Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Memoir: Another Gertmenian Hymn

I keep thinking about this past Sunday (“Another Sunday,” I’m tempted to write; however, I don’t like to take Sundays so casually for granted.)
by Charlie Leck

My mind is wandering this morning. The first of the presidential debates is this evening. I am nervous about it. I enjoyed the debates early on – from the first between Richard Nixon and John Fitzgerald Kennedy – but they’ve become too contentious now – too combative and harsh. The debaters are also too careful now, knowing that one big mistake could cost one the election. Journalists are ready and eager to pounce upon such errors or gaffes. I’ll record the debate this evening, so I can sit quietly in the morning and watch it slowly, going back if I want to hear something again.

This wandering mind keeps returning to this Sunday past and the extraordinary morning at my church (Plymouth Church of Minneapolis) and the remarkable presentation of the operetta, The Shoemaker, by Stephen Paulus (composer) and Michael Dennis Brown (librettist) that was performed at the usual hour of our worship service. It’s based on a story by Tolstoy about kindness and good deeds and the power such acts of love can have.

Should it seem strange to have a full-fledged operetta performed at a worship service, I can only say: “You had to be there!” And, you have to know Plymouth Church. The story is powerful and it somehow draws you toward the Divine. I am reminded of a verse of scripture Sojourners sent me this week that speaks to this…

“Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly and resisting the evil influence of the world.”- James 1:27 (The Voice).

Before the operetta began, we sang a hymn written by our Senior Minister, James Gertmenian. It had been written in 2008 as part of the celebration of the 40th year our organ master and choir director, Philip Brunelle, had been with us. Philip has been a precious gift to our church and to the music world in general. It would take far too long to recite his honors and awards here. (I’ve written here before about a Gertmenian hymn – see my blog of 22 March 2012.)

My point is that the entire experience at Plymouth Church that day was begun on such an extraordinary note in the singing of this very beautiful hymn. The church was packed and there were dozens of professional musicians there because of the performance the operetta, so the hymn was sung with great exuberance and extreme talent. The music to which it was put was by Rowland Hugh Pritchard: Come, O Long Expected Jesus (HYFRYDOL), 1831.

The hymn’s title is taken from its first words: IN THE MARRIAGE OF WORD AND MELODY, obviously creating the theme for the celebration of Brunelle’s anniversary in 2008. I reproduce those lyrics here today as a special gift to those of you who love hymns:

In the marriage of word and melody
When we join the faithful throng.
God refreshes our human family
Through the sacrament of song
Music swelling, voices telling
Tales of struggle and stories of grace
Wed congregations through all generations
With the jubilant chords of praise

At the banquet of hymn and harmony
Where the food of love is found,
God enlivens our faint community
With the sumptuous feast of sound.
Anthems soaring, Psalms adoring
Ground of Being and Sower of Seed,
Gather the scattered and nurture the gathered,
‘Til the earth’s people are fed and freed.

Though the trials of life should harry us,
Though we lose the old refrain,
God will surely support and carry us
‘Til we find our song again.
Hope returning as we’re learning
Ground of Being and Sower of Seed,
Gather the scattered and nurture the gathered
‘Til earth’s people are fed and freed.

God, we praise you for every instrument:
Every cymbal, horn and string;
Making music in earth and firmament
Prompting all the world to sing.
May our living and thanksgiving
Blend in stanzas that always increase,
Lifting forever our voices together:
One great chorus of joy and peace.

We need new hymn writing in the church in these times, to make our music more relevant and meaningful. Of course, it is grand to sing some of the old and legendary songs of the church, but it is precious when one finds extraordinary modern ones.

As for the operetta, it was spectacular. Really! It was that wonderful! I loved the music and the orchestra, chorus and performers were magnificent in performing it. A recording of the performance will probably be available soon and I’ll alert you to it. Paulus and Brown were in the congregation for the presentation of their creation and I know they were pleased.

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