From my experience, Thanksgiving falls at just the right time of year. There is something magical about eating good food with friends and family, followed by a day of rest and relaxation. At least that’s been my tradition. I grew up in Princeton, NJ, where my parents live. Typically, I visit for at least a few days, if not a full week. This year is a little different in that the flight from Iowa City, Iowa required a layover. Add in uncertainty about inclement weather ahead of time and I allowed a buffer on either end. Despite slightly less time with friends and family, I am still thankful. For those in the US, I hope that you are able to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family and get much needed breathing space before the busyness of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
I was thinking about home and The Road Home by Stephen Paulus came to mind. I’ve had the good fortune of singing the piece at least once and there is something mesmerizing about the combination of the vocal lines and the text.
While I have thought about going home from a literal standpoint, I’ve also thought about the metaphors in the text. Starting a new job has brought many unfamiliar paths. At times, it’s felt as if I’ve lost the road and the path forward. Earlier in the fall, an important intersection less than a mile from my apartment was closed for two weeks due to construction and finishing a roundabout. In this case, I had to find new ways of getting home and a literal new road was created. Perhaps you can relate. Thankfully, I’m slowly figuring out what it means to forge a new path forward. I am grateful for this brief pause before the plunge of the Advent and Christmas seasons. I decided to take a few additional vacation days so this is a full week of recharging for me.
This year at my church, I’m presenting a Lessons and Carols service on December 11, 2022 at my church, which will involve hymns, anthems, and readings and reflections. Ensembles to be featured will be Logos Adult Choir, Resound Adult Handbell Choir, and Agape Singers (Junior High/Senior Choir). Accompaniment will include a mix of organ, piano, strings, trumpet, flutes, clarinets, and percussion. While I’ve presented a number of Lessons and Carols services or Advent/Christmas concerts in the past, there are some notable differences on this one. There is a separate handbell choir director, so I’ve had the fun of ringing this fall and I will be ringing in one of the handbell choir pieces! In addition, the Senior Pastor will provide brief reflections at various points in the service. Especially coming out of the initial stages of the pandemic, I thought it important to give the congregation multiple opportunities to sing. While there are a few hymns, two of the anthems include sections for the congregation to join in, including Night of Silence arr. John Ferguson and My Heart Shall Sing by Karen Marrolli. The former encourages the congregation to sing stanza 1 of Silent Night at the end. The latter invites the congregation to sing Canticle of the Turning at various points throughout the anthem.
Since My Heart Shall Sing has only been published in the past 1 – 2 years, I thought I would share a link to a sample pdf and a recording of it.
The text is a mix of the hymn Canticle of the Turning, based on the Magnificat, and meaningful and relevant original words by the composer. Accompanied by piano, violin part in an old Irish reel style, and djembe or conga, the vocal parts are very accessible. Most of the voicing is two-part; however, there is a short SATB section where the tenor and bass parts are optional. The sections with original text are varied in dynamics, which gives the choir a chance to work on expressive singing. Although I commissioned the anthem at my previous church in 2020, I’m excited to conduct as initially intended. The original parameters included the congregation have the option of singing Canticle of the Turning at various points during the anthem. When I premiered the anthem, I elected not to have the congregation sing along, since they were unfamiliar with the hymn. Unfortunately, COVID interrupted some of the original intent surrounding the anthem. On the other hand, the church where I currently serve is very familiar with the hymn. As a result, I’m excited to invite the congregation to sing during the anthem.
Back in 2021, I asked Ms. Marrolli about the genesis of My Heart Shall Sing. It was the text of the Magnificat that was the initial springboard. She really liked the dichotomy of terms, for example “brought down the powerful/lifted up the only”. The text wasn’t just Mary meekly bowing her head, but rather saying something revolutionary. With regards to the instrumentation (piano, violin, percussion), the hymn is set to an Irish text. The composer mentioned she wanted to compose in the style of an Irish reel, hence the violin. As a traditional Irish reel needs a groove, she added conga drums to much of the anthem.
A lesson I keep re-learning is the importance of filling up my cup so that I am at my optimum for my choirs. May your cup be filled and your spirit recharged this week.