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Music Notes

Music Notes for Worship

Notes about the music selected for each service and special event that will help you appreciate its relevance.

  1. Music Notes : Music for September 6

    This month we are celebrating American music. Many of our worship selections – hymns, anthems, organ music – will be drawn from our rich American heritage.

    On September 6, we will feature:

    • Holy God, You Call Us Daily, our beloved Westminster hymn, commissioned from American hymn writer Jane Parker Huber (1926-2008);
    • An organ prelude by the beloved and very influential American composer/organist/teacher Wilbur Held (1914-2015);
    • Two offertories based on the lovely American tune, Nettleton, which first appeared in John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Pt. II (1813). Nettleton has been attributed to Wyeth (1779-1858) as well as to Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844), but is actually of unknown origin and has all the characteristics of a folk tune. 

  2. Music Notes : Lovefeast Choir Needs YOU!

    Lovefeast ChoirIf you love to sing Christmas music, but don’t have time to be a regular member of the Chancel Choir during this busy season, this is your chance to join in the fun with a limited time commitment. Lovefeast choir rehearses independently of the Chancel Choir, making it easy for everyone to find a time that suits them. Singers are encouraged to attend 2 of the 3 rehearsals, though you’re welcome to attend all. Even if you can only join us for 1, we encourage you to come be part of the fun.

    2013 Lovefeast Choir Rehearsal Schedule

    • Saturday, Oct. 26, 1:15-2:15pm in the Music Room (come at 12:30pm if you’d like to join us for lunch!)
    • Sunday, Nov. 10, 12:15-1:30pm in the Music Room (immediately following 11am worship; lunch will be served prior to this rehearsal as well)
    • Thursday, Nov. 21, 6:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary (this is our only rehearsal sung with the organ, so it’s helpful to attend)

    Lovefeast will take place on Dec. 1, at 5pm, with a warm up in the Music Room at 4pm. Dress is Christmas apparel – the more reds, greens, silvers, and golds, the better!

    Contact Monica with questions (, 919-489-4974, ext. 113).

  3. Music Notes : Easter Sunday Music

    A bit of background on our joyful Easter music:

    Wilbur Held’s organ arrangements beautifully showcase the joy and strength inherent in our most beloved Easter hymns. Held (b. 1914) lives in California and remains active as a composer and organist. For more than 30 years, he was Professor of Music (Organ and Church Music) at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he was beloved by generations of students for his wonderful teaching.

    Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Christ lag in Todesbanden, was first included in an Erfurt hymnal of 1524. The tune is a variant of the ancient Christ ist erstanden, a German folk melody with roots deeply imbedded in chant. This dark, powerful tune has spoken to many generations of composers, who to this day remain eager to arrange it for organ, chorus, etc. Though not very well known to American congregations, the tune was particularly recognized and beloved in Bach’s time.  

    The ancient hymn O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing! has lost none of its exuberance over the centuries; a perfect example of a strong, yet dancelike hymn in minor mode, it remains popular with congregations and composers alike. The original text was written by Jean Tisserand, a 15th-century Franciscan monk. The five stanzas presented in our hymnal form a paraphrase of Matthew 28:1-7. Tisserand’s text has been frequently altered since its translation and publication by John Mason Neale in Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). O Filii et Filiae, a 15th-century French melody, is contemporary with the text and was probably composed as the hymn’s original melody.

    The famous hymn Jesus Christ is Risen Today, with its elaborate strings of Alleluias, is perhaps the most popular of all Easter hymns used in American churches today, without which our Easter celebrations would simply not be the same. Its text includes three stanzas translated from the 14th-century Latin text, "Surrexit Christus hodie," first published in John Walsh’s Lyra Davidica (1708). The fourth stanza is a doxology verse by Charles Wesley. Easter Hymn is the only surviving tune from Lyra Davidica.

    Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!, set to Beethoven’s famous Ode to Joy, beautifully expresses the glory of Easter morning. Brian Wren’s energetic text, written in 1984, was originally paired with a different tune. Wren (b. 1936), an ordained minister in the English Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church), French language scholar, and poet, has been called the most successful English hymn writer since Charles Wesley.

    Two American Hymns, arranged by Alice Parker, are perfect examples of what makes traditional American music so appealing and so richly meaningful. Alice Parker (b. 1925) is an American treasure: a prolific composer, arranger, conductor, and teacher, still going strong with a daunting performing/touring schedule, and possessing the energy of someone many decades younger. Ms. Parker is also the masterful embodiment of what it means to sing joyfully in community. If you ever have an opportunity to experience an Alice Parker SING, you should by all means do so. In these programs, Ms. Parker engages large or small groups in song, empowering them with ability and a variety of singing that goes far beyond what they thought they were capable of.

    Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing is based upon the hymn tune Gelobt sei Gott by Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1560-ca. 1616), a German composer who served as cantor in Weimar from 1602 until his death. Vulpius composed numerous chorales, sacred choruses, a passion oratorio (St. Matthew), and Latin wedding hymns. John Ferguson’s arrangement for brass and organ capitalizes on the glorious majesty of this ancient tune. Ferguson is a noted organist, composer, church music clinician, and professor at St. Olaf College. Hal Hopson brings us an arrangement in which everyone gets to participate-congregation, choir, & instrumentalists. Hopson, formerly at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, is a well-known composer, arranger, and teacher with more than 1,000 published works to his credit.

    In Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabeus, the famous tune of our Hymn 122 was the setting for "See, the conquering hero comes." It was first published as a hymn tune in Thomas Butts’ Harmonia Sacra (1760) as the setting for Charles Wesley’s "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" The tune’s association with Easter celebrations was thus assured. Our hymnal pairs the tune with a French hymn text ("A toi la gloire") written by Edmond L. Budry and published in Chants Evangeliques (1885); it was translated into English by Richard B. Hoyle for the first edition of Cantate Domino (1924).

    Mendelssohn’s organ works include six sonatas for the instrument. These have attained an almost mythical status in the literature and include many elements reminiscent of earlier composers, particularly J. S. Bach. The power and brilliance of Mendelssohn’s writing for the organ make some of his sonata movements perfect for joyous feast days such as Easter. Mendelssohn’s homage to earlier composers, as expressed in his sonatas, was quite deliberate. In fact, Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm for the music of Bach was the driving force behind a huge resurgence of interest in Bach’s compositional genius a century after Bach’s death.

  4. Music Notes : This Summer

    Music Notes will be going on hiatus over the summer. But if you are a regular reader, fear not… our summer Psalm sermon series promises plenty of food for thought, including occasional musical commentaries in Sunday service bulletins as well as online.

    God bless each and every one of you with peace, joy, and safety this summer. May you always make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

  5. Music Notes : Music for May 27th

    Though Pentecost may be somewhat overshadowed because it coincides with Memorial Day weekend this year, its impact as the Birthday of the Church can hardly be overstated.  The dramatic story of Pentecost, complete with flames of fire, is boldly commemorated by use of the color red.  At Westminster, we also welcome. . .

    our young Confirmands into membership this morning, a fitting celebration for Pentecost Sunday!

    Surrounding our service are organ works by Johann Pachelbel, J. S. Bach, and David N. Johnson, all based on the ancient Pentecost chorale Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God). Though not included in our Presbyterian Hymnal, the historical influence of this chorale has been significant.  Portions of the text are 15th-century, with the remaining verses written by Martin Luther. The tune also predates the Reformation and appears in one of the very earliest hymnals, the Erfurt Ein Enchiridion oder Handbüchlein of 1524. The sweeping first verse translates as follows:
    Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord, with all Your graces now outpoured on each believer’s mind and heart; Your fervent love to them impart. Lord, by the brightness of Your light in holy faith Your Church unite; from every land and every tongue this to Your praise, O Lord, our God, be sung: Alleluia, Alleluia! 

    The final organ prelude is Bach’s whirlwind fantasia based on this chorale (the tune appears in the pedal line).  This exuberant piece opens the Great Eighteen Chorales, a set of truly monumental chorale-based pieces by Bach. The set is not tied together by any theme, liturgical or otherwise and, in fact, these pieces were not even grouped together by Bach himself, but rather were so named by the editor Wilhelm Rust in 1878.  Even so, these marvelous works offer a valuable glimpse into the chorales Bach deemed most significant during his time.

    Our powerful opening hymn, Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us, sung to the tune Ebenezer (also known as Ton-Y-Botel), captures the drama of Pentecost.  The tune by Thomas John Williams (1869-1944) shares a number of characteristics common to other Welsh tunes, including a robust rhythmic structure and strong minor mode.  Its alternate name, Ton-Y-Botel, springs from the legend that it was found in a bottle washed ashore during a storm off the Welsh coast.  There is no historical fact to support this, but the charming legend lives on.  Janie Alford’s text is a perfect match for the sweeping tune.  Alford (1887-1986), a native of Nashville, studied astronomy, journalism, income tax, and library science.  Obviously a woman of many interests and talents, she also wrote poetry all her life.  A charter member of the Moore Memorial Presbyterian Church in Nashville (which later became Westminster Presbyterian Church), Alford started that church’s library.  At the suggestion of Hal Hopson, she was encouraged to write hymns based on the seasons of the church year, and her Nine Hymns for the Church Year appeared in 1979.

    Our middle hymn this morning, Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song, appears in the Holy Spirit section of our hymnal; it could just as readily have appeared in the Pentecost section.  The 1982 text by Carl P. Daw, Jr. is an eloquent prayer to the Holy Spirit, its three short verses filled with vivid Pentecost images as well as references to the members of Christ’s body as branches of the Vine.  The fire of the Holy Spirit may be dramatic, but it is also a profound source of peace and healing, as Daw so beautifully suggests. Our final hymn, Here I Am, Lord by Daniel Schutte, has become a modern classic and is now traditionally used for Confirmation and Ordination services.  Its moving text based on Isaiah 6: 8-9 urges us to heed God’s call in our lives, whenever and however it may come.  As we stand with our Confirmands today, we all gladly say with them, Here I Am!