Friday, March 7, 2014


This week is another odd juncture in the church year: this Sunday, we'll be picking up in the narrative of Christ's earthly ministry where we left off on the second Sunday of January, when we celebrated the "Baptism of the Lord." in Mark's gospel, Jesus comes up out of the water and a voice thunders "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." And suddenly, says Mark, with no further ado whatever, Jesus was driven into the wilderness and spent 40 days and nights there being tempted by Satan.  This makes the baptism and the temptation a two-parter that happen one right after the other. But liturgically, we take our time about it, spending however many weeks it takes for the lunar calendar to align properly before we begin Lent. Then the week preceding, for those of you keeping liturgical score, we skip to the Transfiguration, an incident the synoptic gospel writers put in the middle of Jesus's ministry, before we double back to pick up the temptation in the wilderness. What a ride!

In our local church, however, we've spent the last seven weeks discussing hymns, the different persons and groups responsible for writing them, and what they tell us about our faith. In other words, we've been off the liturgical cycle altogether. And in Lent, both of our pastors are taking the seven last words of Christ and preaching sermon series' on that.

Musically, the last seven weeks for me have been spent at the piano, playing hymn based compositions by my French cousin M. Marteau. The last of these was a raucous send-up of about eight camp meeting revival style hymns from 19th century America, whose melodies the aphasic composer confessed not being able to keep straight.


I had some fun with this over the weekend. On Saturday, one fellow came up to the piano during the climax to peer over my shoulder. Hoping to catch the title to see which hymn I was playing (the Saturday evening worship folks don't benefit from explanatory program notes). On Sunday a few folks took the thing perfectly seriously; some laughed or smiled, and others noted (and counted) the hymns as they tumbled out. One lady came up with nine but said she may have counted one twice. I'm not even sure myself. Often a hymn is present for only one measure before it becomes something else, and a couple of times there are three going at once. He may not have gotten the joke, but the liturgist found the music "inspiring" which is just fine with me.

This week, as I get my sackcloth out of the closet, I'm going in an entirely different direction. We just had seven weeks of 21st century piano music, now it is time for some 19th century german organ music. Felix Mendelssohn wrote six sonatas that are at the core of the organ literature, and every serious organist plays. Being a little late to the game (trained as a pianist in school) I've only played one of these a few years back (and probably not well). So I've decided to learn three of the six this spring, and I've found an interesting way to program them.

For lent I've chosen the three that are in minor keys. Each of them, however, concludes with one or more movements in the parallel major key, and I'm going to save those movements until after Easter. So with the first sonata, the f minor, only the first movement is in minor. The second sonata has only one as well. The d minor sixth sonata has one large minor key movement and one other short one. Only the brief concluding movement is in d major, and I'll play that at the end of the year, in June.

It's going to be quite a change from what I've been "preaching." And it will probably be a bit less popular than what I've been serving up. But that's good, too. There's a time for reflection, and this season is one of those times.

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