Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Falling Into Rhythm and Melody

There are many opportunities to share in the ministry of music at St. Mark’s.  During our summer period, several singers have participated in our summer choir.  Thank you to those who have continued to sing and help lead the music of worship.

It won’t be long, though, until the summer heat gives way to fall weather – and the fall schedule!

The St. Mark’s Ringers will hold its first rehearsal on Wednesday, September 9th, from 5:30 -6:30.  This is so we can play for “God’s Work – Our Hands” Sunday on September 13th.

On Wednesday, September 16th, the regular Wednesday rehearsal schedule will resume:
St. Mark’s Ringers 5:30 – 6:15
Vespers Worship Service 6:15 – 6:45
Alleluia Ringers 6:45 – 7:25
Festival Choir 7:30 – 9:00

Following is a description of our musical ensembles.

Festival Choir – This group’s primary responsibility is to lead the hymns and liturgical music at the
Sunday morning 11:00 service.  In addition, we prepare a musical offering from a repertoire that spans nearly all periods of church music history – including music being written for the church today.  Rehearsals are on Wednesday evening from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. and Sunday morning at 10:30.  The ability to read music is helpful, but not required.

Matins Choir – This ensemble does not have a midweek rehearsal and provides musical leadership at the 8:30 service.  We meet at 8:00 to rehearse the hymns and liturgical music, and then we prepare an anthem for the musical offering.  The ability to read music is helpful, but not required.  Most of the music we sing is somewhat familiar and/or easily learned by anyone who can grasp a tune quickly.

St. Mark’s Ringers – Our advanced handbell ensemble has ringers who have played handbells for more than 20 years.  The repertoire varies, covering everything from classical repertoire to hymn-based selections.  The ability to read music is required and previous handbell experience is preferred.

Alleluia Ringers – Our entry-level handbell group focuses on building music reading skills and mastering handbell techniques.  We have plenty of space available in this group!  This is your chance to put those piano lessons from your childhood to use! If you don’t already read music, we will teach you how.  For complete newbies, we may need to schedule a couple of private lessons before rehearsals begin.  If you are interested in playing, please let Tony Cruz know.

LOL (Loving Our Lord) Choir – Our youth choir meets after the 11:00 service each Sunday.  We sing in worship a few times each year.  New singers, grades six through high school, are always welcome.  As we add singers, I hope that someday we will be able to take this group on tour.
Questions? Please contact Tony Cruz, St. Mark’s Cantor.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RareSong - Music from 16th Century Spain on Sunday, October 4 at 7:00 PM

At the beginning of Spain’s 16th century, Charles, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabel, was the
King of Spain and became the Holy Roman Emperor. Religious suspicion against converted Jews and Muslims, exploration and colonization in the New World, and difficulties with France were all part of Spain’s political and social identity.

In the midst of all of this, instrumental and vocal music flourished.  A reflection of Spain’s recent past when there were five separate kingdoms, the music is a mixture of moods and languages, sacred and secular, tempo and color.

Some of this music, including villancicos (secular and sacred Christmas carols), church music, and instrumental solos will be heard in a concert at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sunday, October 4th, at 7:00 p.m. 

Patricia DeWitt is the artistic director of RareSong, a group of musicians she has gathered to perform this early music.  Other performers include: Lynne Radcliffe, Tony Cruz, Lucinda Mosher, Barrie Mosher, Marcy Brenner, and Peter DeWitt.

Instrumental pieces include recorder ensembles, viola da gamba, the sackbut, harpsichord, and music for the pipe organ. Composers represented include Juan del Encina and Francisco Guerrero.

The concert is free and all are invited. St. Mark’s is located at 3976 Hendricks Avenue in Jacksonville.

This short video is a preview of the type of music you can expect to hear.


Top photo: A Young Charles V by Bernard Van Orley via Wikipedia
Second Photo: The Viola da gamba Player by Bernardo Strozzi (ca. 1630-1640) via Wikipedia 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's My Funeral. . .

So, I’ve been thinking about my funeral – not when it will be, but how it will be.  Specifically, I've been thinking about the physical space (it must be in a church and not a funeral home), the liturgy, and the music.

Many people don’t know I was baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church. When my family moved to Florida in 1980 and I started working as a church musician, I never had any opportunities to be in a Lutheran setting.  It was when I started working for the Episcopalians that I rediscovered my love for the cycle of the church year and liturgical expressions – but, coming to St. Mark’s was like coming home.  As a result, I sometimes call myself a Lutheran with an Episcopalian aesthetic.

About the space:

I’ve always loved the Episcopal tradition of changing the paraments to white for a funeral, even when that funeral is in Advent or Lent.  I hope the Pastor will think that is okay and that the altar guild won’t object.  I plan to be cremated and request that the front of the church be generously adorned with icons and votive candles. I have a request for flowers: white plumeria.  The plumeria is a flower from my childhood and it always makes me happy to see one. A single lei would be lovely. Individual blossoms amongst the icons and candles would also be nice. (The flowers will have to be ordered from Hawaii or somewhere else.)

Also, my service draws greatly from Evening Prayer so I request that it be held at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening. 

The stage is set – now what about the music and liturgy?

First, the music:

Please include at least one “big” organ piece. Two of my favorites are Walford Davies’ “Solemn Melody” and G. T. Thalben-Ball’s “Elegy.”  Any Bach Prelude and Fugue or other Bach piece would be appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to play it LOUDLY.
Choral Music Suggestions: “Blessed” by Paul Weber, “God’s Son Has Made Me Free” by Grieg, “God Me in My Head” as set by John Rutter or Andrew Carter, anything readily in the choir’s repertoire that would be suitable.

Other voluntaries should be based on traditional Lutheran hymns – that is hymns with texts by Lutheran composers. Anything from “Orgelbuchlein,” and arrangements by living composers is fine.  Please include at least one Scandinavian hymn – as long as it’s not “How Great Thou Art.”

The last piece should be the choral setting (Oregon Catholic Press, publisher) of the assembly hymn, “Holy Darkness” by Dan Schutte. The refrain should be printed for the assembly to sing. If it can be accompanied by guitar, all the better, but piano is fine, too.  (Some of my colleagues are shaking their heads, but I love this piece and after all, it is MY funeral.)

If the Pastor feels the service will be well attended, it should be advertised that thirty minutes of music will precede the service.  If the Pastor thinks attendance will be minimal, then one big organ piece and “Holy Darkness” will be sufficient music before the service.
Now, for the service itself:

The assembly stands. The Pastor (or an acolyte) carries a large lighted candle to the front.  The following dialogue is sung according to the tone on page 309 (Evening Prayer) in ELW.

At the font:
I am the resurrection and the life Ꞌ saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet Ꞌ shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall Ꞌ never die.

From the mid-point of the center aisle:
I know that my Re-Ꞌdeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day up-Ꞌon the earth;
and that though this body shall be destroyed, yet shall Ꞌ I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not Ꞌ as a stranger.

From the front of the church:
Blessed are the dead, who die Ꞌ in the Lord;
even so saith the Spirit, for they rest Ꞌ from their labors.

After the candle has been set down, the hymn is sung.

Hymn: The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended (ELW 569)

A short silence.

O Gracious Light (S 59 in the Hymnal 1982)
This may be sung by a soloist or the choir, unaccompanied.

Prayer of the Day – the first prayer at the top of page 271 in ELW.

Psalm 121
My preference is for a soloist to sing “A Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.” If that is not possible, any musical version will do. It can be sung by the choir, or sung by the choir and the assembly.  It should not be simply read.

Old Testament Reading TBD

New Testament Reading TBD

Gospel Acclamation: All Who Believe and Are Baptized (ELW 442)

Gospel Reading TBD
No “sharing” from the assembly. I hope they will do that privately.
Use the hymns I have chosen as the basis for a sermon about the hope of the resurrection.  Note that this service includes portions of the Evening Prayer service as found in ELW and in the Hymnal 1982.  The Pastor may wish to say that I sometimes called myself “a Lutheran with an Episcopalian aesthetic.” That will explain a lot about this service.


Hymn of the Day: Abide With Me (ELW 629)
Substitute this text for the last stanza.  It more accurately reflects my own beliefs about what happens when we die.  This stanza was written by me. That should be noted in the bulletin.

Hold, Lord, thy cross before my closing eyes.
Call me by name, and bring me to your side.
When morning breaks, salvation shall I see.
Till then, O Lord, let me abide in thee.


Prayers of Intercession


Communion Hymns
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (ELW 351) If it can be done well, stanza 3 should be sung a capella in four-part harmony.
Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart (ELW 750) For both hymns, please sing all of the stanzas – even if communion has been served to everybody by the middle of the second stanza of the first hymn.

The rest of the service follows as in ELW.

Sending Hymn: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (ELW 631)

I’ve done it.  Not only have I written my wishes down, but I’ve put them in cyberspace for everyone to see.  I may change my mind about some of these things as time goes by.  Hopefully, I have plenty of time to make changes!

I don’t know how these things work.  Probably I will have no idea if these wishes are carried out.  If they are, this is my last chance to share my faith.  It will be my chance to say that death is not the end. It is like going to sleep in God’s care and keeping while we wait for the resurrection. 

“Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The top two photos are from Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The University Singers of Jacksonville University In Concert at St. Mark's on Friday, February 6 at 7:00 P.M.

It was my first day as a college music major at Jacksonville University  The first piece of music I remember working on was Noel Goemanne’s “Cantate Sing to the Lord.”  Dr. Jon Carlson, our director, was teaching us how to do “count singing” – something I had never done before. It was HARD, but within a few minutes I had the process down and was having the time of my life.

JU still has a chamber group, now under the direction of Dr. Timothy Snyder who each year leads a new group of choral students through the journey of mastering the demands of excellent choral literature.

I am excited to announce that the University Singers, with JU voice faculty Prof. Kimberly Beasley and Dr. Jay Ivey, will be performing a FREE concert at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Friday, February 6, at 7:00 p.m.  This is their “homecoming” concert after their annual Florida tour.

The following is from a press release by Dr. Snyder.

Under the direction of Dr. Timothy Snyder, the 25-voice University Singers perfoms an eclectic and challenging repertoire spanning the centuries and the globe including Renaissance polyphony, Baroque and Classical masterworks, folksongs, music theatre, opera and new music by living composers.

The University Singers has performed for the American Choral Directors Association, Beaches Fine Arts Series, and the Florida Music Educators Association.  Notable appearances include concerts in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, England’s Canterbury Cathedral and numerous collaborations with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.  The University Singers gives over forty concerts each year on campus, in the community and on tour.  Most recently the Singers toured in France where they performed at Chartes, La Madeline, Paris and the Basilica of St. Nicholas, Nantes.  A 2016 concert tour to Italy is in preparation.
The legacy of musical excellence continues at Jacksonville University and is likely to continue for many years.  After all, the young people singing in the choir today weren’t even born when I was a student at JU.  Perhaps many more generations of future JU-educated performers, music teachers, church musicians, accompanists, and choral directors are yet waiting to be born.  I believe this is true.
Top - the Jacksonville University Chamber Singers in 1981. I am the second guy in from the right.

Middle - Dr. Timothy Snyder
Bottom: The University Singers in a more recent photo

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Epiphany from the Americas: Tuesday, January 6th

Epiphany means “manifestation.”  This festival of the church celebrates the revealing of Christ to the Gentiles.  Light is a big image for this service, recalling the star that the magi followed until they found the house where Jesus was with his mother.  The gifts they offered are heavy with meaning: gold fit for a king, myrrh for anointing, and richly perfumed incense.

This year’s Epiphany service at St. Mark’s has an underlying musical theme: Epiphany from the Americas.

The Americas are the combined land masses of North America and South America, along with the outlying islands – what early explorers named “the new world.”  The Americas are blessed with a rich diversity of cultures, so it’s not surprising that native (or nearly native) music is filled with tantalizing rhythms, poignant texts, and ethnic melodies.

Here are a few of the musical highlights from the service:

Kyrie and Glory to God from setting six of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (African-American inspired)

Santo, Santo, Santo and O Lamb of God from setting seven of ELW (Latin-American inspired)

Halle, Halle, Hallelujah from the Caribbean as the gospel acclamation

Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, an African-American spiritual

Many and Great, O God, a hymn of the Lakota Native-Americans

‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, a hymn from Native-Americans in Canada

Epiphany Carol, sung to the tune Beach Spring which is named for a church in Georgia, USA

. . .and more!

I am sure you will be surprised at how much of this music you already know.

Epiphany is the last day of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany arc of stories and readings from our Christian tradition.  We have waited through four weeks of Advent. We are still celebrating twelve days of Christmas. For this final festival, the Holy Spirit gathers us to bear witness to the light of Christ and sends us out to carry that light into the world – not just the new world, but the whole world.

                                Tuesday Evening, January 6th at 7:00 p.m.

top photo: by David Nunley, used with permission
middle photo: Lakota art work via Wikipedia
bottom photo: photo by Andre Cruz, used with permission

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir

Wow! Three of my favorite things in one headline: Christmas, Norway, and the St. Olaf Choir.

Who doesn’t love Christmas?

About half of my DNA came from Norwegian ancestry and I’m a little bit of a genealogy buff.  A visit to Norway is one of the items on my bucket list.

I first wrote about my affinity for the St. Olaf Choir on this blog five years ago and you can read that entry here: My bucket list also includes hearing the St. Olaf Christmas concert in person someday.

In 1913 the collegiate choir made its first trip to Norway under the direction of F. Melius Christiansen, its founder and director.  One hundred years later, in 2013, the choir returned under the direction of Anton Armstrong.  Part of the tour included recording a Christmas concert at Nidaros Cathedral which was built in 1070.  This concert also included songs by the Nidarosdomens Jentekor (Nidaros Cathedral Girls’ Choir).  At the end of this post I’ll tell you how you can get a copy of this exquisite performance.

First, I thought I’d give a few highlights from the concert.

Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain (Carolyn Jennings b. 1936)
I never watch a concert without paper and pen nearby so I can write down new pieces that catch my ear. This was the first one I wrote down.  The text comes from Isaiah 40 and is closely associated with Advent.  The pure singing of the choir of girls and the gentle melody as it’s passed back and forth between the vocal sections combine to create a soothing rendering of the ancient prophet’s voice.  Before Epiphany 2013, I had discovered the piece in our own library at St. Mark’s! So we sang it as the musical offering in a service of Advent lessons and carols. We liked it so well; we’re singing it again for Christmas Eve.

O Come, All Ye Faithful
A distant angel choir, handbells, and a mighty organ – what a fantastic way to set up a congregational singing of THE Christmas Eve hymn.  You won’t be able to resist singing (or at least humming along) any more than Kevin Kline was able to resist dancing to “I Will Survive” in the movie “In & Out.”

The Glory of the Father (Egil Hovland 1924-2013)
Hovland was a Norwegian composer who wrote in a variety of styles.  Starting with open fifths and a text that is chanted more that it’s sung, the beginning is reminiscent of mysterious plainsong from a distant monastery.  This gives way to a choral motet that brings the sounds of a cathedral choir to mind.  The St. Olaf Choir performance is flawless.  Our own Festival Choir sang this piece for Christmas Eve last year. 

Night of Silence (Daniel Kantor b. 1960)
Kantor’s original arrangement is a much-loved standard by many church choirs.  It opens with a contemporary sounding melody and a text that speaks to people who seek comfort:
Cold are the people, winter of life,
We tremble in shadows this cold endless night.
Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping,
Flowers that will echo the sunrise.
Fire of hope is our only warmth;
Weary, its flame will be dying soon.
As a surprise, this melody is then paired with “Silent Night” in way that almost seems magical.  John Fergusons arrangement adds some choral harmonies and a warm lushness that is very satisfying.

Jeg er så glad hver julekveld (Peder Knudsen 1819-1863)
This is THE Norwegian hymn for Christmas Eve.  Our own Pastor Hanson has told of singing the opening stanza as a solo (in Norwegian!) when he was a young boy.  This performance includes interludes on a Hardanger fiddle that give it a folk-song whimsy.  This year, our Festival Choir will be singing Paul Christiansen’s arrangement of the tune.

Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming/The Rose (arr. Craig Hella Johnson)
This piece confuses me.  The pop song made popular by Bette Midler is paired with the hymn “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming.”  The two songs work together okay, especially in this arrangement and with gorgeous singing – but they work musically.  For me, the texts make no sense together.  I kept waiting for some textual epiphany, but it never came for me.  I have no doubt that there are people who will love this and will find it profound musically and textually.

O Day Full of Grace (arr. F. Melius Christiansen)
F. Melius lays it on thick here and in a very satisfying way.  The classic hymn is sung slowly so that harmonies unfold in all of their lush glory before the choir breaks forth in joyous singing. I keep thinking it’s time to introduce this hymn to St. Mark’s. It is No. 627 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

 This Christmas CD was an early Christmas present to and from myself. I’ve already listened to it several times. Get your own copy at this link:

The concert will be aired on our local public television station on Friday, December 19th, at 10:00 p.m.  Watch it then, or get it on your DVR.  I recommend the DVR because I watched the full concert at least four times last year!  Here is a link to WJCT’s schedule page.  Put in the date and time for a full description of the concert.

Happy listening!

Top photo: The 2014-2015 choir from the college web site
Middle photo: Nidaros Cathedral from Wikipedia
Bottom photo: The CD cover

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Making the Cut

“You Lutherans,” my non-Lutheran friend opined, “just have to sing every stanza of every hymn.”  He paused for emphasis, then added, “Two stanzas is enough!”

I groaned because he and I have had this discussion before.  I asked him, “What if you only got to watch the first 45 minutes of ‘Frozen?’”

Is there a rule that Lutherans have to sing every stanza of every hymn?  Of course, not.

So why do we do it?

Hymns are usually poems before melodies are added to make them hymns.  That means they are fully formed literary works with a beginning, middle, and ending.  Some hymns tell a story so it seems pretty obvious why an assembly would sing all the stanzas. Imagine singing “The First Noel” and not including the stanza that speaks of the wise men entering the home where Jesus was with his mother, Mary.  Worse, leave out the stanza about the star.  That’s an important part of the story!

Other hymns speak of theology.

Several years ago I attended the Lutheran Church where my grandmother was confirmed.  I arrived early and was thrilled to find what looked like a lovely, well-maintained pipe organ.  I eagerly waited to hear that organ. . .and I waited awhile.  Mostly we sang praise choruses from the 70’s and 80’s to piano accompaniment.  (The piano playing was wonderful, but I still wanted to hear the organ my grandmother would have heard the day she was confirmed.)  Finally, the pianist moved to the organ for the final hymn. It was a tune I didn’t know (bonus!) and it was a Trinitarian hymn with three stanzas – one for each person of the Trinity.

The Pastor announced we would only sing the first stanza!

I was shocked that he would have us only sing the stanza addressing the first person of the Trinity and not the other two.  I can’t imagine the hymn writer would have been happy either. Plus, I didn’t get much of a chance to hear that organ!

Hymns are chosen for a particular Sunday because of how they relate to the readings and themes of the day.  Sometimes that connection isn’t clear until the middle of the fourth stanza.  (Please don’t suggest we only sing the first and fourth stanzas – I have been in churches where that is done.)  Hymns are never chosen to be place markers, something to do between readings or as a break within spoken parts of the service.

Will cutting stanzas save time?  Not really.  It’s a rare hymn stanza that takes more than 45 seconds to sing.

There are times when stanzas can be cut.  It might be wise to do so if several hymns are sung in the course of one service.  Last Sunday we had Advent Lessons and Carols with TEN hymns to sing!  I felt completely safe cutting several stanzas of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

ELW 342, "There in God's Garden," had 14 stanzas in its original incarnation.  When K. Lee Scott wrote a new melody, he cut this beautiful passion hymn down to 6 stanzas.  Imagine doing a choral arrangement with 14 stanzas and trying not to be repetitious!

St. Mark’s has an excellent repertoire of hymnody.  There are not many hymns that we sing over and over again.  When we only sing a hymn once per year, it’s hard to think about cutting stanzas. 

So, if you ever find yourself thinking a hymn is too long, take a look at it outside of the service.  Read the WHOLE thing.  Take your church bulletin home and read the Prayer of the Day and all of the readings for that day.  Then try to decide which stanzas should be cut.

First Photo (from top): Scissors - thanks to Wikipedia!
Second Photo: my grandmother
Third Photo: Russian icon (1480-1425) 
Fourth Photo: El Greco's "Jesus Carrying the Cross" 1580