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Sunday Music Musings February 27, 2021

February 28, 2021

Tonight’s notes on the music may be shorter than usual, because I have family visiting from Germany who I have not seen in a year and a half, including a 16-month old who has wonderfully topsy-turvyed our space.

As I drove home from my Saturday practice session I was happily reminded of the relationship of the word Lent with the lengthening of days.  Our Lenten Prelude is from the church organists’ staple, J. S. Bach’s “Little Organ Book’, or Orgelbüchlein. The plan was to set 164 chorales covering the whole liturgical year. “Only” 46 were set in this collection, but they do span the church year, and although fairly short, many are deeply profound. Most were written during Bach’s Weimar period between 1708 and 1717.

Autograph of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639

Ich ruf zu dir (“I call to Thee”) is found in our hymnal at #634. Bach has set the Lutheran chorale clearly (slightly ornamented) in the top line (I like to use an oboe stop), with moving 16th notes in the accompanying left hand, and a walking bass pulsing with heart-beat-like eighth notes.

Today’s Kyrie setting is S-87 from the Corpus Christi Mass of Jackson Hill (b. 1941). I am admitting that I have never used it before but I certainly will again! Jackson Hill is an American composer with a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A composer from the age of 14, he studied composition with Iain Hamilton at Duke University (1964–66) and Roger Hannay (1967-68). He has served as a visiting scholar and choral assistant at Exeter College, Oxford, and as a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He studied Buddhist chant as a Fulbright Fellow in Japan in the 1970s, and traditional Japanese music has been a strong influence in his work. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, and taught at Duke University (1966-1968) and at Bucknell University (1968-2008), where he served as Associate Dean, Presidential Professor, and Chair of the Department of Music.

The hymn of the day is “The God of Abraham Praise” to the tune of Leoni (a Hebrew tune also known as Yigdal). The text is attributed to Daniel ben Judah, a Jewish liturgical poet who lived in Rome, as paraphrased by Thomas Olivers (1725-1799), an itinerant minister, and for a while, associate of John Wesley.

The hymn we are using as the offertory is the tune Bourbon, a southern folk tune attributed to Freeman Lewis (1780-1859), a Pennsylvania surveyor. There are two Lenten texts in our hymnal, #147, “O Let us All with one Accord,” and the one we are using today, “Take Up Your Cross,” #675. This is a text by Charles William Everest (1814-1877), a priest from Connecticut.

The tune Bourbon is one of the tunes I requested in the set of Three Lenten Works for Solo Flute that I commissioned from Thomas Keesecker. I wrote more about this last week.

Here is my friend and wonderful flutist Kris Lamb playing the second movement on Bourbon. (I played this over zoom for our Friday noonday prayer group). Thomas definitely was thinking of southern blues (Bourbon Street?) in this setting which captures the foot-stomping quality of the tune with some jazzy blues notes.

The postlude is an exciting Toccata on “The God of Abraham Praise” by the prolific Michael Burkhardt (b.1957), choral clinician, organ recitalist, and hymn festival leader, who is currently Director of Worship and the Arts at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Livonia, Michigan.

Have a good weekend, everyone, enjoy the lengthening days.

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