Joy to the World!

When Advent began, the Christian blogosphere was a buzz, as always, with grumpy liturgists warning us away from jumping to quickly to yuletide cheer. We were cautioned against carols  and mirth, too much cookies and eggnog. Advent, after all, is about preparing. We hope, we long, we eagerly anticipate the coming of the Lord. In the liminal glow of Advent candle light, we are inviting to make our crooked roads straight and prepare the way of the Lord. A lot of the posts here too, inhabit this waiting space.

But now, two-and-a-half weeks in on a year with a short Advent season, the chorus of cranky Adventists have been drowned out by the holiday cheer. We lit the pink candle this past Sunday, signifying joy, if not the full satisfaction and fulfillment of Christmas joy, at least a foretaste of the joy that is to come.  Perhaps now, we can start singing Joy to the World. And when we do, we will discover it is not a Christmas carol at all, it is Advent all the way down.

According to the fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia) as of the late 20th Century, Joy to the World was the most published Christian hymn in North America. But the 18th’s Century hymn writer, Isaac Watts did not write this hymn with Christmas in mind. There is no angelic chorus or Christmas crèche. No little town of Bethlehem and no shepherds on the hillside.

Joy to World was Watt’s paraphrase of the second half of Psalm 98. Watt’s wrote his hymn in a Christological, Messianic key, but he didn’t envision Jesus’ nativity. This hymn instead images Christ’s final coming when he  will reign over all creation:

Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love. (The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, “Psalm 98, part 2,” Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998).

We sing this as a Christmas carol, mostly because of the way the first verse celebrates that the Lord has come. And yet, the rest of the hymn envisions eschaton. Then the Savior will reign and all sin and sorrow will cease. His blessing will flow into every crack and cranny where the curse is found. The Kingdom of God come in full! Righteousness, and wonder and love!

Despite it’s clearly celebratory tone, the hymn inhabits the liminal, in-between space of Advent. The world it describes, is not yet our world. It is the telos we are moving toward, that which all creation is groaning for.

The Lord has come, and will come. All hardship and affliction will cease and all creation will join in the song of praise: Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy. JAll the boys and girls: joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, Joy to you and me. 

(Image: Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917), Joy of All Who Sorrow, Wikimedia Commons)





Kaleidoscope: a music review

Have you ever had an earworm? Stuck Song Syndrome? It is the experience of having a catchy piece of music lodge itself inside your brain and put itself on repeat. Sometimes these are a mere nuisance, but in the case of old favorites or sacred song, it can sometimes be cathartic and formational:

Consider your favorite song—the one you find humming when you feel like dancing or when you need to weep.  Often those “humming tunes” are songs we have known and loved since childhood. They comfort us and give us a sense of strength, hope, acceptance, and love. (from the linear notes of Gloriæ Dei Cantores’ Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song).

Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song-Gloriæ Dei Cantores (Paraclete Recordings 2007).

Gloriæ Dei Cantores is, of late, providing the soundtrack to my life. I listen to them as I work at my computer desk, I play their music in the evenings to help settle kids to sleep, I play their music as I sit down to read. Sometimes I just listen.  Gloriæ Dei Cantores are the choir of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts (at the Community of Jesus)Their 2007 release, Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song explores folk hymns, psalms, and sacred song from the American tradition (19 songs in all).

There are some standout performance. The first track is their rendition and interpretation of John Newton’s Amazing Grace (yes, Newton was a Brit). “This setting is arranged by a group of composers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts who have shared their own  needs, suffering and joys together” (linear notes). The vocal phrasing and the legato to staccato string accompaniment  (especially under “many dangers, toils and snares . . .) provides a  sense of movement through this arrangement capturing both the beauty, and tension of grace.

Bookending this collection is Paul Manz’s E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, an anthem written while the composer was critically ill. Between these two songs are folk melodies, psalms, spirituals, and favorite hymns from various Christian traditions. The Gabriel V Brass Quintet does a rousing jazzy rendition of Let us Break Bread Together on Our Knees and organist James E. Jordan performs William Bolcom’s setting of the hymn (which Bolcom wrote having been ‘taken-in’ by the singing at a local African-American church, see linear notes). Other standout performances include those of the Baptist Hymn, At the River, and the Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts.

On a whole a very solid collection and interpretation of American sacred song. I give it four stars.

Note: I was provided with a copy of the CD by Paraclete Recordings in exchange for my honest review.

Here is a full Track Listing

  1. Amazing Grace arr. Michael Hale, James Jordan, Timothy McKendree
  2. I Will Arise arr. Alice Parker
  3. Foundation arr. Alice Parker
  4. The Eyes of All Waite Upon Thee – Jean Berger
  5. The Morning Star – Virgil Thompson
  6. The Twenty-Third Psalm – Arthur Foote
  7. Holy Manna arr. John Carter
  8. Let Us Break Bread Together – Traditional, performed by Gabriel V Brass Quintet
  9. Ching-A-Ring Chaw arr. Irving Fine
  10. The Boatmen’s Dance arr. Irving Fine
  11. Zion’s Walls arr. Glenn Kopenen
  12. What a Friend We have in Jesus! – William Bolcolm; James E. Jordan, Jr, Organist
  13. Psalm 136 – Virgil Thomson
  14. Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal arr. Alice Parker
  15. Come, Holy Ghost – Leo Sowerby
  16. At the River arr. R. Wilding White
  17. The Best of Rooms – Randall Thompson
  18. Simple Gifts arr. Irving Fine
  19. E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come – Paul Manz

For the Beauty of the Earth: a music review

Gabriel V is a brass ensemble made up of women and men, ” unified in their commitments to the monastic life” (linear notes, 4). Often accompanying Gloriæ Dei Cantores, the choir of the Church of the Transfiguration (the Community of Jesus) in Orleans, MA, their newest recording For the Beauty of the Earth exhibits the beauty of God’s creation and redemption as only the combination of brass, organ and percussion can. Organist Sharonrose Pfieffer, Church of the Transfiguration organist, is the organist for these recordings.

for-the-beauty-of-the-earthHere is a look at the tracks:

  • Luminosity -an aural meditation on the vastness and splendor of space (composed by Anthony DiLorenzo)
  • Earthscape -Canadian Composer David Marlatt’s work inspired by the view of earth from space.
  • Windscape – Another Marlatt piece depicting the energy, rhythm and unpredictability of the Wind (this one is one of my favorites)
  • Fantasy on “O Sons and Daughters” – Composer Walter Pelz’s score for organ, brass and tympani exclaming the redemption of creation, “O Sons and daughters of the King, whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, today the grave has lost its sting” (linear notes,7-8).
  • Salvum fac populum tuum (trans. Save Your People) – Charles-Marie Widor’s  1917 composition balances the gravity and horror of war with the certainty that good conquers evil (8)
  • Holy, Holy, Holy – John Cunrow’s arrangement of a well loved hymn
  • Prelude on a Festive Hymn– Written by Donald Coakley, and arranged by David Marlatt, this piece is based on a 1995 hymn tune originally commissioned by St William’s Roman Catholic Church in Philidelphia
  • Meditation: The Light of the World – New Zealand Composer Sir Dean Goffin’s hymn based work combining two hymns reflecting on Christ standing at the door of a believer’s heart (Rev. 3:20).
  • Benediction—God Be With You – William Gordon’s arrangement of Ralph Vaugh William’s hymn tune Randolph proclaiming God’s blessing until we meet again.
  • Toccata from “Fifth Sympathy” – Windor’s organist showpiece (as the son of an organist I grew up with this piece). This arrangement, by Egene Ellsworth double voices the organ score with trumpets, trombones and tuba.
  • Tone Poem—A Psalm of Praise (Psalm 100) – Based on the hymn Praise My Soul King of Heaven, phrases and snippets of the tune are ‘playfully traded’ before a triumphal finally which culminates the hymn tune stated in its entirety.
  • Prelude on a Hymn of Praise – The recording is closed with a prelude. Curnow’s arrangement of  Conrad Kocher’s hymn For the Beauty of the Earth (the title piece).

This is an exceptional recording. Each piece selected has a majestic quality and carries the listener toward doxology. Gerard Manley Hopkins happy phrase, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” reflects this collection well. The arrangements are powerful but ultimately joyful. I give this recording four stars.

Note: I was provided with a copy of the CD by Paraclete Recordings in exchange for my honest review. I was not obligated to give a positive review