Handel’s “Messiah” for Children

A Blessed Easter to all of you! Children love picture books. Now it is possible to introduce children to Handel’s Messiah, one of sacred music’s most beloved and frequently performed works. In so doing, you will not only introduce them to a great piece of music, but also teach them the Biblical story of salvation (see my previous blogs Handel’s Messiah – Biblical, Christological, and Eschatological and Text Study –… Read More »

A Christmas with Paul Gerhardt in 1659

I pray that you enjoyed a Merry Christmas, even in these difficult and strange times, and were blessed by a lot of sacred music. I came across a story about the 1659 Christmas Day service at the Nikolaikirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Berlin, Germany that I thought I would share. One of the pastors at the church at that time was Paul Gerhardt (1607-76), one of the great hymn… Read More »

“And Take They Our Life” – More Thoughts on “A Mighty Fortress”

The short phrase “and take they our life” is the fifth line of the fourth and final stanza of one of the greatest Christian hymns in all of sacred music, “A Mighty Fortress” (EIN FESTE BURG) by Martin Luther (1483-1546). This phrase consists of five words in English and only four in the original German, “nehmen sie den Leib,” but behind it lies Luther’s entire Theology of Martyrdom which points… Read More »

A Virtual Hymn Sing Pandemic Style

Sacred music and the singing of Christian hymns is a corporate activity that all came to a halt a few weeks ago when this pandemic began. To address this problem, Kloria Publishing (www.kloria.com) began a program called “Sing Hymns with Me.” Every week they are posting a hymn appropriate for the Bible readings of the upcoming Sunday of the liturgical year and inviting people to sing along. They then make… Read More »

Praise and Honor: Hymn-Inspired Devotions

Those of you familiar with this blog know that it offers reflections and insights into sacred music and Christian hymns. This week I would like to share with you a new book that does the same. The author is Timothy Shoup, a parish pastor from Bonduel, Wisconsin and a former classmate of mine. With his book Praise and Honor: Hymn-Inspired Devotions he provides deep insights into fourteen hymns, both old… Read More »

More Settings of “Now Thank We All Our God”

It is quite remarkable that a faithful Christian pastor wrote a hymn of thanksgiving in the middle of war, pestilence, and famine (see “Pestilence and ‘Now Thank We All Our God.’”). It is equally remarkable that this hymn transcended time and place and has become so popular. The hymn is still performed throughout the world by many different ensembles in many different ways. My post several weeks ago on the… Read More »

Lamentations of Jeremiah – Tallis

The scenes of the empty streets in our cities these days reminds me of the first verse of the Lamentations of Jeremiah written thousands of years ago: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1) These laments take on new meaning during this Coronavirus pandemic. Christians have also used these laments during Holy Week as they grieve over the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. The… Read More »

Pestilence and “Now Thank We All Our God”

What does pestilence have to do with the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God”? Quite a bit, actually. Watching the news of the dangers, growth, and spread of the Coronavirus gives new meaning to the petition in the special Litany prayer in our hymnal asking God to protect us from “pestilence and famine.” Pestilence was nothing new hundreds of years ago. 1637 was a particularly difficult year for the… Read More »

Some Thoughts on Bach’s Birthday

Today is the 335th birthday of the great Lutheran composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It is hard to underestimate his importance in the history of music. Besides being a consummate musician he was a man of intense faith, something that is evident not only in his vocal music but even in his instrumental music. Standing upon the shoulders of giants, he himself became a giant and was used by God… Read More »

Thoughts on “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright”

For the Twelfth and last Day of Christmas and for the Feast of Epiphany let us examine the “Queen of Chorales,” “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (“Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”). Composed by the Reverend Philip Nicolai (1556-1608), it is often sung as an Epiphany hymn although it can be sung on other occasions as well. For this post, I simply wish to share two settings of this hymn by… Read More »