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 »

The Paradoxes of “This Little Babe”

Many of you may be familiar with the great choral work “This Little Babe” from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The driving rhythm, the compelling tune with its unique canonic treatment, and the dramatic shift at the very end from a minor key to its parallel major all make for a memorable and powerful setting of the text (click here for a video). The text explores the paradoxes that came with the birth of Christ, with God becoming… Read More »

Thoughts on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

The beloved Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” began its long journey into our Christmas celebrations as a ten stanza poem entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day” by Reverend Charles Wesley (1707-88), younger brother of Rev. John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism. It was first published in Part 2 of their collection of poems entitled Hymns and Sacred Poems (London: William Strahan), 1739 (click here for the original text). As a… Read More »

Thoughts on “While By My Sheep”

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, let us look at “While By My Sheep I Watched” (“Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht’”), another beautiful early German carol of unknown origins. It is characterized by macaronic Refrain that features an echo and concludes with the Latin phrase “Benedicamus Domino!” (“Let us bless the Lord!”). It was published as early as 1615 and then again in 1623 in the Kölner Gesangsbuch (Cologne Hymnbook). Below you… Read More »

Thoughts on “Maria Walks Amid the Thorn”

For the Ninth Day of Christmas, let us look at the wonderful but relatively unknown German Christmas carol “Maria Walks Amid the Thorn” (“Maria durch ein’n Dornwald ging”). It is one that I sang as part of several Christmas programs when I was a child, but have rarely heard since. The carol was published as an Advent song in Maria von Trapp’s book Around the Year with the Trapp Family (New York: Pantheon Books Inc.,… Read More »