Archive for the 'Actions' Category

Psalm 84: Highways to Zion

I have three recordings to share this week which fit together under the theme of Psalm 84.

I come back to this beautiful psalm again and again in seasons of anxiety and uncertainty. The text begins by extolling the courts of the Lord as the place where even a swallow can build a nest in safety for her young, and it ends by praising God as a sun and a shield who gives favor and honor. And in the middle, Psalm 84 includes the beautiful phrase: “How blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!”

Now, some context for the three recordings.

I grew up savoring the Dutch-organ-psalm-improvisation genre, as I’ve mentioned before on this site. Not only is it hard to find this style of organ playing in America (let alone the sheet music for it!), but it is also difficult to find pipe organs that are built in a style that supports the music. What, exactly, do you need? I can only offer some amateur observations on this, but depending on the piece, you need three or four different characteristics in a pipe organ: (a) at least one manual with 8′, 4′, and 2 2/3′ flute stops, (b) a variety of mutations or Baroque solo voices such as Cornet, Sesquialtera, Crumhorn, etc., (c) mechanical key action and flexible winding to provide some fluctuation in pitch and attack, and (d) tremulants that are unified across the whole organ, or that at least synchronize with one another. If you’re an organist, you may be able to sympathize with how difficult it is to find a reasonably accessible instrument that satisfies all these criteria in the USA. (That’s why the organ at Dordt University is such a significant exception.) If you’re not, here’s the basic takeaway: unless you can find an organ with at least three of these characteristics, the music not only won’t sound authentic, it possibly won’t even sound pretty.

So, in my quest for organs in my regular haunts (Long Island and western Pennsylvania) that can handle Dutch psalm settings, I was excited to discover a 2-manual Flentrop organ about an hour north of Pittsburgh in a Presbyterian church in Slippery Rock. I visited last fall and recorded the first part of Jan Zwart’s Canonisch Voorspel (canonic prelude) on Genevan Psalm 84. It’s a good start, but the organ is really small, and without any tremulants available, the music seemed a little shapeless to my ear.

That’s why I was thankful for the chance to record the whole setting a second time earlier this month on the brand-new Peragallo pipe organ at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sayville, NY. Although the key action is electronic rather than mechanical, the tremulants and mutations give this recording a much warmer and fuller sound. I hope to visit the Flentrop again, but I now have a better idea of what music it can handle.

Both of the recordings above focus on the beautiful tune of Psalm 84 which came from Calvin’s Genevan Psalter and is still familiar in many countries in Europe today. The third recording is a new tune for Psalm 84, this one from Russia. I previously posted about Konstantin Zhigulin’s work and attempted to record this same improvisation on an organ in Wilkinsburg. Turns out, the tune lends itself far better to piano. This is an excerpt from the benefit concert I recently gave for Geneva College.

Each of these very different recordings affords an opportunity to meditate on the soul-settling truths contained in Psalm 84. The Lord is a sun and a shield, our hope and our song in the night . . . how beautiful are your dwelling places, O Lord!

–MRK

A Genevan Psalm Returns to Long Island

Recently I visited St. John’s Episcopal Church in the hamlet of Oakdale on Long Island’s south shore. This little congregation has the distinction of being the second oldest church in Suffolk County, and the present building predates the American Revolution. It was an interesting visit, not only because of the church’s age, but because of the likelihood that some of the earliest Dutch settlers to West Sayville, c. 1850, first worshiped with the Episcopalians in Oakdale before starting their own Reformed church in West Sayville in 1866.

In the back of the church is a tiny pipe organ built by George Jardine of New York, also around 1850. With one manual and three stops, an instrument like that doesn’t have a lot of versatility. But its tone is sweet and clear, perfect for the size of the sanctuary in which it is located. And it seemed fitting to play a Genevan tune, since it was the Dutch who brought the Genevan psalm tunes with them to New York.

The Genevan tune of Psalm 12 is included in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. This psalm is a cry of outrage and distress to a God of justice in the midst of a crooked and troubled world. The final stanza is a fitting refrain for the church today:

O LORD, you will preserve your people always,
and from this evil age keep us secure;
on ev’ry side the wicked strut and swagger,
as people honor all that is impure.

–MRK

Improvisation on “Lamb, Precious Lamb”

It’s not a psalm today. Instead, it’s a beautiful new contribution to the Trinity Psalter Hymnal by OPC minister Rev. Jonathan Landry Cruse and Presbyterian musician Paul S. Jones, entitled “Lamb, Precious Lamb” (#353). Since I had one more opportunity to practice and record on the magnificent Peragallo organ at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sayville, I decided to improvise on this meditative and majestic tune.

Rev. Cruse has offered a significant contribution to the tradition of Reformed hymnody with his collection of 25 Hymns of Devotion, composed in collaboration with several modern-day church musicians. “Lamb, Precious Lamb” is one of the finest, as well as one of several that made it into the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. I look forward to Rev. Cruse’s future contributions to the music of the church.

The text of “Lamb, Precious Lamb” explores a variety of facets of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. The fifth stanza closes with a fitting doxology:

Lamb, worthy Lamb, who reigns for endless days,
Maker, Redeemer, thine be all the praise.
We join the eternal choirs of heaven, great King;
“Glory and honor to the Lamb!” we sing.

–MRK

TODAY: Virtual Organ Concert to Benefit Geneva College

The Welcome the Morning Star Alumni Benefit Concert featuring Michael Kearney ’17 is a virtual format organ concert to raise funds and awareness for Geneva’s COVID-19 Project Fund. The benefit recital will feature old and new compositions, highlighting psalms and hymns in a variety of styles, and will conclude with the monumental Allegro from Widor’s Sixth Organ Symphony.

This special event will premiere tonight, Friday, December 18, 2020, at 7 p.m. EST. It will broadcast simultaneously on the YouTube channels of URC Psalmody and Geneva College. The URC Psalmody stream link is below.

Donations through an online free will offering will help the college weather the significant financial costs of carrying out its mission under pandemic conditions through the $1 Million COVID-19 Project Fund. Visit Geneva College’s website for more information about this historic Reformed Christian institution of higher education and to support the college.

The concert will also be available to watch on YouTube after the broadcast has ended.

–MRK

Virtual Organ Recital to Benefit Geneva College

It has been a music-filled week, which is always a blessing in a time of plague. On Saturday I spent several hours with an audio-visual team at the First Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, PA, recording a pipe organ recital for Geneva College.

As a Christ-centered and Scripture-centered institution of higher education, Geneva is well prepared to weather the pandemic on both a spirtitual and a practical level. Nevertheless, the college is facing a several-million-dollar budget gap due to the unexpected expenses that COVID-19 has generated, combined with losses in tuition, room, and board. The college has asked alumni and friends to raise $1 million towards bridging this gap. I don’t have a million dollars to give, but I do have ten fingers and two feet–so this concert represents an opportunity to inspire others to support an institution that has contributed so much to my own spiritual development and the lives of many thousands more.

The concert is entitled “Welcome the Morning Star,” with a nod to the star that hangs on Geneva’s Old Main each Christmas season. For this program, I chose pieces that focused on the theme of light appearing in darkness, including a wide variety of psalm, hymn, and carol settings both old and new. The spiritual centerpiece of the concert is Konstantin Zhigulin’s setting of Psalm 84, “My God and King,” which I have previuosly talked about here.

The recital will broadcast on URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, December 18. The program is below:

Processional on Personent hodie – Michael R. Kearney, b. 1995

Chorale prelude on “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern,” BuxWV 223 – Dietrich Buxtehude, c. 1637–1707

Nouveau Livre de Noëls, op. 2 – Louis-Claude Daquin, 1694–1772
               10. Grand jeu et Duo

Cathedral Windows, op. 106 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 1877–1933
               3. Resonet in laudibus
               4. Adeste fideles

12 Pièces nouvelles pour orgue – Théodore Dubois, 1837–1924
               
8. Fiat lux                                                   

Chorale prelude on “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” BWV 645 – J. S. Bach, 1685–1750

Morgensonne (“Sunrise”), op. 7, no. 1 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 1877–1933

Liedbewerkingen – Gert van Hoef, b. 1994
               Nu zijt wellekome
               God rest ye merry, gentlemen/Carol of the bells 

Improvisation on Konstantin Zhigulin, “My God and King” (Psalm 84) – Michael Kearney, b. 1995

Sixth Organ Symphony, op. 42, no. 2 – Charles-Marie Widor, 1844–1937
               1. Allegro

I hope you can join me virtually on December 18 as an expression of support for this faithful Christian institution.

–MRK


URC Psalmody on YouTube

Geneva College Benefit Concert

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 233 other followers

Categories