Musically, our theme of the Good Shepherd will be manifest in our hymns and instrumental music this week and will even spill over into next week a little via an anthem setting Psalm 23, fitting for our Cathedral Celebration (April 24). This Sunday, the prelude will be an organ arrangement of Sheep May Safely Graze by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). Originally part of a secular cantata, The Lively Hunt Pleases Me Only, BWV 208. The aria, Sheep My Safely Graze, was actually in praise of the Duke, whose birthday the work celebrated. However, this music has come to mean something different to Christians the world over. On Sunday, you will hear what is known as a transcription. This term is used when a work written for one musical medium, in this case, the orchestra and soprano, is transcribed to be played on another instrument, in this case, the organ. Sunday’s prelude was transcribed by Ellen Jane Lorenz (1907-1996), a chief editor at the Lorenz publishing corporation and a distinguished composer, arranger, and hymnologist. Listen for the lyrical melody played by the oboe of the organ as it “trades off” with an accompaniment of flutes and strings.
The offertory anthem, sung by the Cathedral Choir, will be Offertory by John Ness Beck (1930-1987). A co-founder of Beckenhorst Press and one of the most widely played church composers of his time, Beck’s style of music is really a benchmark for choir anthems that are both accessible and tasteful across a variety of denominations. When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to work under a choir director and composer, William G. “Bill” Brown (1935-2010), who instilled an appreciation in me for the works of Beck. Bill was, at the time, Music Director at Holy Cross in Pensacola, and I was the organist. I remember how he always said that Offertory was his favorite of Beck’s works (maybe even his favorite anthem), and so I was happy to have found it in our music library here at Christ Church. You’ll notice that the text is all about offering our best to God and our calling to do justice and walk humbly with God. Much like Sheep May Safely Graze, this anthem combined a lyrical melody with a contrapuntal accompaniment for the organ. As a “fun fact,” Beck composed this piece just about 60 miles from Mobile in Perdido Key, Florida, while on vacation in 1987.
Finally, Sunday’s music ends with a postlude by the obscure composer, Chester Nordman (1895-1973). His piece, Recessional, copyrighted in 1945 and published by Lorenz, is in the style of a “grand march.” It is filled with optimism and brings images of a sunny Sunday morning postlude and a joyful congregation heading out to lunch! Playing music of these mid-century American composers has become a bit of a hobby of mine, and I hope you enjoy discovering these pieces as much as I do. While they are a far cry from the discipline of Bach, Widor, and others, they often have a certain quality that makes them just plain fun to play and hear. As we celebrate the Good Shepherd this week, I hope our music will send you forth with renewed optimism and an assurance of Christ’s love for you.