"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music.

I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I get the most joy in life out of music."

~ Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In the Bleak Midwinter

On this, the first Sunday of Christmastide, the fourth day of Christmas, listen to the beautiful carol sung by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir. "In the Bleak Midwinter" is a superb combination of the poetry of Christina Rossetti and the music of Gustav Holst. The video presentation is magnificent. Watch for the impromptu representation of "only his mother in her maiden bliss, worshiped the Beloved with a kiss."  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

For Unto Us a Child Is Born (Handel)

Here is another seasonal favorite from Handel's Messiah. I remember discovering this one around the age of 12 or 13. It was on a record album containing a collection of songs for Christmas. I was at that stage of realizing that there was more to Christmas than "Santa and his elves." I found the music then as now to be quite uplifting and celebratory. As with "Comfort Ye," George Frederick Handel again uses the book of Isaiah for his text (Isaiah 9: 6 - 7).



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wexford Carol

St. Andrew's Church in Winter photo by Parrish Nored
The Wexford Carol may be my all time favorite carol. It is an Irish carol that originated in County Wexford and dates from the 12th century. This is another one that I came late in knowing. My first encounter with the carol was in the mid 1980s when I was singing in the choir at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Birmingham. We were then under the direction of Lester Seigel, a most superb organist and choirmaster who was also choir director at Temple Emanu-El at the time (his weekends were quite busy!). These days, Dr. Seigel is an internationally known conductor and is Department Chair for the Music Department at Birmingham-Southern College. I am proud to have known him back in the day.

There is great joy in listening to music, but to sing in the choir adds another dimension. The choir works with the song over and over before it is presented to the public. As a result, the choir member has a much more intimate involvement with the music, and has had the repeated experience of finding that place of harmony, balance, timing and accord with the rest of the choir. The congregation enjoys the results of the choir's many rehearsals, but the entire process brings rich reward to the choir member.

One of the best recordings I have found of The Wexford Carol is performed by the Clare College Choir under John Rutter's direction.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Comfort Ye (from Handel's Messiah)

Composer George Frederick Handel created a controversy in some quarters with composition of "Messiah." Some felt that sacred texts should not be used for symphonic music to be performed outside of church. Perhaps is the first example of sacred music outside of its natural habitat. At any rate, Handel's Messiah has enjoyed great popularity throughout the years, especially at Christmas time. "Comfort Ye," which takes its text from Isaiah chapter 40, is a beautiful piece to meditate upon during the waiting of Advent.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This hymn is based upon an ancient liturgical song of Eucharistic devotion, written in Greek and dating back to the third century. It was used as the Offertory for The Divine Liturgy of St. James, in honor of James, the brother of Jesus who was at the Church in Jerusalem. The modern version of the hymn was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams using Gerard Moultrie's English translation of the Greek text, and an arrangement of the French folk tune, Picardy. The rendition here is an arrangement by John Rutter and performed by the Cambridge Singers.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Veni,Veni, Emmanuel

"Veni, Veni, Emanuel" is the original Latin version of the Advent hymn popularly known as "O Come, O Come Emanuel." It sounds like a more ancient hymn, but sources date back to 18th century Germany for the Latin Text, and 15th century France for the tune.

 Here is the English version, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Canticle of the Turning

This song is set to the tune of the Irish folk tune, "Star if the County Down." It quite effectively captures the spirit of the Magnificat, a lively piece for Advent.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring,
Let t he fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
    ~ Canticle of the Turning (tune: Star of the County Down)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't Go Back to Sleep

Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

                                    ~ Rumi
                    (From The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sleepers Awake (Bach)

I heard “Sleepers Awake” this past Sunday, performed on the organ for the recessional at Grace Episcopal Church in the Woodlawn community (Birmingham, Alabama).  “Sleepers Awake” is the English rendering of Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us) by Johann Sebastian Bach. According to Wikipedia, the song is “a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 25 November 1731. It is based on the hymn "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (1599) by Philipp Nicolai. It is a well-known and delightful musical setting.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Fire that Never Dies Away

Thankful for the fire that never dies away -- and thankful for the Taize community and their ecumenical gatherings.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mexican Baroque (Chanticleer)

I'll never forget the first time I heard Chanticleer. I was walking along near Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, a new grad student in the Bay Area back in 1978. There my roommate and I came upon this group of people in Renaissance garb singing beautiful Renaissance music acapella on the street. Since that day I always take notice when Chanticleer is mentioned. I was especially intrigued when I heard about the recording they did back in 1995 on Mexican Baroque. I got the CD and was introduced for the first time to baroque music from the New World. Here is the quote from the liner notes:

"This extraordinary album reflects the musical sophistication of Ignacio de Jerusalem and Manuel de Zumaya, two significant composers in Mexico during the 18th century. This glorious music was widely performed throughout "New Spain," from Guatemala in the south to California missions in the north. Chanticleer is joined by the Chanticleer Sinfonia, conducted by Joseph Jennings."

Enjoy the following selection, "Responsorio Segundo de S.S. Jose" (2nd Responsory for St. Joseph).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Love to Tell the Story

Here are Emmylou Harris and Robert Duvall singing the Gospel hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story." The song was featured on the soundtrack for The Apostle, which starred Duvall. The hymn is an old favorite featured in many Protestant hymnals, like the Baptist Hymnal that I grew up singing from.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Islamic Call to Prayer

Many years ago, I heard the Islamic call to prayer (the Azan) while traveling in Kuala Lumpur. Today at the Washington National Cathedral is hosting a Muslim prayer service. Hopefully, this ecumenical move will help in bringing many people of goodwill together in affirming the right of each to practice his or her faith in peace. Here is a Muslim call to prayer that was offered in an ecumenical service, and a wonderful opportunity for people of all faiths to understand the the Azan. From the You Tube notes: "The Azan is uttered in a loud, albeit sweet melodious, voice to announce to the faithful that it is time for the Obligatory Prayer and to invite them to offer the prayers. Those who perform Azan are known as 'Muezzin.'"


Thursday, November 13, 2014

For the Beauty of the Earth (John Rutter)

There is definite value in praising the Creator. It may not be for the reasons we think (who can plumb the depths?), but those who have been involved in a choir understand. They know that praise can have a cleansing effect, it puts things in a new light. We see the world differently from the vantage-point of praise. Our lives are given a different perspective.

"For the Beauty of the Earth." is John Rutter's wonderfully soaring take on an older hymn, lyrics by Folliott Sandford Pierpoint. Listen to this beautiful rendition, sung by Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary) choir, which someone has thankfully interwoven with beautiful pictures of the earth's beauty.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Come Sunday (Duke Ellington)

I first learned that jazz great Duke Ellington had written  a repertoire of sacred music a little over 20 years ago when "Come Sunday" was performed at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. It was performed as a a trumpet solo with piano accompaniment during the worship service. Here we have two fine renditions. The first features the great Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson doing a beautiful a cappella presentation of the lyrics with a very sparse piano accompaniment by Duke Ellington himeself. In the second version is an orchestral presentation featuring a trumpet solo. Enjoy either one, or both. You can scroll down to read the lyrics.

Come Sunday
By Duke Ellington

Oh dear Lord I´ve loved
God almighty, God up above
Please, look down and see my people through

I believe the sun and moon
Will shine up in the sky
When the day is grey
It´s just clouds passing by

He´ll give peace and comfort
To every troubled mind
Come sunday, oh come sunday
That´s the day

Often we feel weary
But he knows our every care
Go to him in secret
He will hear every prayer

The leaves in the valley
They neither toll nor spin
And flowers bloom in spring
And birds sing

Up from dawn till sunset
Man work hard all the day
Come Sunday, oh come Sunday
That´s the day


Friday, November 7, 2014

The 23rd Psalm by Bobby McFerrin

One of the most popular posts on my other blog, Not Dark Yet, continues to be Bobby McFerrin's recording of The 23rd Psalm. It is one that McFerrin composed and dedicated to his mother. It is quite remarkable, the amazing shift that occurs by his use of the feminine pronoun in the well-known scripture passage. Here is the Brisbane Chamber Choir with their beautiful rendition of the song.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"If Ye Love Me," Thomas Tallis

"Thomas Tallis was born near the beginning of the fifteenth century and very little is known of his early life. After a succession of appointments as a church musician, he spent most of his vocation in service to the Crown as musician to the Chapels Royal under four successive monarchs, both Catholic and Protestant. Although always a Roman Catholic, Tallis had the political savvy to survive the shifts in ecclesial loyalties and the musical acumen to respond to the changing needs of the Church of England. He is regarded as the father of English Church music since the Reformation."
The beautiful choral work, "If Ye Love Me" is presented here with a mesmerizing visual borrowed from Disney's Fantasia.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (U2)

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote many poems about the mystery of relating to the sacred. In "Love Dogs," he indicates that one way to understand the spiritual longing we have is that the longing is for the longing itself.  Our crying out is sometimes the connection we need. The U2 hit, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” is an excellent example of this longing. Here it is presented by Bono along with a gospel choir in Harlem. (Scroll down to see Rumi’s poem, “Love Dogs.”)

Love Dogs
by Rumi

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pilgrim's Hymn

“Endless thy grace…Beyond all mortal dream”

Stephen Paulus was a prolific American composer who died this month from medical complications following a stroke at the age of 65. His musical compositions were eclectic and varied. "Pilgrim's Hymn," a beautiful anthem, is one of his most frequently performed pieces. Scroll down for the lyrics.


Pilgrim’s Hymn
By Stephen Paulus

Even before we call on thy name
To ask thee, O Lord,
When we seek for the words to glorify thee,
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the father,
and to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in thee;
Endless thy grace, O endless thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.
Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,


Monday, October 20, 2014

Om mani padme hum (Tibetan Buddhist chant)

In honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to Birmingham this month, enjoy some Tibetan Buddhist chanting. The Dalai Lama will be in Birmingham this week as pat of Human Rights week and will be at a public gathering at Region's Field on October 26. "Om mani padme hum" is one of the most revered mantras in Tibetan Buddhism. It is often carved into rocks and written on paper and placed into prayer wheels. It's aim is to bring the liberation of enlightenment to all living beings.
(For more information, go to Not Dark Yet)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Holy Radiant Light

I first heard this song when I was in seminary in Mill Valley, California. I thought at the time that it was one of the most beautiful pieces I had ever heard. "Holy Radiant Light," by Russian composer Alexander Gretchinoff, is performed here by the Luther College Nordic Choir. A beautifully transcendent a cappella piece.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Yeha-Noha (Wishes of Happiness and Prosperity)

I discovered Sacred Spirit by accident (or serendipity) at the public library. The CD is a collection of songs that are a fusion of Native American chants and modern music. I enjoyed it so much I got my own copy. Sacred Spirit:Chants and Dances of the Native Americans was released in 1994 and nominated for a Grammy as best New Age album. The song here, "Yeha - Noha (Wishes of Happiness and Prosperity)" was top ten on the charts for 27 weeks in the UK. Even though it is "New Agey," it offers an opportunity to appreciate the sacred traditions of a culture that has been too often neglected and disregarded.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Come Down O Love Divine

"Come Down, O Love Divine," a hymn to the Holy Spirit, with musical setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the British classical composer who was called upon to work on the hymnal for the Anglican Church. His musical compositions remain some of the best that continue to be offered in current church hymnals.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What was Said to the Rose

Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, better known in the English-speaking world as Rumi, was a Sufi who lived in 13th century Persia. He is today the best-selling poet in the United States. Coleman Barks has done remarkable work interpreting and communicating Rumi's poetry. This recitation with musical accompaniment illustrates why the Sufi poet is so popular today.

Coleman Barks performs a poem by Rumi, "What Was Said to the Rose" at one of the Mythic Journeys conferences. Musical accompaniment by Eugene Friesen and Arto Tuncboyaciyan.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Siyahamba (Zulu hymn)

"Siyahamba ekukhanyeni kwenkos'," (We are marching in the light of God)

I tracked down this song "Siyahamba” after reading Maria Evans’ beautiful post on Daily Episcopalian. About the song she states: 

I'm willing to bet that "Siyahamba" has been the most universally translated African song in the last 30 years. We have something really awful – the struggle for civil rights in South Africa – to thank for its universal nature. Yet at the same time, every time I sing it, the image of Bishop Desmond Tutu comes to the forefront of my mind. This awful thing gave the world a beautiful song and an amazing saint on earth. It's a reminder that we need more verses to "Siyahamba" – verses like, "We are listening in the light of God," "We are being still in the light of God," and "we are sharing in the light of God." "Being African" means these things are not incongruous with singing, dancing, and praying in the light of God.

Maria Evans is a surgical pathologist who blogs at http://kirkepiscatoid.blogspot.com/ Read her entire essay, “Siyahamba,” here


Friday, October 3, 2014

Taizé - Iedere nacht verlang ik

Taizé is a small village in eastern France. For over 50 years, it has been the home of a Christian monastic community made up of brothers from many different countries, speaking many different languages and, uniquely, belonging to several different Christian denominations. Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, Orthodox and others live and pray together, share a simple life and welcome the tens of thousands of visitors who come to spend time with them every year from all over the world. The community has developed a unique style of meditative singing which focuses on the repetitive chanting of short phrases from the Bible and other Christian texts in a range of languages.
The Taizé community is known for its simple and beautiful chants used in worship. This one is called LIedere nacht verlang ik (My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.)


Monday, September 29, 2014

Navaratri: Hindu Festival to the Mother Goddess

In 2014, Navaratri starts on September 25 and lasts until October 3. Navaratri is the Hindu festival of nine nights dedicated to the glorification of Shakti, the feminine form of the Divine. The first three nights are dedicated to the goddess of action and energy. Her different manifestations -- Kumari, Parvati and Kali are worshiped during these days.

During Navaratri, we invoke the energy aspect of God in the form of the universal mother, commonly referred to as " Durga ," which literally means the remover of miseries of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power). It is this energy, which helps God to proceed with the work of creation, preservation and destruction. In other words, you can say that God is motionless, absolutely changeless, and the Divine Mother Durga, does everything. Truly speaking, our worship of Shakti re-confirms the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or destroyed. It is always there. (From  "Navaratri: The 9 Divine Nights" at http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/navaratri.htm)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Te Deum Laudamus (with saxophone)

This video shot at the Dominican Monastery in Wroclaw, Poland demonstrates two things:
  1. Old churches have wonderful acoustics
  2. We really ought to have more saxophones in church

You will see and hear a beautiful rendition of the Te Deum, an ancient liturgical prayer of the church. The project is by Michael Balog, saxophonist; with Hubet Kowalski, conductor, and the Krakow String Quartet.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Songs for Rosh HaShana

The time from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur are the Jewish High Holy Days. They mark the Jewish New Year, "The Birthday of the World." In thinking of the High Holy Days, Here is how Rabbi Rami puts it:

Rosh haShanah, the first of the Days of Awe, is the anniversary of creation, and our time to honor God, the Source of Creation.  For me God is the Source and Substance of all reality, and Rosh haShanah is the time when I remember that all life is a unique yet temporary manifestation of God the way each ray of sunlight is a unique and temporary manifestation of the sun. I use Rosh haShanah as a time to realign my life with creation so that my living is in service to all life.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (At-One-ment) is the culmination of all this effort. We have made peace with our neighbor, peace with nature, and now it is time to make peace with God.
(From “Jewish Fall Holy Days” at "Beyond Religion with Rabbi Rami")

Below is an ancient Jewish chant for Rosh HaShana with wishes for the new year, followed by a musical rendition of Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎; "Our Father, Our King") which is a Jewish prayer recited during Jewish services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well on the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh. (see Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avinu_Malkeinu)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ubi Caritas

Ubi Cartitas is taken from the antiphons sung during the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet at the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. As is the entire Mass of the Last Supper, this hymn is intimately connected with the Eucharist, and is thus often used during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Recent tradition has the first line as "Ubi caritas et amor" (where charity and love are), but certain very early manuscripts show "Ubi caritas est vera" (where charity is true). The current Roman Missal favors this later version, while the 1962 Roman Missal and classical music favors the former.
This recording is by Octarium. The images that accompany the song bring home the meaning and hope conveyed by the music. Scroll down to see an English translation.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen: O Vis Aeternitatis

September 17 is St. Hildegard's Day. Hildegard of Bingen was a twelfth century abbess who was also a writer, composer, philosopher, and Christian mystic. One of only four women to have been named Doctor of the Church, she has gained much attention in recent years because of the music she wrote as well as the holistic spirituality that she advocated. Those interested in feminism, liturgical music, spirituality or holistic medicine may all find things if interest in the writings of St. Hildegard.

This chant, "O vis aeternitatis" is from Hildegard's Canticles of Ecstasy. I found it to be incredibly beautiful.