Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings January 7, 2023

January 8, 2023

Because of the way Christmas, and Holy Name (New Year’s) fell on Sundays, we have reached the Baptism of Christ Sunday. I am so excited to have two baptisms, including literally, the baptism of Jesus, aka the baby girl who played Jesus in our Christmas pageant. But we celebrated Epiphany and the three kings here at our Compline for Kids service on Wednesday, moving the kings across the aisle to join the manger scene, and had a surprise visit from three “live” wise Dads singing verses of “We Three Kings.” Sunday we will sing music about baptism and also sneak in a few more selections about the star and the kings.

A hymn for the Baptism of Christ is the 16th century German chorale Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (words by Martin Luther – “Christ our Lord came to the Jordan”) – found in our hymnal at #139. Although unfamiliar to us, it would have been well-known to the 17th century Lutheran, who may have recognized it despite the very ornamented quality of the great Buxtehude’s setting. Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637 –1707) was originally from Denmark, in 1668 he got a major position at the Marienkirche, Lübeck, Germany. In 1705, J.S. Bach, then a young man of twenty, walked 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck, and stayed nearly three months to hear the Abendmusik concerts and meet the famous organist and learn from him. In addition to his musical duties, Buxtehude, like his predecessor Tunder, served as church treasurer!

Our first hymn is What Star is this? to the tune PUER NOBIS, a melody from a 15th century Trier manuscript. The words by Charles Coffin (1676-1749) French teacher, and Rector of the University of Paris, celebrate the star and its guidance to seek Jesus, even today. We always sing this with a handbell peal.

The offertory as well we will combine all choirs for a wonderful arrangement by Richard Horn (1938-2004) of the Southern Harmony tune STAR IN THE EAST. We’ll have flute (Erik Donough), oboe (Teddy Love), handbells, tambourine and finger cymbals.

The presentation hymn Christ When for Us You Were Baptized (CAITHNESS) sets the gospel out straightforwardly in the words of American Bible scholar, priest and hymn writer Francis Bland Tucker (1895-1984).

Our service music (Sanctus and Agnus) is going back to our best known setting by David Hurd (b. 1950), composer, concert organist, choral director and educator who was at General Theological Seminary, New York City, for 28 years and is currently serving The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. You can read more about him in my February 20, 2021 blog.

I will play a set of variations on PUER NOBIS by French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist Nicolas-Antoine Lebègue (1631-1702) while the choir takes communion.

All the choirs and soloists of every age really love to sing the spiritual Wade in the Water on this Sunday. Friday in the choristers’ rehearsal I realized that we finally are back from the pandemic enough that the kids remember things we sang last year. There was a whole year there were we lost our collective memory from the big Covid break in singing. This spiritual of course has many layers of meaning, referring to Exodus and crossing the river Jordan to the promised land—and it was used by escaping slaves as warning to get off the trail and into the water when being tracked by slaveowners’ dogs.

Our final hymn is Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, set to ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVOGELEIN, a German folksong (“There Flew a Little Forest Bird”) adapted by H. Walford Davies (1869-1941) for A Students Hymnal 1923. The text is a paraphrase of the Epiphany psalm 72 versified by James Montgomery (1771-1854). According to Bert Polman at, “Montgomery, the son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school, inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He was editor of the Sheffield Iris (1796-1827), a newspaper that sometimes espoused radical causes.”

Our postlude is In dir ist Freude (In Thee is Gladness) from J. S. Bach (1685-1750)’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), traditionally (liturgically) played for the New Year.  It has a joyful repeated leaping pedal figure and ascending and descending scales in the hands that sound like the pealing of many bells. My friend Chris also played it as the postlude at our wedding.

May this Epiphany season be full of signs of God’s presence!


From → church music

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: