Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Setting of the Jewel

Today, we celebrated Psalm Sunday.  You may have noticed your organist playing the hymns and liturgy a little more joyously today than on many of the other Sundays in Lent.  This is in stark contrast to how the music will sound latter in the week as we remember Christ's suffering and death for our redemption.  And of course, nothing will compare to the unbridled joyful noise that will fill our churches on Easter morn!

Since this week provides the perfect opportunity to hear how music is used to support the text, I thought I'd share an article I wrote that discusses this very topic.

God's Word is our crown jewel: it is the most beautiful thing that we have. It is our treasure, and by it, we know of our salvation by Christ's death and resurrection. This is why Lutheran worship is so beautiful. It is not about what we do or what we can offer to God; rather, it is about hearing His Word and receiving the forgiveness of sins that comes through Word and Sacrament. And so we keep God's Word at the center of our liturgy and everything else is built around it: the setting highlights the jewel.

Part of this setting is the music. As an organist, it is the Word that informs what I play during Divine Service and how I play it. As you sit in the pew, you may not be paying attention to the music as you sing. You may not notice how this stanza is played differently from that stanza, or why the organist does this or that when playing the Gloria. I invite you, yes you, dear brother or sister, to listen to what your organist plays. Is he or she playing a stanza light and airily? Does it suddenly seem as if all the voices of the organ are joining together as one? What are you hearing? As you begin to pick these things out, notice how they connect to the text you are singing. Does what you hear reflect what you speak?

As an example, let us consider together LSB 621 Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. In the first stanza, when the text says "and with fear and trembling stand" one might hear a fluttering as the organ waivers back and forth between two notes. Later, in the lowest notes, the bass pitches, we might hear notes descending stepwise as we sing "Christ our God to earth descending". In stanza two, we might notice that the aural texture becomes lighter, as the organist removes stops, or sets of organ pipes, so that we can contemplate how Christ took on our flesh and blood by being born as a little babe. Yet in the very next stanza, we might hear the organ grow in volume and grandeur as more and more pipes of varying colors get added to the ensemble, representing the whole host of heaven. As the stanza progresses and speaks of "the pow'rs of hell", the organ might become increasingly dissonant, only to wither away to near silence "as the darkness clears away." The final stanza is triumphant as we join our voices with the heavenly host and cry "Alleluia, Alleluia! Alleluia, Lord Most High!" We might notice the organist adds bright trumpets and fills out the voices of the organ to land finally on a major chord, though this hymn otherwise sounds a bit somber in its minor key.

These are just a sampling of the techniques that organists use to highlight the text of hymns and the liturgy. Now that we've explored some of these techniques by considering Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, you are equipped to continue to explore how an organist aurally supports God's Word. Now go, rejoice in God's Word, our jewel, by joining your voice with your brothers and sisters throughout the ages!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Where Has All the Rum Gone?

I attend a campus church, so there are generally various activities, including fellowship events, that occur throughout the week. Usually, about once a semester,  we have a night where we hold an Iron Chef -style competition.  Contestants must use a required ingredient that is made known in advance, and they have approximately an hour to make their creations before presenting their dishes to a panel of judges.  At last night's competition, the required ingredient was "alcohol", with the added requirement that it must be cooked into something, no drinks allowed.

My entry was a version of an apple bread recipe I've been making for a while now and have slowly modified over the years.  I made last night's recipe into muffins with a spiced glaze.  These tasty treats won me the titles of best overall and best presentation.  They are definitely make-again worth and I thought I'd share my scrumptious creation with you, o internet.

Spiced Rum Apple Muffins

1/2 c. soften butter
1/2 c. total combination blackstrap molasses and honey (with a bit more molasses than honey)
2 eggs
1 single-serve bottle (50 mL) of spiced rum
1 c. whole white wheat flour
1 c. AP flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/3 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 small apples, one pealed and grated and two diced

powdered sugar; vanilla; ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and ginger; water

Mash butter with a fork and then mix in the sugars, eggs, and rum one by one. Stir in the flours, powder, soda, and salt until mostly combined.  Add in all of the apple and mix until fully combined.  Drop by spoonfuls into a buttered muffin tin (makes about 1 1/2 dozen muffins).  Bake at 375° F for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

I didn't really measure when I made the glaze.  I dumped powdered sugar into a small bowl along with some vanilla, and the five spices in roughly a 3:1:1:1:1 ratio.  I slowly whisked in a little bit of water until the mixture was smooth and runny.

Drizzle a little bit of glaze over a warm muffin and enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Political Reflection

I sometimes write blog posts that I never end up posting.  As I was going through some of those posts today, I came a across one that I wrote around the Forth of July several years ago.  Some of what I wrote wasn't worth keeping around, but the following paragraph caught my attention and seemed apropos for the current political climate:

A big deal is made out of events that celebrate our nation, and as a Christian, I wonder why.  This country, and our government, are both temporal.  They will pass away someday.  Look at any of the great civilizations that came before.  How many have survived the test of time?  Why do we put so much stock in national pride? Our government is not perfect; it is flawed.  So why do we place our fear, love, and trust in it?  I am by no means saying we should ignore our government and its laws.  We are called to be respectful of those in authority, including the government (see Luther's Table of Duties regarding citizens).  However, it seems that sometimes we make an idol out of being a citizen of a certain country.

It seems to me that people on both sides of the aisle have made an idol out of the presidency and the federal government.  If they can't have it their way, well, then the world is coming to an end.  News flash:  the world has been coming to an end since the fall of mankind.  A president is not going to fix it.