Songs of the Season: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO

Angels Announcing the Birth of ChristUndoubtedly, one of the most well-known songs of the season is that of the angels: “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” (“Glory to God in the highest!”). This month, carols like “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” echo through churches and shopping malls alike, quoting their song and reminding us of the mysterious events of that first Christmas night (Luke 2:8-14). Countless composers have been drawn to this song, especially since the “Gloria” (in its expanded form) factors so prominently in Western classical music. One of my favorite settings comes from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (All-Night Vigil), Op. 37 (listen to a recording here). During this month of Advent, consider again the awe and wonder of the angels’ message and be renewed in your own worship of God.

On the night Jesus was born, God sent an army of angels, the most powerful spiritual beings in all creation, to proclaim his peace on earth. And, the people to whom that host of angels spoke, the very first people to receive the good news, were shepherds! At that time shepherds were so low in the social strata, so despised by the upper classes, their testimony was inadmissible in court. Yet God used them to begin spreading the news of his Son’s birth. What a contrast—lowly shepherds in a field and heavenly angels in the sky. For many years, angels have captured peoples’ imaginations, and their portrayal in songs, paintings, poems, sculptures, films, and even Christmas ornaments is abundant. But, certainly, one of the most fascinating things about angels is their keen interest in the mystery of salvation. The apostle Peter writes that the good news of the gospel is something “into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12). And Jesus himself told his disciples there is “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). Even though they played a part in its unfolding, God’s gift of salvation and the love he shows for his people astounds the angels. An angel told a virgin she would bear the Son of God—this is amazing. Angels proclaimed God’s peace to society’s outcasts—this is fascinating. An army of angels, with the power to rescue Jesus, was held at bay during his betrayal and arrest—this is perplexing. Angels rolled the stone away from Jesus’ tomb—this is miraculous. Angels received Jesus at his ascension into heaven—this is awesome. And now, in joyful wonder, angels surround God’s throne, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:12). Thanks be to God for his message of peace and salvation. (adapted from Behold He Comes: Advent Reflections)

Choral Settings of Gloria in excelsis Deo

All Night Vigil, Op. 37, mvt. 7, “Glory to God in the Highest,” S. Rachmaninoff | Difficult (SSAATTBB, with divisi, a cappella)

Gloria in Excelsis Deo, D. Cherwien | Difficult (SATB, with divisi, opt. Woodblock, Triangle, and Log Drum)

Glory to God in the Highest, R. Thompson | Moderate/Difficult (SATB, a cappella) ~ view a performance here

Glory to God in the Highest, G. B. Pergolesi | Moderate (SATB, keyboard)

A Christmas Gloria!, T. Shaw | Easy (Unison/2-part, piano) ~ children’s choir

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.

Songs of the Season: BENEDICTUS

Jacopo_Pontormo_031Another canticle, perhaps less well-known than Mary’s song, is the Benedictus of Zechariah (recorded in Luke 1:68-79). This has not garnered the extensive musical treatment that the Magnificat has, but American composer Dan Forrest recently wrote a moving anthem on this text, with additional original lyrics by R. C. Sproul (listen to a recording here). During the month of December, as the days become shorter and much of the natural world enters a period of dormancy, take a moment to reflect upon Zechariah’s promise of light and life.

Not long before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, a priest, and gave him a wonderful promise—he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son named John, who would prepare people for the coming Messiah. John would preach judgment for sin and call people to repentance. Because he and Elizabeth had no children and were very old, Zechariah knew this would take a miracle, and he could not believe it (Luke 1:18). And because of Zechariah’s unbelief, the Lord removed his ability to speak. When it was time to name his son, Zechariah could not fulfill his fatherly obligation to name the child. Instead, Elizabeth said to call him John. But their relatives were confused—why not name the boy “Zechariah,” according to custom? Finally, Zechariah wrote “His name is John” on a tablet, and after this the Lord restored his speech. What he said next is a Spirit-inspired prophecy abounding in thanksgiving and praise to God, the Redeemer. He recounts many of God’s actions in redemptive history, he acknowledges John’s role in preparing people for the Lord’s forgiveness, and he recalls God’s promise of light to those enslaved by the darkness of death—“the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” The prophet Malachi, to whom Zechariah refers, first spoke of this “sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). What a beautiful picture of the Messiah bringing light to the dark places of our lives. This promise of light finds its fulfillment in the one who referred to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Through his Son, God offers light to those living through the darkest of circumstances, and he offers life to those walking through the valley of the shadow of death. This is good news! (adapted from Behold He Comes: Advent Reflections)

Choral Settings of the Benedictus

Benedictus, Op. 34, no. 2, E. Elgar | Difficult (SATB, organ)

The Morning and Evening Service, Op. 10, C. V. Stanford | Difficult (SATB, organ)

Benedictus in A, J. Goss | Difficult (SATB, a cappella)

Blessed Is the Lord (Benedictus), D. Forrest | Moderate (SATB, piano, with opt. violin, cello, and drum)

Blest Be the God of Israel, arr. M. Burkhardt | Easy (SATB or Unison, organ)

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.


Songs of the Season: MAGNIFICAT

Madonna of the MagnificatThe month of December brings with it the strains of much beloved music. One of my favorite works—and one of the first major choral works I ever sang with a choir—is J. S. Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243), first performed when Bach was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. [You can view the full score on IMSLP, order Schirmer’s choral edition through JW Pepper, and listen to Philippe Herreweghe’s stunning interpretation on YouTube.] Composers through the centuries have been fascinated by Mary’s canticle of praise to God, and their highly varied settings testify to the the depth of emotion contained in her song (recorded in Luke 1:46-55). During the increasingly busy season of Advent, taking some time to reflect on the circumstances that brought about one of the very first Christmas songs can help restore your hope, peace, and joy in the goodness of God.

When Mary heard the good news—that Jesus was coming and she would be his mother—her world was turned upside down instantly. From that moment on, everything in her life was different from what she had imagined. Her plans, her hopes, her dreams were all challenged. At first, the angel’s words did not make sense to her. How could she give birth to a child—the Child? But Gabriel reminded her that all things are possible with God, he reminded her of the truth she already knew about God, and Mary responded in humble obedience. Understandably though, she needed someone to talk to, someone who could support her. So she left quickly to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who helped strengthen Mary’s faith in the promises of God (Luke 1:45). In response, Mary sang a song of praise to the Lord, a song rich in scriptural truth. Her concern for the poor is striking, as is her deep understanding of God’s acts in redemptive history. Mary’s song demonstrates her faith in the good and wise purposes of God. Could it be that she sang this song more than once, throughout her pregnancy and beyond, as a way to remind herself of God’s faithfulness? Perhaps, as new mothers do, she even sang this song as a lullaby to Jesus himself when he was a baby. When faced with the unexpected working of God in her life, Mary looked to him, recalling the Lord’s goodness to his people in the past, and was able to move forward in faith. Truly, the Lord is mighty, his name is holy, and his unfailing love endures forever. (adapted from Behold He Comes: Advent Reflections)

Choral Settings of the Magnificat

Magnificat in D Major (BWV 243), J. S. Bach | Difficult (SSATB, soloists)

Magnificat, R. Clausen | Difficult (SATB, a cappella)

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, R. Vaughan Williams | Moderate (SATB, organ/piano)

Mary’s Magnificat, A. Carter | Moderate (Soprano solo, SATB, organ)

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, T. Shaw | Easy (SA/TB, soloists, piano)

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.

One Dozen MORE Anthems for Small(er) Church Choirs

Need even more ideas for musical selections that are quite effective with smaller ensembles? Consider adding some of these well-written pieces to your choir’s repertoire either this year or in the future. (For the previous list, click here.)

  1. Prepare the Royal Highway (Unison/2-part, keyboard) | arr. H. Hopson, MorningStar
  2. We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth (SAB, piano) | T. Shaw, Concordia
  3. God Be Merciful unto Us (Unison, organ) | D. Pinkham, E.C. Schirmer (recording)
  4. Psalm 117 (2-part mixed, keyboard) | T. Shaw, Concordia
  5. Bow Down Your Ear (Unison, piano) | A. Miller, Augsburg Fortress
  6. Who at My Door Is Standing? (2-part mixed, keyboard) | arr. K. Lee Scott, Hinshaw
  7. Ah, Holy Jesus (SA, cello) | arr. C. Jennings, Augsburg Fortress
  8. Deep Were His Wounds (SAB, piano) | T. Shaw, MorningStar
  9. The Risen Christ (SAB, keyboard) | arr. T. Fettke, Alfred
  10. Lord, Listen to Your Children (SAB or 2-part mixed, piano) | arr. J. Schrader, Hope
  11. Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show (SAB, conga drums) | D. Schelat, Oxford
  12. The Lord Bless You and Keep You (SAB, keyboard) | J. Rutter, Hinshaw

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.

One Dozen Anthems for Small(er) Church Choirs

Finding music that is accessible to small(er) church choirs is always a challenge, and it seems every choir director must work with a smaller choir at least one week out of the year. Here is a list of one dozen well-written anthems, spanning the church year, that work well with ensembles of any size! Consider adding some of these to your choir’s library. (Clicking on a title will open the anthem’s page on JW Pepper.)

  1. Stir up Your Power, O Lord, and Come (SAB, organ) | C. Schalk, MorningStar
  2. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (SATB, keyboard) | T. Shaw, Augsburg Fortress
  3. Only a Baby Came (2-part, keyboard) | N. Sleeth, Hinshaw
  4. Jubilate Deo (Unison or SA, organ, opt. percussion) | D. Wood, Augsburg Fortress
  5. Lord Jesus, Think on Me (SATB, keyboard) | J. Althouse, Hope
  6. Create in Me a Clean Heart (SAB, organ) | C.F. Mueller, G. Schirmer
  7. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (SATB, piano) | F. Mallory, Genevox
  8. I Will Sing of My Redeemer (2-part, piano) | T. Shaw, Fred Bock
  9. Now Is Christ Risen from the Dead (2-part, keyboard) F. Frahm, Augsburg Fortress
  10. Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone (2-part, piano, oboe) | H. Helvey, Beckenhorst
  11. Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me (2-part, keyboard) | K. Lee Scott, Augsburg Fortress
  12. All My Hope on God Is Founded (Unison with descant, organ) | H. Howells, arr. J. Rutter, Collegium

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.

Sundays and Seasons Year C, 2016 (Augsburg Fortress)

Sundays and Seasons Year C 2016Augsburg Fortress has released Sundays and Seasons, Year C (2016). This is a wonderful resource that will help lay worship leaders and planners, preachers and presiding ministers, worship team leaders, musicians and visual artists, educators, sacristans and altar guilds, and pastoral liturgists as they prepare engaging worship. I was pleased to contribute the choral music selections for each of the 63 services throughout the church year.

Colorado ACDA 2014

The Colorado American Choral Directors Association Summer Workshop (Englewood, July 21-23, 2014) includes my new Advent anthem “Prepare the Royal Highway” in a reading session of Christmas choral music with clinician Raymond Ortiz. Here’s a description of the piece from the Augsburg Fortress website: “This celebratory anthem features elegant choral writing that will inspire your choir and congregation alike. Easy to learn and satisfying to sing, the anthem weaves four-part, two-part, and unison textures with a tambourine part that will add a festive element to your Advent season.” You can preview the score below.

2014 Florida Choristers Guild Children’s Choir Festival

A Psalm of ThanksgivingMy children’s anthem A Psalm of Thanksgiving is one of three pieces for Junior Choir (grades 3-6) at the upcoming 23rd annual Choristers Guild Children’s Choir Festival, Orlando, FL, March 8, 2014. The festival’s director, Suzanne Gifford has written a helpful note about how to rehearse the piece.