A basic skill for any organist/church musician is composing hymn descants. Descants are countermelodies that make the singing of the hymn tune more enjoyable for the congregation…they allow the singers to enjoy the tension of counterpoint at a visceral level.
Well, I lost the performance video of me performing this on keyboards that goes with the soundtrack itself, so (waste not, want not) I married the track to pictures of my favorite liturgical symbol — BREAD!
Yeah, I know, communion bread is supposed to be unleavened bread (wikipedia: The hostia or sacramental bread, known as prosphorá or a πρόσφορον (prósphoron, “offering”) may be made out of only four ingredients: fine (white) wheat flour, pure water, yeast, and salt.) Nevertheless…
Sunday, Lakewood will celebrate All Saints Day. Of course, the postlude has to be Sine Nomine! I assembled this video for online devotional last year (year before? this pandemic has gone on SO long).
I think I wrote both the trumpet descants, but I honestly can’t remember. For a working church musician, stuff like that gets lost in the shuffle and is lucky to even get written down somewhere scribbled on the back of a church bulletin or penciled into some hymnal.I know the last descant is mine, but not sure of the first one. If someone knows of a source (other than me) for the first one, please let me know. I’ll be doing an organ solo version of this video for Sunday.
Yesterday, we moved the small Allen organ donated to us by Westminster Suncoast to a different, hopefully more advantageous spot in the chancel. It’s been a long while since I’ve played it, but will endeavor to do so more often. This coming Sunday, the postlude will be an old (thankfully, easy!) favorite, Buxtehude‘s Jig Fugue. Here’s a music video of it I recorded from waaaaay back in the early days of the pandemic before I started showing me at the keyboard.
I’ll be doing a piano version of this as part of this coming Sunday’s service. I love writing descants. I think every church I’ve ever worked at has hymnals with penciled in descants of mine! LOL
Rev. Wells, pastor of Lakewood UCC, where I’m music director, introduced me to this grand Congregational hymn with which I was not at all familiar. Now, it’s one of my favorites: My Faith, It Is an Oaken Staff.
Check out the representative text at https://hymnary.org/text/my_faith_it_is_an_oaken_staff and the author’s full bio at https://hymnary.org/person/Lynch_TT.
The tune’s name is THE STAFF OF FAITH and its composer is anonymous. It’s been variously described as traditional Swiss melody, or an English folksong. It’s in public domain.
After seeing his picture at the above links, the following account gave me a laugh: “he was a s student at the Highbury Independent College; but withdrew, partly on account of failing health, and partly because his spirit was too free to submit to the routine of College life.” He looks as if he and I both share an equally dissolute life! Nevertheless, he wrote an amazing amount of moving texts.
This week’s Lenten focus is on the German composer and saintly figure, Hildegard of Bingen, so all the music this week is German. A contemporary of the famous J.S. Bach and his cousin, is Johann Gottfried Walther, best known for his many chorale preludes on hymn tunes, of which this is a great example, the tune appearing in the manuals and in the pedals (as you can see performed by Peter Lorre’s “The Hand” video insert).
This week’s Lenten saintly figure is Hildegard of Bingen, a German composer (1098-1179). In her honor, all works this week are German. We don’t hear much about Hermann Schroeder over here but we should. He was a prolific and influential teacher and composer in Germany. He was especially important in bringing German Catholic church music out of heavy (dare I say, bad…not to be confused with the excellent, authentic) Romanticism (upper-case “R”) into interesting yet accessible 20th Century music. I suspect the reason the world of classical music has ignored him is that he’s part of a genre of music composition termed, “Neoclassical.” Neoclassical composers are shunned because the style in mid-20th Century music that was fashionable with those who controlled the purse strings and awards of the contemporary classical music scene were committed to dodecaphonic serialism. (My own theory as to why this was true was that that kind of music was easy to write articles about and since the primary proponents of that music were college professors it was a good fit.) Only problem was performing musicians themselves and audiences (especially) didn’t enjoy it. Fortunately, a number of composers in the 60s who came out of a genre of contemporary music of the extreme avant garde and who were proponents of the compositional ideas of John Cage revolted against the academic establishment and their style evolved into what eventually become known as minimalism. Its most stunning quality was that it was fun to play, tonal, and a pleasure to listen to! (Shocking at that time.) Surprisingly, a similar revolt was happening in eastern Europe: dramatic, very expressive music known as the “Polish School.” Those two revolts have continued to evolve and merge and together are now just known as “music.” It’s my fervent hope that this stylistic freedom will encourage a positive reassessment of neoclassicism. Maybe Schroeder and others will finally have their day.
As part of this week’s Lenten series on saintly figures, this week’s features Simone Weil, most of the musical selections are French in her honor. The composer of this piece, Guillaume de Machaut, lived approximately 1300-1377 and wrote some of the earliest know true polyphony. To modern ears, his music is stark and sometimes uncompromising (often different parts of the counterpoint were in perfect relationship to a longer note melody–the cantus firmus–but not to each other). I wonder how his music sounded to ear of his time when prior to him they only knew single line music or music which paralleled a single line.
This coming 4th Sunday of Lent the saintly figure around whom the service is centered is Simone Weil, so as you might expect the music will be all French. The composer for this morning’s post is Erik Satie. Many people have heard his Gymnopédies. A few have heard his Gnossiennes but may not know their names. But, very few know his Messe des pauvres (Mass for the Poor), As mesmerizing as Satie’s more well-known works are, the Prière des orgues (Organ Prayer) is mesmerizing in an entirely different way, and entirely different emotion, one for which I cannot find an adequate word. This recording is from my organ CD of long ago, “Time Grown Old.”