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Easter music musings April 3,2021

April 4, 2021

Easter Vigil

What (where?) is Taizé? It is a monastic community in eastern France, especially welcoming to young people. Visitors from around the world stay and engage in communal life, Bible Study and services which include the meditative, repetitive harmonized chants. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger.

Worship at Taizé

Much of this music – 232 songs in 20 different languages – was composed by Jaques Berthier (1923 – 1994). Father Bob Ihloff was a particular fan of Taizé music and introduced me to it. We even had a service at some point in the 90s when a Brother visited.

When we began doing an Easter Vigil, it seemed like a good match to use this music between the readings and build the service music around it. Community singers would often join—the music is fairly easy for the choir and very easy for the congregation—the only (very) complicated part being the “roadmap” of who sings what solo when and who play which instrument when. We have had players from professionals in the choir to elementary students with special easy parts made mostly of whole notes. (This year for virtual we could not accommodate the beginners but I hope we will again in the future). I even remember years when our former organ assistant, Eric, brought a sitar.

Our recorder player, Mariam Bora, visited Taizé in 2014, bringing me back the latest new music. Mariam shares: “Taizé taught me that each day should be about opening up yourself to the joy of life and discovery, and that at the end of the day, you should ask yourself: what brought light and joy into your day? We also discussed temptation, and how our greatest temptation is to give up and fall into discouragement. We can overcome this temptation via prayer, whether expressed silently in thought or soulfully through words or music.”

It is my hope that our virtual Taizé Vigil will open your hearts to some Easter joy.

Easter morning

Our prelude is G.F. Handel’s Worthy is the Lamb arranged for brass and organ by Lutheran composer S. Drummond Wolff.

The hymn I feel we MUST have on Easter morning is of course #207, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and the choir has done their best to give you the feeling of full choir stalls by participating with the brass and timpani. The tune is even called EASTER HYMN. This version of the anonymous 14th century Latin hymn, is first found in a collection entitled:—Lyra Davidica, or a Collection of Divine Songs and Hymns, partly new composed, partly translated from the High German and Latin Hymns; and set to easy and pleasant tunes. London: J. Walsh, 1708. The fourth verse (“Sing we to our God above”) is a doxology by Charles Wesley. The descant we sing on the 4th verse was written by me—but from early childhood chorister memories, so if anyone recognizes another source, do let me know! I must say, this tune is both rather low and rather high, but good C major for working on solfege in zoom choir!

The choir was working so hard on Holy week content, I decided the best other hymn to do was #417 “This is the Feast of Victory” (FESTIVAL CANTICLE). It is basically unison with descant, and a verse highlighting tenors and basses and one highlighting the kids (the way I do it). Many Lutheran churches sing this very often, but at Grace, we have always used it as the offertory hymn on Easter because of the wonderful brass parts provided by composer Richard Hillert (1923-2010), Professor of Music at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill from 1959-1993.

The younger kids, aka “School Choir I” or “the red choir” came up with a gesture decades ago which somehow got passed down from year to year. Here it is caught on video in 2017.

Our anthem is “The Storm is Passing Over” by Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (1851 – 1933), American Methodist minister and gospel music composer. This arrangement by Dr. Barbara W. Baker, internationally known conductor, composer and educator. In the past, this has been the “kids’s anthem” SSA, but this year we had the adults join us and got the SATB version going as well. Percussionist Wesley Ostrander provided some great drum set work.

Tindley.jpg

Tindley’s story is an unbelievably inspiring one. (The following condensed from the Wikipedia article.) His father was a slave, but his mother was free. Tindley himself was thus considered to be free, but even so he grew up among slaves. After the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia, where he found employment as a brick carrier. He and his wife Daisy attended the Bainbridge St. Methodist Episcopal Church. Charles later became the sexton there, a job with no salary.

Never able to go to school, Tindley learned independently and by asking people to tutor him. He enlisted the help of a Philadelphia synagogue on North Broad St. to learn Hebrew and learned Greek by taking a correspondence course through the Boston Theological School. Without any degree, Tindley was qualified for ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church by examination, with high ranking scores. After serving various churches from 1885-1900, Tindley then became the pastor of the same church at which he had been a janitor. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly from the 130 members it had when he arrived. In 1906 the congregation moved from Bainbridge St. to Broad and Fitzwater Sts. and was renamed East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church. The property was purchased from the Westminster Presbyterian church and seated 900, though it was soon filled to overflowing. The congregation over time grew to a multiracial congregation of 10,000. After his death, the church was renamed “Tindley Temple.” The Tindley Temple United Methodist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

Although this is favorite of our choirs, it really seemed important this year to sing something uplifting and hopeful. “Though the night is dark…the morning light appears.”

Happy Easter!

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