This is a temporary blog created for the Epiphany Music Ministry for the duration of the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine period. When worship and parish events resume, this blog will be deleted.
The Day the Mouse Came to Church
July 21, 2020
In reading today’s title, one might assume that what follows is a story pulled from the pages of a children’s book. I can assure you that is not the case, and that what follows is in fact very true!
I am a believer in signs and messages from heaven and the beyond. Call me crazy if you like, but there have been too many instances of signs in my life where I could not merely label them as coincidences. After each of those instances, I felt that these signs relayed some sort of message, though their meanings were shrouded in mystery…but more on that later.
Our story begins on the evening of Friday, July 10. While I was seated outside on the patio, a mouse appeared from the grass and made his way to the water faucet. I figured he was coming to get a drink from where the faucet had leaked earlier. After taking a drink, he wandered around, paying me no mind as he explored the area. As he paced back and forth on the pavement, I made a clicking noise to see if he might respond. Upon hearing the sound, his ears swept forward like tiny radars, homing in on my call, and he looked straight at me for a few seconds but went back to exploring. I decided to name him Jerry after a certain animated mouse who was always getting into trouble with a certain grey cat named Tom. Only two weeks later would he prove to me that his new name would come to describe him well.
On Sunday, July 12, I emerged from the house at 6:30 a.m., weary-eyed. I looked down and to my surprise, there was Jerry! His tail was in the air and he was pacing around as if he was performing some sort of scene survey. I spoke my first words to him that morning as he climbed onto the step to get closer to me. As I spoke to him, he seemed startled and fell back on the lower step, but he managed to protect himself from the fall by performing a little flip before landing on his feet. After a laugh, I bid him good day and made my way to church.
Later that week, some landscaping was done around the house and I feared that Jerry’s habitat had been destroyed in the process. I looked for him every time that I was outside, but I never saw him. Given the amount of rat baiting stations around the yard, I was also worried that he might have met an untimely demise. Jerry, in fact, proved me wrong when he once again, on Sunday morning at the same time, met me at the door. This morning was different as I had to carry the new keyboard with me to church. This meant having to take more time to get from the door to my car while carefully carrying the instrument. I managed to say hello to Jerry, and he ran a few circles and I lost track of him in my new task. I did, however, remember seeing him moving in the direction of my car. Once everything was loaded, I got into my car and started the engine. Before pulling out of the carport, I waited a minute to give Jerry time to get out of the way and I said a prayer that he would be safe.
Living close to church has its advantages. It means that I can steal a few extra minutes of sleep since I require less travel time to get to work. I backed my car into the west entrance of the north parking lot, allowing for easier unloading of the keyboard and equipment. I exited the car and popped the trunk. As I stood at the rear of the car, a small animal caught my eye on the ground near the passenger side. To my surprise, it was a mouse. It was Jerry! He had somehow stowed away under my car and rode to church with me. I was awestruck and found myself in disbelief that this tiny creature could manage such a herculean feat. What were the odds that another mouse would be there to meet me at the church in the exact spot where I parked my car? (I would imagine those odds are slim to none.)
With a smile on my face, I spoke to Jerry and told him that now he could find a new home in this area. I walked away, carrying the first load of equipment. As I returned to the car for the second load, I noticed that Jerry was now in the middle of the road and a truck was heading in his direction. Again, I prayed for his safety and that he would make it across the road into the open field of tall grass and he did. Feeling sure he was safe, I went back to my work and finished setting everything up.
Given that I had some extra time before having to begin the music, I decided to return to my car to continue warming up my voice. I sat in the car and began vocalizing. Through my windshield I could now see Jerry on the other side of the road. He seemed unsure of his new surroundings, so much so that he scurried into the middle of the road again, tail in the air, and nose to the ground. He would eventually return to the opposite side of the road and then back. At this point it was time to make my way to the keyboard, and in the process, I lost sight of my little friend.
I tried the keys again to be sure the keyboard was on and sounding through the amplifier. As I looked in front of me, past the keyboard, I noticed that Jerry had now made his way across the parking lot to the sidewalk and was walking in my direction. Again, I was in awe of his attraction to me and wondered why he was seeming to remain in my presence. I watched him and worried that some of our parishioners would see him and try to run him off, but that did not happen. He eventually left the sidewalk, walking into the grass, and he seemed a little more at ease by this point. I got the sense that he felt safe in the grass there close to me. By then I was talking to two parishioners and one of them had noticed Jerry scurrying towards me as I played lightly on the keyboard. At that moment I shared the story with them about how he had hitched a ride to church with me. That was the last time that I saw him. I hoped and prayed that he had found a new home.
This brings me back to the point I made earlier about signs and their meanings. All Sunday long I wondered about Jerry’s presence in my life and what this sign meant for me if it meant anything at all. I am not sure I know really at this point if someone was trying to tell me something or if God had a message for me. I believe that during this pandemic we have all been struggling, and many continue to do so. Our seemingly normal lives have been transformed into something out of the ordinary. Many of us have retreated into our own little bubbles and many of us are feeling helpless, maybe even hopeless.
It struck me the following evening that we are a lot like Jerry. The world around us can change due to circumstances and it can crumble through calamity, but the one constant is God. Jerry’s circumstances changed as his habitat was altered by the landscapers. I think he knew that I was going to a better place and he blindly crawled onto the chassis of my car and let me carry him. What would be an exceptionally long distance for him to walk was not extremely far for me to drive.
How many times have we let Christ carry us through our struggles? How often have we hoped and longed for something better than what we have? As Christians, we have faith that after this life is over, we will go to an everlasting paradise. In the Gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he goes to prepare a place for us. He then goes on to tell them, “27Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (KJV)
Perhaps this is the message I needed to hear now during the coronavirus pandemic. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is just a coincidence, but perhaps I needed to be reminded that I am not in charge and that I can lean on Jesus when I am unsure of what lies ahead. Maybe you will find a different message in reading this. It was a strange series of events that I could not get out of my head, and a story that I knew I had to share with everyone. I realized that Jerry was the gift that I did not know that I needed.
May 22, 2020
Today’s post centers around female composers in attempt to raise awareness of their compositions and the influences they have had on the world of music. In this post, I will highlight several composers, sharing some interesting facts about them as well as some of their works. At the end of the post, I will include some additional links to other websites that you might enjoy.
To begin, let’s take a look at one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Born in Paris, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a composer, performer, and conductor, but she made the greatest impact on music in the 20th century as a teacher. Her students included Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, and Darius Milhaud. Boulanger was the first woman to conduct major orchestras in Europe and America and even conducted several world premieres. She was still teaching students at the age of 92 when she died.
Boulanger was an accomplished organist and studied with both Louis Vierne and Alexandre Guilmant. Her student, Aaron Copland, composed only two works featuring the organ. For his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924) he relied heavily on Boulanger to assist him in editing the organ part and to provide him with organ registrations. Boulanger served as the organist for the premiere of the symphony and Copland dedicated the work to her. Here is one of her own organ pieces, “Prelude in F minor,” taken from her Trois Pièces pour Orgue ou Harmonium, NB 43. She wrote them at the age of 24 in September 1911.
Born in the same year as Nadia Boulanger, Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953), was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra. In 1932, she submitted her Symphony No. 1 in E-minor for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards and was awarded first place. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the work on June 15, 1933. In 1930, Price was inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
The American composer, Amy Beach (1867-1944), lacked the formal European training of her peers, but she was no less educated. She taught herself counterpoint, harmony and fugue by searching out any book available to her. She even translated French treatises on orchestration to English for her own use. Her most notable works include the Gaelic Symphony (the first symphony composed and published by an American woman) and the Mass in E-flat Major. After marrying a doctor, she was forced to limit her public performances to two per year and donate the money to charity. She also agreed not to teach piano and dedicated her time to composition. After the death of her husband, she toured Europe as a pianist, gaining notoriety there.
These are just three women in a long list of talented and strong female composers spanning across centuries as far back as Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). I hope that you will take some time and click the links below to learn about other notable and important female composers and listen to some of their compositions.
Composers Born on This Day: May 14
1623 Adam-Nicolas Gascon, composer, born in Liege, Belgium (d. 1668)
1681 Georg Philipp Telemann, German late baroque composer, born in Madgeburg, Germany (d. 1767)
1726 Josef Antonin Stepan, Bohemian composer, born in Kopidlno, Czech Republic (d. 1797)
1727 Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, German composer, born in Danzig (Gdansk), Royal Prussia (d. 1756)
1755 Pierre-Louis Couperin, French organist and composer (d. 1789)
1795 Robert Lucas Pearsall, English composer, born in Bristol, England (d. 1856)
1804 Johann Strauss the Elder, Viennese violinist and composer (Radetzky March), born in Leopoldstadt, Austria (d. 1849)
1815 Josephine Lang, German composer, born in Munich (d. 1880)
1826 William Fiske Sherwin, American composer, born in Buckland, Massachusetts (d. 1888)
1831 Leon Leopold Lewandoski, Polish composer, born in Kalisz, Poland (d. 1896)
1835 Manuel Fernandez Caballero, Spanish composer, born in Murcia, Spain (d. 1906)
1875 Norman O’Neill, English composer, born in Kensington, London (d. 1934)
1883 Juan Manen, Spanish composer and violinist, born in Barcelona (d. 1971)
1884 Winter Haynes Watts, American composer, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (d. 1962)
1887 Lawrance Collingwood, English composer, born in London (d. 1982)
1894 Josef Schelb, German composer, born in Bad Krozingen, Germany (d. 1977)
1906 Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Turkish composer, one of “The Turkish Five” (Kocekce – Dance Rhapsody for Orchestra), born in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (d. 1972)
1908 Nikolay Petrovich Rakov, composer
1913 Witold Rudzinski, Polish composer, born in Sebezh, Russa Empire (d. 2004)
1914 Jiri Reinberger, composer
1915 Alexander Brott, composer
1915 Carlos Surinach, composer (Monte Carlo) [NS], born in Barcelona, Spain
1922 Les Baxter, American exotica musician, orchestra leader and composer (Ritual of the Savage, Born Again), born in Mexia, Texas (d. 1996)
1926 Francois d’Assise Morel, composer
1930 Dieter Schnebel, German composer
1935 Jo van den Booren, composer
1939 Stavros Xarhakos, Greek composer
1956 Patrick Leonard, American songwriter, film composer and music producer (Madonna), born in Crystal Falls, Michigan
May the Fourth Be with You
May 4, 2020
I am so excited that on this Monday it is Star Wars Day! To offer you a distraction from the quarantine, I thought I would find some great videos on YouTube for you to enjoy to celebrate this fun day. Before reading any further, you might want to check out this timely article.
Below are some clips of transcriptions and arrangements of themes from the Star Wars films. The first video is from the Washington National Cathedral. Did you know that the Cathedral has a Darth Vader gargoyle?! Read more about that here.
The Throne Room (Washington National Cathedral)
Performed by Assistant Organist George Fergus
Star Wars Medley by Jonathan Acker
Performed by the Bells of Sound in Seattle, Washington
Have you ever heard of a Wurlitzer organ? If not, you’re in for a treat with these next two clips.
Star Wars Symphonic Suite transcribed and performed by Jelani Eddington
Star Wars medley from Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, AZ
For the final video, here is an arrangement by Brice Dudouet of the Cantina Band written for and played on a barrel organ. It works like a player piano. WHAT FUN!!!!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these fun videos and may the fourth be with you!
Music for Holy Week and Easter Sunday
April 5, 2020
For the past several months, members of the Epiphany Ringers and the Adult Choir have been rehearsing and preparing the music for Holy Week and Easter. It is one of the most important times in the life of the Church and being unable to share their hard work with the parish during this week brings immense sorrow to many. It is my hope, however, that I can provide you with plenty of selections in this post that you may incorporate into your daily devotions at home. There are infinite compositions and hymns written for this particular week, but my goal was to find some selections that might be familiar to you while introducing other less familiar ones.
It is not my intention that you listen to everything that I’ve included here. Some of these clips are short, whereas others may be longer (in some cases 30 minutes to 1 hour). The selections are grouped together for you by the day of the week they can be used. You might find it helpful to use one or more selections prior to, or after, your daily morning or evening prayer, or you might just enjoy listening to these as you do some house work, or rearrange those items in your home that you have let sit for too long. No matter how you use or listen to them, I pray that they will enable to you worship this week at home as we follow Jesus’ journey to the cross and his resurrection. I hope we will be able to gather again very soon to continue making music together. Praying that all of you have a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter.
• “Ubi caritas” (Olga Gjeilo)
• “O sacrum convivium” (Olivier Messiaen)
• “Pange lingua” (Gregorian chant)
• “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” (Hymn)
• “What wondrous love is this” (Handbells – arr. Arnold Sherman)
• “Tantum ergo” (Maurice Durufle)
• “Were you there” (Spiritual)
• “Pie Jesu” (Andrew Lloyd Weber)
• “Deep River” (Spiritual)
• “Crucifixus” (Antonio Lotti)
• “Stabat mater” (Antonin Dvorak)
• “Stabat mater” (Karol Szymanowski)
• “Tenebrae Responsories” – Part I / Part II (Tomas Luis de Victoria)
• “Jesus Christ is risen today” (Hymn)
• “Victimae paschali laudes” (Sequence for Easter)
• “Alleluia” (Randall Thompson)
• “Hallelujah” from Christ on the Mount of Olives (Oratorio by Ludwig van Beethoven)
A truly unique way of getting to the organ console
April 1, 2020
You have likely never seen what you are about to see. The organ in the Cathedral of Regensburg in Bavaria has its own elevator!!! You really have to see it to believe it. The organ alone is enough to incite “oohs” and “aahs,” but when you see the elevator in operation with its lone passenger ascending to the heights, you might sense your palms becoming slightly sweaty as a tinge of fear creeps into the pit of your stomach.
I submit for your viewing pleasure this video (it is in German, unfortunately for those of us who do not speak the language) about the organ and the elevator. As you watch the video, you may be able to discern some of the words. If not, don’t worry. Hopefully, you can enjoy the engineering marvel of not only the organ, but its elevator.
For more information about this instrument and its 5,871 pipes here are a few pages I would direct you to. The first is an article on the New Liturgical Movement’s website that includes a translation from a news article in the region. For even more information, there is a website (in German) with additional pictures of the organ and more facts. [NOTE: If you are using Google Chrome, Google Translate should ask you if you would like to translate the page into English.]
And finally, here is a video clip featuring the cathedral organ with additional pictures of the interior and exterior of the cathedral while an organist plays J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. ENJOY!
What on earth is that?
March 26, 2020
Today’s posting is all about musical instruments that are probably unfamiliar to you. To save you the hassle of weeding through the sea of videos on YouTube, I’ve taken the liberty of selecting some interesting ones for your viewing pleasure. Hopefully, you will learn about one or more instruments that you’ve never seen or heard before. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Yes, there are many more to be discovered! Should you decide to do your own research, you’ll soon find that you can spend hours on YouTube looking at weird and unique instruments.
The hurdy-gurdy is a medieval wheel instrument that you can hear more about in the video below.
Here is the Baroque theorbo presented by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny.
The world’s largest flute is the subcontrabass flute, and as you will see, it is quite large. It can’t be held and must be played from its stand.
The melodica has fun written all over it…well, maybe not for everyone. Think of it almost like an accordion that operates by blowing into the tube attached to the instrument instead of having to squeeze bellows. The Melodica Men on YouTube are hilarious, but exceptionally musical. You’re either going to love them or leave them. If you love them, check out more of the videos on their YouTube channel.
The theremin was invented by a Russian physicist, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, in 1920. After moving to the United States, he patented his invention in 1928, and then granted commercial production rights to RCA. You’ve probably heard this instrument in music and movie scores and never knew what it was. In this video, you can see and hear the instrument’s inventor as he plays a short selection.
The cristal baschet was developed in 1952 in France by two brothers, Bernard and François Baschet. It is constructed of metal, glass and fiberglass. Much like its relative instrument, the glass harmonica, the glass rods that extend from the instrument must be played with wet fingers.
The final instrument in this post is one that you may already be familiar with, the carillon. Did you know that it is played using your fists? Depending on the carillon, they can have pedals, much like those found on an organ. Check out this in-depth video about the carillon at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago.
Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach!
March 21, 2020
Today we celebrate the 335th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 21, 1685. If you have time, there are endless recordings of his music on YouTube. To celebrate this great composer, I thought I would post a number of his works here for you to enjoy. To begin, I’ll start with some shorter instrumental and vocal works, and then move into a number of lengthy choral works.
Given Bach’s immense catalog of music, there is not enough room on this page to put all of his works. Hopefully, you will find one or more of the selections below to enjoy. If not, perhaps you’ll do some of your own searching to find another work of Mr. Bach’s that you love.
Bach wrote a number of works for the lute, and the Prelude in C minor (BWV 999) is a lovely gem. You can find a little more information about the piece in the video description.
Bach wrote a number of sacred songs. One of those is Komm, süßer Tod, komm, selge Ruh (BWV 478), or “Come, sweet death, come blessed rest.” This little portative organ is quaint and supports the soloist well.
While much of Bach’s vocal music uses the German language, he did, however, compose a number of works using Latin texts, most being parts of the Mass. His Mass in B minor (BWV 232) is performed on concert programs frequently. Here is a lovely recording from the Proms 2012 at the Royal Albert Hall.
It would be a true oversight if we did not mention the keyboard music of Bach. At the mention of his name, most people immediately think of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565).
While Bach’s larger-scale organ works tend to be the most popular, there are others, shorter in length that deserve as much attention for their carefully crafted beauty, particularly those in the Orgelbuchlein (“Little Organ Book”). Here is a recording of the great French organist Marcel Dupre playing one of the chorale preludes from that collection, O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Suende gross (BWV 622).
As we approach Passion Sunday and Holy Week, two works that are fitting are the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, performed here by the Netherland Bach Society. These are long, so make sure you have the time to enjoy them in one sitting. (The former is the shorter of the two.) The instruments in both recordings are all period instruments, so you can get an idea of what it may have sounded like in Mr. Bach’s day. Additionally, you get to enjoy the beautiful architecture of the Grote Kerk, Naarden. Each video description is filled with links to information and other videos that you might find interesting.
St. John Passion
St. Matthew Passion
When the Music Stops
Friday, March 20, 2020
As church musicians, we have the wonderful ability to express and communicate both scripture and sacred poetry to churchgoers on another level. With the gifts that God has gifted each of us we are able to use the universal language of music to open hearts and minds to hearing God’s word.
We have missed two opportunities in the past week to gather as ensembles to carry out what we feel to be our mission in the church. For some of you, Tuesday evenings bring a respite to the chaos of the weekly events in your lives. For others, Tuesday is a time for fellowship to be in the presence of other musicians with a common heart and goal. Our children’s choirs are certainly missing out on seeing one another on Wednesday evenings and are faced with the postponement of the upcoming musical. Sunday morning allows us the opportunity not only to worship together, but to share our music with the parish.
I can imagine that missing out on these gatherings is causing some sadness and pain. Unfortunately, that is the position in which we find ourselves these days. It is new and uncharted territory for all of us, especially as we approach Holy Week and Easter and are unable to meet and share in the joy of Christ’s resurrection.
Perhaps you are feeling much like the disciples on that fateful day of Christ’s crucifixion, as the one who taught and guided them all those days was now gone. This time indoors, shut away from the world, probably feels like an extended Good Friday for many, particularly those battling depression and others thirsting for social interaction. It can be easy to lose hope amidst this heavy sadness you might be feeling; however, as Christians, we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe in the power of God to watch over us, protect us, and bring us through this storm. We believe that the Holy Spirit is with us, carrying us through our struggles. We are not alone!
I am reminded of the following scripture:
“He did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:32-39, New Revised Standard Version)
Through Christ we are more than conquerors and eventually, we will be able to leave our homes and once again come together to do what we love, and to share the fruits of our labor with those in worship. Until that time, I will post my thoughts and musings here on this page for you. You’ll never know what I’m going to post, and that’s the fun of it, perhaps. I’ll keep you guessing! I continue to pray for each of you and for your health and safety during this trying time. I hope that these postings will bring you some comfort, or simply a smile, or provide you with a distraction of being tucked away from human contact.
I’ll leave you with a prayer that you know very well:
Director of Music