Music Notes for Sunday, March 31 ~ 9 & 11 am Services

Music Notes

Sunday, March 31, 2024 ~ 9 & 11 a.m. Services

By Alex Ritter, Countryside Director of Arts Ministries

We’ve been focused on Peter during our Lenten sermon series, engaging with the content from Peter’s perspective. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough of Peter, and am shifting our musical focus to Mary Magdalene for Easter. Our hymns for this morning engage the texts through the lens of Mary Magdalene’s witness and the themes of nature, spring, and renewal invite us into a deeper understanding of the resurrection story.

When Mary Through the Garden Went was written by poet and novelist Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, who despite her relatively brief life left a considerable mark on English literature. Coleridge was a writer, educator and critic who navigated the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male literary world. Her poetry is known for its lyrical beauty, emotional resonance, and depth of feeling, often exploring themes of nature, love, and the metaphysical. Although the poem is rooted in the biblical story of Mary Magdalene, it transcends its religious origins to explore universal themes of searching, loss, and the joy of finding that which was thought to be lost forever. It transports the listener into the garden with Mary, to experience the waves of emotion that accompany her journey from mourning to ecstatic discovery. If you’re familiar with the hymn In the Garden, you will recognize parallels with Coleridge’s poem.

I come to the garden alone

While the dew is still on the roses

And the voice I hear

Falling on my ear

The Son of God discloses.

Now the Green Blade Riseth celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a particular focus on the image of spring – the wheat rising from the ground as a symbol of the resurrection. The hymn has a rich history, having been inspired by an ancient French carol and adapted as a poetic retelling of the Easter story, speaking to the joy and wonder of the resurrection, and of the hope and new life that it brings. One of the most striking features of the text is how it combines the themes of death and resurrection – acknowledging the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, yet celebrating the hope and new life that come with the resurrection. The imagery is a powerful symbol of this transformation, reminding us that even in the darkest moments of life, there is always the possibility of new beginnings.

Countryside is pursuing the Accessible to All (A2A) designation which recognizes congregations that have completed the A2A process and commitment to be physically and attitudinally welcoming of people with disabilities. This process includes a commitment to disability education, awareness, advocacy, and empowerment. In that spirit, we wanted to highlight the music of French composer and organist Louis Vierne (1870-1937) whose life was marked by tragedy, hardship, and disability, in our service today. Vierne is one of the most celebrated organists and composers of all time, playing concerts around the world and serving as the principal organist at Notre Dame de Paris from 1900 until his death.

Vierne was born prematurely and suffered from congenital cataracts, leaving him almost completely blind from birth. Despite this, he showed a remarkable talent for music from an early age and began studying piano and organ at the Paris Conservatoire at age seven. Vierne’s blindness made his career as an organist, particularly challenging – he had to rely on his exceptional aural skills to learn and memorize his repertoire and often had to rely on assistants to help him navigate unfamiliar spaces, pull stops on the organ, and notate his compositions. In addition to his blindness, Vierne’s life was marked by other struggles and setbacks. He suffered from chronic health problems throughout his life and endured a series of personal tragedies, including the deaths of two wives and two sons. Despite these challenges, Vierne continued to compose and perform, leaving behind a rich legacy of works for the organ that explores the heights and depths of humanity and the divine.

Today’s postlude, composed in 1930, is known for its technical brilliance, emotional intensity, and striking use of jazz-inspired harmonies. Vierne was known to be fascinated with American jazz music, and it is believed that this influence can be heard throughout Symphony No. 6. While the work is firmly rooted in the tradition of French organ music, with its grand chorale themes, complex counterpoint, and virtuosic pedal writing (with rapid scales at the end), there are several moments where Vierne incorporates jazz harmonies and rhythms in surprising ways.

Mark Miller is a favorite composer at Countryside. Miller’s impact on sacred music as a composer, academic, and liturgical musician has been profound and continues to grow, despite the significant barriers he faces as a gay African American. He believes that music can change the world in the spirit of Cornel West’s quote “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Miller wrote both the music and lyrics for Beloved. Intended to commemorate graduation, it is written from God’s point of view. It’s one of my personal favorite pieces of choral music. It combines great text, well-written melody, and compelling harmony to evoke the message of the text in a simple yet profound way. His anthem, Christ Has Broken Down the Wall, reminds us that “we’re accepted as we are,” that “peace and love are freely offered” by God, and that God has called us to “join our hearts as one” in all that we go through.

When Mary thro’ the garden went,
There was no sound of any bird,
And yet, because the night was spent,
The little grasses lightly stirred,

The flowers awoke, the lilies heard.

When Mary thro’ the garden went,
The dew lay still on flower and grass,
The waving palms above her sent
Their fragrance out as she did pass,
No light upon the branches was.

When Mary thro’ the garden went,
Her eyes, for weeping long, were dim,
The grass beneath her footsteps bent,
The solemn lilies, white and slim,
These also stood and wept for Him.

When Mary thro’ the garden went,
She sought, within the garden ground,
One for whom her heart was rent,
One who for her sake was bound,
One who sought and she was found.