Archive for May 2011

Music Notes for 5 June, 2011

Completing Handel’s “Concerto IX,” today’s prelude is the movement marked “Spiritoso,” which means “spirited,” in other words, fast and sprightly; and the postlude will be its first “Minuet.”   During communion I’ll play the Alla Siciliana movement from his “Concerto V.”

Handel’s organ concertos were intended for music between the acts of his operas, with Handel himself playing the organ and conducting the orchestra, as they played both alternately and together.

The organs used were small, moveable “portatives” and had no foot pedals, so the instrumentalists could be conducted by the organist seated at this small console.  In the opera itself the conductor would sit to play and conduct from a harpsichord. Since our organ has a keyboard for the organist’s feet, I play the cello part there and use one manual keyboard for the other orchestral voices and another manual keyboard for the organ solos.

The choir’s anthem is “Break Forth in Joy” by American composer Richard Harrison Smith, who wrote both the poem and the music, appropriate for this last Sunday of Resurrection and Ascension-themed liturgy.  

He has come forth from death’s dark prison,
     to reign with God the FAther above.
As he foretold, our Lord has risen
     and saves us by his infinite love!
“Where I am going,” said he,
     “You cannot come and follow me.
But I will see you again;
     I am God’s way to man.”

John Roberts, Organist and Choirmaster
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

Music Notes for 29 May, 2011

Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples was on the fortieth day after his Resurrection, making it a Thursday, when he commissioned them to become his apostles, graduating from learners to teachers.  As he blessed them, he rose into the heavens and faded from their sight.

One Old Testament prefiguring of this event is the story of Jacob’s dream, in which he saw a ladder joining the very spot where he lay sleeping to heaven itself, with angels- messengers of God – descending and ascending it.

Since today is the Sunday after Ascension Day, the choir’s anthem is an 18th century English carol charmingly identifying the Christian cross with Jacob’s ladder.   “As Jacob with travel was weary”  has this refrain: 

     “Alleluia to Jesus, who died on the tree
      And has raised up a ladder of mercy for me.”  (Hymn 453)

As this is a happy time in the liturgical year, I’m continuing my series of organ concerti by George Frederick Handel, all of which are light-hearted and joyous.  Today’s prelude, “Allegro”  is from “Concerto IX.”  During communion is the quiet “Adagio” from Handel’s “Water Music.”

There is no postlude because during the exit hymn, all go outdoors for the “Beating the Bounds’ procession.

John Roberts, Organist and Choirmaster
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

Music Notes for 22 May, 2011

Carols are popular dance songs to celebrate every season, not just Christmas.  An Easter carol in our Hymnal at No. 203 is the French tune “O filii et filiae: ye sons and daughters, let us sing.”  It is the basis for today’s postlude:  “Alleluia” by Théodore Dubois, found in his collection of “Douze Pièces:  Twelve Pieces.”  Another composition in this volume is his “Canon,” heard during communion.

“Most glorious Lord of life,” is the choir’s anthem, a poem by the 16th century Edmund Spencer set to music by William Harris, who for many years was organist and master of the choristers at the Royal Chapel of St. George in Windsor Castle.

Today, I conclude the “Symphonie Romane” of Widor with its final movement, which like two others in this extensive work is based on the joyful Easter chant, “Haec dies quam fecit Dominus: This is the day which the Lord has made.” These four pieces have been appropriate preludes for this season of Resurrection.

John Roberts, Organist and Choirmaster
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

The Road to Life…

Almost nineteen years ago while living in Charlottesville, Va., I was on my way to Montana for my tenth summer of two weeks of riding, fishing, and relaxing.  In transit, I had an experience that knocked my socks off.  It was not unlike what happened on the Road to Emmaus with the two travelers from our Gospel lesson today, as, like for them, it was a life-changing event. 

Some of you have heard me share this experience previously, however, it seems to elucidate the Gospel lesson today. It was a time when my life was exceedingly full with a busy counseling practice, several cancer support groups I was facilitating, church commitments, two daughters, one living in town and one away in college, a marriage fracturing, and commitments of overwhelming proportions that year.

Then, wham!  I was slammed with a diagnosis of a recurrence of cancer that was very serious.  I was informed that I would be having more than a year of treatment:  oral chemotherapy, then radiation, and eventually, intravenous chemotherapy.  The treatment would take more than a year to conclude, and I was told I may have up to five years to live, if I was lucky.

Tired and scared, but excited to have two restful weeks before beginning this noxious regiment, I headed out to the 63 Ranch in the Montana mountains where I had spent 9 previous summers. I found each year that flying into Salt Lake City to change planes was where I had the first glimpse of the beautiful Rocky Mountains that always brought such a thrill.  This year was no exception.  I was so happy to be back in the West, the land of wide open spaces edged by enormous rocky peaks that are breath-taking.

I purposely sat in an empty bay of the airport to wait the few hours before catching the plane to Bozeman.  There I’d pick up my car and drive the hour or so through the valley, then up into the mountains among the pungent pines and spruces to the ranch on Mission Creek.  Sitting in the airport listening to my Walkman (remember those??) and reading a book, I looked up at the Rockies and said to myself, “I am so glad to be here, I am so tired.”  I heard a voice respond saying, “You could move here!”

Well, I thought I had unintentionally spoken out loud, that someone had come into the area was answering.  However, no one was there.  So, I looked back at the mountains and the voice went on the say, “You need to move here to heal and to follow me!”   I was stunned but quickly answered, “Yes, Lord, I shall listen and I shall obey.”

Wow, the scales fell off my eyes very quickly, and totally unexpectedly.  A journey I was taking alone and frightened for simple renewal and pleasure turned out to be one that totally changed my life.  We often have no idea that what seems like a simple action or activity in our life is one where God is present with plans. Yet, we often don’t see Him until he is ready to reveal Himself to us – as Jesus did with the two travelers leaving Jerusalem to return home after the crucifixion and resurrection.  All I suddenly realized was that this was a call to follow the Lord, that He would carry me through the coming journey, whatever it may bring, and that He did!

What experiences have you had in your life where the “scales fell from your eyes?”  When have you been asked to follow our Lord into new territories, step out of, or into, a relationship, a job, a new endeavor, or a difficult path?  Have you kept your eyes closed out of fear not recognizing God’s presence in your life? Or have you come face to face with the Risen Christ who has walked with you on the road you have been asked to take?

Our Gospel of Luke states that the travelers who walked with Jesus never knew who he was as they shared the good news they had heard about the women at the tomb finding it empty and hearing that Jesus was alive. For seven miles they walked without knowing their Messiah was beside them.  It was not until they were home did they recognize their Savior’s presence when he “blessed and broke the bread.”

After Jesus left them, they shared that their hearts had burned within them as they had walked along with the Risen Lord, but they were blinded to his presence by their lack of faith until he gave them a sign, until he revealed himself to them, and they were ready to accept Him into their hearts.

Mother Teresa wrote:  There is not a day without some delicate attention of God, some sign of His love and care, like the time we ran out of food because of rains and flood.   Just at that time the schools closed in Calcutta and the bread was given to us so that the people would not go hungry.   For two days our poor had bread until they could eat no more.  The greatest miracle is that God can work through nothings, small things like us.

It is God’s love that grants us the gifts of miracles in our lives, God’s love and persistence that allows us to hear His voice, His call to us.  And, it is the Risen Lord’s broken body that gives us the strength and urgency to recognize the burning in our hearts so that we might, in faith, allow the scales to fall from our eyes to see his ongoing presence in our lives.

 I am extremely grateful to have listened and to have obeyed that Voice I heard in the SLC airport nineteen years ago.  Montana wasn’t quite the road to Emmaus, however, it was the road to life where I was thankfully accompanied by our Lord every step of the way.  

Alleluia, Christ is risen!   Amen.

The Reverend Carol Sims
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011
Luke 24:13-35


Music Notes for May 15, 2011

The Alleluia season is in full swing:  this verbal and musical symbol of the Resurrection is present in nearly every song we sing and added to nearly every liturgical response.  Our beautiful Alleluia banner, raised from its “grave” on Easter morning, is carried in all processions and displayed during the Eucharist in the chancel.  The choir’s anthem, “Alleluia!  Hearts to heaven,” is a musical setting by Englishman W. K. Stanton of a poem by Christopher Wordsworth in our Hymnal at No. 191.

Trumpet fanfares are another musical mark of jubilation.  Our organ has just one modest trumpet rank, but it will do its best to simulate the powerful “en chamade” horizontal trumpet pipes over the great bronze West Door of the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where Alec Wyton was organist and for which he created an electrifying setting of  “The strife is o’er” (Hymn 208).  It is the postlude.

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Continuing Charles-Marie Widor’s “Symphonie Romane,” today’s prelude is the opening movement, its melody being the melismatic medieval chant “Haec dies quam fecit Dominus This is the day which the Lord has made,” the antiphon for the Gradual Psalm of Easter morning.  

Another French composer wrote the communion piecesVitrail: Leaded Windows,” from hisByzantine Sketches.”  Henri Mulet was organist of Sacré Coeur Church atop Montmartre in Paris and wrote this series describing various features of this fantastic edifice.

John Roberts, Organist and Choirmaster
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

Music Notes for 8 May, 2011

Today’s prelude will be Part II of Charles-Marie Widor’s “Symphonie Romane” based on the exuberant antiphon to the Gradual Psalm for Easter Day: “Haec dies quam fecit Dominus:  This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  It is a florid chant – a flowery song – with many notes on some syllables, called melismas, a musical symbol of boundless joy!  parts I and IV of this organ symphony also use the “Haec Dies” theme; I’ll play them on the next two Sundays.

The rejoicing of Easter lasts for a week of weeks, forty-nine days, and is called Eastertide.  Today’s postlude is Charles Villiers Stanford’s “At Eastertide,” using the melody of the familiar “Jesus Christ is risen today” at Hymn 207. His gently flowing “Occasional Piece” will be heard during communion.

Since today is Mother’s Day, I’m giving the women of the choir, most of whom are mothers (and grandmothers and one great-grandmother) the honor of singing the anthem by themselves. Its music and text are by a woman, Linda Egan.  “The first one ever to know” (Hymn 673), talks of Jesus’ mother, Mary, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the first witnesses of his resurrection:  Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene.  Happy Mother’s Day!

John Roberts, Organist and Choirmaster
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

* This post is late in coming due to website administration oversight.  My apologies to John Roberts, and to all of you who enjoy reflecting on these notes during Sunday morning worship. 


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