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Showing posts from March, 2018

Great Saturday Lamentations in different languages

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Here are some of the lamentations of Great Saturday, giving you a chance to compare Eastern with Western in the world of Holy Week grief. This are sung on Great and Holy Friday at the afternoon burial service. In the Eastern liturgies, the richness of the poetry predominates. The only time one really sees this in the West is with the Impropria on Good Friday into which the Trisagion is inserted in Greek between stanzas.

Actually, today is Lazarus Saturday on the Orthodox calendar with Palm Sunday coming tomorrow. But everyone needs a little poetry on this great sabbath.

Fly Away, Little Doves - Annunciation in Moscow

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What! No music! This little video was irresistible on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation (transferred this year in the West because of Palm Sunday to April).

Just enjoy this bit of last year's celebration: the Patriarch, the little girls, the birds, and the crowd with their smart phones.


Lamentations by Robert White

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A less-known composer of the Tudor era, White (1538-1574) composed this splendid setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  In these verses, each of which is prefaced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the prophet mourns the ruin of Jerusalem.

This setting for five voices is performed by the Huelgas Ensemble. This is "lectio secuda."

Two setting of the Lamentations by White survive. One for five parts; the other, six. While Tallis' setting is better known, I'm a sucker for White ever since I sang these in New York City years ago.

The Lamentations were part of the Holy Week service of Tenebrae, which was the Matins and Lauds of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, sung on the evening before those days. The evocative music, whether polyphony or chant, was combined with the gradual extinguishing of fifteen candles, leaving the church in complete darkness at the end, after the final prayer and blessing there is a sharp rap and the one still-lighted candle is br…

By the Waters of Babylon - Psalm 136

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This psalm is part of Matins in the 3 Sundays preceding Orthodox Great Lent. It is also often used during Lent at the Divine Liturgy during the priest's Communion. The exile of the Jews in Babylon is taken to reflect the exile of the human race from Paradise after the Fall of Adam and Eve. For Russians during the long years of Soviet domination, it was also felt deeply as reflecting their own exile from their homeland.

"By the Waters of Babylon" is a deeply moving piece, whatever your own context might be. I'm happy to find this performance in English, even if people are occasionally inclined to think music with words they don't understand is more "mystical."

The performance above is of the Kievan chant in a 4-part setting. It is often sung in a Znammeny chant version. If you are interested in seeing (and perhaps using) the piece with your own ensemble, you can find it in SATB, TTB, and SSA arrangements at the website of Orthodox Russian Music. This si…

Sacred Harp Singing from the Great Smoky Mountains

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This is a recording made by some Primitive Baptist young people in the church at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sacred Harp (also known as "shape-note") singing originated in England and the United States in the 18th century. The English style is called "West Gallery" music from the place in the church where the loft was located. In recent years, singers have revived the tradition in English and now there is a lively interchange of information and singers back and forth across the Atlantic.

To be honest, this music lies close to my heart. My paternal grandparents came from the mountains and among their possessions was an old "Christian Harmony." However, many, many people without my personal musical inheritance love this music. 

Sacred harp music is sung with a straight tone and the melody is always in the tenor line, often doubled an octave higher. It is modal and features open fifths and octaves. Some of the best-known early com…

Documentary on Samuel Barber

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What's Barber doing here?

This came to my attention from a colleagues at the Church Music Association of America. It qualifies for Sacred Miscellany because the background music for the trailer is the choral version of the Adagio for Strings. This was the first piece I ever heard by Barber when I was about 11 years old. I didn't hear the choral arrangement until years later. So there's the a cappella link.

Why not go over and learn about the film? Remind yourself of Barber and his role in 20th century American music. You can rent or purchase the documentary through various outlets. Here's the link to the film:

Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty

And here's a YouTube of the Agnus Dei:


Palestrina’s Inimitable “Sicut Cervus”

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There are about a zillion recordings of this motet - all adult male, boys and men, mixed voices. Why this one? I liked the tempo. One of my mottoes is “Keep it moving!”

Here's the translation because it's nice to know what you're listening to:

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, 
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. 
Sitivit anima mea ad Deum fortem vivum: 
quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem Dei? 
Fuerunt mihi lacrymae meae panes die ac nocte, 
dum dicitur mihi quotidie: 
Ubi est Deus tuus? 

As the hart longs for the water springs, 
So longs my soul for thee, O God. 
My soul has thirsted for the living God: 
When shall I come and appear before the face of my God? 
My tears have been my bread by day and by night, 
While it is said to me daily: 
Where is your God?