Oui will rock you

April 24, 2017 at 2:39 pm

There’s a great hymn, O Filii et Filiae, which is sung in many churches on the Sunday after Easter, because its text mirrors the gospel lesson of the day – the story of doubting Thomas. It is one of those instances of a gripping narrative wed to a simple yet interesting melody which, being roughly 600 years old, has clearly stood the test of time.

For me, it’s a chance to pull out one of my favorite organ pieces, don my beret, and pretend to be French. French organs stand out in that they are jam packed with fiery trumpets and other noisy stops, making them exceedingly loud – necessary to fill the cavern of a massive French cathedral with sound. Before the revolution, the French organ tradition included writing (or improvising) variations on popular chants or sacred melodies. Jean-François Dandrieu did just this when we wrote his Offertoire pour la fête de Pâques – variations on O Filii et Filiae, showcasing the terrifying thunder of French organs.

When I hear that sound, it makes me imagine a peasant from a village, coming into Paris and going into a church – and being petrified and awestruck at the sound of the organ. Our human fascination with loud sound, like the appeal of this hymntune, hasn’t changed.



Memorial Day

May 30, 2016 at 9:00 am

I am deeply humbled by the bravery of any person who willingly risks his or her life for the sake of others, and am thankful for the sacrifice that many made so that I may live as I do. It’s easy to forget this, living in the sheltered, safe world in which most of us live. Please take some time today to remember and give thanks for the lives lost fighting for our way of life.

Edward Elgar‘s “Nimrod” from his Enigma Variations – originally a statement of deep friendship by the composer. Its rich sweeping emotion has made it a perfect choice for remembering the lives of heroes. “Nimrod” was an ancient biblical hunter; Elgar’s friend was “Jaeger”, the German word for hunter – thus the coded title of this movement.


Varying your Variable Variations

December 5, 2015 at 10:00 am

Today we’re going to have a very serious lesson in music. So sit down and open your notebooks and prepare to learn about something very deep and complex and difficult. Now, you may not understand it at first, but that’s to be expected – I, who am educated, and have read books with many polysyllablic words in them, can help you.

I’m ready. Bring it on.

Today’s musical lesson is about the form known as Theme and Variation. First, the composer presents a musical theme. Then, the composer varies the theme. These are called variations.

that’s it?

Yes, that’s all.

… anything else?

Nope. A composer will vary the theme in any way s/he pleases. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not. If you like, you can analyze the ways the theme is varied, or you can just sit back and enjoy the music for what it is.

… class dismissed?

No, not yet. First, listen to Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn.