Monthly Archives: May 2015

Trinity Sunday: Perfect Harmony

chordWe are all familiar with the symbols of the Holy Trinity…the shamrock, the equilateral triangle, the three interlocking rings… but did you know that the music chord has often been used as a symbol of the Trinity?

 

French composer and theologian Olivier Messiaen said his music aimed at transmitting theological truths. Can music, in particular the perfect harmony of the “triad,” help us to understand the mystery of the Trinity?

 

I like the music analogy proposed by theologian Jeremy Begbie: “A musical chord is essentially composed of three different notes (to be a chord all three notes must be present), namely the first, third and fifth notes of a musical scale. What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note-resonance of life, each occupying the same ‘space,’ yet recognizably distinct, mutually enhancing and establishing each other?”

 

The triad is the fundamental element of classical Western harmony: it is the chord that summarizes and defines the whole key. The three notes of the chord are all equally important, all in relationship to each other. But each note has a different function.

 

The root, or home tone, is the resting point and the center of gravity in the key, the source from which the chord arises. Nothing is deeper or more foundational than the fundamental note. Yet the fundamental does not precede the other notes in sounding; they occur simultaneously.

 

Could the home tone represent God, our steadfast Rock?

 

The chord’s fifth has a different function. It represents tension in its relationship with the root. Interestingly, the interval between the root and the fifth is called a ‘perfect fifth.’ It was the first harmonic interval used in Christian medieval church music due to its remarkable agreeableness to the ear.

 

Could the fifth tone represent Jesus, both human and divine?

 

The third tone of the triad (mediant), is what makes the triad a true chord. It is the note which gives warmth and life, personality and color to the triad.

 

Could the third tone represent the Holy Spirit,

our helper and mediator?

 trinity

 Some of these thoughts are mine, but I also relied on “A Perfect Chord: Trinity in Music, Music in the Trinity” by Chiara Bertoglio, and “The Triune Triad: A Musical Analogy Concerning the Trinity and Humanity” by Bradley K. Broadhead.

 

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Music for the Day of Pentecost

dove

“Spirit of God,

Descend upon My Heart”

 

Carolynn Baer, flute 

 

When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all the truth. 

John  16:13

 

 

The words of this sung prayer are among the most passionate in the history of hymnody. This devotional poetry is the work of George Croly (1780-1860), an Irish Anglican minister.  After serving a small parish in Ireland, he moved to London to pursue a literary career where he wrote in several mediums including poetry, novels, history and biography.

In 1835 Croly accepted the challenge to reopen a church in one of the worst slum areas of London.  The church had been closed for over a century, but through his personal charisma and dynamic preaching, he attracted large crowds to St. Stephen’s Church.

Croly prepared a new hymnal for his congregation and published it as Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. This hymn first appeared in there under the title “Holiness Desired.” It is the only hymn by Croly to have survived.

Frederick Atkinson (1841-1897) wrote the tune MORECAMBE, named after a town in England. The composer’s intent was to provide a musical setting for “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.”  Interestingly, the rhythm is identical between EVENTIDE (the tune ultimately paired with “Abide with me”) and MORECAMBE.

MORECAMBE is well suited for “Spirit of God.” In the first stanza, a descending melody accompanies the words, “descend upon my heart.”

Then an ascending melody in the third line allows the words “mighty as thou art” to blossom. This rising figure also works well with the text of the other stanzas.

The final three notes of the melody, all on the same pitch, do not end on the customary dove 2home tone, but on the third of the scale.  Concluding the melody this way leaves a floating quality to the ending of each stanza, reminiscent of the hovering of the descending Dove, one of the metaphors of the Spirit.

 

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In Our Music This Sunday: LOVE

hymnsOnce again, our lectionary readings focus on loving God and loving each other.  After last Sunday’s wonderful sermon on the subject, I’m sure we are all eagerly anticipating the next installment!  Even the reading from Acts reminds us that God’s love has no bounds:

 

“The circumcised [Jewish] believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”

Acts 10:45

 

Our choir  will sing “Touched by Your Love,” written by David Catherwood, and accompanied by Sue Ferguson, flute.  In the hymn for the day, commonly known as “The Gift of Love,” stanza 3 of Hal Hopson’s text combines all the readings of the day, asking the Holy Spirit to grant us love that guides our lives.

 

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.

 

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UPCOMING MUSICAL EVENTS

Elizabeth HimesOur own Elizabeth Himes will perform with The College of William and Mary women’s Christian a cappella group, Common Ground, this Sunday, May 10, at 3:00 p.m. at St. Mark Catholic Church’s Activity Center.  St. Mark Church is located at 9970 Vale Road in Vienna (only 7 miles from the church).

AaronI will be directing the NoVA Lights Chorale in a program of spirituals the following Sunday, May 17, at Arlington Presbyterian Church, 3507 Columbia Pike.  The 4pm performance, “Music of a Nation: the History of the Negro Spiritual,” will feature Aaron Reeder, baritone, in a narrated history of coded slave songs, protest songs, and the influence of spirituals on blues, R&B and jazz. Reeder, who has performed with music luminaries from Dave Brubeck to Renee Fleming to Kristin Chenoweth, is noted as “one of greater Washington DC area’s finest young talents,” (The Gazette) and has “a voice that soars” (The Washington Post). The program is free.

 

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