"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.