Music in Lent

March 10, 2022

   Lent is a solemn time in our Christian tradition, referencing the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. At Calvary it is a time of deeper reflection, beginning with our Ash Wednesday service. This year, it was a pleasure to bring back Jennifer Arnold on cello for this special service, particularly since it was the first in-person service of 2022. Jennifer, along with Denise on piano, played three different pieces, including Oliver Messian’s Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus, Maria Theresia von Paradis’ Sicilenne, and the “Exit Music” from Westworld, arranged by Lunar Black. This final piece is particularly interesting in that it comes from a popular HBO series that so happens to have an exceptionally good musical score.

   Music in Lent at Calvary is characterized by a contemplative tone, which includes many congregational hymns and responses. You may recognize the Sung Response in our Sunday morning service – it is a melody I composed last year for the Lenten season and the organ accompaniment was written by Denise Lanning (I accompanied myself on guitar last year during the pandemic shutdown). The text is an adaption of the ancient hymn used in the Western Church, typically for Maundy Thursday during the washing of the feet liturgy, but it has since been used throughout the Lenten season. You will hear the same text set by composer John Leavitt for the Offertory on Sunday (March 13), but in this case, the music is in a contemporary, free-flowing style, with dissonant harmonies, possibly hinting at the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

   As we continue to follow the Narrative Lectionary, I have programmed music for the choir that aligns closely with the scriptures, so please listen for how the music enhances the themes of our morning services. On May 20, the choir will present an arrangement of the Southern folk hymn, Wondrous Love. This text is often sung on Good Friday, however, the choir will sing this ethereal version by the famed choral Minnesota composer and conductor Paul Christiansen, as it foreshadows Christ’s crucifixion while focusing on the wonder of his love for us that ultimately leads to his death.

   Other offertory anthems in Lent and Holy Week focus on the profoundly personal and intimate nature of this season before Easter. With Richard Billingham’s slow, swung arrangement of I Want Jesus to Walk with Me, we hear a jazzy approach (in a minor key, of course) to the personal plea of all people as we face hardship and suffering, knowing Christ walked the same path. And our Maundy Thursday anthem stretches back to the age of Tudors, with Thomas Tallis’s inimitable and mellifluous 4-part motet, If Ye Love Me, a setting from the fourteenth chapter of John. Good Friday – this year a livestreamed-only service in collaboration with New Hope Baptist Church – will feature congregational hymn responses, duets, and solos, including Moses Hogan’s deeply stirring, Sometime I Feel Like a Motherless Child.

Calvary, I wish you all God’s blessings as we journey through Lent together, and I pray we can enter a space of release and forgiveness as we head into Easter and the glorious light of resurrection.



Categories: Music, Worship
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