Light and remembrance. . .
At first glance, today’s hymns may not appear to have much in common. But a careful reading or, more accurately, a careful experiencing–as Westminster’s always robust congregational singing might rightly be called–brings a central theme into ever clearer focus. That theme is Light. As Katherine and I discussed today’s Scriptures and her sermon topic, we came upon these hymns as three compelling commentaries on light, a foreshadowing–if you will–of Advent, which is soon to be upon us. In some more obviously than in others, the importance of light–symbolically as well as literally–along with the contrast between light and darkness become focal points for examining central themes of Christian life. As you sing today’s hymns, I challenge you to find the references to light and, more importantly, to think about how light–symbolically as well as literally–impacts your own life. When studying hymns, as when studying literature in general or any art form, really, it is helpful to keep historical context in mind. In stark contrast to our present-day lives, which include the ever-present possibility of being brightly illuminated 24/7, the cycle of light and darkness during ancient times was a sometimes harsh taskmaster, an unalterable fact of life. For millennia, natural cycles of light and darkness marked the rhythm of human days and seasons very directly, giving light a special significance. In the early days of persecution, Christians quite literally worshiped underground (in the catacombs). Light thus became a powerful symbol, and has remained so throughout Christian history.
Last week, our Chancel Choir sang a wonderful anthem in memory of Mickey Henriquez. This week, the remembrance continues as we sing one of Leslie Malpass’ original choral compositions. Like Mickey, Les was for years a delightful and much beloved member of our choir; during his time with us, he shared some of his compositions, which the choir sang on occasion. When Les died this past spring, the choir sang for his service, but because of the short timeframe was unable to re-learn one of Les’s anthems in time for the service. We promised to do so this fall instead, and the result is this rendition of Les’s rousing anthem based on texts from Psalm 6. Those of us who knew Les can well picture him energetically singing this anthem with us, a big warm smile on his face. Just this past week, Winona Malpass, Les’s beloved wife, passed away too. So today we remember both Les and Win, a delightful couple, our dear friends, and inspirations to many.
Beautiful Savior (also known as Fairest Lord Jesus–in our hymnal, see no. 306–sung to the beautiful Silesian folk melody known as the Crusaders’ Hymn) in an arrangement by F. Melius Christiansen, is the trademark anthem of the famous St. Olaf Choir. We hope you enjoy the rich harmonies and heartfelt emotion as our choir sings the last verse of this well-known setting as an introit for 11:00 worship.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), the German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist, and conductor, was enormously influential. Organists love to play his three sonatas for the instrument; along with two organ concertos, these are Hindemith’s only organ compositions, though he was prolific in many other areas, including opera, large symphonic pieces, and chamber music. Hindemith’s organ sonatas are written in a so-called neo-Baroque style, and are filled with delightful contrapuntal lines (owing much to the contrapuntal language of Bach and others) and brisk rhythmic patterns. Hindemith’s melodic writing is warm, haunting, and often incorporates folk melodies. Born near Frankfurt, Hindemith lived during difficult times and led an interesting life. He visited Cairo and Ankara during the 1930s; in Ankara he led the task of reorganizing Turkish music education and was involved in early efforts to establish Turkish state opera and ballet. The controversy around his work (which fell into and out of favor with the Nazis) continued throughout the 1930s; he finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938, in part because his wife was Jewish. In 1940, Hindemith emigrated to the United States. He taught primarily at Yale University, where he influenced many notable American composers. In 1946, Hindemith became a U.S. citizen, but returned to Europe in 1953, living in Zurich and teaching at the university there.