Songs for the Season
J. S. Bach’s 200-plus cantatas hold many choral treasures. Some of the best known, such as “Jesus, Joy of Our (Man’s) Desiring” from Cantata 147, are well within the grasp of an average volunteer choir. Many of the opening choruses, on the other hand, are a challengeeven for professional singers. In Leipzig Bach was responsible for the music in several (at least four) churches, and therefore needed four choirs. Three of these were able to sing difficult music, but one could “only just barely sing a chorale” (New Bach Reader, 146).
In a phone conversation with my sister, I mentioned that I had led a session at a conference called “With a Shout! What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, followed by a bewildered “Why would you spend a whole day talking about the ascension?”
The three songs chosen for this Lent/Easter issue are all directly taken from Scripture or based closely on it. One is very short; you might call it a refrain. One is in a traditional hymn structure with a refrain, and one follows a more contemporary structure, also with a refrain.
We are unable to provide midi files of these songs on RW’s website. However, they are available at www.gettymusic.com.
When singing a hymn, it is often interesting to learn which came first, the text or the tune. And if written separately, who put them together? Those who write new songs for congregational worship fall into three main categories.
Canticle of the Turning, a Setting of the Song of Mary
Perhaps the sundry lyrical settings of the angel Gabriel’s Ave Maria have conditioned us to expect Mary’s response to be parallel in its tenderness. Indeed, many hymnic settings of the Magnificat pick up on the reflective character of the text, and rightly so. There is introspection here. But there are also other possibilities.