Friday, December 11, 2015

Music for Gaudete Sunday

This Sunday is "Gaudete" Sunday in the Roman Catholic church. If, like me, you weren't aware of this until recently (perhaps as recently as the reading of this blog), it might be because:

a) you are Protestant
b) you are Orthodox
c) you are Catholic but not very observant (that can be taken a few different ways)
d) you are anybody who hasn't gone to mass during Advent, including persons of different religious persuasions who really weren't planning to do so to begin with!
e) you are a tree sloth in Armenia

Does that cover everybody?

Many Protestants do not practice a very complex church year. In this "low church" model, There is Christmas, and there is Easter, and then there is practically everything else. On the other end of the scale, which tends to be the practice of Anglicans and Catholics, every Sunday has its own name, its own function, its own feast, etc. Being Methodist means our church tends toward the low end of the scale, but with occasional pastoral nods toward more church events like Ascension Sunday and Trinity Sunday. And then, they have an organist who finds history interesting, as well as having a natural curiosity about the customs of others. But the occasional liturgical accident sometimes helps, too.

Advent, as practiced by the church, is a period of waiting. It is also a period of penitence and more somber observance. Sound like Lent? It is, actually. And here is what I've found interesting. Making people wait and watch, reflect and wait, is pretty counter cultural. It takes a discipline that you wouldn't expect to find in 21st century American society. I can't speak for Europe, but I imagine it's a little out of place there, too. Waiting for things is not in a capitalist's vocabulary. Nobody tells you not to come into their store right away for the best deals of the millenium happening RIGHT NOW!

But waiting patiently and penitently appears to have been considered somewhat burdensome many centuries ago, too. Suppressing some of the most joyful parts of the mass, doing without pleasures like the playing of the organ--apparently it was too much for too long. So, just as in Lent, a little more than halfway through, the church lightens those burdens for a week, allows some of these things back into the mass, and we have a Sunday of rejoicing. Gaudete! Rejoice!

Where it gets more interesting is that the series our pastors are using to preach on (courtesy of a major Methodist website), using themes from the four advent candles, just happens to line up with this older tradition. In fact, I learned about it while trying to figure out which order those pesky advents candles were supposed to go in. Four Sundays in Advent, and four candles. Is it hope, joy, peace love? Love, joy, hope, peace? Joy, peace, hope, peace again? argh.

Short answer: there isn't an "official" order. I assumed if anybody had nailed this down, it would be the Catholic church. And they haven't. But the third candle is Joy.


I mentioned this to our choir director, because she had chosen none other than a modern arrangement of the 15th century chant itself for the choir to sing this week. "Gaudete!" for Gaudete Sunday. She thought that was pretty cool, and called it a "God thing" which means she hadn't planned it that way. It just happened. Of course, the curriculum was responsible for getting her part way there. But the choosing of the piece "Gaudete" itself....I can't explain that one.

Since the choir doesn't sing at the 8 am service, I have to have something to play in their slot. I've come up with an organ solo version of "Gaudete." One of the things that I like about the organ is the way it is so many different instruments. A couple of months ago I shared music from my organ concert. Much of it was full-on all-the-stops-out glorious sounding. But this piece is just the opposite. Using my favorite 4-foot flute stop all by itself, the organ sounds like a recorder consort. It is answered by the 8-foot krummhorn alone. Another Reniassancish ensemble sound.

After a few rounds of that, it is time for some verses. But there is no music for verses provided in the 15th century source. It's customary to use another tune from a period source to cover the verses. I had a different idea.

That's why, for organists reading this, I'm providing the score I whipped together at an insane hour last night, and giving you a chance to do what I did. Improvise.

That's right; I didn't provide any music for the verses either!

If you are following the score you'll see how it works, though you can hear it on the recording also. First the flutes play. They are answered by the krummhorns. Then the flutes. Krummhorns. Then an extended solo. Then the krummhorns. Each of the four verses is a spot where I improvised a Medieval sounding solo over a drone accompaniment. It's not so difficult. Basically you use the notes of the scale--we're in A dorian, which is all the white keys except F# instead of F natural. Hold the A down with your left hand and move up and down in expressive and dancelike ecstasy, then change the left hand note to G (right hand continues), then F (natural) and finally E as your solo comes to a close. If you haven't improvised before (and we haven't talked about it yet on this blog) this isn't a bad introduction to the sport.

Each of those solos is answered by the written out krummhorn chorus, which I varied a little at whim, but basically played as written. Then for the final chorus, I doubled the flute stop and the krummhorn by coupling the manuals together for the grand finale.

Non-organists and organists alike: I hope you enjoy the recording. Rejoice!


and for the organists, here is the score.  I'd love to hear your performances, if you are able to record them. They will all be unique, courtesy of a score that calls for your own improvisations as an integral part of the music.

score here

(update: the 12/10 version had some errors in it--haste will do that, unfortunately. The version linked to above is from 12/12 and has been corrected. My apologies)


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