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Godmusic---> music for 2011-12 at Faith UMC in Champaign, Illinois
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.
"pompous displays of majestic loudness." Sorry, but I found that amusing late at night when I wrote it. You too, perhaps?
So here's the 64 ducat question: Is Telemann taking this hymn less seriously? Is he the popular composer, giving the people what they want--a Lutheran chorale with a nice beat they can dance to? Or is he getting at something else in this ancient tale of woe? I haven't found any evidence that Telemann worked very hard at his chorale settings--he was, in fact, one of the most prolific composers in history, so he probably didn't spend all that much time writing anything. And most of his other short 2-voice settings of chorales adhere to the same formula: The tune itself is one voice, and against that, he takes a short, usually buoyant, gesture that can be manipulated by sequence--repeating it starting on different pitches. Run through the tune once and you are done, usually in under 2 minutes. Just add water, and you pretty much could write your own Telemann chorale setting. Still, it's effective. And it gets at something dramatically that the Bach doesn't, which shows the richness of the Biblical sources. One approach, musical or otherwise, won't cover everything.
I am often less than happy with the program notes as they turn out in the bulletin, but then, if I've waited until the last minute to write them, trusting to last second inspiration (:ahem: pastor Brad!) that sometimes happens. The problem here is that when you are writing about bridges between cultures and the like you could either end up sounding patronizing, or just throw together a bunch of platitudes. I don't knew whether I avoided either one here, but the music is really interesting, and beautiful, so why don't I just shut up and play! (you'll have to hit the play button, though)
So is it a miracle if it was supposed to happen? So much about miracles seems to depend upon our attitude toward them, which may include whether we think we've witnessed one or not (even in the bible folks where often not sure whether something was a sign of God's power or simply a coincidence; see 1 Samuel 6:8-9 when the Philistines wonder whether their tumors have been caused by having the ark of the covenant or not, or Luke 4, when Jesus could not do many miracles in his hometown because of the people's unbelief). The return of the theme in Faure's nocturne seems to me to be of transcendent beauty, so I play it that way. On the other hand, it could just be another typical feature of a 19th century piano piece. Which attitude would you prefer? And how would it change the way you experience it?
Marietta has been a member of Faith church since practically the beginning (it is now just over 50 years old) and has been playing piano/organ duets with a number of organists in the church since then. It is a privilege to play with her, and a lot of fun! She has several collections of music, all of which are still under copyright, so my internet audience will not be able to hear us. Sorry, guys.
Karen is a middle school teacher and leads our teen band as well as singing/playing flute and cello in our Fusion band at the 9 am service. Besides having the necessary quirkiness that a middle school teacher must have, she doesn't mind diving in at the last minute and playing whatever she's asked to.
Another one of those weeks when the organist at Faith UMC goes off the deep end...(and how far he's fallen, too! One glance at the archives from last year shows that on this Sunday folks got to hear the mighty Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor. And this year? Silence.
Well, not really. Cage's piece has been talked about a lot since 1951. What is it about? What isn't it about? Is it just a gag? Is it art?
Interestingly enough, Cage originally thought he'd call the piece "Silent prayer" and sell it to the Muzak corporation. I doubt they'd have been interested. Given the lengths radio stations (and even web players) go to avoid even a second or two of silence between pieces (I have to add it on to every piece I post now so it doesn't just jump right into the next musical item without a suitable pause to even let the resonance die away much less to allow you to digest the musical meal you've just had before embarking on the next course) it is not likely that they would feel that a piece of music that didn't actually fill the 'void' with sounds of some kind (any kind! please! now!) would be a big sell. And I had to wonder how the piece would work with a bunch of Methodists on Sunday morning. By the way, I wonder if this was the North American (or even world) premiere of this piece during a church service!
We Midwestern Methodists don't do silence really well. Even our silent prayers usually involve background music, and last only about 15 seconds. The other week at our Saturday night service I suggested that we take the time to actually pray silently, and allowed 3 or 4 minutes to go by before I interrupted it with music. (We have Taize services at our church occasionally, but silence is still a rare thing here).
Anyhow, the piece wasn't about silence--not really. Cage said that people "missed the point" on that. He pointed out that there is noise all around us all the time, even when we're alone. Body noises--breathing sounds, blood rushing through veins, alpha brain waves, and so on. If the piece is about anything, it is about a changed way to listen. The performer doesn't get to control the content of the piece--only the borders. The music is whatever happens during that time. It might cause you to listen--really listen--to what is happen in the space, noises you would normally filter out as not being part of the piece, not important enough to notice.
By the way, the pastor suggested (from the pulpit!) that next week he might preach a sermon called 20'21". I told him I couldn't wait to hear it! I'd also mentioned to the secretary that I was not going to be able to miss any notes for the opening voluntary this week, which was a nice feeling going in. (There aren't many pieces you have no way to screw up!) We like to have a little fun around here, but I took the performance seriously. True, somebody snickered at the 8 o'clock service when I dusted the keyboard off with my handkerchief between movements and then closed the lid again (the piece actually contains three movements, and I played all of them!). Well, what's wrong with "suddenly snickering" in a church? It became part of the performance. Most of the rest was predictable: people sat in silence, mostly; you could hear the organ blower, the noises of the people out in the "gathering" (lobby area) fellowshipping, latecomers taking their seats (one lady said to my wife when she came in and saw me sitting with my head bowed: "Did somebody die?"), the rustling of bulletins, and the low murmurs of people 'explaining' the piece to each other, or talking about something unrelated. I don't get the sense that anything profound happened. But that was something I needed to struggle against: the idea that something 'special' or extraordinary could or should happen. What happened, happened. That was all that was needed.
As Jeremy Begbie wrote "Music enlarges us in the very waiting...."
Here is an interesting essay I shared in the church email the next week:
the offertory was of course, also unscripted, although it could pass for a kind of new age/musacky piece by contrast; if you don't know how the piece is generated, it may not seem like anything of any notice. Maybe that's also the point. At the 10:30 service the pastor was already giving announcements by the time I had a chance to get the hat out, so I had people from the 9:00 service who were out in the Gathering (lobby) draw the numbers (the old butterfly in Brazil effect!) to determine (partly) what the people in the sanctuary were going to hear during the 10:30 offertory.
Erik Satie was at least as unorthodox as anything our pastor is preaching this fall but I couldn't think of anything relevant to put in the bulletin so I just let the music speak for itself. The following week I got the flu so the recording I made of the Bach was pretty retched. (So was my rendition at the 10:30 church service) That's why the title is in red--I'll get around to it again some day and make a recording. It's a pretty tricky piece, actually, but very enjoyable to hear. If you are wondering about the timing, our church has a thanksgiving dinner the Sunday BEFORE the Sunday before Thanksgiving so I thought this would be a good time to celebrate Thanksgiving, since I'm doing something about angels (with respect to the sermon) the following week. This timing issue comes up every year, however, since the last Sunday before Advent in the church calendar is known as "Christ the King" Sunday, and it is often the same week as Thanksgiving, which is a civil holiday, and is often ignored by pastors, presumably for that reason. However, I'm with the choir director. I like the Thanksgiving/harvest hymns that we only get to sing once a year, I like the recognition that the harvest is in and now we are set to endure a cold winter but in the warmth of fellowship and with our stored provisions, and, frankly, it is the one national holiday which commemorates a feast to give thanks to God, which makes it the one national holiday that is really not about being glad about living in the U.S. (which is fine but doesn't make it a Christian holiday) but rather its object is to thank and praise God. The focus, then, is not on the patriotism of the pilgrims, but on the spirituality of the pilgrims--not on the state, but on God. It seems like a suitable collision between a church holiday and a state holiday--probably the only one. Several churches have special Thanksgiving services, including some I attended in my youth and young adulthood, so I have a warm spot for them. Faith doesn't have one, however, so every year the choir director and I try to figure out where to cram the Thanksgiving hymns! Next year there is an extra week between Thanksgiving and Advent so we won't have to worry about trying to simultaneously celebrate Christ the King and Thanksgiving.
I wasn't able to post a recording of this for copyright reasons, but it's just as well, since I don't think I played it particularly well, but then, I only worked on it for about a week. One week is not long enough to learn the Durufle Scherzo, kiddies! Ah, well, I'll get it the second time around, whenever that is. I won't be able to post it then, either, however, due to copyright restrictions. But if you're curious, you can go listen to somebody's illegal upload on Youtube. There is at least one really fine performance in the bunch. I found this piece while looking for another grandish French organ piece after the Gigout Grand Choeur Dialogue from September. For some reason it seemed like a good musical response to the idea of angels, particularly when James MacMillan's piece "Angels" turned out to be a bit of a disappointment (only a page long, and consisting entirely of whole note 2-part 'counterpoint' in the high register of the piano). Note to self, however: try not to schedule so many new and challenging pieces going into the Christmas season next year!
My job at Faith usually consists of about 90% accompaniment of hymns and praise songs, and only about 10% of the music you hear (and hear about) on these pages. During the month of December it has become customary for each of the services, traditional and contemporary, to have a big Christmas show, although the second of these also incorporates the traditional side of the church which is what makes it "unified." On that Sunday the adult and children's choirs, Sunday school children, praise band, drama team, and a host of volunteers who have done everything from design and build the sets to provide a sugary high for the children take part in a 75-minute Christmas drama. Between this and the usual run of Christmas concerts from the other organizations I play for, the first two weeks of December are the busiest of the year for me. I often am sad that I cannot share any organ or piano music during much of the Christmas season, although I am usually in a state in which it is nice to have one less thing to worry about. This year, however, Christmas falls on a Sunday, so I am planning to play some things of my own during this festive season. In the meantime, however, I am in close collaboration with the whole church as we try to put this thing together at the last minute. The stress is palpable. But there are some really terrific folks here, and we manage to pull through without killing each other.
Christmas Eve is always a Marathon, with services at 5, 7, and 11 (about 90 minutes each time). While last year we had a beautiful snow storm (I know, speak for yourself!) this year was green. It was just as hectic as usual (although nobody changed all my settings while I was out rehearsing with the flute player in the other sanctuary so I had to reprogram all the keyboard settings at the Fusion service on the fly as happened last year! I think after seven years at Faith I'm getting the hang of it all. And then, at the end, there is the bit with Silent night and the candles, which is really why everybody came, and it is the one time of the year you get to look out and see all of those beaming faces in the darkness (I'm getting misty just writing about it). Unfortunately, nobody ever lights my candle and I'm too busy playing to do it myself, so this year on Christmas morning I complained about it to two friends who had decided to spend the service up in the organ loft with me and one of them lit the candle with his cigarette lighter so that it burned during the entire Christmas Day service. We put Charlie the Church Mouse there to keep it company. It was a special service. I think it was worth going to church on Christmas Day and humbug to anyone who thinks otherwise!
oh, and...Merry Christmas!
Buxtehude's setting also strikes me as being full of purpose, and gravity, and mission: the minor key certainly helps, though that is the "fault" of the hymn tune itself, and can't really be credited to the composer. The tempo is also an accomplice, although technically that isn't indicated either. It was mostly my idea, though I think the choice of tempo is informed by the way the piece is written; in other words, it seems like it ought to be that way. I could be wrong, but it seems as though that is what Buxtehude had in mind. I also like the sound of it: again, the registration was up to me (but several other organists take similar approaches; the evidence is online). The part near the end (0:00) seems like sheer drama. The melody stops for several measures, and the harmony remains static, and yet, there seems to be a crescendo (Buxtehude's organ probably couldn't do one, and mine isn't terribly good at it either, so I'm throwing on an extra stop in the pedals). As the dotted figure climbs, the melody sings out over the top, this time with a renewed urgency. There is triumph, accomplishment, but the road leads onward; the ministry is just starting. That, too, is a property of the hymn tune, which doesn't end up where is started, and helps give a feeling, not of complacent return and rest, but that this is just the beginning.
I try not to push back against the founder of our denomination too often (this might be the first time, actually)--it seems like bad form. But one of the great things about the freedom to think and say what you wish is being able to offend even the cherished names of our history. So he was Wesley; does that mean he never did or said or thought anything in need of dissent in his entire life? He wasn't the Lamb of God, after all! Unfortunately, he and many other religious leaders seemed to have a difficult time allowing for discussion. He thought what he thought and that was that. And if he thought instrumental music was a mockery of God, that was that. I'm lucky he doesn't get to decide that any more.
I remember one evening in college when a member of a campus ministry took some of us to their mother church to hear "Brother Titus" speak. At some point in the sermon he saw us in the front row and decided to include an image of the conservatory of music in his teaching. "Can you imagine a more horrible place?" he said. He was referring to all the noise and chaos of the practice wing, with the sound gushing out of all those little rooms, a hundred pieces going at once. But I didn't find it hellish at all. Sure, it didn't make for easy listening, but then, that wasn't the point. Interesting how a person will get an idea in their head, make a value judgment, and decide it applies universally. Sometimes it's kind of hard to avoid doing this, actually.
By the way, I had to write these notes in a hurry (the secretary was going on a mission trip and needed the notes earlier than usual) so I was a bit sloppy in my discussion of Mozart and Wesley. Mozart actually wrote plenty of music for worship--he was a good catholic--and when he did it was usually much more sober and in an antiquated style and for chorus and orchestra rather than for piano or string quartet or something (well, except for those church sonatas, but anyhow....) He knew the rules. And he, too, to judge by a few comments in his letters, seems to have felt that that was just the way you had to do it to please the church authorities. But when he really sang out his whole soul, it wasn't for the church. Seems like there is something to ponder in that.
And of course, I had to choose not simply a Mozart sonata, but a really cheerful, exuberant, extravagant rondo. One of the least dignified movement in the sonatas. An act of defiance, perhaps? I have come to realize that at our church, I really need not fear that going outside the box will get me censure, though, somehow, the thought still makes me a bit uncomfortable. So many writers on church music have come down so hard limiting what ought to be played in church that it still somehow feels like swimming against the current. I haven't noticed it bothering God very much, but his officers are a different matter.
One favorite theme in all this is that music for the worship of God must be at all times dignified (and this piece certainly is not). But enforced dignity, particular on the part of a powerful human institution has a dark side, particular in light of what I read this week from Walter Wink. Here's what he says about dignity in his
I, too, am working toward perfection, though, like a good post-modern, I don't always assume that the later version is necessarily better than the earlier one; maybe it is just different. In Bach's case, the revised version (Leipzig) is definitely an improvement, though I think there are chorales that are changed and not necessarily better among Bach's Eighteen Chorale Preludes, of which this piece is just one example.
About a month ago, I fished out what is apparently the first recording I made with both microphones, from June of 2010, and posted it here. Having worked my way through most of the earlier Weimar versions of the chorale-preludes, but not the Leipzig versions (long story), I was apprised of the instruction to use 'full organ' only when I turned to the later version to see if Bach had fixed the counterpoint; my ears were telling me he had made a few mistakes (my Baronrieter edition prints them both, each occupying half of the volume). Since Bach hadn't indicated 'full organ' in the earlier edition, I asked whether he intended it when he wrote the earlier version and simply did not write it down, or whether he changed his mind later on and possibly used a different registration when he first performed it. We'll probably never know, but I've now posted a second version of the same piece, using a fuller registration. When I start a blog later this year I'll probably ask people to vote on which one they like better. My guess is it will be the second one since it is louder and faster. The second is an exuberant shout (I like the way Bach doesn't write a long chord at the end) but the first is also danceable, and perhaps benefits from a little more harmonic tension. In the second version I put back one tiny spot right before the page turn in which I had silently edited the piece to match the Leipzig version (I really couldn't stand the b natural and c sharp against the B-flat and c natural); it goes by so fast that it isn't that problematic. Which reminds this Midwesterner of the old Funky Winkerbean comic, with that band director who said "Play everything fast. That way, the mistakes don't last as long!"
By the way, if you are wondering what parallel fifths sound like, here you go. The moment occurs at 1:50 in the full organ recording. Also, the counterpoint is bad in these two other places. (the second is the spot I talked about editing out, above)
Most folks would not notice this, particularly when it goes by fast. So why dwell on it (other than because the sermon topic this morning has to do with striving toward perfection)? Who's it going to bother (besides me, obviously)?
Well, Bach thought these places needed improvement. We know because we have the later version and he changed all three spots (and left most of the rest the same). And I think he was right. Case closed! And, as Jesus would say, "those who have (in this case musical) ears, let them hear!"
I'm sure the rest of you got my point anyway.
I've been meaning to play the Still for a few years and finally got around to it! Whether it has anything to do with the Transfiguration or not, it is certainly atmospheric and fascinating, and it COULD be a musical representation of a holy, mountaintop moment, though the composer is silent on that point (as far as I know). As for the Gigout, you can go to the archives to hear the first volume in its entirety (parts of it still to be posted). The convenient thing about this choice is that it consists of a number of short pieces, so that, say, if the pastor, say, theoretically, comes up to you right before the service and mentions that somebody is going to be late for some reason and can you keep playing prelude music for another five minutes or so you can smile and nod, and just go on playing additional selections from the album without even blinking. (and they really are lovely) I don't remember exactly which ones I played, but I think they were all from about numbers 13-24.
Another convenience about playing several short pieces is that the heart of our Ash Wednesday service is the imposition of ashes and you never know how long that will take, but it suggests quiet, reflective music, similar to communion. We use the Holden Evening Prayer service each year, which gives the entire service the feeling of a Taizé service, which also features short, peaceful selections and a lot of silence in between.
The 8 o'clock congregation discovered the walls did not fall in when I invited our Fusion (contemporary service) drummer to collaborate with me in this short, peppy tune I purchased ten years ago at a conference and finally got around to playing! Man, did we take it fast. I spent Lent in the German Baroque (17th century) so I'm planning to spend the season between Easter and Pentecost in the 20th/21st century.
Marietta makes her pianistic return to Faith! She hasn't played since October, and in January she lost her husband and her son (to cancer), so it was great to have her back--it seemed as though the entire congregation gave her a big supportive hug. Also, after the service, we found out some folks in our congregation are friends of Mona Coalter!
Sometimes things work out pretty well. It is marathon Chorale concert weekend (rehearsal Friday evening, all day Saturday, all Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening concert) which takes a lot of energy. It is also literally marathon weekend, though because of the concert I couldn't run in the Illinois Marathon (I was going to go for the Half Marathon this year). At least I only had to show up for one service Sunday morning instead of the usual three, and then I only played two hymns--as close as you can get to a week off without actually having one. I needed the rest.
You couldn't have told me twenty years ago that the internet would have become my primary research tool (!) Both of these pieces are things I heard a couple of months ago on the web chasing down something else and realized they would make sense in the context of this service.
Pietro Yon's contribution is supposed to be one of the two pieces for which he is known. Known, perhaps, to those who majored in organ, rather than piano, at the conservatory. I'm still playing catch-up regarding the organ literature. But it was a fun little piece and only took a day to learn. Of course, that truck just had to come down the street during the grand pause in the recording!
A lot of time flows by between the time I get an idea and its implementation sometimes. I forget when exactly I stumbled across this Youtube video--some time last fall, I think--and thought, hmmm, cool idea for Pentecost. It isn't the first time I've discovered music on the internet--actually, this year I've come across a whole lot of music that way. It's practically become my primary research tool! But this piece actually exists only online, so far as I know. I'm not sure if there is written music--since it was posted by its creator as a video I left a comment on the page telling him I planned to play the piece for Pentecost at my church and could he send me the music. I never got a response. Probably he never reads the comments of his 400 videos (this one has only been listened to a couple hundred times and has had one prior comment). Since there was no score available I spent an afternoon writing it down from what I heard on the video.
At our RUACH meeting a month ago (that's our committee to bring creative ideas to traditional worship) I mentioned that I'd like us to congregate in a different way, entering the church together at the appointed hour. The folks then started bouncing ideas off each other about flame colored streamers and the reading of a verse from the day's Psalm in different languages. Our resident altar decorator made a flame themed wall decoration for above the altar to go with the flame and dove banner.
A good way to end the season. This is the choir's last Sunday until fall. I feel like the year is over, too, and really need it to be. I don't actually get a break for the summer, but I'm going to take my summer semi-sabbatical in which I improvise the selections for a while. Back when I came up with this it seemed like a great idea, but that was before Lent and Easter and the spring round of concerts and frankly I 'm just tired. But it's been quite a year.
mp3 files from our sanctuaryJune 3-17 "sabbatical"
Michael Hammer, organ and piano
sermon series: Faith seeking understanding
September 11, 2011
"Does Satan exist?"
Toccata and Fugue in d minor
J. S. Bach
Adagio for Stings
Barber/arr. Strickland ©
September 25, 2011
"Where Does Sin Come From?
Durch Adams fall ist ganz verderbt
October 9, 2011
"Did the Miracles Actually Happen?"
Nocturne in Eb
October 23, 2011
"Can a Christian Be Saved Outside the Church?"
Karen Ranney, flute
Sonata in Eb J. S. Bach
November 6, 2011
"Is There an Actual Heaven and Hell?"
Prelude to the Heroic Gate of Heaven
November 20, 2011
Scherzo, Op. 2
December 4, 2011
Longing for God with word and song
December 18, 2011
Come, Savior of the Gentiles
December 24, 2011
Christmas Eve (7 and 11pm)
Fugue in G, Bwv 577, "Jig"
J. S. Bach
January 1, 2012
Unified service in Worship and Life center
Wes Wilkey’s Series on Methodism
“Five Strengths of United Methodism”
(Ordinary Time between Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration, 2012)
January 15, 2012
"We Are Connectional"
2 Corinthians 8:1-19
from Gregorian Album: VII Gigout
from Sonata no. 7 in C: Rondeau
February 12, 2012
"We Are Working on Perfection"
1 John 4:15-21
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator God
J. S. Bach
Sonata in Bb, k.333: Allegretto
February 26, 2012
First Sunday in Lent
Preludium in g minor
March 11, 2012
Bach: Fugue in G minor ("little")
Howlett: I Will Arise And Go to Jesus
posted by permission of Greg Howlett
Greg's blog is at www.Greghowlett.com
the music for this arrangement
(and others) can be found here
March 25, 2012
Bach: Fantasia and Fugue in g minor
April 8, 2012
Toccata from Symphonie no. 5
Sermon Series, Eastertide, 2012
April 22, 2012
"The Risen Lord Appears in Distress"
with Marietta Bigler, piano
By the Cathedral
Percy Wicker MacDonald ©
Near to the Heart of God
Mona Williams Coalter ©
O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing
Mona Williams Coalter ©
May 6, 2012
"The Risen Lord Appears in Nature"
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Humoresque L'Organo Primitivo (Toccatina for Flute)
communion: Come, Creator, Spirit
(There will also be an improvised modern dance by Kristen Ehrenberger and Lindsey Vallance during the service)
May 20, 2012
"The Risen Lord Appears in Excitement"
selections for voice and for piano solo by members of the congregation
July , 2012
August 12, 2012
Holy, Holy, Holy!
How Can I Keep from Singing?
August 26, 2012
with Marietta Bigler, piano
Prayer (composer?) ©
Wonderful Words of Life arr. Lani Smith ©
Crown Him with Many Crowns
arr. Mona Williams Coalter ©