“Troubled Water”

In keeping with the Chimes’ song of water today, it’s fitting to share this piece. I wish so badly that I could find a clearer recording of it, but even in this recording, you can easily hear the water themes. The piece alternates between the refrains of “Wade in the water” and “God’s gonna trouble the water,” at times imitating a babbling brook, rising and falling waves, and ending as a roaring, raging river.

There is not enough space here to devote to composer Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), but she was a true groundbreaker. As an African-American female, she defied the odds by pursuing classical training in an era where formal music education was available to neither African-Americans nor women. She is known for her collaborations with poet Langston Hughes and soprano Leontyne Price and for her compositions which blended the Negro spiritual with European compositional traditions.

I continue to pray for those who lack water, both physically and spiritually. May we all be used to help quench their thirsts.

More on Margaret Bonds:



Creator God, your whole creation, in all its varied and related parts, shows forth your verdant and life-giving power: Grant that we your people, illumined by the visions recorded by your servant Hildegard, may know, and make known, the joy and jubilation of being part of this cycle of creation, and may manifest your glory in all virtuous and godly living; through Jesus Christ whom you sent, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for the Commemoration of Hildegard in Holy Women, Holy Men)

As you read the biographical note about Hildegard on Holy Women, Holy Men I draw your attention to 2 items and share a video meditation featuring Hildegard’s Spiritus Sanctus, the “second Antiphone (sic) and Psalm 110/111 from the vesper of Hildegard von Bingen.”

First, from the Collect, we hear how Hildegard clearly loved all of creation and rejoiced in its complex beauty and interrelatedness, praying that we would do the same: “Grant that we your people … may know, and make known, the joy and jubilation of being part of this cycle of creation ….”

Second, from the biographical notes, we hear how for Hildegard “music was essential to worship. Her liturgical compositions, unusual in structure and tonality, were described by contemporaries as ‘chant of surpassing sweet melody’ and ‘strange and unheard-of music.’”

Enjoy Spiritus Sanctus

Meditations for Earth Day

I’ve never thought of myself as much of an environmentalist, but I grew up in a very rural area, surrounded by woods, grass, creeks, and all kinds of critters. (Sometimes known as “wildlife” in non-Southern regions!) The older I get, and the more my husband and I move around, the more I’ve come to appreciate nature in its many different forms, and it breaks my heart to think of how carelessly, even callously, we sometimes treat the beautiful home that God has given us. Being pregnant in the Spring brings this to mind even more, as everything is blooming and beautiful. I am so grateful for the natural treasures God has entrusted to us, and I can’t wait to share them with my daughter as she grows up.

Earth Day falls on Sunday, April 22, and there couldn’t be a more perfect time to reflect on the beauty and creativity of the Lord and to thank Him for this gorgeous place He’s given us to live!

There are many, many hymns and songs that are appropriate for this time of year, and it was hard to narrow them down. Below are five favorites, but if you feel the urge to dig for more, this is a great resource. I’ve included the texts for the lesser known pieces. Happy Earth Day!

For the Beauty of the Earth–John Rutter
For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love
which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Over and around us lies

Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

For the beauty of the hour
Of the day and of the night
Hill and vale
And tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light

Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth
And friends above
For all gentle
Thoughts and mild
For all gentle
Thoughts and mild

Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given
Graces human and divine
Flow’rs of earth and buds of heav’n
Flow’rs of earth and buds of heav’n

Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn, our joyful hymn of praise
This our joyful hymn of praise

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands–arr. Marian Anderson, performed by Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle

His Eye is On the Sparrow–performed by Kathleen Battle

This is My Father’s World–instrumental guitar
This is my Father’s world
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world
 I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees
of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought

This is my Father’s world
the birds their carols raise
the morning light, the lily white
declare their Maker’s praise

This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair
in the rustling grass I hear Him pass
He speaks to me everywhere

This is my Father’s world
oh let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

This is my Father’s world
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King, let the heavens ring
God reigns, let the earth be glad!

All Things Bright and Beautiful–John Rutter

Were You There?

To me, a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service seems incomplete if I don’t hear, at least once, the old spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” The text and melody are so simple, yet profound, and I imagine I am not the only one who continues humming it long after the service is over. (Unless it’s a Maundy Thursday service, in which case, I can usually keep quiet at least until we make it to the car!)

As is the case with most of our beloved spirituals, there isn’t a clear composer or date of composition for “Were You There.” We know that it must have originated in the mid-1800s, before the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery. Spirituals developed as “work songs” that were sung while tending the fields, doing laundry, or fulfilling other responsibilities. Because of this, they tend to have simple melodies that are easy to learn and pleasant to sing. Most spirituals contain hidden messages of escape and freedom (such as “Deep River,” “Steal Away,” “Wade in the Water,” and “This Train is Bound for Glory”). Many of these songs carried literal directions, while others subtly provided inspiration for those who may have been thinking of making an escape.

However, it seems that “Were You There?” contains none of these messages, and is, instead, a song of reverence for Jesus’ suffering. Jesus’ story must have been one that American slaves could identify with, as they, too, knew what it was like to be mocked, humiliated, beaten, and abused.

Over time, “Were You There?” and several other spirituals have been included in our collection of regularly sung hymns. This is credited largely to African American composer Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949). The majority of his life’s work was devoted to arranging spirituals and publishing them to ensure that they would not be forgotten. In 1924, G. Ricordi published his arrangement of “Were You There?” for high voice and piano. This particular arrangement is most closely associated with contralto Marian Anderson, as she released a recording of the piece in 1939.

Though we probably all know the text by heart, I’ve provided it below, along with two recordings of the work.

Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Source: Lutheran Hymnal 

 Marian Anderson

Solo Piano Meditation

God’s activity is so musical!

When you have about an hour and a half and feel somewhat in a meditative mood, check out this YouTube presentation from UCTV, University of California Television. Dr. Jeremy S. Begbie takes even a non-musician (like me) into the world of music and in his talk opens, in a new way, the “speech” of the Spirit as recorded in our Bible. I wanted to hear more.

May you find yet another way to hear what the Spirit is saying.

“In a fascinating multimedia presentation, Jeremy Begbie, Professor of Music, Cambridge University, expounds upon the relationship between music and theology. Series: “Let There Be Light” [10/2003] [Humanities] [Show ID: 7906]”

Whom shall I send?

Continuing the conversation about music and faith, Barbara wrote (and permitted me to share) this:

My MOST favorite hymn is “Here I Am Lord”.  I used that hymn as “my song” when I gave my talk on laity at a Cursillo some time ago.  I still love it!

Here are the lyrics:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in deepest sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my peopleís pain.
I have wept for love of them,
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them.
Whom shall I send? Refrain

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send? Refrain

Hymn 812 in the Episcopal hymnal Wonder, Love, and Praise
Words: Daniel L. Schutte
Music: Daniel L. Schutte

This response is part of our conversation begun on Sunday morning, September 25th. Do you have a favorite hymn or 2? Share them with the group. Let us continue the conversation that Paul started long ago by quoting a hymn in his letter to the Philippians.

The Rutter Requiem and Why It’s Awesome. Yes, I Use the Word “Awesome” Too Much, but It Totally Applies Here.

If you grew up Episcopalian or Catholic (I didn’t), you probably have a head start on all this “requiem” business, but if you’re still catching up (like me), here’s a synopsis: The requiem began as a type of mass to honor the dead. Traditionally, there are twelve parts to the requiem, beginning with the Introit and ending with the In paradisum. However, as composers began to play with the format, they began to see it more as an art form and less as a rigid liturgy. The Rutter Requiem, for example, has only seven movements. The Duruflé has nine, the Mozart seven-ish, and so on. Anyway, more on those later.

So growing up, I’d never heard of the Rutter Requiem. When I finally did, I was about nineteen, thinking that I knew oh-so-much about music (for the record, I didn’t…and still don’t!). I was given the chance to sing the second movement, “Out of the Deep” with a choir at a conference. Long story short, I’d never heard music like that before, and I couldn’t wait to find a way to hear the rest of the Requiem. I mean, I was hooked. It changed how I felt about sacred music in general. Fast forward about seven years, and I still love this work so much and could pretty much never get tired of it.

I’m not going to ramble with biographical info about John Rutter or even with more info about the Requiem itself. You can get all that stuff with a quick Google search. What I’m going to do is much more important–

Requiem aeternam
Out of the Deep (My favorite. Has been referred to as “Anglican blues.” Ahhhhh.)
Pie Jesu
Agnus Dei (My other favorite.)
The Lord is My Shepherd (My last favorite. Yes, I have three favorites.)
Lux aeterna

I hope you love it like I do. More requiem fun to follow.

So what do you think? Does this speak to you? It’s much more moving to hear it in person, of course, but even the recording is still pretty great. Do you have favorite movements? Favorite masses? Let’s chat it up in the comments!

Reflection on Purcell, Handel, and Bach

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at the lives of Henry Purcell, George Frederic Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach. We’ve talked about their education and about their compositional styles and about what they’re known for in the church. What we haven’t talked about is why they should matter to us.

For me, it’s pretty simple. Traditional sacred music presents us with an opportunity to be connected with history and to collectively make art. Music is dependent upon performers, so whether or not we are the “best” musicians, we get to take part in this historic ritual together. Whether it’s Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, Fanny Crosby, or John Rutter, sacred music is timeless. Bach’s message from 1723 is, I think, the same message that we believe today.

Though we can enjoy sacred music and be inspired by it, we can also create it together for God’s enjoyment. Choral and congregational singing is an incredible tradition God has given us, and it provides us with an opportunity to be connected to the composer, to each other, and–hopefully–to God.

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, who teaches us in Holy Scripture to sing your praises and who gave your musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Henry Purcell grace to show forth your glory in their music: Be with all those who write or make music for your people, that we on earth may glimpse your beauty and know the inexhaustible riches of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.–Collect for Feast of Bach, Handel, and Purcell, July 28

So what have I missed? How does sacred music affect you? Do you tend to prefer traditional hymns or larger works like the ones we’ve heard from Purcell, Handel, and Bach? Do you prefer participating in these works through performing or through listening? (Both are equally important!)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

I cannot begin to state  how nervous I am to write about Bach. He is so important to church music, and his body of work is so vast that I’m sure I’m going to leave something out. Please feel free to correct or add on in the comments!

Deep breath….

Here we go.

Born into a musical family, Bach began his training with his father and his older brother. He played both violin and organ, but his primary interest was in composition. Like many composers, he learned composition by studying or arranging works by other composers. In doing so, he became well versed in French, German, Austrian, and Italian styles. Bach held a number of positions over the course of his career–organist at Arnstadt (1703-1707), organist at Muehlhausen (1707-1708), court organist and concertmaster for the duke of Weimar (1708-1717), and music director at a court in Coethen (1717-1723). He finally settled in Leipzig in 1723 where he served as “Cantor of St. Thomas and Director of Music in Leipzig” at St. Thomas’s School.

[Here I will greatly simplify Bach’s work so that I don’t go on and on and on about preludes, fugues, toccatas, and whatnot.] Bach wrote many works for harpsichord and organ. He also wrote for violin, cello, various combinations of chamber ensemble, and voice. In A History of Western Music, Donald Grout explains that Bach wrote in “all the genres practiced in his time with the exception of opera.”(1)

In church, we know Bach largely for his choral anthems, but he also wrote cantatas (both sacred and secular), motets, two Passions (St Matthew and St John) and the Mass in B Minor. During his lifetime, he was respected, but not overly popular. His potential fame was eclipsed by many of his contemporaries, and due to rapidly changing trends in music, much of his work fell into obscurity until the 1800s.

Bach was a profoundly religious person, and the letters “SGD,” standing for “Soli Deo Gloria” or “to the glory of God alone” can be found on many of his manuscripts. Gerhard Herz writes,

That Bach was a Christian has never been doubted. Yet he was not, as many writers have pointed out, a Christian who lived apart from his time, but one who in every respect lived and remained within the social and religious boundaries of his century. Bach’s personality and creations, which today move us chiefly aesthetically and emotionally, are deeply rooted in the ethos of the old Lutheran church.(2)

Grout writes,

Among the qualities that account for the continuing vitality of [Bach’s] music are his concentrated and distinctive themes, his copious musical invention, the balance he struck between harmonic and contrapuntal forces, the strong rhythmic drive, clarity of form, grand proportions, imaginative use of pictorial and symbolic figures, intensity of expression always controlled by a ruling architectural idea, and technical perfection of every detail.(3)

St Matthew Passion–“Kommt, ihr Tochter, helft mir klagen” —
(Wiki page about St Matthew Passion)

St John Passion–“Ruht wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine“–
(Wiki page about St John Passion)

Mass in B MinorDona Nobis Pacem

Mass in B Minor–Osanna in excelsis

Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy)

Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life)

Everyone’s favorite wedding song (next to “Canon in D”)

There are so many great recordings of Bach, so if you feel up to it, do a little digging on YouTube or iTunes. I’ve only included choral arrangements, but there are many instrumental and solo works that are equally important.

Fun fact: The “BWV” that you see on the videos stands for “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” (Bach Works Catalogue), and it was developed by Wolfgang Schmieder in 1950 to help us keep track of Bach’s works. This is common for composers with a large output. For example, Mozart’s works are organized by “K” number because that system was developed by Ludwig von Koechel. Similar systems exist for Schubert, Handel, Wagner, and many other composers.

So, what are your thoughts on Bach? Love him? Hate him? Let’s discuss!

1. Grout, Donald Jay and Claude Palisca. A History of Western Music. London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001.
2. Herz, Gerhard. “Bach’s Religion,” Journal of Renaissance and Baroque Music. Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jun., 1946), pp. 124-138.
3. Grout, Donald Jay and Claude Palisca. A History of Western Music.

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

George Frederic Handel was born in Halle, Germany in 1685. Though there were no musicians in his family, his father recognized his talent and allowed him to study composition, organ, harpsichord, violin, and oboe with composer Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. At an early age, he had a strong grasp of counterpoint and of Italian and German compositional tradition. In 1702, he began attending the University of Halle, and he soon began working as a cathedral organist. He spent much of his childhood education training to be a cathedral cantor, yet in 1703, he moved to Hamburg and began to focus on composing operas.

Handel frequently traveled to and from German, Italian, and English-speaking countries. From 1706-1710, he lived in Italy, studying Italian opera. He also spent a great deal of time in England developing oratorios and concertos. Over the course of his career, he wrote operas, concertos, oratorios, cantatas, suites, and sonatas. Unlike many composers who only achieved renown posthumously, Handel was beloved throughout much of his career.

Within the church, Handel is probably best known for his oratorios–Saul, Messiah, Israel in Egypt, Judas Maccabaeus, Joshua, and so on. Without  a doubt, his greatest contribution to the development of the oratorio was the use of the chorus. He borrowed from the Lutheran and south German traditions but relied heavily on the English forms as well. In A History of Western Music, Donald Grout writes, “The monumental character of Handel’s choral style fits the oratorio’s emphasis on communal rather than individual expression.”(1) Handel also found ways to illustrate the text of an oratorio through devices such as word-painting (using a musical figure to illustrate what the words are saying).

There is so much more about Handel that can be said in one blog post. His compositional expertise has provided the church, the orchestra, and the opera stage a vast and much-loved body of work.

I’ll give Donald Grout the last word:

Handel’s historical significance rests largely on his contribution to the living repertory of performed music. His music aged well because he adopted the devices that became important in the new style of the mid-eighteenth century. Handel’s emphasis on melody and harmony, as compared to the more strictly contrapuntal procedures of Bach, allied him with the fashions of his time. As a choral composer…he had no peer. He was a consummate master of contrast, not only in choral music but in all types of compositions. In the oratorios he deliberately appealed to a middle-class audience, recognizing social changes that would have far-reaching effects on music.(2)

Messiah–“Every valley shall be exalted

Messiah–“There were shepherds abiding” (This recording is a little old, but it’s Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony, so I had to include it!)

Israel in Egypt–“The people shall hear and be afraid

Israel in Egypt–“The Lord shall reign for ever and ever

Judas Maccabaeus–“See the conquering hero comes” (Sound familiar? It was later adapted to form the hymn “Thine be the Glory, Risen Conquering Son.”)

There are so many more on YouTube and iTunes, so feel free to keep listening!

One of the great things about Handel’s music is that many people find it (or at least Messiah) familiar. Many community choirs perform his oratorios, and churches will often host Messiah “sing alongs” around Christmas. There’s something about his music that makes you want to be part of it rather than just listening. (Or maybe that’s just me–is it just me?)

We often relegate Handel to Christmas and Easter. Would you like to hear him more year-round, or do you think that only hearing his works every so often makes the experience more special? What are some of your favorite works by Handel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

1. Grout, Donald Jay and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001.
2. Ibid.

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