Music Notes


By now, Mark is well into his sermon series on the Reformation.   You know some of the terrain: the names of the principals, some of the signal events, and you are undoubtedly learning more.

Have you thought about the effect of the Reformation on music?  Maybe you have heard the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” referred to as “Luther’s Hymn,” or you know its use in Mendelssohn’s “Reformation Symphony.” It’s really nice, if we get one good hymn out of the deal, but there is much more to it than that. First off, I always thought that Luther, being a theologian, may have written the words to that hymn.  But, it turns out that priests in the sixteenth century were trained in the “Quadrivium,” a group of disciplines that included an academic study of music.  Scholars today think that Luther himself did, in fact “compose” the music to that and several other important hymns.

The whole concept of congregational singing is new in the early Reformation, so the development of hymns, and hymns with vernacular texts was crucial. A number of the hymns by those early reformers are still part of what we know as a congregation today, and we’ll be singing some of them, and hearing others from the choir. Watch for names like Walter, Decius, Crüger, Neumark, and Schütz.

With the importance of congregational song, the organ went through a transformation, as well. No longer accompanying the Mass as sung by the clergy, the organ had to support the singing of a large body of people untrained in music. The Northern European organ gained a number of new sounds: larger, higher-pitched, sharper, to pull the congregation along. New ways of playing developed to “teach,” to lead into the hymn tunes. Listen for music by some leading lights of Reformation organ music: Scheidemann, Weckmann, Lübeck, Buxtehude, even J.S. Bach.

Choir rehearsals have started

Senior Choir is meeting on Thursday nights at 7:30 in Community Hall. Now is an excellent time to join the choir. We would love to have you!   We sing each Sunday and have a great time at rehearsals and services. Speak to Ed Lawrence.

Junior Choir, for students in grades 2 through 6, is on Thursdays at 3:15. We sing about once a month and have a wonderful time learning new songs as well as learning about singing and about the church.

“The More Things Change,…”

At the beginning of September, I had the honor and pleasure to play the 52nd Annual Labor Day “Organ Barn” Concert for the Friends of Music in Guilford, Vermont. Guilford is a loose settlement of mostly dirt roads and farms to the Southwest of Brattleboro, along the Massachusetts border.  There, well out of the way of the busy everyday life most of us enjoy, and beyond the reach of internet connectivity and GPS, someone has built a modest pipe organ in a barn.

The original version of this instrument was built in 1897, and moved to the barn in the 1960s. I chose, I hoped appropriately, a program of music by New England composers active at the time the organ was made.  Come to find out, over the half century of its Vermont life, this instrument was periodically “improved.” At one point, someone had wanted it to sound more “Baroque,” or at least someone’s idea of what “Baroque” should sound like. Later tastes looked for other changes.  The Estey organ company had been one of Brattleboro’s main industries a century ago, and a number of skilled workers were in the area long after the business closed. At one point, pipe building continued at an operation in Algiers, VT, another Brattleboro suburb you pass through on the way to Guilford. So, my 1897 organ was really not the “time capsule” of historic sounds I had imagined, but instead contained almost none of its original pipes.

On the day of the recital, Diego traveled with me.  Since I was rehearsing during the day, I dropped him off with the family of John Potter, the son of Lil Potter, whom many of you will remember from our church.

The farm where the “Organ Barn” is located was owned beginning in the 1960s by Andrew Kopkind, a noted journalist and regular contributor to “The Nation” magazine. Today, the Kopkind Colony holds retreats for writers at the property. Back at the end of the ‘60s and the early ‘70s, this farm, “Tree Frog Farm,” and a neighboring one, “Total Loss Farm,” became exemplars of the “hippie” ideal of communal living. I was intrigued by this history, especially since my host at the farm had been there since those days.  In digging around, I found the best source of information about this time in a Brattleboro Reformer article written by none other than John Potter!

The room where the organ sits looked to me as though it could handle maybe 40 people if you had a shoehorn to get them all in.  When I arrived on recital day, more than 100 chairs had been set up in the space. By recital time, I would guess that we had between 60 and 70 people. I am sure that some of those in the audience had been living on those farms since their “hippie” days.

Following the concert, the listeners were eager to talk to me. Everyone seemed to know much more than I about something I had played or about one of the composers I talked about or about the instrument. Humbling.

One woman was eager to talk to me about Williams College.  She began, “Do you know how many students Williams had in the 1890s?” I was stumped. “My grandfather went to Williams, and graduated in 1896.  He wasn’t supposed to go to college. He didn’t have enough money to go, but he went along with a friend of his who was going to go there, and they got him to stay. He had to work his way through school. That’s why I was wondering how many students went there back then. The President of the college came up to him and said, ‘Thorpe, you’re working too hard.  I want you to spend more time on your studies and less on earning your tuition.’  Now, how many college presidents would know the name of an average student?”

That’s a nice enough story, and there was more, also interesting. But, here’s the clincher: “Do you know what he did to earn the money to go to school? He collected all the furniture from the Seniors when they were leaving, and then he fixed it up to sell to the Freshmen coming in!” All I could say to this nice lady was, “Oh, I wish you could come over to my church with me in the morning and see what it looks like today.”

Yours in Christ,

Edwin Lawrence, Minister of Music