As we near the end of the Epiphany season we hear Jesus’ injunction to let our lights shine amid the darkness that is all around us. Soon we will sing “The light of Christ!” at the Easter Vigil and affirm once again that it is God’s light that exposes injustice, bigotry, hatred, and violence. The light of Christ glows brightly in our flames of love for one another. On the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany the school children and adults of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, accompanied by a woodwind quintet and organ, and joined by the congregation, performed my baptismal anthem, “Let Your Light So Shine.” I encourage you to watch this performance on YouTube at 49:20 and give thanks for the light of Christ that shines through our baptismal faith and action. If you have time watch the entire service and see the best of Lutheran liturgy where music serves as the glue throughout to reaffirm a common theme. Thanks to Cantor and Pastor Michael Costello for his leadership and willingness to undertake new expressions of the faith! See his setting of “In Thee is Gladness” available from MorningStar Music as performed with children and woodwind quintet at 1:00:50. Let your light so shine!
Sacred Music in a Time of Violence and War
Violence is a recurring part of the American landscape. A war is scarring the people and landscape of Ukraine. It has evoked the world’s outrage, yet revealed the limitations of our resolve to aid the Ukrainian people. The following pieces are appropriate for performance during a time of violence and war. I invite you to download one or more scores for your personal use. Please contact me if you wish to perform one of these pieces with your ensemble. It is our fervent prayer that the Lord will strengthen us to bring such horrific acts of violence to an end.
My hymn, Hill of Crosses, was written after a choir tour to Lithuania in 2007. It compares a hill of resistance to Golgatha and to hills of despair in our lives. On the HYMNARY page you can listen to the Lenoir-Rhyne A Cappella Choir perform an expanded version of this hymn during chapel at St. Olaf College in 2008.
The Lord Is My Shepherd is based on an old Slovak psalm tone full of sorrow and lament. Here is a unison setting with organ of the original SATB a cappella anthem. A straight-forward setting is found here.
The Lord’s Prayer (2006) may be sung in Unison or in an SATB choral version.
So We Do Not Lose Heart (2008) is an SATB anthem based on 2 Corinthians that juxtaposes affliction and destruction with confidence in God’s promise. Originally composed for organ, an oboe may render the solo line as indicated in the score. The performance by choir and organ found under ANTHEMS was recorded on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 by the Lenoir-Rhyne University A Cappella Choir, Hickory, NC.
Agnus Dei (1978) for high and low voices combines two melodies in a plaintive setting.
Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord (2009) is an STB setting of Luther’s Prayer for Peace.
Just as I Am (2007) is set in its original key and harmonization with two new descanting soprano parts. This beloved hymn, with a slight editorial change for soldiers, was found in the hymnals of both the Northern and Southern armies during the Civil War. You may hear a recording of it performed by the Lenoir-Rhyne A Cappella Choir in 2007 at the Riga Dom in Latvia–with its eleven second reverberation–under ANTHEMS.
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is an expanded setting that depicts the battle between good and evil, God and the Evil Foe, the baptized and diabolical tests of every kind. All or part of my popular setting available from MorningStar Music is appropriate for this time of war and during the season of Lent.
Two New Works Have Flowed Forth
I recently composed two new compositions: a setting of a popular Advent hymn and a solo/choral work memorializing those who have died in the pandemic. You can listen to midi recordings of these yet to be performed works.
Prepare the Royal Highway (12:30-19:45) was commissioned by the Sacred Music Program of Lenoir-Rhyne University as a processional for the 2021 Christmas at Lenoir-Rhyne concerts. The setting is for SATB, Solo Soprano, Violin, Piano, Organ, Brass, Percussion, and Audience. I have combined two Swedish melodies that have carried this popular Advent text. The ornamented folk tune is rendered by the soprano and choir while the 17th century hymn tune is taken up by the organ, brass ensemble, and audience. Enjoy watching this recent performance!
A Future Waking for SATB, Tenor Solo, Organ, and optional Violin is a setting of two prayers of John Donne that appear at the conclusion of a sermon from February 1628. This work faithfully sets Donne’s words, distinguishing it from Father Milner-White’s prayer known as Our Last Awakening so beautifully set by other composers, which includes only select portions of Donne’s sermon. Here is the full text:
Bring us, Lord, to a future waking in a glorious resurrection,
that we may enter heaven’s gate, and dwell in thy house
where there shall be
no cloud nor sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light,
no noise nor silence, but one equal music,
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession,
no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity,
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.
Keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our callings,
that we may thus sleep in thy peace, and wake in thy glory,
in that kingdom which thy Son our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us,
with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. Amen
(John Donne, from the conclusion of a sermon based on Acts 7:60 preached
at White Hall, February 29, 1628; additions in italics are by the composer but
drawn from other allusions or language in the sermon.)
A Future Waking is based almost entirely on a Tenor Solo composed for Brian Thorsett of Virginia Tech, which carries the title of Donne’s sermon, And When He Had Said This. Unlike the choral/solo setting that includes only Donne’s prayers, And When He Had Said This begins with a recitative of Acts 7:59-60 which served as the basis for Donne’s whole sermon. After Stephen pleads for God to pardon his executioners, the account of Stephen’s stoning ends, “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Donne preached that a Christian experiences death as “sleep” after fulfilling Christ’s call to speak, to serve, and to forgive as the church’s first martyr had done.
Please contact me if you would like to preview either of these settings of John Donne or my expanded Advent hymn arrangement.
Spring into Life!
This spring we are beginning to return to a more normal life. The Easter message is about life in all its dimensions for every person and for every living thing. There is a blessing from Hebrews 13 which encourages us in this time:
The God of peace–who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant–make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen
This is a time to strive, to work for the value of every human life and for a renewal of society and the environment that is consonant with God’s character and will. I have set this cherished blessing for SATB or SATB/SSA and organ, but listen to an orchestration of The God of Peace by my former student, Michael Costello, performed in the Bach cantata series of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. May it inspire you to be a strong proponent of God’s life!
Music of Consolation and Hope
Our Father, based on a haunting Slovak chant of the Lord’s Prayer, memorializes all who have died from violence and tragedy, including those from COVID-19. This work encapsulates the pathos and poignancy of our time. If we are to heal as individuals and as a people, there is no better place to begin than with this prayer. The performance is by Yale vocal artists.
The Beatitudes always bring comfort, reminding us that even in the darkest moments of despair we are blessed. My anthem entitled, Blessed, is available from MorningStar Music.
When You Pass through the Waters depicts one of my favorite biblical passages of comfort from Isaiah 43. It was composed in memory of a kind and caring music professor of mine. There are versions for unison, two-part, and SATB ensembles at MorningStar Music.