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Sunday Music Musings April 22, 2023

April 23, 2023

One of the best known Lutheran Easter chorales is Christ lag in Todesbanden. Based on the medieval Easter sequence Gregorian chant, Victimae, paschali laudes (“Christians to the paschal victim” HYMNAL #183), it is a strong robust minor key tune, the Germans’ idea of “cheerful.” J.S. Bach (1685-1750) used this as the basis of his famous Cantata #4. The words are by Martin Luther (1483-1546). It is often confusing to English speakers how a text “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” is an Easter Cantata, but the whole hymn describes an epic Game-of-Thrones type battle between death and life! And life does win. Many, many Baroque composers set this as a chorale-prelude. The prelude today is Georg Böhm’s expressive setting with the chorale tune ornamented in the right hand, and imitative entrances in the lower parts. Böhm (1661 – 1733) spent most of his life as organist in Lüneburg, and may have tutored a young Johann Sebastian Bach at one time. When we sing it at the presentation we will use an older more rhythmic version found at Hymn 185 (after Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)) instead of the Bach harmonization #186 I usually do. I just want to keep you on your toes!

Our opening tune ENGLEBERG by the great late Romantic Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) has several different text settings in our hymnal, When in Our Music God is Glorified, All Praise to Thee, and this Baptism/Easter hymn, We Know That Christ is Raised, words by John Brownlow Geyer (1932-2020). Rev. Geyer was born in Yorkshire, grew up in the Depression and witnessed the Second World War. After attending Queen’s College (1953-56) and Mansfield College (1956-59), he was ordained by the Congregational Union of Scotland, becoming chaplain at both the University of St. Andrews and the University of Birmingham, and has serving churches in Fife, Glasgow and Little Baddow. He was also a theologian and the author of many articles and a commentary, The Wisdom of Solomon.

The choristers will sing an anthem about Resurrection (Wokecetu) by composer Dadee Reilly, who I can find nothing about-but we quite enjoy it, and have used it to review 6/8 meter and play some rhythm instruments.

Egil Hovland (1924-2013) is a Norwegian especially known for his church music. His gorgeous and lyrical Stay With Us, which the adults will sing at the Offertory is a particular favorite of Lutheran choirs. I even got to experience the St. Olaf choirs singing it in the round the first time I went to hear my daughter Virginia in the Christmas Festival in Northfield. MN, something I will never forge! This time last year, we did Hovland’s dramatic rendition of Saul! for narrator and chorus.

The beautiful communion hymn is Come Risen Lord (SURSUM CORDA), words by George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959), a distinguished British hymn writer who was Canon of Worcester Cathedral, and music by Alfred Morton Smith (1879-1971).

“born in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Smith studied at the University of Pennsylvania (B.S. 1901) and Philadelphia Divinity School (B.D. 1905; S.T.B. 1911). An Episcopalian, Smith was ordained a deacon (1905) and a priest (1906). After a short time in Philadelphia and Long Beach, California, he served at St. Matthias Church, Los Angeles, for ten years. He was a chaplain in the U.S. Army during World War I, returning to Philadelphia in 1919, where he spent the remainder of his career. He retired in 1955. In 1963, Smith moved to Drium Moir, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, and in 1968 to Brigantine, New Jersey, where he remained until his death.” –The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, 1993

It was interesting for me to learn about this since I grew up in Chestnut Hill! The kids have bell parts in this as well as the last hymn, which keeps Eastertide festive!

The last hymn, Now the Green Blade Riseth (NOEL NOUVELET) is another example of a good Christmas tune being used for Easter (like last week’s PUER NOBIS NASCITUR). The text by Anglican theologian and poet John McCleod Campbell Crumm (1872-1958) compares resurrection to budding seeds that have seemed dead through the winter. At communion I’ll play a setting by Raymond Haan (b. 1938), Director of Music for the Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, since 1960. The postlude is a setting by Mark Sedio who serves Cantor at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. In addition he has held teaching positions both at Augsburg University and Luther Seminary.

Speaking of ENGELBERG, this week we celebrated the 18th birthday of two head choristers Charlie and Luke by having a Gargoyles mini-concert entitled THE BANANA BOAT PAGEANT. We welcomed back some alumni too, Tommy, Brandon and PJ. When PJ told us he started as Gargoyles director in 2005, the birthday boys reminded him they were born in 2005! A full circle moment!

Here is the YouTube of the finale (Banana Boat of course!)

Here are the alternate words for ENGELBERG-enjoy!

1.When in our music God is glorified,

and adoration leaves no room for pride,

it is as though the Gargoyles also cried,


2. How often, making music, we have found

a new dimension in the world of sound,

as Gargoyles moved us to a more profound


3. So has the church, in liturgy and song,

found ways for every Gargoyle to belong,

bearing witness to the truth in every tongue:


4. And did not Jesus sing a Psalm that night

when utmost evil strove against the Light?

Then Gargoyles sing, for whom he won the fight:


5. Let bass and tenor then explore their range!

Let all rejoice who have a voice to change!

And may God give us joy in being strange!

Hallelujah! Amen.

Birthday Cake and Banana splits for dessert! Luke will attend TCNJ in the fall for Music Ed, and Charlie will attend Bennington in composition. Congratulations!


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