Friday, November 30, 2012

Get your warm fuzzies someplace else!

I'm going to start blogging on Fridays as well, starting in Advent (which is a really bright idea for a church organist. We've got hardly anything to do until after Christmas).

Friday's blog will deal with music for the church, so if you'd prefer not to read about or hear music for the (Methodist) Christian Church, don't read the blog on Fridays. On Mondays I don't plan to post any religious music at all. That's my thin wall between church blog and state blog.

I'm not planning to get into any heavy theological matters on Friday, either, though. But I'm not going to completely avoid the topic. You're welcome to participate regardless of your background or your thoughts or beliefs. To paraphrase the old slogan of the Methodist Church: Open minds, open blogs. Y'all come on in and make yourselves comfy.

Now then...the first week of Advent (cue scary music).

Look, I realize this isn't going to make a great first impression, but the prescribed readings for the first week of the four week period of Advent which leads up to Christmas (and is also the first week of the church year) are not exactly what you'd call the most cozy. Given the whole business with the Mayan prophecies about the end of the world in three weeks (with attendant media frenzy), what better time to introduce dire predictions about the end of the world? And that's exactly what those readings are about. Repent! Gird your loins! The end is near! Better be on your best behavior, you know?

Historically, some very large sections of the church have, on the first (and subsequent) Sunday(s) of Advent, made it a time for sober reflection, including Bach's church in Leipzig, Germany. Which would explain why the selection you are about to hear does not, in any remote way, even vaguely resemble "Jingle Bells." Or "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Or "Sleigh Ride."  There. You've been warned.

It is based on an ancient chant called "Come, Savior of the Nations." Unfortunately my budget doesn't allow me to have a team of monks on stand-by, so I've recorded the chant on the organ the way it proceeds in Bach's piece, but you get the idea:

 Veni Redemptor Gentium  (that's what the boys call it in Latin)*

*note: this version has had one note consistently altered from the original, and is more rhythmic. You might call it the 17th century German Protestant version of the 12th century(?) chant. The text goes back to the 4th.

Now one of the tricks about listening to a piece by Mr. Bach is that once everything gets going at once, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly to be listening for. In this case I've given you the melody of the chant so you'll recognize it when it goes by. And don't worry about finding it in the maze of simultaneous voices. It isn't subtle. It doesn't sneak up on you (kind of like the great and terrible day of the Lord).

The first phrase will appear, loudly, with tuba stops in the pedals (the bass), about 40 seconds or so into the music, once the upper three voices have all made their appearance, one at a time. This will be followed by a period in which the pedal will take a short rest. In about 15 or 20 seconds, a second phrase will thunder forth. I've turned the volume down on the recording but I still don't recommend being too close to your speaker. Lather, rinse, repeat, until all four phrases have completed, which only takes a couple of minutes. If it takes you a few times to figure out how the whole thing works, just listen to it again. It'll be here.

Meanwhile I'm going to go put on sackcloth and mope around the house for a bit.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland   by J. S. Bach  (BWV661a if you're into that sort of thing)

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