This is the week that I listen to Bach’s Cantata 140 “Wachet auf” in preparation for the last Sunday in the church year. There are so many things that I love about this cantata and the hymn on which it is based. Here’s just one.
There are two soprano-bass arias. As Bach tends to do, the bass is the Vox Christi, the voice of Christ, and the soprano is the voice of the Christian soul (or perhaps the church). In the first of these, it is the bride who asks the bridegroom “when are you coming?” His response is “I’m coming.” Then she sings, “Come, Jesus.” Again, he replies, “I’m coming.”
Isn’t that just the way it is with Jesus and his bride? She keeps on asking, because life in this world—waiting for him—is hard, and she wants nothing more than to see him and be with him, and because she loves him.
His response is always the same. His word and promise never change. But it’s comforting to hear his promise from his voice.
And the amazing thing about this piece of music—it makes me cling to the voice of Christ all the more.
About a month ago, Hannah and Andrew each played a piece of music in an Organ Symposium here in El Paso, when several organists from around the area get together and play a piece or two for each other. Here is a video of the end of Hannah’s piece, just after she had been playing on two manuals, and after changing pistons midway through the song. I love that we’re able to give them the opportunity to try and experience things just like this.
By the end of December, I will have prepared and delivered fifteen sermons or devotions for services during this month. These are for our Sunday Divine Service, as well as Matins and Vespers services for Advent and Christmas.
But in the midst of a month of near constant preparation to preach, a preacher needs a few sermons, too. I have been able to find those in the church cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. I have become particularly attached to two cantatas for Advent, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Savior of the Nations, Come) BWV 61 and Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! BWV 132. The librettos for these works, one by Erdmann Neumeister (God’s Own Child I Gladly Say it) and the other by Salomo Franck are just incredible.
Both cantatas are on volume 7 of the collection of church cantatas by the Bach Collegium Japan. I highly recommend these recordings of all of Bach’s cantatas. [If I can figure it out, I’ll add a widget to this post that will allow you to preview this album.]
If your church…
…struggles to find an organist to play for services
…uses MIDI or Hymnsoft for services, but would appreciate something better
…needs to find a way to give organists a Sunday off
…wishes for a well-trained church organist to help lead the congregation’s song,
I highly recommend you check out The Virtual Organist service from Church Music Solutions. This Sunday we used this service to accompany our service for the first time, and I am very pleased with how it went. I won’t describe the whole thing here; just go to their web site and take a look. Contact them and ask them to send you a demo unit so that you can see and hear for yourself 1) how easy it is and 2) how good it sounds.
I will still say that in most situations I would prefer to have a real, live (even mediocre) organist on the bench each Sunday. And I still feel strongly that we need to work hard to recruit and encourage kids to become good church organists. But I am fairly confident to agree that in many situations, this is the next best thing.
I’ve been listening to this whenever I can. Check it out!
The reformer Martin Luther had this to say about the Holy Spirit, God’s Word and music:
The Holy Ghost himself honors music as an instrument for his proper work when in the Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha (2 Kings 3:15)…The gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming the Word of God through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.
The Holy Spirit is working through God’s word put to music on Lutheran Public Radio, Sacred Music for the World. You’ll hear hymns like “Thy Strong Word,” “The Church’s One Foundation, ” “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It,” “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” and more.
Here’s a great video and post from Paul McCain’s Cyberbrethren blog:
Confessing the Faith…Through All Generations – In Honor of Lutheran Schools Week (Featuring Lyle Lovett)
Here is a beautiful YouTube video of the reading of the Nicene Creed which dates back over a 1,000 years in the the Christian church. This recitation was done at Trinity Lutheran Church, Klein, TX during the March 4, 2012 church services by three members of Trinity as part of Lutheran Schools week. These three members, and students (former and present) are: Mr. Erich Klenk, 97 years old, confirmed in 1928, past Chairman of the congregation, charter member of the Men’s Club in 1946, and Trinity’s oldest member. Lyle Lovett, great grandson of Trinity founding father Adam Klein, confirmed in 1971, singer/songwriter, and winner of four Grammys. Erin Pali, class of 2016 and current 4th grade student of Miss Marilyn Peterson/ Erin’s Dad Brett also had Miss Petersen in 4th grade during his years at Trinity. This video was posted to YouTube by Pat Blake.
Lot long ago I had seen that Lyle Lovett‘s new album included Martin Luther’s hymn “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word.” You can listen to a preview of the song below, or click to order or download the album.
I can visually remember the words of the hymn up on the overhead in Mrs. Kraus’ first grade classroom. “Lord Jesus, who dost love me…” I can also remember having difficulty finding the hymn in the hymnal at home because we didn’t learn the first stanza.
Those final two stanzas of Paul Gerhardt’s evening hymn, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” have probably been sung in our home more than any others. I have sung them to the all kids at bedtime since they were born. I have also sung these stanzas frequently in hospital rooms and in the sick room.
Tomorrow evening our school kids will be singing this hymn during our Lenten Compline service at church. They have been learning it and practicing it at school, and we’ve been singing it at night before bed.
I took one year of piano lessons in grade school, and a few lessons here and there since then. I’ve always wished I had stuck with it, and I’ve always had a strong desire to at least be able to play hymns. For many years now I have spent considerable time at the piano playing through hymns, often slowly and with many mistakes. Since we have had a piano in our home, I have been able to play much more regularly, and there are at least a handful of hymns that I can play fairly well. This evening hymn is one of those. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to accompany my children and sing these words with them.
Now rest beneath night’s shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow;
The world in slumber lies.
But you, my heart, awaken,
With prayer and song be taken;
Let praise to your Creator rise.
The rule of day is over
And shining jewels cover
The heaven’s boundless blue.
Thus I shall shine in heaven,
Where crowns of gold are given
To all who faithful prove and true.
Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Oh, spread your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would assail me,
Your mercy will not fail me;
I rest in your protecting arm.
My loved ones rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may he send you
And bid his hosts attend you
And through the night watch o’er your beds. (CW 587)
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For the past several years I have been very pleased with the music that was included in the Vacation Bible School programs produced by Concordia Publishing House. Starting with the 2006 Treasure Cove and then 2007’s Quest for Truth, I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that they included music that, while fun and up-beat, was actually Lutheran. That is, the music actually taught scriptural truths beyond an occasional reference to God’s love or Jesus’ forgiveness. It helped that they included several hymns on the CDs. I was so happy with the music that I made sure to have plenty of extra copies of the CDs on hand for families to take home. I was happy to have kids (including my own) learning these songs by having them play over and over in their family minivans.
It appears that those days are over. I started noticing it last year. I noticed that the music was a little less singable for the kids, and contained less content. I also noticed that more of the songs had a lead singer rather than a chorus of kids. The songs were okay, but not great.
Just this week I reviewed the music CD for this year’s Planet Zoom. It seems that they have decided to take a completely different direction with the music this year. I listened to the entire CD and there wasn’t a song in it that I would really want to teach anyone, because they don’t actually teach anything. The predominant message of the songs is a generic reference to God’s love, followed by lengthy calls to get busy telling people about Jesus. “Buzzin’ in the Hive” talks about getting busy in God’s kingdom and doing what God gives you to do. “What Can I Do for Jesus” speaks for itself. It says that God’s done so much for us but doesn’t mention what he has done. That gets to the heart of the difference here. What I noticed before was that the music was specifically focused on Christ-for-us as opposed to merely Christ-in-us.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. I had made it a point to send feedback to Concordia letting them know how much I appreciated Christ-centered, distinctively Lutheran VBS materials, especially in the music. I will be sending them feedback this year, but it will not be positive. And even though I haven’t evaluated the rest of the materials, I won’t be ordering or using this VBS program.
I understand that they’re trying to sell VBS programs. I also understand that you can sell a VBS program to more churches (including non-Lutheran churches) if you make the content, music included, more generic. I remember thinking with some of the previous programs that I wonder what non-Lutherans would think of this music because it was clearly Lutheran language that taught beautiful scriptural truths.
If you are concerned about using music that teaches the faith in your Vacation Bible School, I can’t recommend Planet Zoom. If you are still deciding, I would encourage you to carefully evaluate the music BEFORE ordering or deciding. And if you find the same things I have, I encourage you to let them know what you think.
Most of the stuff of VBS doesn’t last long. The crafts will get thrown away, along with their leaflets. They might keep a souvenir or two, but might not remember what it was trying to teach. But music is something that sticks; it is supposed to plant truths deep within us. I have hoped that if anything goes home with the kids and sticks, it should be the music. But it’s got to be good.
For those of you who haven’t seen this on Facebook or YouTube, here is a little video of the kids singing a few Christmas songs. We got a new video camera for Christmas, and it’s perfect for exactly this kind of thing. Hope you enjoy, especially Isaiah and Lydia’s “Dueling Christmas Carols.”