From the Organ Bench

Vicki Fey, Organist

July 22, 2018

This Sunday, July 22, we are privileged to have, in addition to soloist Sheldon Michael, (singing an arrangement of “How Firm a Foundation”) saxophonist Kyle Jones from Kingsport, Tennessee, playing the Opening and Closing Voluntaries and hymns.  Kyle is a performer, teacher, and new music advocate.  Recent endeavors include organizing an evening of George Crumb’s music, performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and continued work as a member of the chamber music collective, “Syzygy.” (Google this term for definition – astronomers will likely know what it means!) Kyle will begin an Artist Diploma in the fall at the University of Texas at Austin. His teachers at East Tennessee State University and Peabody University include Stephen Page, Gary Louie, and Thomas Crawford. Vicki Fey has served as his accompanist on several occasions.

The Opening Voluntary is César Franck’s Solo Pour Concours (“Solo for a competition”). Franck, (1822-1890) was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher who worked in Paris during his adult life. He was born in a region that became Belgium and became a French citizen when his father wanted to enroll him at the Paris Conservatoire. From 1858 until his death in 1890, he was organist and maître de chapelle at the newly consecrated Sainte-Clotilde Basilica, overseeing the installation of an organ by famed organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, whose instruments Franck championed all his working life. Franck’s Solo was written for his son Georges, with a notation that it is “a little piece for an entrance exam” with instrumentation unspecified. French music editor Nicholas Prost, a saxophonist, thought Solo would make a great teaching piece. It is a beautifully lyric piece and will be played on the soprano saxophone on Sunday, with organ accompaniment.

 

The Closing Voluntary was originally written by J. S. Bach as an organ concerto which has been arranged for various solo instruments and organ, including the trumpet, but the soprano saxophone is a nice substitute!  Bach composed this Concerto between 1713 and 1714 and it is an adaptation of the first movement of the Violin Concerto in C major, Op. 1 no. 4, by Johann Ernst, prince of Saxe-Weimar. It is a lively piece with lots of back and forth between the solo instrument and organ.

July 1, 2018

Sunday’s Opening Voluntary is based on the hymn tune FINLANDIA, by Jean Sibelius which we are singing as the closing hymn with the text “This Is My Song.”   The first two stanzas of the hymn were written by American poet Lloyd Stone between World Wars I and II and have a focus on international peace during a brief hopeful time – our land may have blue skies and bright sunshine, “But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.” Stanza 3 was added sometime around 1938 and was written by Methodist theologian Georgia Harkness, using some of the language of the Lord’s Prayer. About this stanza, Carl Daw states that “her additional stanza moves from the theme of international harmony to a consideration of the universal sovereignty of God.” Ms. Harkness was one of the first women to hold a full professorship at a U.S. theological seminary and was instrumental in helping secure ordination for women in the Methodist Church.  The orchestral tone poem Finlandia, Op. 26, by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, was composed in 1899 and revised in 1900, the last of seven pieces written to accompany a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history and was occasionally performed using alternate titles to avoid the increasing threat of Russian censorship. Often cited as a traditional folk melody, the hymn portion is original Sibelius. The tune is most often sung to the text “Be Still, My Soul” but “This Is My Song” has become increasingly popular in churches as an alternative to more nationalistic hymns.

The Closing Voluntary is the fifth in a suite of Five Heroic Marches, originally written for four trumpets by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), a German Baroque composer who was prolific on several instruments.  Telemann was born four years before the great German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and lived seventeen years longer than Bach.  Telemann served as godfather to Bach’s second son, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, who succeeded him in the position of Kapellmeister in Hamburg. Telemann studied law to please his family, but ended up with a music career, with an output of approximately 3000 works (not all survived), including compositions for organ, instrumental solos and ensembles, operas, and choral works. Telemann’s music links the style of the late Baroque and early Classical periods.

May 27, 2018

As we conclude our worship this week, Trinity Sunday, we will sing the final stanza of the hymn “Come, Thou Almighty King” which begins “To thee, great One in Three.” This anonymous text first appeared in a collection published in 1757 as a parody of “God Save Our Gracious King,” and was paired with that tune, which is sung on this side of the pond to “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Felice de Giardini (1716-1796), an Italian violinist and composer working in London wrote a new tune for these words in 1769.  It echoes the original tune, and of course follows the unique poetic structure.  About this tune, Carl Daw states that “[he] has created something with more grandeur than his model.”  His original tune has been slightly and uniquely altered in two versions that are common in hymnals today.  One version is titled ITALIAN HYMN, recognizing the nationality of its composer. The second version is titled MOSCOW, a nod to the fact that Giardini died in acute poverty after moving to Moscow. Glory to Goduses ITALIAN HYMN to set this text.  The Opening Voluntary will be two short settings of the slightly different version known as MOSCOW.

The Closing Voluntary is based on the hymn tune NICAEA, always sung to the text ”Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!,” an appropriate opening hymn for Trinity Sunday.  Author Reginald Heber was born in England in 1783 into a wealthy, educated family. He entered Oxford University at the age of 17, having translated a Latin classic into English verse by the age of 7. After graduation he became rector of his father’s church near Shrewsbury in the west of England and was there for 16 years. He was appointed Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy!” in 1827.  After just three years his health declined and he died of a stroke. Most of his 57 hymns are still widely used today, with “Holy, Holy, Holy!” appearing in 1,425 hymnals.  The tune NICAEA is named after the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) at which church leaders began to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity, resulting, of course, in the Nicene Creed, which became a pillar of church doctrine.  NICAEA, composed by John Bacchus Dykes, was written specifically for Heber’s text.  Composer David M. Cherwien arranged the Closing Voluntary. Cherwien followed the late distinguished Lutheran musician Paul Manz as Director of Music/Organist at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. He is composer of the multi-volume popular series for organ, Interpretations, short pieces based on hymn tunes.  Other liturgical music for choir and organ are in the catalogues of several publishers.  He has also authored a book, “Let the People Sing,” a practical guide for those who lead the congregation in song, published in 1997 by Concordia.

May 20, 2018

The Closing Voluntary for Pentecost Sunday (May 20) is Litanies, by 20thcentury French composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940). Alain was born into a family of musicians.  Father Albert was an organist, composer, and organ builder; younger brother Olivier was a composer, organist, and pianist; younger sister Marie-Claire Alain (1926-2013) was an organist and throughout her life gave many recitals and workshops in the United States and abroad, always a champion of her oldest brother’s brief output of organ music.  By the age of 14, Jehan Alain was substitute organist at a church in his hometown, St. Germain-en-Laye.

He began composing in 1929 and continued until the outbreak of World War II ten years later. His music was greatly influenced not only by the music of Debussy and of Alain’s contemporary Olivier Messiaen, but also by his interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east, a renaissance of the popularity of baroque music, and in jazz.

In 1935 he went to Paris, attending the Paris Conservatoire and earning First Prizes in Harmony and Fugue. While there, he was appointed organist of Saint-Nicholas de Maisons Laffitte and also played regularly at the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth synagogue.  He studied organ with the great organist/composer of his time, Marcel Dupré, taking First Prize for Organ and Improvisation in 1939.

Perhaps his most famous organ work is Litanies, composed in 1937. There is an inscription at the beginning of Litanies  that, when translated, reads  “When, in its distress, the Christian soul can find no more words to invoke God’s mercy, it repeats endlessly the same litany….for reason has reached its limit; only faith can take one further…”.  In addition to Alain’s interest in music, he was interested in mechanics, becoming a skilled motorcyclist and dispatch rider in the motorized division of the French army. On 20 June 1940, he encountered a group of German soldiers at Le Petit-Puy.  Abandoning his motorcycle, he engaged the enemy troops, killing 16 of them before being killed himself.  For his bravery, he was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and, according to Nicholas Slonimsky, editor of “Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians,” was actually buried by the Germans with full military honors. The opening phrase of Litaniesrecurs throughout the piece, as a “litany” to the Holy Spirit and one can imagine, particularly at the end of Litanies, not just the Christian soul seeking God’s mercy, but tongues of fire raining down on us, the disciples of Christ!  If you wish, you are invited to be seated for the Closing Voluntary this Sunday.


May 13, 2018

This Sunday’s Opening and Closing Voluntaries are based on hymn tunes sung in the service. The Opening Voluntary is on the tune WAREHAM, in an arrangement by composer Healey Willan (1880-1968). Willan is considered an Anglo-Canadian composer, as he was born in England and emigrated to Canada in 1913, where he remained until his death. Willan composed some 800 musical pieces, the majority sacred works for choir such as anthems, hymns and mass settings.  He served as organist and choirmaster at several churches in London and Toronto, where he also became Ontario’s provincial education minister and chancellor of the University of Toronto. The tune WAREHAM was composed by Dr. Samuel Arnold (1739-1802), an English musician and composer whose output included works for the theatre as well as the church. Although we most frequently sing the text “The Church of Christ in Every Age” to this tune, Sunday’s text is a paraphrase of Psalm 1, the lectionary Psalm for the day, written by David Gambrell in 2009. Gambrell is Associate for Worship in the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship, previous editor of the journal Call to Worship,and served as an ex officio advisor to the hymnal committee. In addition, he recently served as an editor for the just released revised Book of Common Worship.

The Closing Voluntary is based on the tune FESTAL SONG and is set by American organist and composer Seth Bingham (1882-1972). Born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, his farming family relocated to Naugatuck, Connecticut. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1904, studying organ and composition. He also studied in Paris with Alexandre Guilmant, Vincent d’Indy and Charles-Marie Widor.  Bingham earned his B.Mus. from Yale in 1908, teaching music theory, composition and organ there from 1908 to 1919. He served as organist and choirmaster at New York City’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1913-1951. In addition, he was an associate professor at Columbia University from 1922 to 1954.  He received an honorary doctorate from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1952, and lectured at the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary from 1953 to 1965. This Sunday, we sing this tune with the text “Arise, Your Light Is Come!” written by Ruth Duck in 1974.  Ms. Duck is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ and professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.  She has written books and articles about Christian worship and edited or co-edited three books of worship resources. GIA Publications, publisher of many of her works, says about her texts – “Her powerful texts have emerged as the major part of the cutting edge of language that speaks of God in universal terms and in poetry that is as poignant as it is stoic.”

May 6, 2018

Sunday’s Closing Voluntary, Toccata in Seven is by prolific English composer John Rutter (b. 1945), noted mostly for his choral works, which include his “Requiem.”  Rutter attended Highgate School in London where, as a chorister, he took part in the first recording of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” in 1963.  He continued singing in the choir at Clare College, Cambridge; and his first compositions were published while a student there. He served Clare College as Director of Music from 1975-79 then, in 1981 founded his own choir, the Cambridge Singers, which he still conducts. In addition to his many choral compositions sung by choirs around the globe, he was commissioned to write an anthem, “This is the Day,” for the Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011 sung at Westminster Abbey during the service.  Toccata in Seven appears to be his only solo composition for organ, although many of his choral works have organ accompaniment.  The “seven” refers to the meter and “toccata” literally translates as “touch” so Toccata in Sevenis a lively piece in an odd meter!  If one were to count it out loud, it would be 1-2 1-2 1-2-3 as the notes are in two groups of two and one group of three.

April 29, 2018

The Opening Voluntary this Sunday is based on a Welsh melody of 1784, AR HYD Y NOS, literally translated “All Through the Night,” the most common text sung to this tune. German composer Gerhard Krapf (1924–2008) crafted this arrangement.  Krapf was born in Meissenheim, Germany, studied piano and organ for several years, then was drafted into the German army in 1942. Captured by the Russians in early May of 1945 he spent years of hard labor, not even knowing the war had ended. It was during this period when he began composing music, writing his compositions on cement bags. After his release, he received music degrees in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1953 for further study. Krapf served as professor of organ at the University of Iowa from 1962 to 1977 and at the University of Alberta, Canada from 1977 to 1987. He almost always chose Biblical texts, believing in the importance of serious music in worship of the divine. AR HYD Y NOS is popular with Welsh male voice choirs, and is frequently sung by them at festivals both in Wales and around the world. The text in Glory to God is by Jaroslav Vajda, written in 1983.  He was asked to write a text for use during the day, as mostly evening texts are sung to the tune so, according to Carl Daw, Vajda took the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6 and recast it as a benediction that might be spoken by God at the end of worship. We will sing “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” as our closing hymn.  The Closing Voluntary is based on the tune ENGELBERG and is by composer Charles Ore, a composer whose music I enjoy playing for worship.  Set to two texts in our hymnal, this fifth Sunday of Easter we will sing the text “We Know That Christ Is Raised,” a text appropriate for both Eastertide and a Sunday when we celebrate a baptism.  ENGELBERGis by distinguished Irish composer, teacher, and conductor Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 –1924). Born in Dublin, Stanford was educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. In addition to his appointment as organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, he was a founding professor of the Royal College of Music, teaching composition there for the remainder of his life.  Two of Stanford’s pupils were Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose fame eclipsed that of their teacher. Stanford’s best-known compositions are his choral works for the church. His compositional style is influenced more by Brahms and Schumann than of up and coming romantic composers such as Liszt and Wagner.

April 15, 2018

Sunday’s Opening Voluntary is an arrangement of the very popular Beethoven tune “Hymn to Joy,” composed for his ninth symphony.  The arrangement is by Dr. Timothy Albrecht, who holds a joint faculty appointment as Professor of Music at Candler School of Theology, where he has taught since 1982 and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Music at Emory University. He also serves as Emory University Organist. The opening hymn Sunday is Brian Wren’s text “Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna!” set to “Hymn to Joy.”  The Closing Voluntary is an arrangement of a German melody, adopted by the Moravian church.  A large body of both vocal and instrumental music from the early American Moravians survives today, solely composed for the worship of God. The setting of the Moravian hymn “Look Up, My Soul, to Christ Thy Joy” is by Robert Elmore (1913-1985). Elmore was an American composer, organist, and pianist, active in Philadelphia during the mid-20th century.  His first composition was written at age 11. While in his teens he was appointed organist at Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA and performed as a theater organist in several theaters. His first major organ recital took place in 1929 in the famed Auditorium at Ocean Grove, NJ.

April 4, 2018

This Sunday’s Opening Voluntary is by the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757).  Scarlatti spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. While he is considered a composer of the Baroque era (born the same year as J. S. Bach and Handel), his music influenced the development of the Classical style. He composed in a variety of musical forms, although he remains known mainly for his 555 single-movement keyboard sonatas, of which the Sonata in D Major is one.  Although composed primarily for the harpsichord (and with a few for organ), many pianists play Scarlatti’s sonatas, as they are delightful exercises in finger dexterity!  The Closing Voluntary by Lutheran musician David Cherwien is a setting of Sunday’s closing hymn, “The Risen Christ” using the tune WOODLANDS.  The tune was composed by Walter Greatorex, an English composer and musician, in 1916.  (Walter is not to be confused with Henry Greatorex, composer of a setting of the “Gloria Patri” sung in many churches.)  Greatorex is probably best remembered for WOODLANDS, commonly used with the text by Timothy Dudley-Smith, “Tell Out, My Soul” and the text we sing Sunday, “The Risen Christ,” written by United Church minister Nigel Weaver during the meeting of the Hymn Society in Toronto in 1993. The Cherwien setting begins with a bold statement of the hymn tune and segues into a fugal (imitative) section, with the melody in a slower rhythm in the pedals.  There is also a phrase of a familiar tune hidden amongst the imitative back and forth – see if you can identify it!


March 28, 2018

We are privileged to have brass, timpani, and harp for Easter worship this year!  To take advantage of having the brass, both the Opening and Closing Voluntary will be pieces for organ, brass, and timpani.  The Opening Voluntary is Marche from a Suite of Dances by French composer/conductor André Campra. He served as music director at cathedrals in Arles and Toulouse and then served at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1694-1700. He also composed music for the theatre, publishing under his brother’s name in order to protect his reputation as a church musician!  From 1720 until his death in Versailles in 1744, he composed only sacred music. His most famous composition is, very likely, Rigaudon, from his opera Idoménée, arranged for organ by a number of composers and frequently used as the processional or recessional at weddings.  The Closing Voluntary is an arrangement for brass, organ, and timpani of Francesco Manfredini’s Trumpet Finale.  Manfredini (1684-1762) was an Italian Baroque composer, violinist, and church musician and a contemporary of J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi.  While he composed oratorios specifically for the church, only his secular works remain popular. After an extended stay in the court of Monaco, he returned to his hometown of Pistoia as choir master at St. Phillip’s Cathedral, where he remained until his death.  It is presumed that the bulk of his music was destroyed after his death.

Music Notes About the Easter Anthem

The Chancel Choir will be joined by organ, harp, six brass, and timpani for Trinity Te Deum by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977).  He was a student at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary (1995–1997) before obtaining a master’s degree in composition (2004) from the Latvian Academy of Music. He won the Latvian Grand Music Award in 2005, 2007 and 2015 and did further study in England. This anthem was commissioned for the Installation of the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge in October of 2012.

The Latin Te Deum has been traditionally ascribed to Saints Ambrose and Augustine on the occasion of Augustine’s baptism by Ambrose in A.D. 387, although current scholarship now attributes the text to a 4th century bishop. Regardless, it is an early Christian hymn of praise. The opening phrase is “Te Deum laudamus” or “We Praise Thee, O God.” This ancient hymn follows the outline of the Apostles’ Creed, calling on God’s name at the beginning.  The anthem follows the same outline, opening with a majestic statement of praise to God which recurs throughout the anthem.  The slow section lists all those who praise God – “Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory. The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee. The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise Thee.” And so on, returning to the creedal statements, recalling Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.

In addition, the brass will also accompany the congregation, choir, and organ in the singing of the opening hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah.


March 21, 2018

The well-loved Palm Sunday hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” has a history based on facts and legends.  Text-writer Theodulph of Orleans was likely a native of Italy and traveled to France with Charles the Great (Charlemagne), becoming Bishop of Orleans around 785.  After the death of Charles, he remained friendly with Emperor Louis but was suspected of participating in the plot to dethrone Louis in favor of Bernard of Italy, so he was imprisoned at Angers in 818. Theodulph wrote the text of the hymn while in prison. The Latin original was a two-line refrain sung in alternation with thirty-eight two line stanzas and written as a processional hymn, as the clergy and choir in the Middle Ages not only processed within the church, but in the church square and through the town as well. The legend has it that King Louis passed the prison during the Palm Sunday processional while Theodulph was singing this hymn and was so taken by the hymn and the voice singing it that he immediately freed the Bishop. The fact is that he likely remained in prison until his death in 821.  The tune, often named ST. THEODULPH because of its association with this text, is also known as VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN. It was composed by Melchior Teschner, a German Lutheran pastor and musician, in 1614 for a text of the same name, a hymn for the dying.  The Palm Sunday Opening Voluntary, based on this tune, begins and ends with a loud trumpet fanfare, and is arranged by Edwin T. Childs, now retired from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, having previously taught music theory and composition at Cairn University (PA), and Biola University (CA).


March 14, 2018

The Opening Voluntary for this Sunday, March 18, is the third movement of Daniel Gawthrop’s four movement Reformation Symphony for organ, a setting of the German Chorale Aus Tiefer Not, composed in 2016. I will have played three of the four movements of this work over the past few months, leaving out only Gawthrop’s version of “Sleeper’s, Wake,” as I chose instead the well- known Bach chorale prelude for the first Sunday of Advent. The chorale tune Aus Tiefer Not, most commonly translated Out of the Depths, was composed by Martin Luther in 1524 and is traditionally paired with a Luther text of the same name. The translated text is in our hymnal at #424.  Using only the string stops of the organ as accompaniment, there is a lovely flute obbligato at the beginning, which recurs between phrases of the chorale, also played on string stops.  The Closing Voluntary is by David Schelat and is based on the early American tune by William Billings, When Jesus Wept. This simple tune with matching text, both created in 1770, is also in our hymnal at #194.  This tune appears in several shaped-note tune books of the 18th century and would have been sung unaccompanied.

ORGAN RECITAL SERIES:  Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in historic downtown Macon will host the Cherry Blossom Organ Recital series (30-minute programs) each day at noon from March 19-23.  Recitalists for the week are listed here:

Monday, March 19 – Nathan K. Lively, Organist and Choirmaster, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Washington, CT. (Kyle was previously a colleague of Steve’s and mine at a Lutheran Church in Kingsport, TN.)

Tuesday, March 20 – Richard Gress, Organist, Sandersville United Methodist Church, Sandersville, GA;  Organ Student at Mercer University Townsend School of Music

Wednesday, March 21 Vicki Fey, Organist, Central Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA

Thursday, March 22  – Pat Graham Crowe, Interim Organist, Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, Macon, GA; Artist Diploma Student at the Mercer University Townsend School of Music

Friday, March 23 – Justin Maxey, Organist, Roswell Presbyterian Church, Roswell, GA; Artist Diploma Student at the Mercer University Townsend School of Music

These programs are sponsored jointly by the church and by the Macon Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.


March 7, 2018

ORGAN UPDATE: The organ “glitches” of the last few weeks were due to a failing processor.  Thanks to Phil Parkey, the Atlanta organ builder who enlarged and maintains the sanctuary organ (and installed and voiced the chapel organ), the processor was replaced Monday and the organ is “up and running!”

Opening and Closing Voluntaries for this Sunday, March 11 are based on two hymn tunes heard during the service of Lenten scriptures, readings, and music, both with English origins.  The Opening Voluntary is based on the tune KINGSFOLD which will be sung to the hymn text “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” This tune is used again in the service, setting one stanza of the hymn “Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples” which is sung at the presentation.  Noted composer and organist Charles Ore created this organ setting which has a similar Celtic rhythmic drive as another tune in the service, STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN, an Irish melody. The Closing Voluntary is based on the tune KING’S WESTON which was composed by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams for the text “At the Name of Jesus.”  Geneva Bell Choir will be ringing a setting of this tune at the offertory.  Lutheran musician David Cherwien composed the organ setting.  It begins with an imitative section in the manuals, and the pedals have the melody all the way through.

ORGAN RECITAL SERIES:  Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in historic downtown Macon will host the Cherry Blossom Organ Recital series (30-minute programs) each day at noon from March 19-23.  I will play the program Wednesday, March 21!  If you’re able to get to Macon that day, I would love to see you!