of notes nearly like a modern minor key but with one 'raised' note which is partly responsible for the swift movement from major to minor, providing a sweet and sour combination of harmonies. Like so many lullabies, it too has moments of hope, of joy, peace...and a bit of anxiety!


Music for December 26, 2010

Summo Parenti Gloria
(a hymn for the festival of Christmas)

Michael Praetorius
We're having a single service this week at 10am. And I'm taking the week off from writing notes for the bulletin. This 400-year old piece, based on a once prevailing church chant, is one of my favorites. The recording is from 2005. My apologies on behalf of the people who dropped the stack of lumber near the end!


Music for January 2, 2011

Sonata in E Minor, op. 90
I: Spirited, and with feeling and inner expression throughout


Drama:  Journey of the Magi             T. S. Eliot

What happened to the Magi after they returned home? In T. S. Eliot's poem 'journey of the Magi' their visit isn't merely a nice Christmas story. Eliot's narrator, recalling the long, difficult journey of years ago, struggles with the implications of worshipping this new king. The poem ends tragically because in the end this 'king' can't muster the courage to become a true disciple of Christ, but, like the rich young ruler, is caught up in the world to which he is accustomed.

"....and such a long Journey"
Beethoven's Sonata in e minor is in the same key and lilting 3/4 time as our opening hymn 'We Three Kings.' About 45 seconds in, there is a sudden dramatic outburst (or revelation), a shift from minor to major, similar to the place in the hymn when we sing 'oh, oh, star of wonder...' but far more intense. Throughout, this is music of an epic emotional journey, and, like the poem, helps us consider the visitors from the east as more than guests at an expensive birthday party, but as potential disciples of Christ, who must respond to the news of the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Music for January 9, 2011

Groovin' to Zion
(a parable in Jazz)


Music for January 16, 2011

I'll be absent from the service; our choir director is cooking up a batch of spirituals for MLK day.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus seems to get in trouble with the Pharisees a lot: not just for the content of his message, but even for the manner of its presentation. At one point, reprimanded for gluttony, he observes: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."  (Mt..11:19) Perhaps this has something to do with the style of today’s opening piece, subtitled “a parable in Jazz,”  Jazz has  been referred to by its adherents as ‘pleasure’ and has often been considered by its critics as out-of-bounds for a church service--either it is just too undignified, or is associated with the 'wrong' sort of people. These days this is not always the case (at least one Methodist church in town regularly offers a ‘jazz service’). Isaac Watts, the author of  the hymn "Marching to Zion," (#733)  was no stranger to controversy. He got in a lot of trouble in his day over his insistence on writing hymns of his own making rather than taking the words directly from the Bible; his vehement defense of this innovation might be behind the lines in verse two: “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God,” but a more genial apologia is offered in one of the verses that didn’t make it into our hymnal: “Religion was never meant to make our pleasures less.” Perhaps it is a reminder to Pharisees everywhere not to confuse decorum with righteousness, or use their idea of rigorous standards to try to exclude others from the Kingdom of God.


Music for January 23, 2011

Piano Duets (Marietta Bigler and Michael Hammer)
      Arr. Mona Coalter
"Great is Thy Faithfulness"  (Chisholm/Runyan)
"To God Be the Glory"  (Crosby/Doane)
"Praise Him! Praise Him!"   (Crosby/Allen)

Music for January 30, 2011
Prelude and Fugue in C#  (BWV 848)     J. S. Bach
Pastorale    Charles Wesley

The subject this morning is "Life." Bach's lively Prelude and Fugue seems to celebrate it; Wesley's Pastorale is a warm-up for the talk this afternoon (3pm) at Faith by Nicholas Temperley on "Music and the Wesleys"--part of our Methodist heritage


Music for February 6, 2011

He Leadeth Me

Emma Lou Diemer

For the first two minutes, Diemer's hymn setting of "He Leadeth Me" is a beautiful, soothing piece (with some subtle dissonances). But later, the piece picks up steam. Like a good musical theologian, Diemer has written music that does not simply scratch the surface of her subject, but instead really does lead us, as the hymn says, through 'scenes of deepest gloom,' 'troubled seas,' and eventually even through 'death's cold wave.' I invite you to meditate on the words of the hymn when you are able (#128). After this grand climax the music returns to the calm of its opening. In the end, we are left with the assurance that He leads us, not only through the calm joys of life, but even in its most harrowing circumstances.


Music for February 13, 2011

The Wind of the Spirit (from Mass for Pentecost)

Olivier Messaien

Maybe this week's opening voluntary should come with a warning label! It is not at all tame, and probably is more than a little disconcerting to most. Still, the theme we have to contend with in this week's Disciple Bible study and sermon is "The Explosive Power of the Holy Spirit." For raw power, it is hard to beat the music of this church organist from Paris, one of the most powerful and unique voices of the 20th century.  Among his compositional obsessions was to portray the 'marvelous aspects of the faith.'  Soon the gale force opening gives way to birdsong--it could be the Holy Spirit as a dove (which is a far tamer, and non-Pentecost presentation), but, more likely, it is simply Messaien indulging his taste for  notating the sounds of his favorite natural musicians. The end is as fiery as the beginning. Watch out for that final chord!

This week was a study in domestication. The week's theme, "The Power of the Holy Spirit" was derived from our reading this week of the first half of Acts, in which the spirit arrives like tongues of fire and a strong wind at Pentecost, causing a rash of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), causes the deaths of a man and his wife for lying about his giving to the church, allows Peter to heal a man at the city gates, and Paul to resurrect a man who fell of a window during one of his sermons. Wild stuff. Wild opening voluntary.

It is not easy to introduce such themes into church. The hymns, for one thing, were two versions of 'All hail the Power of Jesus' Name" and "I sing the Mighty Power of God." The word power in the titles suggests our choir director was doing her best to match the theme, but you'll notice that the Spirit isn't mentioned anywhere. I don't think we have any hymns about the power of the Spirit. Western Christianity doesn't really seem to know what to do with the spirit, I think.

Jesus' power is much more friendly, it seems. And it wasn't Jesus' power we were singing about, per se, but the power of Jesus' name, which got me thinking about the power of a name. In Judaism, people don't say God's name out of fear and awe. In our modern Christian protestant tradition, some of our hymns sound like entries for a contest to see how many times they can cram the name Jesus into one line of a hymn. One of them goes, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know." Sweetest name I know? Not the same thing, is it? It is more of a soothing, calming mantra. Say Jesus over and over and over. Not, the name is so powerful you might want to keep it at a distance. There is 'something about that name,' but it is very comforting and familiar.

And so, not so surprisingly, our call to worship was filled with gentle shepherd imagery, as was our prayer of confession, and even the sermon focused on Jesus (and his spirit) and how the Holy Spirit can use us ordinary folks even today. What I'm getting at is this week's organ offering really seemed to stick out. I guess, under the circumstances, that shouldn't be much of a surprise.

What was a bit of a surprise was that some people actually clapped(!) at the 10:30 service. Maybe they noticed the nervous apologia in this week's bulletin (reproduced in the box above) and decided to show their support for my risk-taking (thanks, guys!). I still recall that the former organist told me when I arrived here five years ago that a substitute organist a few years back had played something by Messiaen, and "they are still talking about it!" so I was treading carefully (at least rhetorically!) One can't assume that at a mid-sized Methodist church in the Midwest they are going to welcome the music of the adventurous French cathedral organist Olivier Messaien; every musician I have mentioned this or similar 'transgressions' to has seemed shocked that I would even try such a thing!

The folks at the more staid 8:00 service might be talking about it this week, but I decided long ago that the point of being a church musician wasn't to be popular. If people don't like what I play for them most of the time then there is probably a disconnect between myself and the people of the church (aka body of Christ) and that suggests a problem. But if my first thought when a topic like this one comes up in the calendar is to be practical and not 'preach' anything from the organ that folks might not like then I'm not being a very effective minister of music or anything else. Risk taking is necessary.

Still, I was joking when I told my wife this week that I was going to get fired after the opening voluntary. I've been around here long enough to know that I can go outside the box and play some pretty bold things some of the time and not get called on the carpet for it; it is even appreciated by some (we have a pretty diverse congregation; some of them are musically educated as well, and in a university town many of them have advanced degrees in other areas which often means that while they may know little about music they don't mind being stretched a little; my bulletin commentaries have been quite welcome since they don't mind learning something about the music, and it helps to know what I was thinking when I decided to play a piece). This makes for a pretty great environment, even if there are times when things don't seem to hang together too well, like this week. We'll try again in seven days. Anyhow, next week's offering will be a lot tamer, so it is more likely to go with the flow.

At the 10:30 service one of our choir members read a poem by Susan Cherwien called "Wind and Fire" which had the same kind of edge to it. Thank God for that! And the person who selected the poem.


Music for February 20, 2011

Meditation from "Thais"


Camille Rose, Violin
Massenet's beautiful "Meditation" has been a well-loved part of the violin literature for decades as a stand-alone piece. What you may not know is how it functioned in its original setting. In the opera "Thais" Athanaël, a monk, tries to get Thais to convert to Christianity. He is at first unsuccessful. After a long argument in act one scene two Thais appears determined to cling to her pagan beliefs. But once the curtain goes down, the Meditation, an interlude originally for violin and orchestra, serves as an inner portrait of the state of Thais' heart and soul. When the curtain rises, Thais has decided to become a Christian.


Music for February 26, 2011   

Allemande           Handel
Invention no. 1       Bach
     Kseniya Chumachenko, organist


One of my students got a go at the organ this week. One of the things church is really bad at is a farm system--we don't train people to do things, we just expect them to do it. Most of what I know about how to do my job was accomplished in spite of, rather than with practical help from, people in churches (my technical ability came from the conservatory; my creative ability was largely self-directed). I hope to reverse that trend a little. The only way to do it, of course, is to provide instruction as well as opportunities to learn on the job. So my student played about half the musical elements in the service this week, one hymn, one doxology, and the prelude and offertory at right. Both of these pieces are well below her level of musical ability so she could learn them quickly and be able to worry about some of the other things that make for good church service musicianship, and that also make things far more of a challenge sometimes than playing concerts or recitals.

Music for March 6, 2011     "love"
(8:00 only)

Karen Ranney, flute
selections TBA
Music for March 13, 2011       "freedom"

Variations on an Egyptian Folksong
Gamal Abdel-Rahim

Hymn to Freedom
Oscar Peterson


Music for March 20, 2011     "training"

Sub: TBA

Music for March 27, 2011     "Sacrifice"

Meditation on "Victory"
The Hymn tune "Victory" is commonly paired with the hymn "The Strife is O'er, the Battle Done," a festive, triumphant hymn usually sung at Easter. Here it is seen from a different angle, as a contemplative meditation, slow, somewhat melancholy, and as a solemn procession of quarter notes in various clusters of sometimes tense, sometimes diffuse, and occasionally very thin harmony. If you listen very carefully you may hear a few lines from the hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" in the second verse.

Music for April 3, 2011     "Holy"

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God     Telemann
Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God     J.S. Bach

This week we got a double dose of the same Lutheran chorale from two composers. And those composers just happened to be up for the same job in Leipzig in 1723. Those candidates? Bach and Telemann. History has pretty much decided in Bach's favor, but at the time people preferred Telemann. The town council wanted him for the job but Telemann declined, and eventually, in an oft quoted remark for which the man who made it is still getting posthumous censure from musicologists everywhere, they decided they'd have to settle for Bach.

This is the first volume of Telemann's music I've owned and it is possible that I'm comparing apples to bigger apples, but Telemann's version of the chorale tune is simple, straightforward, jaunty, and good-natured. You can see why his music would have appealed to people at large. Bach's version, on the other hand, is from his so-called Great 18 chorale preludes, and it is about ten minutes long (to Telemann's two) and far more elaborate, though it really isn't that much harder to play, and is fairly predictable in its cycles of entrances--a quiet duet on one manual, eventual entrance of the pedal to make it a trio, then a single phrase of the lengthy hymn highly decorated. This happens eight or nine times, and the piece ends with a mildly flashy coda. It isn't a crowd pleaser, but it does take the hymn seriously. It occurred to me (before I remembered that we don't have a closing hymn this week because of communion) that our choir director might choose the hymn "Take Time to Be holy" this week, since the theme is "Holy" and it's one of her favorites. Bach has certainly taken the time. If you had to choose between one of these two pieces, and you wanted to get home in time for the game or to get the roast out of the oven, it would be the Telemann.

Earlier this year I mused on the difficulty Bach' predecessor in Leipzig had at getting church music to adhere to high standards. The university was getting all the resources, and the students and town musicians tended to want to go there (and say, play for the opera) rather than the church. Telemann seemed to know just how much effort to put into his church pieces--enough to make them crowd pleasers, but not enough to have to work on them a lot, or demand a lot of his congregation. His entry basically just puts a short bouncy idea against each phrase of the hymn, changing harmonies as necessary. Bach looks like he spent a whole lot more creative energy on his entry. Telemann's approach looks like worldy wisdom, and Bach's a labor of love, impractical as it may be.

And it is probably this way with their overall catalogues as well. Bach wrote probably about two-thirds of his music for the church. I'm betting Telemann's is balanced much more toward secular festivities.

I'm not even going to try to get my congregation to stick around for the whole piece. I'm playing it during communion, and I've asked the pastor just to wait for one of the quiet parts between phrases of the hymn and give the benediction. Then I'll finish the piece as the closing voluntary. I'll bet the sanctuary will be empty and I'll be in the dark by then. But some of us just aren't very practical.

Music for April 10, 2011     "Victory"

Sonata in Bb: I. Molto Moderato
III. Allegro vivace con delicatezza

Franz Schubert

Today marks the culmination of a long journey through the Bible. The metaphor of journey suggested this sonata to me, in which the unfolding song of the opening is challenged by all kinds of dark moments and dramatic tension, but is still present at the end, in a state of serenity and hope. This sonata also marked the end of Schubert's life; his final piano sonata, it was written one month before he died, when he was only 31. It is his longest piano sonata, but it he does not treat it with grandeur or heroism; instead, it is more of a beautifully lyric song. However, as in the epic Biblical narrative we've been engaging these 32 weeks, something goes wrong almost from the start. Mere seconds into the sonata, the peaceful song is interrupted by an ominous trill in the bass. A tense silence follows--can we go on? And then, we do go on. This happens throughout the sonata, and reminded me that the last time I read "Revelation" I was struck by the sheer 'loudness' of the book's events--and then the sudden and tense silence. For now, the ever-present song returns, after another trill, in a new guise, and then the drama builds as the pulsing triplets undergird a melancholy duet. The minor mode gives way to a cheerful, leaping tune, which in turn relaxes into a placid ending for the first major section of the piece. All of this takes about five minutes! If you find your attention wandering at this point it is because all of the tension is gone. Schubert uses a lot of silence here also, but in different ways--first, in the almost stuttering fragments toward the end of the 'leaping theme' and then, more and more, as a satisfied rest for reflection on what we've heard. But when the section's final three chords are repeated in a questioning minor we know we have not achieved permanent contentment.

The opening tune reappears in a distant minor key to begin the development section. It is answered by more of the cheerful arpeggios from a few minutes ago; they build to a temporary triumph as they rush down the keyboard. Then, over drumming bass notes, a pleasantly unfolding melody begins in harmonic revelation but builds to a crisis. Out of the quiet despair which follows the ominous trill returns (we have not heard it in a while) but also the piece's opening melody, at first in a minor key, and then, transformed into the original major, like a 'distant song.' On the end of a series of single-note passages the trill reasserts itself. Now it feels like there is 'silence in heaven for half an hour!" Out of the stillness comes the opening melody again. It is, for me, the most beautiful moment in the entire piece. By now that tune has virtually become an anthem to hope. As is typical of a piece called "Sonata," we will now experience a close repetition of the entire opening section, complete with pulsing triplets and happy staccato chords. Finally, Schubert concludes with a wistful melodic fragment that leads us to the last appearance of that opening anthem. But seconds from the end the ominous trill returns, just in time to remain in our memory along with the final benedictory chords. It is a reminder that the drama isn't over. Schubert's sonata actually has three movements left (you'll hear the much shorter third movement for the offertory this morning). The sonata's journey isn't over--and neither is ours!


Music for April 17, 2011    "Palm Sunday"

Crucifixion            Marcel Dupre

Music for April 24, 2011     "Easter Sunday"

Allegro        Albinoni
Jeremy Mcbain, trumpet
Music for May 1, 2011  Children's musical "Get on Board"
                                             (Noah's ark)  / confirmation

"Prelude no. 3: Didn't It Rain"                 Wallace McClain Cheatham


Music for May 8, 2011    "The Ransom Theory of Atonement"

O Guiltless Lamb of God
J.S. Bach (BWV656a)

Music for May 15, 2011

I'll be worshipping at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig this week. Faith UMC selections TBA!
Bach's setting of what was then a familiar hymn is in three verses. First the melody is on top, then it appears in the middle, and finally in the bass. It is always slower than the other parts. Toward the end there is a wrenching chromatic progression on the phrase 'we would have despaired'--then the tension is released and the music soars heavenward to its conclusion.

O guiltless Lamb of God,
how on the cross you were slaughtered,
patient in suffering,
you were despised.
You have taken all our sins,
otherwise we would have been in despair.
O Jesus, have mercy on us!

Music for May 22, 2011

Prelude from Partita no. 5
J. S. Bach

Impromptu, op. 90. no 2
Franz Schubert
It feels a bit odd this week to have chosen two pieces for no liturgical reasons whatever. Nevertheless, we have a wonderful new Steinway piano in our sanctuary, and we ought to get acquainted. One thing this piano does very well is rapid scale passages, so I've chosen two pieces that highlight that, particularly the Schubert. Although it has no program, the Bach piece is so jubilant it reminds me of the verse from the Psalms: "I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord."--which might be reason enough!

Music for May 29, 2011   "Where's your Jesus Now?"

The Seen and Unseen?

Charles Ives

Bagatelle, op. 126, no. 1

"In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me."
--John 14:19

Ives doesn't tell us in his "Memos"  why he chose that intriguing title, or anything about the piece. It is subtitled "sweet and tough" which might be a reference to the constant alternations between 'nice' chords and the complex clusters of sounds he preferred. For Ives, traditional major chords were a kind of mental laziness, showing an unwillingness to go beyond what we are used to. But he seems to have also had a soft spot for those chords, at least for sentimental reasons! The final chord is a good illustration. It begins as an audacious collision of notes, then, after a few beats, several notes drop away, and a couple of beats later, one more, until we are left with a simple C major chord. It was there all along, we just didn't "see" it!


Music for June 5, 2011  

Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend

J. S. Bach

Von Gott will ich nicht lassen

J. S. Bach
Today's Opening Voluntary and Communion Music consist of  two chorale preludes on hymns Bach's congregation would have known. The texts are these:

Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend
Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us
Send your Holy Spirit to us
rule us with love and grace, Lord,
and lead us in the way of truth
von Gott will ich nicht lassen
I shall not abandon God
For he does not abandon me,
he leads me on the right way,
where I would otherwise go far astray,
he reaches out his hand to me.
Morning and evening
he takes good care of me
wherever I may be.

In "Lord Jesus, turn to us" Bach hints at the tune a double speed in a frolicking weave of three melodic lines echoing one another until at the end the hymn tune appears in full glory in the pedals. For "I shall not abandon God" the tune also tolls out in the pedals at intervals, a phrase at a time, will the other voices give out snatches of the hymn tune within their accompaniment. 


Music for June 12, 2011   "Pentecost"

O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing                        Cherwien
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee                                 Cherwien
Music for June 19, 2011  "Doubters Making Disciples"

Credo                  Marteau


Music for June 26, 2011
"Abraham did What?" (Genesis 22)

Father Abraham


Canons from "The Musical Offering"

J. S. Bach
On the surface, the title "The Musical Offering" for a collection of pieces Bach dedicated to the emperor Frederick the Great seems innocent. But the term 'opfer' in German also has connotations of 'victim' in the sense of SACRIFICIAL offering. Bach had been invited to the court of the monarch and asked to improvise  a demanding 6-voice fugue on a nearly impossible theme created by Frederick himself, possibly with the help of one of Bach's own sons in his employ--he had been 'set up,' in other words. Bach's response after the incident, besides the knowing title, was a collection of all manner of masterful canons and fugal pieces on this same theme, vindicating himself. The various canons are given by Bach in only one part, and the second part, or the answer to the canon, must be provided by the performer. In order to make the first canon work, it is necessary to play the theme simultaneously backwards and forwards!


Music for July 3, 2011 
  (these notes not published in the church bulletin)
Aria    Wishart Peter Wishart (1921-84) was student of Nadia Boulanger and a teacher at several colleges in England. He wrote very little piano music; his "Partita" from which this piece comes, was one of three such works. This is one of those pieces that literally fell off the shelves at my feet when at the library recently. Wishart happens to be a family name (my maternal grandmother's maiden name) and last week was our family reunion, so I decided to take a look. It's a nice little piece, and besides, I haven't done any 20th century English music lately. I couldn't think of anything sermon related, besides, maybe I should stop being so clever! (see last week)
Music for July 10, 2011  "Farming from a Boat" (Matt 13)

two preludes from "Pleasures and Parables"               Martinu


Music for July 17, 2011
     Mozart, Allegro from Sonata in Bb, k. 333
     Beethoven, Bagatelle, op. 119, no. 3

Music for July 31, 2011
     Men's Summer Chorus      Norm Laduke, director
          My Lord, What a Morning      arr. Gilliam
          Soon and Very Soon      Crouch/ arr. Shrader
          Majesty                          Hayford/ arr. Shrader
          Irish Blessing                           arr. Grey

Music for July 24, 2011
     Marietta Bigler, piano             Michael Hammer, organ

        For The Beauty of the Earth         Laurence Lyon
        I Need Thee Every Hour             Frederick Groton
        To Go All Praise and Glory         Ellen Jane Lorenz
Music for August 7, 2011
          prelude for Brad
          Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring   Bach/arr. Hess


Music for August 14-Sept 3, 2011
After a very interesting and intense 2010-2011 season I'm worn out so I'm taking a sabbatical! The way that works is I'm going to make everything up for the next four weeks. It saves practice time, it allows time to plan for next year, and rest and relax, and it doesn't require actually taking any time off! No wonder improvisation is such a time-honored part of the organist's craft. We start up again on September 11.



Music for 2010-11 at Faith UMC
mp3 files from our sanctuary
Michael Hammer, organ and piano



Yearlong sermon series:
A walk through the Bible
with Disciple I

August 22, 2010

from "Three Preludes on Gregorian Melodies"
I. Lento

Ottorino Respighi

August 29, 2010
Genesis 1-2

"Let the Amen"


September 5, 2010
Genesis 3

Jake Heggie

"Durch Adam's Fall ist ganz Verderbt"

J. S. Bach

September 12, 2010
Genesis 12-41

Prelude and Fugue
 in Eb
"St. Anne"

J. S. Bach

September 19, 2010
Exodus 1-18

Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ

J. S. Bach

September 26, 2010
ASP Sunday

"Simple Gifts"
from Appalachian Spring ©

violinist Kendra Brach

October 3, 2010
Leviticus 1-17

Mirror in the Mirror

Arvo Pärt    ©

October 10, 2010
Joshua 1-6, Judges 1-16

"Gideon, Savior of the People of Israel"
(biblical sonata no. 5)

Johann Kuhnau

October 17, 2010
1 Sam 1-31, 2 Sam 24, 1Kings 1-12

Variations on "Salve tu, Domine"


October 24, 2010
1 Kgs 16-22, Amos, Isaiah 1-7

Prelude, op. 13 n1
Alexander Scriabin

October 31, 2010
2 Kings 17-25, Jeremiah 8-39, Isaiah 28-30

Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor

J.S. Bach

Adagio for Strings ©
(organ arr.)

Samuel Barber
arr. William Strickland

November 7, 2010
Isaiah 40-53, Jeremiah30-33,
Ezra 1-5, Isaiah 55-65

Sonata ("Pastoral")
mvmt 1

November 14, 2010

Sub: TBA

November 21, 2010
"right living"

Sonata ("Pastoral")
mvmt 4

November 28, 2010

The Unanswered Question ©

Charles Ives

December 5, 2010

Trumpeter Jeremy McBain

Giovanni Battista Martini

Prayer of Saint Gregory ©
Alan Hovhanes

Galliard Battaglia
Samuel Scheidt

December 12, 2010

At A Certain Church ©

John Wesley Work

December 19, 2010
Jonah and Esther

The Christmas Carol Varied as a Rondo for the Piano-forte

Samuel Wesley

December 26, 2010

Summo Parenti Gloria
Michael Praetorius

January 2, 2011

Sonata in e minor, op. 90


Spring Semester

January 9, 2011

Groovin' to Zion

January 16, 2011
"Good News"

Sub: TBA

January 23, 2011

Piano Duets
(Marietta Bigler and Michael Hammer)
      Arr. Mona Coalter
"Great is Thy Faithfulness"  (Chisholm/Runyan) ©
"To God Be the Glory"  (Crosby/Doane) ©
"Praise Him! Praise Him!"   (Crosby/Allen)

January 30, 2011
John 1-12

Prelude and Fugue in C#  (BWV 848)
    J. S. Bach
Pastorale    Charles Wesley

February 6, 2011
John 13-21

He Leadeth Me
Diemer ©

February 13, 2011
Acts 1-12

The Wind of the Spirit
Messaien ©

February 20, 2011
Acts 15-28

Meditation from Thais
Camille Rose, Violin

February 27, 2011

Allemande   Handel
Invention in C  Bach
Kseniya Chumachenko, organ

March 6, 2011
1 Corinthians 1-16

Karen Ranney, flute

March 13, 2011

Variations on an Egyptian Folksong
Gamal Abdel-Rahim ©

Hymn to Freedom
Oscar Peterson ©

March 20, 2011
1 and 2 Timothy

Sub: TBA

March 27, 2011

Meditation on 'Victory'

April 3, 2011
1 and 2 Peter

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God
Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God
J.S. Bach

April 10, 2011

Sonata in Bb:
 I. Molto Moderato
III. Allegro vivace e delicatezza

April 17, 2011
Palm Sunday

The Crucifixion
Dupre ©

April 24, 2011
Easter Sunday

Allegro   Albinoni
Jeremy McBain, trumpet

May 1, 2011
Confirmation/children's musical Sunday

Prelude No. 3: Didn't It Rain!
Wallace McClain Cheatham ©

May 8, 2011

O, Guiltless Lamb of God
J.S. Bach

May 15, 2011

Sub: TBA

May 22, 2011

Prelude from Partita no. 5
J.S. Bach

Impromptu, op. 90 no. 2

May 29, 2011

The Seen and Unseen?

Charles Ives ©

summer 2011

June 5, 2011
Luke 24:44-53
"Wait Here 'Til I Get Back"

Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend
J. S. Bach

von Gott will ich nicht lassen
J. S. Bach

June 12 , 2011
Act 2:1-15
"Your Own Personal Day of Pentecost"

O For a Thousand Tongues
Cherwien ©

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Cherwien ©

June 19, 2011
Matthew 28:16-20
"Doubters Becoming Disciples"


June 26, 2011
Genesis 22:1-14
Abraham Did What?"

Father Abraham
Dett ©

Two Canons from "The Musical Offering"
J. S. Bach

July 3, 2011
Romans 7:15-25a
"Being Saved Without Begin Good"

Aria ©
Peter Wishart

July 10, 2011
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
"Farming from a Boat"

from Pleasures and Parables

Prelude I
Prelude II

Martinu ©

July 17, 2011
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-41
"Wait to Eliminate"

Allegro from Sonata in Bb, k, 333

July 24
Matthew 13:31-33, 44052
"Life Could Be Like This"

          Marietta Bigler, piano           
Michael Hammer, organ

For The Beauty of the Earth
Laurence Lyon

I Need Thee Every Hour  
Frederick Groton

To God All Praise and Glory
  Ellen Jane Lorenz

July 31
Men's Summer Chorus
Norm Laduke, director
 My Lord, What a Morning
     arr. Gilliam

          Soon and Very Soon      Crouch/ arr. Shrader

 Hayford/ arr. Shrader

   Irish Blessing    
  arr. Grey

August 7, 2011
Prelude por un Chausser       Marteau
          Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring   Bach/arr. Hess ©

August 14-September 3, 2011


in order to recharge my batteries without actually going on vacation, I'm going to improvise the preludes and offertories this month, thus saving multiple practice hours to prepare for the fall and--oh, yeah--rest!