Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"Go to Dark Gethsemane"

This classic Maundy Thursday hymn has a fourth verse that looks forward to sunrise on Resurrection morning: "Early hasten to the tomb ..." Most hymnals flag that verse, though, suggesting it be omitted for Holy Week services. Here I borrowed the fourth verse from "As With Gladness Men of Old," as it seems to better fit the plaintive mood of the occasion, asking of Jesus — who from Gethsemane to Calvary embodied perfect obedience along "the narrow way." 

I confess I found harmonizing with this extremely simple tune far more difficult than anticipated. I may well have overlooked something more obvious and satisfying, but did not want to harmonize and thus distract from the final stanza in each verse, so that last line tends to be unison. Not sure how successful these harmonies will be. But the thing I really like is the simple descending triads at the end — all white keys, in the key of C (guitar Capo 5) — which seem to correspond to the end of Jesus' struggle in the garden and his arrival at pure resolve.

Here's the link to the streamer page:





Thursday, March 25, 2021

I have a dream ...

 ... that one Sunday soon, preachers all across the land will preach as one on the Ninth Commandment, the prohibition against false accusation. And then maybe on Exodus 23.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

There must be some mistake

But then again, maybe not. Here is a screen shot for reference (taken March 23, 2021):


Or maybe they just say that to all the Christian Instrumental artists.


Monday, March 22, 2021

"A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing / Ride On, Ride On in Majesty (Agincourt)"

This quirky medieval tune called The Agincourt Song (pronounced with with a soft g) was a fun one to work out on guitar. It also seems to me a better setting for the Palm Sunday text, "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty," than Winchester New (Crasselius), the one I have encountered most often. Agincourt aptly depicts the "lowly majesty" of the Lord riding on a plodding donkey, the rhythm almost tracing the hoofbeats themselves, and in this recording, the organ's attempt to urge the beast forward does not quite succeed, as v. 3 remains a step or two behind the organ.

Click through to your streamer of choice: 

What else is different or new here? Two verses: the first one borrowed from Bede's ancient Ascension hymn, which seems to fit Palm Sunday just as well, and the last one which is my own. Bede's verse speaks of Jesus' destination and enthronement on high, but the use of that verse here only reminds us that the way upward leads first to and through the final showdown with the arch-enemy, and downward into suffering, dereliction, death, and burial. 

With so many verses — all verses of "Ride On, Ride On" are present and accounted for and surrounded by two others — some sort of break strain seemed in order, so that too is my own. If the blatting lower brass compounds the clumsy, somewhat comical quality of the tune itself and the awkwardness of the donkey ride, the same instrumentation will return with (I think) greater grace and uplift in Track 11, "From Death to Life" (re: which, see previous post).

Here is an excerpt from the liner notes regarding that final verse:

Thinking then of [Jesus'] mission as the fulfillment of the oldest prophecy in the Bible, that of the showdown between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen 3:15) and with Johann Georg Hamann’s Biblical Reflections of a Christian in mind, along with Chapter 4 of the Scots Confession, I added this verse:

Now Death’s appointment with death has come.
The Lord of life, with true aplomb,
By mortal heel, immortal trust,
The serpent’s head will turn to dust.

 

Friday, March 12, 2021

"From Death to Life"

Back in November, I recorded a single called "Just Passing Through," which has since reappeared on the instrumental record, Just. This track is a sequel to that one, which will explain the gratuitous use of the little hammered guitar lick that is very similar to the one that opened that track. In other words, the similarity is intentional, and admittedly more than a little lazy. 

From the liner notes on the CD:

An earlier, organ-only version of the quotation of “Eventide” that opens this track was too plodding, so I added the guitar backing and a good dose of impatience with death in order to arrive all the sooner at the point of this instrumental. Intended as a sequel to “Just Passing Through,” which appeared on the previous album, Just (December 31, 2020), this track has obvious structural similarities to that one, so it will hopefully complete the thought with no residual ambiguity. While the two pieces are in different tunings (“Just Passing Through” uses Capo 2, this one Capo 5), the primary chord progression here, which is strummed again very slowly in the rubato break, is a cross-shaped configuration of two-fingered chords. The most tuneful part of the flute melody is a lick that has been on file for decades as part of a long and involved instrumental piece called “The Minch,” so this melody may one day reappear, if that lumbering track ever fully awakens from sleep to tell its own story of resurrection. If not, then perhaps it will do so on better shores.

Let me only add a word or two about the lower brass, which plays an almost comical, blatting role in the Palm Sunday tune [Agincourt] on Track 2, but here really helps the track take off. Two treasured people come to mind with the modest, but soaring use of the brass patch here. 

First, my sweet dad — Happy birthday, Dad! — was a lower brass guy in the Nebraska University marching band back in the 1940s and later played in civic orchestras and other ensembles. Man, he had a mellow tone, which I, the inheritor of his baritone and trombone, could never match. Though gone these almost fourteen years, he would have appreciated the brass being given a melodic role here.

Second, a jovial chap with whom I played baritone in junior high, then later in several honor bands over the years, with whom I crossed paths at high school cross-country meets and later at university. A year ahead of me in school, Kent Wallace was a gentle, smiling, good-natured guy who played baritone and bass guitar, and later made a living in video production. I lost track of him ages ago, but recently learned that he died in 2014 of ALS. He too had a superior tone to mine when it came to the euphonium, so I was always "second fiddle" to his first chair. But I think of him and my dad both when the "bari" lines come in and the track achieves lift off. Maybe we can all sit together and play and crack a few jokes in the lower brass section of heaven's orchestra—if I make the cut, that is. (Lower brass always has a lot of down time for cracking jokes in rehearsal while everyone else gets their act together, so great melody and countermelody lines are a very welcome thing when such bones are thrown in our direction.)

As before, click through to your favorite streamer:


Meanwhile, the physical CD — destined to be a rarity! — is here.


Thursday, March 11, 2021

"Lord Jesus, Think on Me"

This is a really ancient text by Synesius of Cyrene (375-430), translated by Allen William Chatfield (1808-96), a Charterhouse alum (Genesis fans will recognize the reference), and set to the tune Southwell that has been appearing in hymnals since 1876 or so, though it dates back to Daman's Psalter from 1579. All I've done here is set it to guitar, laid down some eerie synth pads with one of my favorite patches, stood a bit too close to the mic, jazzed up the beat (à la Jethro Tull's "Bourée" or any number of pieces on their Christmas album), and added a flute solo, which is actually not as Tullish as you might expect: not so snarly, spittylilty, or even all that dynamic. The mystery of tune and text seemed to call for something fairly dry, steady, and sober, not dripping with emotion, while the simplicity of the tune wanted some mysterious intervals—OK, maybe a little bit of lilt—in the flute solo as well as a certain rhythmic slippage or laziness (there is a lot of that on this album, which I hope may serve to offset the quantization that pervades everything these days). The title of this text brought to mind the petition of the repentant thief on the cross, but while hymnary.com lists Luke 23 among gobs of other scripture references underlying the lyric, Holy Week is not among the liturgical occasions suggested for its use. Obviously, by including it here, I would like to suggest it might be. It certainly warrants singing in Lent.

Your choice of streamers at the link:


Meanwhile, the physical CD — an imminently endangered species! (going away in May) — is here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

"Hear Me, O God (Psalm 61 / The Bonnie Cuckoo)"

One of the best tracks on Enter the Arbiter is a setting of one of my favorite psalms. Psalm 61 is a Year D psalm (i.e., it falls outside the lectionary, but is retrieved in Year D). Although in that supplementary schedule of readings, I proposed it be read on the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, it really warrants much more frequent use than that. It is included here among these Songs for Holy Week by virtue of its similarities to Psalm 70, which is read on Spy Wednesday.


For the tune, I chose an ancient folk melody that, from what I have been able to tell, has never been the setting for a sacred text. At least "The Bonnie Cuckoo" so far yields no results in a search of hymnary.com. If someone were to tell me that John Bell has used this tune for something, I would not be surprised, for it seems like something he would do, but if he has done so, I am not aware of it. As for this setting, I have modified the tune a bit, repeating the first phrase in the introduction (a phrase that traditionally only occurs once in the verses), and instead of repeating the second phrase (in keeping with tradition), have added my own concluding phrase to resolve each verse. Anyone familiar with the music of O'Carolan will suspect the blind harper as the source behind this anonymous tune on the evidence of those distinctive descending intervals in the second phrase. But here I thought it best not to overuse those intervals, which may not be the most conducive to congregational singing, so I chose to resolve things differently. 

Here is my paraphrase of Psalm 61.

(1)   Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer

From the ends of the earth, I-I call to you!

My heart is faint and beaten down

Lead me to the rock that is higher ground.


(R) Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you!

 

(2) For you are a shelter of refuge for me,

A tow-er of strength, from the e-ne-my.

Let me abide for-ev-er in you

And under your wings find security.


(R) Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you!

 

(3) For yo-u, O G-od, have he-ard my vows,

And made me an heir with your fa-ith-ful.

Increase the days-of your ch-o-sen King

Who sh-all endure through the a-g-es.


(R) Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you! 


(4) May He be en-thr-oned for-ev-er with you.

Let mercy and truth up-ho-ld Him.

And I will ever sing praises to you.

And dai-ly fulfill all my promises.

 

(R) Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you!

 

(R) Hear me, O God, attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you!




Tuesday, March 9, 2021

"While Jesus' Body Slumbered"

So, I ask you, when has sacred music ever intentionally incorporated the sound of a mighty sneeze? Well, here you go.