Saturday, February 28, 2009
This Sunday, I'll be playing the c minor from book one on the harpsichord. It has a fiery prelude with an extended cadenza/coda and an easily memorable fugue theme. Listen for it as it repeats throughout the second movement.
You'll also notice throughout Lent that though I'm playing minor key preludes, they drift harmonically through the relative major sounds and almost invariably end on a major chord. That's a common musical flourish of Bach's era, but when I play it during Lent I like to think of it as symbolizing the eventual end of the season with the festival of Easter.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Today, your blogger is turning this space over to our choir director Cassie, who submitted a short bio so that you can get to know a bit more about her:
Cassie began her musical journies from the cradle immersed in the beautiful intricacies of Byzantine chant at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Warren, OH. At the age of 13, she began learning to play piano, intensively studying performance, music theory, and composition. She attended the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, focusing on piano and harpsichord performance, composition, and theory under the tutelage of their esteemed faculty. Though, after meeting her husband James, a man deeply passionate about sacred music, she was overwhelmingly convinced that the secular music path was not the only path for her.
Cassie has been accompanying for and singing in choirs since the 8th grade. Before being hired at Bethany, she was the vocal assistant for the Vermillion High School and Middle School choirs and was the Music Director and Organist at Wakeman UCC. She now directs our Sunday School (1st - 3rd grade), Wittenberg (4th grade and up), Chancel (Adult), and Handbell choirs. Often marked as a tradtionalist, she simply supports truly sacred music and good liturgy.
She and her husband James live in Berea with their 6-month old daughter Gia. They advocate natural family living and love to travel. Cassie's favorite color is green.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
During Sunday's sermon, I wrote myself a note that I should blog about "the word of God" as it relates to hymns. As Pastor mentioned, the great tradition of Lutheran hymns is to write texts that are based on scripture and/or proclaim our theological understanding.
When I sat down to write today, however, I remembered that the title of the sermon was actually "the voice of God." And that, in musical terms, can be quite distinct from "the word of God."
For instance, think about singing "Jesus Christ is Ris'n Today" on Easter Sunday. It's a great hymn of praise, with brass, organ, and voices proclaiming the good news. That isn't necessarily God's voice speaking to us, though; it's our voices raised in praise to Him. It's the word of God.
God's voice can be heard in a multitude of places beyond hymns. For me, it could be the Cleveland Symphony playing "The Great Gate of Kiev" from "Pictures at an Exhibition." It could be a great Broadway showtune, like "I will never leave you" from Side Show or "I still believe" from Miss Saigon. By the way, that's me and Lea Salonga in the picture, taken on a NYC trip a couple of years back. Almost anything she sings (or Audra MacDonald or Renee Fleming or...) can make me think that only God could create such beauty. That is truly the voice of God to my ears.
I'm sure we all hear God's voice speaking to us in different ways. For some people, perhaps it's the sound of birdcalls on this sunny day or the rhythm of poetry or a baby's coo. Since this blog is primarily about music, though, I'd love to hear about people's experiences with the voice of God in music. What hymns speak most directly to you? What other music creates the greatest sense of reverence in your life?
Monday, February 23, 2009
For Transfiguration Sunday, the short prelude was played by the Bethany Bell Choir, whom you can see pictured here. When they play, it gives me a rare opportunity to clear my mind before the service begins. It reminded me how wonderful it can be simply to stop creating and working and striving, so that we can listen and hear God's word.
I hope you enjoyed their playing as much as I did, and even more I hope that you tell them about it! Also, I know they'd be glad to have people joining them in making their beautiful music.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
At any rate, I encourage you to take a look and think about the mission and purpose for which God is calling you: Maintenance vs. Mission
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
To understand why Bethany regularly includes two preludes, you need to consider the role or purpose of the prelude. There are at least two different perspectives:
1. The prelude is "background music" that creates an inviting atmosphere as people arrive for worship. In other words, it's okay to pay little attention to it while we take off our coats, greet friends, and scan the bulletin announcements before the service.
2. The prelude should be a time for prayer, reflection, and preparation for worship.
At Bethany, the worship and music committee felt the second philosophy was an important aspect of worship. For that reason, the prelude was played after pastor made the announcements and asked us "To prepare our hearts and minds for worship" during a brief prelude.
However, that created the dual problems of limiting the prelude to pieces of approximately one minute, while also creating an awkward period of silence as congregants arrived. This problem was addressed by creating a pre-prelude. Now, Tom is free to play more substantial pieces from the organ literature as people are arriving, fulfilling the first goal of the prelude. Then, after the announcements, the second prelude provides a transition from the ordinary business of life to the sacred environment of worship.
I don't know of any other church with this unique format, but I've grown to like it a great deal. I particularly like the freedom to program organ literature in the first slot, while reserving the second slot for short pieces that relate to the hymns for the day. I'd love to hear reactions both from members and from others reading about this for the first time.
The harpsichord was invented sometime in the 1400s and essentially peaked in popularity during the 18th century. It has appeared in a wide range of variations, but they all share the one common feature of plucking the strings. This is in contrast piano, which uses a hammer to hit the strings, and accounts for the more "metallic" or "crisp" sound of the harpsichord. This feature also prevents the harpsichord from producing as much volume as the piano, which was certainly a factor in its decline.
Today, perhaps the primary reason to play the harpsichord is for the music of J.S. Bach. At the late service on Christmas Eve, the congregation got to hear his harpsichord for two concertos, and Lent will feature a number of Bach's preludes and fugues. When performed on this period instrument, the music of Bach possesses clarity and character that cannot be precisely reproduced on the piano. One biased account from the link above states that by the year 1800, "The precision and clarity of the baroque had been replaced by mush and bombast." To put it another way, the Romantic era ushered in a very different sound, full of emotion, in comparison to the intellectual purity of Bach's time. Hearing music on the harpsichord gives us a new musical perspective and that variety can help keep worship interesting and stimulating.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Aiding our memory is just one reason to set text to music. Martin Luther (along with plenty of other composers) understood that one effective way to share and teach theology is to set it to music. Of course, that was particularly important for people who lived in the early 16th century when so many congregants were illiterate or lacked access to the printed word. The words we sing in the hymns are meant to work in concert with the liturgy, scripture, sermon, and even the visual aspects of the church (liturgical color, for example) to present a cohesive worship service.
Thanks to the hymns of our tradition, Lutherans can boldly proclaim from memory: "A mighty fortress is our God" and "Lord, keep us steadfast in your word." Parts of the catechism show up directly in the hymnal, with Luther composing settings of the Lord's Prayer (ELW 746) and the 10 Commandments (to be sung throughout Lent at Bethany this spring). These hymns are lessons we carry with us in addition to being beautiful music.
The ancient Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi tells us that what we pray is what we believe. To give one reason for why we sing in church, we can add (in a rather Yoda-like formulation): lex orandi, lex cantandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. What we pray, what we read, and what we sing, is what we believe and how we live.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
This blog is different from most church websites, which tend to be relatively static or simply post the church's monthly newsletter online. With regular updates, this site is meant to accomplish a number of goals:
1. To continue the church's music ministry and outreach in a new format;
2. To examine and discuss music in the Lutheran heritage;
3. To connect in a dialogue with a broader audience of musicians and people of diverse faiths;
4. To explore the role of the arts in our Christian understanding.
Most of all, we hope this site becomes a hub for conversation and participation, a place to share ideas and ask questions. If you have a question or suggestion, please leave a comment here or email email@example.com
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Tom has been the organist at Bethany for nearly one year now. He is a relatively recent transplant to Ohio, having grown up in the small town of Melrose, Minnesota. He has played the piano since age 5 and organ since age 15, when he began playing part-time at his home church. Tom studied piano and voice (though without majoring in music) at St. Olaf College, which is perhaps best known for their annual Christmas concerts.
After college, Tom taught high school choir and drama, while working with a number of amateur and professional theatre troupes as music director and/or keyboardist. His favorite productions during that time include Les Miserables (student edition) and Children of Eden. Among his major performances, Tom has performed the Beethoven Chorale Fantasia, the Grieg piano concerto, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
Tom's philosophy of church music can be nearly summed up in one word: balance. By that, he means a balance of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, simple and complex, community and individual, law and gospel, bombastic and peaceful, praiseful and penitent. He'll be bringing that same variety and balance to the pages of this blog. We hope you enjoy reading and participating in the dialogue!