Monthly Archives: March 2015

HOLY WEEK: Reflecting on the Cross through Music

Holy Week

Music & Cross


Our music during Holy Week reflects Jesus’ last days, from his entry into Jerusalem, to the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and finally to Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. 



 Palm Sunday

The Children’s Choir sang “Look Who’s Coming” as we waved palms and expressed excitement about the King who entered Jerusalem on his way to the cross.  The disciples were with Jesus, but did they really understand what was going on?



Maundy Thursday

Special music “The Upper Room” chronicles Jesus’ last supper with the disciples.  Still in the dark, the disciples were shocked when he washed their feet and explained their mission to serve others.  What is this New Covenant he told them about?



Good Friday

The Handbell Choir begins our Good Friday journey with a dramatic Celtic arrangement of “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?” The drone and sound of bagpipes takes us to the cross, and if you listen carefully, you will hear the pounding of the nails.  The Sanctuary Choir sings “A Scarlet Robe,” telling of the soldiers spitting on Jesus, mocking him, gambling for his clothes… and then realizing “surely this was the Son of God.”




They killed him.  Yet he says, “Father, forgive them…”



Worship and reflect with us this Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm.

 Christ Presbyterian Church

12410 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway

Fairfax, Virginia



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Music During Lent: “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”


“My Faith Looks Up To Thee”

Carolynn Baer, flute


My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!



faithThis hymn is generally considered to be one of the finest on the subject of faith.  In fact, many students of hymnody have suggested it is the finest American hymn ever written.

Ray Palmer was only twenty-two years old when he wrote the text.  Because of financial difficulties, he had been forced to drop out of school at the age of 13 and take a job.  After becoming a Christian, he felt the call to become a minister, resumed his education at Andover Academy, and graduated from Yale in 1830.  Several months after graduation, Palmer wrote the text for this hymn.  He had experienced a discouraging year in which he battled illness and loneliness.  One night as he read a German poem picturing a needy sinner kneeling before the cross, Palmer was so moved that he translated the poem into English, and soon added the four stanzas that became “My Faith Looks up to Thee.”  He later wrote:


“The words for these stanzas were born out of my own soul with very little effort.  I recall that I wrote the verses with tender emotion.  There was not the slightest thought of writing for another eye, least of all writing a hymn for Christian worship.  It is well-remembered that when writing the last line, “Oh bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!” the thought that the whole work of redemption and salvation was involved in those words, brought me to a degree of emotion that brought abundant tears.”


Palmer’s life was characterized by a warm and passionate devotion to Christ.  He wrote 37 other hymns, was a Congregation church pastor, and authored several volumes of religious verse and essays.

In 1832, Palmer met his friend, Dr. Lowell Mason, who was searching for good texts for a hymnal he was compiling.  Mason composed a melody for the Palmer’s text, and called the tune “Olivet” in reference to the hymn’s message.  Lowell Mason’s accomplishments were many: he wrote the music for 700 hymn texts, was involved in compiling more than 80 song and hymn collections, and was instrumental in introducing music into the public school curriculum and establishing training schools for public school teachers.  Mason also wrote the music for “Joy to the World,” “Nearer, My God to Thee,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”   Ten of his tunes appear in our hymnal.


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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies, ballets, and church music!

lentMusic during Lent

Sunday’s anthem: “O Lord, Our God, by Whom We Live”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; arranged by Hal H. Hopson

“Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions …”

(from the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)


TEXT: John Chrysostom (b. 349AD), Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important early church Father, known for his preaching and public speaking.  Another legacy of John is his influence on Christian liturgy. To this day, Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as the normal Communion liturgy.  John was made a saint soon after his death in 407AD.

MUSIC: “The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” (1878) is an unaccompanied choral composition based on texts taken from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Tchaikovsky, known primarily for his symphonies, concertos and ballets, was deeply interested in the music and liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In an 1877 letter he wrote:

 For me [the church] still possesses much poetical charm. I very often attend the services… If we follow the service very carefully, and enter into the meaning of every ceremony, it is impossible not to be profoundly moved by the liturgy of our own Orthodox Church… to be startled from one’s trance by a burst from the choir; to be carried away by the poetry of this music; to be thrilled when… the words ring out, ‘Praise the name of the Lord!’ – all this is infinitely precious to me! One of my deepest joys!”


At the time, publishing church music was loaded with issues. The Imperial Chapel held the monopoly on the composition and performance of sacred music. Publication of Tchaikovsky’s setting was banned becuse it had been published without approval.  Legal proceedings were brought against the publisher, but the Interior Minister ultimately ruled that sacred music could be published without the Chapel’s input. This decision had ground-breaking implications –  it became possible for Russian composers to create sacred music, without being subject to bureaucratic review.

Hal H. Hopson, who arranged this text and music for church choir, is a prolific composer of church music, with more than 1,800 published works. His music reflects respect for the best liturgical tradition, scripture and theology. He composes and arranges music accessible to nearly all choirs and congregations, striving always to include rather than to exclude.


O Lord, our God, by whom we live, thanks to Thee o’erflow;

O hear our prayer, gracious God. We cry unto Thee.

Forgive our sins, O Lord; forgive us.

Hear our prayer; have mercy, O Lord. Hear us, Lord.

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William Billings: Many American Musical Firsts

lentChrist Presbyterian Church

Music during Lent



This Sunday’s anthem is “Jesus Wept” by William Billings, arranged for Children’s Choir and hand chimes by June Gladding.


“In his humanity Jesus wept for Lazarus; in his divinity he raised him from the dead.”  (Pope Leo I)


When Jesus wept, the falling tear

in mercy flowed beyond all bound;

When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear

seized all the guilty world around.


William Billings is credited with many firsts in American music:

  • -first American published composer of psalms and hymns
  • -inventor of “fuguing songs” (
  • -America’s first professional composer
  • -America’s first singing school and first music society
  • -Organizer of the first church choir in America
  • -First collection of music completely written by an American (The New England Psalm-Singer, with a frontspiece engraved by his good friend Paul Revere)
  • -America’s first popular songs emerged from the Billings psalms.


A leather tanner by trade, the biggest success of Billings’ career, “Chester,” became America’s first war when_jesus_wept02song.  For a time after his death, his music was virtually neglected, though it remained popular in rural areas of New England. As a result of their appearance in shape note hymnals, some of his songs were carried south and west through America, and ultimately resided in the rural South as part of the Sacred Harp (shape note) singing tradition. In the late 1900s a Billings revival occurred, and a complete edition of his works was published.  In 1970, Billings was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Apparently, Billings had an unusual appearance and a strong addiction to snuff.  A contemporary wrote that Billings “was a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address & with an uncommon negligence of person. Still, he spake & sung & thought as a man above the common abilities.”

Billings died a street sweeper in 1800, leaving behind a widow and six children.


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