February 1, 2010

Choral Music for the Season | February 2010

Choral Music for the Season

Motets for Lent, Easter Triduum, Easter season, and Pentecost

The cathedral where I am director of music has wonderful acoustics. It is reasonably live, with a slightly more than three-second reverb, but not so live that the delay is problematic. The acoustics lend themselves magnificently to unaccompanied choral motets—so much so that most of my choir’s Lenten choral repertoire is unaccompanied polyphony from the Renaissance era. While I would never diminish the importance of such repertoire, I always strive to find new, well-crafted music to supplement the choral gems by Palestrina, Victoria, and Byrd. My choir can be a bit particular and leery of newly composed music. Although I value their opinions, I certainly don’t let them dictate the repertoire we sing. Besides, you really can have too much of a good thing. Several of the following motets for Lent, Easter Triduum, Easter season, and Pentecost have become wonderful additions to our choral repertoire. I hope you will find them useful to your choral programs as well.

Angela Westhoff-Johnson

Angela Westhoff-Johnson
Managing Music Editor for OCP
and music director at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland, Oregon


O Redeemer by Luke Mayernick

The Chrism Mass, the liturgy where the oils are blessed, takes place each year during Holy Week at our cathedral. The archbishop blesses chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam, which is used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders in the archdiocese. The oil for anointing catechumens at their baptism and for anointing of the sick is also blessed at this liturgy. As the oils are brought forward for the blessing, we sing the hymn “O Redeemer.” This Gregorian chant from the Graduale Romanum is set brilliantly by Luke Mayernick to an English translation by Paul F. Ford. Arranged for organ, SATB choir, flute, violin, viola, and cello, “O Redeemer” supplies an atmosphere fitting for the power of these oils. The assembly participates in the refrain while the choir expresses the importance of the oils through the verses. Though it has been arranged for choir and instruments, I successfully used this setting at last year’s Chrism Mass without the instruments. It took a bit of re-arranging on the part of the cathedral organist, but the color in the instruments transferred well to the organ. I encourage cathedral and diocesan choirs to discover this new setting of “O Redeemer” for use at the next Chrism Mass.

Difficulty Level: Medium | Voicing: SATB

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Loving Lamb by Ruth Krusemark

One single soprano voice begins and ends this piece, beautifully introducing the text by Isaac Watts: “Alas! And did my savior bleed.” Following the introductory solo, the soprano and alto continue this sixteen-measure line, which takes on the form of a verse. New material introduced by all voices of the choir further develops this short choral anthem of one hundred measures. Composed in a solid, uncomplicated style, “Loving Lamb” is pleasant to sing and hear. Sounding more challenging than it really is, this approachable, unaccompanied SATB motet will be useful to choirs of varying ability. While the text might seem Lenten, the song is most appropriate during Eastertide: “O the Lamb, the loving Lamb. The Lamb on Calvary. The Lamb that was slain who liveth again to intercede for me.” I find this composition appealing because it offers beauty and grace to adorn a liturgy during the Easter season without being big and bombastic.

Difficulty Level: Medium | Voicing: No Assembly Edition, SATB, Soprano, Solo, a cappella

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