Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter 2021


Easter Changes Everything!

Christ is Risen!

The Angel Rolling The Stone Away From The Sepulchre     William Blake, ca. 1808 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the vict'ry, thou o'er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.

Christ As The Redeemer Of Man                    Blake, ca 1808

He is Risen, indeed!


Photos and Illustrations:
Blake images,, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Holy Saturday 2021


Holy Saturday . . . is the sound of perfect silence. Yesterday's mockery, the good thief's prayer, the cry of dereliction - all of that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next.

Christ in the Sepulchre                                William Blake, 1808  

With the altar stripped bare and the Divine Service unspoken, the wait in silence resonates.


The opening quotation is taken from an excerpt from Death on A Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus

Photos and Illustrations:

Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday 2021


For contemplation on this day...

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus  Salvadore Dali, 1954

From the Passion of Christ According to St. John by the Estonian composer, Arvo Part:


Photos and Illustrations:

Emmylou Harris: Fifty Years In Love

In fifty years singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris has won fourteen Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Her career first gained traction in small clubs and coffee houses in Washington and its suburbs. I was only a few miles from most of the venues but sadly never saw her perform. Still, it was impossible not to see and hear the advertising in and around Georgetown in DC and the Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. By the early '70's she moved to Los Angeles to work with Gram Parsons and his band, The Grievous Angels. When Parsons died in 1973 the devastating event led her to focus on Parsons's search for the fusion sound he called "cosmic American music." The sound Harris and Parsons produced in their short time together , in addition to her life-long dance with experimental sounds in folk, blues and country music would have a significant impact on decades of American music.

Today, Harris continues to produce innovative and award-winning sound. In 2016 her album of duets with Rodney Crowell - The Traveling Kind - was her latest Grammy winner. Here is a track from the album:

Today Emmylou Harris turns 74. Fame has been kind to her given such a long and successful touring and recording career. She's brought quality entertainment to millions of people since the beginning in those early days with Graham Parsons. We'll never know where the two of them would have gone together in the world of music but it's safe to say it would have been far. Here is a song she and Bill Danoff wrote as a tribute to Parsons:

I don't want to hear a love song
I got on this airplane just to fly
And I know there's life below
But all that it can show me
Is the prairie and the sky

And I don't want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire
And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I'll survive.
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety five
And pretend that it's the ocean
coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby do you know what I mean

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Johann Sebastian Bach: Everything In Music


I was introduced to the music of J.S. Bach as an infant at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in my little hometown in the mountains of Maryland. The church already had been baptizing members of my father's family for over seventy years. We were a large family within the larger church family. One aunt was the principal organist while several aunts, uncles, and cousins held various position in church administration and in the choir. In the summer of my ninth year our family moved leaving behind not only familiar people and places but also family linkages to my beloved church. I left with a strong faith reinforced in part by Bach's profound music. In time I faced some challenges with faith in my revolutionary days but the awe and appreciation for Bach never waned.

J.S. Bach portrait at age 61     Elias Haussmann, Germany, 1746 

Today marks his birthday - in 1685 - using the Old Style calendar.  Johann Sebastian Bach, gave us some of the most sublime music in western culture and it would be an oversight, especially as a Lutheran, not to honor this master of the Baroque and pillar of Lutheranism. His music was largely forgotten for almost a century following his death, but had been restored by the first quarter of the 19th century. The new-found popularity of Bach was due largely to the composer-performers, Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven, and the publication of many of Bach's works. 

In this post commemorating the 336th anniversary of his birth, Bach's music is the real content. No need for names, dates, places, and details. Let the music speak for him.

The Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, was perhaps the most technically perfect interpreter of Bach's keyboard music in our lifetime. His approach - he was well-known for singing along while he performed - was unique and not to every one's preference but no one could deny that Gould was a magician at the keyboard. Here he is playing several of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. 

From the St. Matthew Passion, here is the final recitative and chorus, a lullaby to Jesus as he lies in his tomb:

Here is a familiar piece attributed to Bach, Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, performed by young Dutch organist, Gert van Hoef:

And finally here is Bach played by the irrepressible American cellist, Yo Yo Ma.

Bach's music has been a part of me for so long that I couldn't begin to tell you when I first heard it other than to say it had to be in church at a very early age. The preludes. fugues, harmonies, the shear wonder of his work, it's all in my blood. And I can't play a single note of it. Wouldn't have it any other way. I simply listen and let it flow.

Music’s ultimate end or final goal…should be for the honor of God and the recreation of the soul.
                                           Johann Sebastian Bach - Leipzig, 1738


Text; title taken from a quote by Johannes Brahms, “Study Bach: there you will find everything.”


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Paul Whiteman: When Jazz Meant Syncopation And Hot Dancing


Paul Whiteman was born on this day in 1890 in Denver. Once known as the "King of Jazz," but now almost forgotten outside of tight circles of music history, he was primarily responsible popularizing the integration of jazz in popular music throughout the United States. Historian Glenn T. Eskew says this about him:

Alert to the emerging style, Whiteman pioneered standardized settings of the songs, capturing the melodies on paper and leaving room for improvisation while making jazz appear "respectable" for dancing by using symphonic arrangements. Whiteman made recordings in 1920 of "Avalon" and "Whispering" songs that inspired Johnny Mercer. By 1924, in a bid to blend the "serious" with the "popular," Whiteman conducted his Palais Royale Orchestra in the world premier of George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' which revealed the omnipresence of syncopation. Indeed, Whiteman's various approaches to jazz gained him his crown, for he mastered a jazz-inflected light-sweet music that while never the hot music of [Louis] Armstrong nonetheless popularized the genre in the United States. From the cabaret to the symphony hall, musicians embraced the rhythm and blues of playing as Americans consumed Whiteman's liberating jazz.

Whiteman pictured in 1934 in the magazine, Radio Stars

Indeed, Whiteman was quite the showman as can be viewed in this excerpt from the 1930 film, King of Jazz. The film was the first to use a prerecorded studio soundtrack "made independently of the actual filming." It was also one of the earliest Technicolor films.

And we can't let Whiteman's birthday pass without an opportunity to hear his celebrated orchestra performing the syncopated "jazz" music that made them famous. This 1928 recording features 25 year-old Bing Crosby singing his first number one hit. Crosby would go on to shape popular singing for the rest of the century.

That's happy music. Tap your feet, did you?


Photos and Illustrations:
Whiteman photo, photographer uncredited,


Glenn T. Askew, Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World, University of Georgia Press: Athens and London, 2013

Palm Sunday 2021

The Bible pictured above served my family well beginning in the 1890's. As one of my earliest memories I recall my parents carrying it every Sunday to Mount Calvary Lutheran Church a few blocks from our home. It's too fragile for use these days and now occupies an honored place in our family archive. The book becomes special to me on Palm Sundays. Among the near eighty years of memorabilia inside are a dozen or so treasured palm crosses from my childhood.

Today is Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent, and the beginning of Holy Week. On this day, Christians around the world commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is also a time to remember the Passion history as preparation for the Holy Week experience. Readings for the day recall the anointing of Jesus, the institution of the Lord's Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus's trials before Caiaphas and Pilate, the crucifixion of Jesus, and His burial.

All glory, laud, and honor to you Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

You are the king of Israel and David's royal Son,
Now in the Lord's name coming, our King and Blessed One.

The company of angels are praising you on high;
Creation and all mortals in chorus make reply.

The multitude of pilgrims with palms before you went,
Our praise and prayer and anthems before you we present.

To you, before your Passion, they sang their hymns of praise.
To you, now high exalted, our melody we raise.

Their praises you accepted; accept the prayers we bring,
Great author of all goodness, all good and gracious King.

All glory, laud and honor to you, Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

                                                                       Theodulf of Orleans, 750/760-821

On the Sunday following this Passion Week we celebrate a 2000 year-old event that changes everything.


Photos and Illustrations:
early 20th century postcards from the OTR family archives