Music Notes – September 9, 2018

Several of our music selections that reference “water” come from early American Protestantism. Our introit, the song “Shall We Gather at the River,” was composed in 1864 by the American Baptist minister and hymnist Robert Lowry; the song is familiar to many choral music lovers in Aaron Copland’s arrangement in the 1952 collection Old American Songs.

Offertory: Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of “The Water Is Wide” was created for the PBS program Company of Voices, which featured his Austin, Texas-based vocal ensemble Conspirare. The folk tune (sometimes called “O waly, waly [Woe is me]”) is of Scottish origins and appears to have been in constant use, though in various forms, across Britain and in America. Benjamin Britten published an arrangement of the song in 1948, and John Rutter used the tune in his 1973 Suite for Strings. Numerous American folk singers, including Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Eva Cassidy, have recorded the song.

The interlude for this day’s water communion is offered to create a backdrop for contemplation and reflection. Our worship theme this month is “vision” – which calls us to look ahead. At times we must look within and reflect in order to find the path forward. “Spiegel im Spiegel” (Mirror in the Mirror), by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (born 1935), is an example of “tintinnabuli,” a musical style created by Pärt and containing repeated tones, like bells ringing. Pärt’s music is deeply spiritual and much of his later work is of a religious nature. With his fellow composers Henryk Górecki and John Tavener, he is considered a founder of the style of music  known as “mystic” or “holy” minimalism.

The words of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” were written around 1757 by the English, formerly Baptist, minister Robert Robinson, recently converted, albeit only temporarily, to Methodism. His theological views regarding infant baptism (which he rejected) had “caused him some difficulty” and his beliefs led him next to Congregational ministry and eventually to Unitarianism. Late in life he befriended Unitarian Joseph Priestley whose statue is at the back of our sanctuary.