A Sermon by Jane Weber Preached on November 12
The power of song was made very clear to me a year ago when Helen Womach passed away. I consulted several of her choristers who are now in their 30's, about what music should be included in her funeral service. Without hesitation, they gave me a long list of “must do” anthems that they had sung 15 years before. Each song had touched their spirits, and had stayed with them all those years since. “Psallam spiritu” – I will sing with the spirit. That says a great deal about the beauty of the music and the strength of its message. It also says much about Helen's skill in directing and in conveying the messages of the Holy Spirit.
We now again have a children's choir that many of you heard sing last Sunday, and they will sing again this afternoon during the Organ Program. Bringing back the Children's Choir is a step in the right direction in fulfilling the psalm that we spoke just moments ago….
· We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord!
· He gave his decrees to Jacob which he commanded them to teach their children,
· That the generations to come might know
· That they in their turn might tell it to their children.”
It begins upstairs in Children's Chapel with the stories and the songs they sing. It continues in Sunday School and now, in the Children's Choir…and puppets…and chimes. It continues…with Intergenerational Events, Worship Services, and Wonderful Wednesdays. Engaging, welcoming, and sharing the Holy Spirit in activity…and for many, music is an important foundation.
One song from my junior choir days not only represents of my faith journey, but it's also timely with thanksgiving season. It spoke to me then, with its joy and strong Thanksgiving message, and it continues to speak to me now. The anthem “Let All Things Now Living” has a soaring high harmony part that all the kids in the choir loved…, and we all hoped to be chosen to sing it. Once chosen, we would pray silently that we would be able to successfully hit those high notes!
I have several volunteers, slightly older than children's choir age, who have agreed to sing a shortened version for you. Listen for how the composer expresses joy in the high descant line.
I've been a member of St. Paul's since I was 4 years old, when my father arrived in Maumee to serve here as assistant and later as rector. This means I've always had quite literally, a VERY close relationship with this church, having lived in three houses on this block, including the rectory, which I have graciously allowed the Board family to borrow for the past two decades.
My earliest memories of church, not surprisingly, center around music. “Psallam spiritu et mente” comes from First Corinthians, and translates “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with understanding.” In just a few words, this verse guides us to celebrate our faith with song. It doesn't say sing well, or you must sing in tune. It doesn't even say you have to be a trained musician, only that you sing with the spirit, and that you understand the importance of what you sing. And so I sang… first in the children's choir, along with current parishioners, Leslie Milauc and Kathy Greene, and later, when I aged out of the children's choir, I joined the adults. Children's Choir gave us all a way to absorb Christian teachings in very active way.., with voices, physical movement and emotions. Certain songs touched us, and directed us towards God. An example of “Psallam spiritu,” I will sing with the spirit.
(Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland – click on this link)
I'd like to jump forward 300 years from the time of Bach, and share a more
recent example of a musical painting of a biblical story.
This is a piece that I sang with Masterworks Chorale several years ago. The composer, Eric Whitacre, was born in 1970. He is a young composer who has made a big impression in the musical world. His musical journey began with marching band in junior high, playing synthesizer in a techno-pop band, and he had dreams of becoming a rock star. His formal musical training didn't begin until he reached the university level.., and at that time he still couldn't even read written music. Whitacre states that the first choral work he sang, Mozart's Requiem, changed his life. “Psallam spiritu et mente. Another example of the power of experiencing faith through music. His piece “Lux Aurumque” is a Christmas piece, composed in the year 2000, and it's based on a Latin poem of the same name. You will be seeing a video of a 2011 performance sung by…a virtual choir. This is compilation of 185 individual recordings blended into one. To do this, Whitacre first made a video of himself directing the composition. This video was sent to singers in 12 countries, who then made individual recordings of themselves singing as they watched him conducting on his video. This will all become clear in a moment…
The translation of the lyrics…
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born babe.
Listen for how these words are expressed in the music…Even though the words are in Latin, you will still hear them if you allow the music to convey the concepts that Whitacre interprets…light…, warmth…, gold…, and angels singing softly.....
The role of music in worship is to engage the heart and mind, emotion and intellect.., to inspire and to point to the divine. Music helps us pray, helps us praise and helps us proclaim. So open your hearts to the power of music, listen for its messages, and sing with the spirit… and with understanding. “Psallam spiritu et mente.”
So for me as I was growing…, music.., whether that meant singing in choirs…, playing flute in the band and orchestras…, or playing organ in churches, sustained me and helped me to grow during my spiritual journey. It helped me express my faith as a child, as a teen, and continues to do so…, now that I am an adult. Performing the works of the masters exposed me to great music at an early age. I understood that the sacred music I played and sang was written by deeply spiritual people...who were not so different from you and me.., as a way for them to express their understanding…of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit…in musical terms. “Psallam spiritu et mente” I will sing with the spirit and with understanding.
So, when a composition is played, remember that the performer becomes an extension of the composer by adding their own spin to that original interpretation. Each time you listen to a hymn, a prelude, an offertory…you are hearing an expression of faith by both the performer AND the original composer. It's a wonderful connection between the two that bridges all time.
(Let All Things Now Living – click on this link)
What better composer to connect with today, than Johann Sebastian Bach. The Liturgical Year is a collection of short organ pieces written in 1717 while Bach was dealing with a change in job location and bosses. The Duke of Weimer was so infuriated when Bach turned in his request for release that the duke had him arrested and sent to jail. While in jail, Bach wrote much of Orgelbuchlein, known to organists as the Liturgical Year. One can assume that he had no instrument, no keyboard, while he was in jail. Just the Holy Spirit and a whole lot of incredible talent! “Psallam spiritus et mente!” He was released after a month and allowed to go to his new position.
Each chorale prelude in this collection, musically reflects the different seasons of the church year. Bach would incorporate musical motifs that represented concepts and emotions like joy, sorrow, adoration and wonder. I'd like to play an Advent piece from this collection called “Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland,” a hymn tune written by Martin Luther, and translated, “Come Now, Savior of Nations Wild.”
So that you can listen with understanding, I'd like you to listen for the falling
musical pattern that can be heard throughout. It is thought that it represents
Christ's descent to earth.