New Heav’n, New Earth – a New Music Premiere!

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One of my graduate school teachers always said, “We must perform the music of contemporary American composers often; otherwise, how will they be encouraged to write new good music for us?” When a patron or institution has the rare, significant opportunity to commission a new musical work, new relationships are formed: between patron and composer, between composer and choir, between composer and congregation (either as singers or listeners), between God and cosmos. If the new work is then recorded, historical relationships are also forged worldwide.

This weekend Church of the Holy Communion is the host of a signal event. When over a year ago we brainstormed the idea of hosting a sacred arts festival, which would be the intersection for sacred artists, writers/poets and musicians, we set aside resources to commission a new musical work. As our parish is experiencing a period of rejuvenation and growth, we also had the idea of commissioning a parish hymn to identify ourselves and our ministry. Only a few months later, the hymn tune Walnut Grove was born as a musical identifier for our parish.

The process of selecting the text “Come, new heav’n, new earth descending” was a God-filled moment as well. As William Bradley Roberts, the composer of Walnut Grove, says, “A good text will write its own tune,” and this hymn is a prime example. With the festival taking place in Eastertide, “Alleluia” was already a major punch word. When we happened upon Susan Palo Cherwien’s fifth stanza, “Alleluia be our measure,” we knew this phrase defined our Resurrection mission and identity. Bill Roberts’ soaring musical phrases and lofty Alleluia descant define this moment in time and ministry for our parish. May “Alleluia be our measure” and a perpetual call to ministry to us from this time forth!

Read interviews with the artists here. Schedule, registration and artists’ bios are here.

Photos – Above: Susan Palo Cherwien’s text to the new hymn; composer Bill Roberts.

Photos – Below: Susan Palo Cherwien, visual artist Mel Ahlborn, who has created an illuminated manuscript based on Cherwien’s words.

Susan Palo CherwienMel Ahlborn

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The Lord is my Shepherd

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As Sundays and other feast days have specific names in the liturgical year (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Day of Pentecost, et. al), numerous Sundays and feasts have liturgical nicknames as well, and this Sunday (April 26) is one, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The lectionary readings all point to the Resurrected Christ, Jesus the Good Shepherd, who calls each of his flock by name. In Sunday’s Acts reading, the arrested Peter proclaims himself in good health “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one whom you crucified, the one whom God raised from the dead.”

In the First John reading, we are commanded “that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” And in the Gospel of John, Jesus assures us that “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Psalm 23, the appointed psalm, also helps identify Sunday as Good Shepherd Sunday. Some of the hymns for this morning’s liturgy are metrical versions of Psalm 23, and the anthems for the 10:30 a.m. liturgy and the 5:30 p.m. Choral Evensong Sunday is inspired by Psalm 23 as well.

Some will recognize the Parish Choir’s morning anthem as the theme music from the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley. Contemporary English composer Howard Goodall’s setting of “The Lord is my shepherd” is a sweet, sublime setting of this beloved text, beginning and ending simply with a solo voice.

Evensong is Sunday evening at 5:30, including the music of Cooke, Statham, Friedell, Goss, and J. S. Bach. A reception follows in Cheney Parish Hall.

Here we come a-caroling (yes, it’s April)

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We can all name our favorite Christmas carol, but what about a favorite Easter carol, New Year’s carol, harvest carol or summer carol? The carol is normally a religious song associated with a particular season of the year, and although carols are found in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the carol itself is distinctively English. The original Medieval carol was also distinctive in its form: a burden (or refrain) repeats after each carol verse and was sometimes sung before the first verse as well.

The carol lost popularity in the 18th century, but some credit the fashionable Victorian celebrations of Christmas with its rise and return in the mid-19th century. English music scholars Percy Dearmer, Martin Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams collected and published The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 in which they provided some new texts for many old tunes. This significant volume has stood the test of time and is still well respected and used today.

“This Joyful Eastertide,” the Parish Choir’s anthem this Sunday (Apr. 19), is a harmonization of a Dutch carol by Irish-born composer Charles Wood (1866-1926). The refrain (or burden) proclaims the Resurrection with its delightful words “Had Christ, that once was slain, never burst his three-day prison, our faith has been in vain: but now is Christ arisen.” Note how each time the word “arisen” repeats and ascends melodically to the end of the carol.

Doubting Thomas and the 50 Days of Easter

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During the season of Easter, also known as the Great Fifty Days of Easter (“trumping” the Forty Days of Lent with the Resurrection), our Gospel lessons each Sunday are accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples. Today (April 12) is sometimes known as “Thomas Sunday,” marking the Gospel story when Thomas does not believe that the others have seen Jesus in the flesh. A week later, then in the presence of Thomas, Jesus appears again and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

Throughout the remainder of Easter season, leading up to Ascension Day (the fortieth day after Easter) and the Day of Pentecost (the 50th day), Jesus appears to the disciples with significant messages for them each time, which we all will recognize: “Peace be with you,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “ I am the true vine,” “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” and “I am coming to you…so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” The Great Fifty Days ends with Jesus “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon them on Pentecost.