Happy new year! Nothing says “Advent” like the verse above from this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. With this, we enter a time of preparation for Christmas that truly has a special character of its own. While in some churches Advent is like a “little Lent,” we tend to accentuate its joyful aspects here at the Christ Church Cathedral. To that end, our music will emphasize the joyful hope and wondrous mystery surrounding this time of year. For church musicians who have been doing this for a while, there is almost an ingrained expectation that with chilly weather comes spirited Advent carols!
Sunday’s prelude, Veni Emmanuel by Philip Moore (b. 1943), is intended to create a quiet environment for meditation before the service. You will be able to hear bits and pieces of the familiar Advent hymn, O Come, O come, Emmanuel, as the piece unfolds, but you will hear it in a new way. A living composer from England, Moore has held several prestigious positions throughout his career. In 1968, he became the Assistant Organist at Canterbury Cathedral, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Guildford Cathedral in 1974, and the Organist and Master of the Music of York Minster in 1983. His music has the “English cathedral sound,” but he refocuses it in new and refreshing ways.
The choir anthem needs little introduction. O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion is one of the choruses from Messiah, the best known work of G. F. Handel (1685-1759). The story goes that Handel composed Messiah in a rapture of divine inspiration, enabling him to write it in only 24 days. While it is amazing how quickly he wrote a work of this magnitude, it was not that unusual for a composer of his day to do so. Handel often had to work with blazing speed when composing for the theatre, so it stands to reason that this speed was simply a normal part of his creative process. However, Handel did inscribe the finished Messiah score with the letters, S. D. G. (Soli Deo Gloria) - “To the glory of God alone.” So, while the romanticized notion of a rapturous burst of divine inspiration may or may not be true, we can be assured that Handel intended this work to do exactly what it does. That is, to glorify God in a musical retelling of the story of salvation.
During communion, two of our choir members will sing a piece by K. Lee Scott (b. 1950) entitled, Advent Dialogue. The lyrics illustrate the journey of Advent quite well. Verse one is reprinted below.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Trav’ler, o’er yon mountain’s height
See that glory-beaming star!
Watchman, does this beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Trav’ler, yes; it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.
- John Bowring, (1792-1872) after Biblical texts
As we embark on this Advent journey, there are songs and texts all around us that speak of loud proclamations, voices sounding, staying awake, waiting, and watching. These themes can be heard in our music expressed in many ways. The music ministry hopes that our work will inspire you as you journey toward Christmas this year.