I have become a text-driven sacred musician. I still love to perform and listen to great music, which has not changed since I used to sit on the chancel floor as a preschooler watching the organist play the postlude with her feet. I remember my choir-member father (who always had an after-church tee-time) picking me up by the armpits and saying, “Come on… we’ve got to go.”
To this day one of my mentors will tell you that I entered graduate school as a recital organist and emerged as a sacred musician; I think he has me pegged pretty accurately.
We are entering a church season of great texts, all of which point toward the recognition and arrival of the Christ child. Many of these texts easily translate to some basic terminology: wait, watch, keep the lights on, be ready, don’t miss this.
Last Sunday morning (Nov. 29), the First Sunday of Advent, the anthem text was a beloved favorite, albeit with a slightly different translation from the original German:
A rose there is a-springing from tender roots on earth;
as ancient men were singing, from Jesse came it birth.
And now this little flower appears in coldest winter at this midnight hour.
Es ist ein Ros, tr. Donald Cashmore, b. 1926
This Sunday morning (Dec. 6) the anthem text is a contemporary setting of a text by an 18th-century professor of Greek at Cambridge and canon priest of Ely Cathedral. This text was first published in the first companion hymnal to the Book of Common Prayer, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861):
Zion, at thy shining gates, lo, the King of glory waits!
Haste thy monarch’s pomp to greet, strew thy palms before his feet.
Christ, for thee their triple light, faith and hope and love unite;
this the beacon we display to proclaim thine Advent day.
Benjamin Hall Kennedy (1804-1889)
For our Festival of Advent Lessons and Carols this Sunday evening (Dec. 6), a number of significant, rich, engaging texts will be sung:
When this old world drew on toward night, you came, but not in splendor bright,
not as a monarch, but as a child of Mary, blameless mother mild.
Latin, 9th cent., tr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866)
Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore,
never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more
than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my trouble breast.
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
Canite tuba in Sion,
quia prope est dies Domini.
Ecce venit ad salvandum nos,
erunt prava in directa
et aspecra in vivas planas,
veni Domine et noli tardare.
Blow ye the trumpet in Sion,
for the day of God now is near at hand.
See, he cometh and will save us.
He will make the crooked ways straight
and the rough places he will make plain.
Come, O Lord, and do not tarry.
(Joel 2:1 and Isaiah 11:4)
So, wait, watch, keep the lights on, be ready, and don’t miss this.