I think we can safely say that we are in the most “fall-ish” part of the fall season. Halloween is right around the corner, and we’ve finally had a little bit of cooler weather. Every so often, I even hear the rustle of leaves as they blow along the ground. For church musicians who have been around for a while, this season also brings reflex reactions to certain liturgical cues signifying the closeness of Advent and Christmas. We will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday next week (November 6th), and that automatically sets off a “Advent is only about a month away” alert in my head! We still have some time this week, however, to enjoy a very last bit of church as usual, and we will enjoy it with a charming selection of pieces.
The organ prelude and postlude this week both feature music from the same and composer, Douglas E. Wagner (b. 1952). Both of these pieces come from one of Wagner’s collections of organ music, Eight Psalm Impressions for Organ(1984). In the foreword of the book, Wagner writes, “The works included in this volume represent an attempt to wed various classical organ forms with the gamut of emotions and thoughts expressed in the Psalms.” He is certainly not the first person write organ music to reflect the moods of the psalms, but his uniquely American perspective and aim to use various classical forms makes his work interesting. The prelude will be in the form of a voluntary, an improvisatory piece of generally English character. It is based on Psalm 67:7, “God shall bless us; and all the end of the earth shall fear him.” The postlude is in the form of a toccata (a French one, specifically), and it eloquently expresses its related text with flair and virtuosity. “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and organs” – Psalm 150:4 Please find Wagner’s biography, part of our series on living composers, printed below. It is reprinted from douglasewagner.com
“Douglas E. Wagner, a native of Chicago, Illinois, is an internationally recognized composer and arranger. With 30 years as a high school music educator and administrator behind him, Doug now devotes all of his time and energy to writing, editing and their allied activities. He is an A.S.C.A.P. award-winning composer, an editor for a major publishing company, and has served several denominations as a church musician.
Doug has published more than 2,500 music titles since 1973, including works for choir (sacred and secular), concert band, orchestra, handbell ensemble, organ, piano, instrumental solo and voice. Fifteen million copies of his music have been sold to date.
Doug’s music has been performed in concert settings, on television and on radio broadcasts in the United States, as well as on concert programs in more than two dozen foreign countries.
Doug resides in Indianapolis with his wife, Sandy, a professional lettering artist and music engraver.”
Also this week, our handbell choir will present an arrangement of the familiar hymn, Morning Has Broken, by Michael Bedford (b. 1949). Bedford is a well-known musician within The Episcopal Church and has published a substantial number of pieces in multiple genres. I have no doubt you will find his arrangement delightful.
To cap things off, the choir will sing a famous composition by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) at the offertory, Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts. Composed for the funeral of Queen Mary II (1662-1694), this anthem was performed at Purcell’s own funeral and at every British state funeral since 1724. For me, this piece’s chief beauty is its tremendous effect executed in the utmost simplicity. Perhaps this is just what we need before we move into a busier liturgical season.