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June 15, 2020

Today, we do have a very special “Hymn from Home.” Dr. Bonnie Lynch and her sons William and Stephen Lynch sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

We have officially ended the Hymns from Home series, at least for the time being, but today is Bonnie and Steve’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary, so this is certainly a good reason to make an exception!

Bonnie and Steve, thank you for your faithful ministry to our church over these many years.  May the Lord continue to bless you and your family, and continue to draw you all closer to himself. 

Bonnie, thank you especially for the grace you exhibit, and have exhibited to us over the years, remaining steadfast, joyful, and faithful through trials. You are a dear sister and mother to many in the Chancel Choir, and we are grateful to the Lord for you!

Happy Anniversary!

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3: 22–23)

 

June 4, 2020

Below is a brief glimpse of the choir’s singing together last night, with masks, outdoors, and spread out at the recommended distance of 16-feet, and about a 75 yard diameter.

This was our first attempt and Lord willing, we will continue to try and safely do this in a way that protects our choir members and allows us to continue singing the Lord’s praises.

I had a camera set-up and asked my son and buddy Timmy to make sure he got a lot of takes of the whole area, but he instead focused the camera on door old dad, which I assure will be of no encouragement to you.

On the positive side, I think he likes his dad, and Micah Rea had his camera going a little bit as well.

While it’s not a lot of music here, consider it a cannonball fired into Satan’s bunker.

Be well,

Dan

June 3, 2020

Dear friends,

I’m writing to inform you that this will be our final week of our daily music devotions.  Our Friday recitals will continue through the end of June, and make sure you tune in to Mr. Russell’s organ recital this Friday, at 12:30pm. 

I want to thank all of our musicians who contributed over these many weeks, especially the families and church members who have contributed to the Hymns from Home devotions, which have been especially meaningful.

The reason we are bringing these to a close is in order for us to be able to spend the summer months preparing for the upcoming season and summer worship services.  We are not really sure what things will look in terms of music this fall, and so it will require a lot of creative planning and forethought, in order that all of our choir members and musicians can continue to be regularly involved in worship services in a way that is safe and adheres to guidelines. 

What is especially important is that we continue to at least meet in some safe manner to rehearse, sing, pray, and fellowship, and this will require a considerable amount of logistical work and preparation to continue ensuring the safety of our music family. 

The Youth Chorus has been, until this week, continuing their online theory small groups, and the children’s choirs have also been cared for and ministered to by their directors through online resources.   We are especially concerned about keeping our kids growing in their love for singing and worship and will continue to make this a priority.

Tonight, our Chancel Choir will be meeting outdoors, at a very safe distance and with all necessary safety precautions being taken to ensure that everyone remains healthy. We have been meeting in small Zoom prayer groups since the pandemic, and on occasion in a large Zoom group meeting.  In many ways this has been a great help to our fellowship.  We would ask for your prayers for tonight’s gathering, and for wisdom, direction, Spirit-filled energy, as we begin to move forward in preparing for the summer and the upcoming year. 

We are grateful for the many emails, notes, and other ways you have encouraged us through this time, and we continue to covet and value your prayers.  We would also love to continue hearing from you.  

We will post a recording of some of tonight’s gathering for you, tomorrow.  We pray that it might be an encouragement to you and be a reminder of the lasting and abiding hope that is only found in the finished work of Christ.

Blessings in Christ,

Daniel Cole

 

June 2, 2020 - Hymns from Home

Ellen Weaver plays a beautiful setting of the spiritual, "There is a Balm in Gilead," a very timely and needed encouragement, and reminder.

June 1, 2020—Hymns from Home

This morning's Hymn from Home is a special encouragement from Micah Rea and his father, the accomplished Carl Edward Rea.

May 29, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today, Judy Doudoukjian and family share Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus.

May 28, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today Denise Ward shares her hymn from home.

May 27, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today we have Jane Nevitt, playing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Jane has been involved in music here at First Presbyterian Church for over three decades! “Miss Janey” has been involved in children’s choirs for many, many years, and her love for the Lord is infectious. If you have a four or five year old, you want to make sure they have the opportunity to work with Mrs. Nevitt in the Cherub Choir on Sunday evenings! 

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O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:  Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
              Look full in his wonderful face,
              And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
              In the light of his glory and grace.

Though death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion–
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you–He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

 

May 26, 2020—Hymns from Home


This morning’s hymn comes to us from the front stoop of the Russell home, played by Julie Russell, Carson Coomes, and Campbell Johnson. This hymn, well known in the Lutheran tradition, is found on page 670 of the Trinity Hymnal. The five verses published in the hymnal are as follows:

If thou but suffer God to guide thee,
And hope in him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days:
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.

What can these anxious cares avail thee,
These never-ceasing moans and sights?
What can it help, if thou bewail thee
O’er each dark moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.

Only be still, and wait his leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure
And all-discerning love hath sent;
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To him who chose us for his own.

All are alike before the Highest,
‘Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low;
True wonders still by him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.

Sing pray, and keep his ways unswerving,
So do thine own part faithfully,
And trust his Word—though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee;
God never yet forsook at need
The soul that trusted him indeed.

There are two verses not included in our hymnal, one of which I think might be most appropriate for the day:

He knows the time for joy, and truly
Will send it when He sees meet,
When he has tried and purged thee throughly,
And finds thee free from all deceit,
He comes to thee all unaware
And makes thee own his loving care.

The hymn’s author, Georg Neumark, composed the hymn in 1641 in Kiel, following a life-changing event. While on his way to enroll at the university in Königsberg, the group with whom he was traveling was attacked and robbed, leaving Neumark with almost thing at all. What he had left was his prayer book and some money which had been sown into his clothing.

The story is told in The Handbook to the Church Hymnary: “(Neumark was) left destitute and with no prospect of earning a living. At last he unexpectedly received an appointment as tutor in the family of a judge in Kiel, ‘which good fortune, coming suddenly and as if fallen from heaven, greatly rejoiced me, and on that very day I composed to the honour of my beloved Lord the hymn, well known here and there, and had certainly cause enough to thank the Divine compassion for such unlooked-for grace shown to me.’”


May 25, 2020—Hymns from Home


O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!  God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America!  America!  May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

 

May 21, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today’s hymn is Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide, sung by Victoria Boyce, Holly Cole, Gregory Ammons, and Daniel Cole. The text, by Henry F. Lyte is probably best remembered because of its accompanying musical setting by William Henry Monk. Today’s recording is Stephen Cleobury’s setting of the hymn, minus the original organ accompaniment.

While the text alludes to Luke 24:29, the hymn in its musical and textual entirety embodies the joy that Jesus promises to his disciples, even in times of sorrow, in John 16:20-22.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.


Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless:
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

 

May 20, 2020—Hymns from Home


Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
that calls me from a world of care,
and bids me at my Father’s throne,
make all my wants and wishes known!
In seasons of distress and grief,
my soul has often found relief,
and oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
the joys I feel, the bliss I share
of those whose anxious spirits burn
with strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
where God, my Savior, shows his face,
and gladly take my station there,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
thy wings shall my petition bear
to him, whose truth and faithfulness
engage the waiting soul to bless:
and since he bids me seek his face,
believe his Word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my ev’ry care,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.

May 19, 2020—Hymns from Home


Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heav’nly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all bow mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

May 18, 2020—Hymns from Home

May 14, 2020—Hymns from Home

I’m not sure any introduction is needed, but today we will hear from Eliza Kull and her brother Joseph.
We have done a lot of beautiful music over the years, but I’m not sure anything as beautiful as this.  

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11


Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is he:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” his tender word I hear,
and resting on his goodness, I lose my doubt and fear;
tho’ by the path he leadeth, but one step I may see:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

 

May 13, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today’s Hymn from Home is submitted by David and Carol Kurlowich. David had been a faithful member of the Chancel Choir for many years. He and Carol have also been members of the recorder ensemble for quite some time. David said that it was their habit to play hymns on their front porch on Sunday afternoons. We are thankful that they’ve allowed to experience part of their sweet habit of worship today.


O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow 
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow'st all my way,
I yield my flick'ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunchine's blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

 

May 12, 2020—Hymns from Home

 

May 11, 2020—Hymns from Home


Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is he:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” his tender word I hear,
and resting on his goodness, I lose my doubt and fear;
tho’ by the path he leadeth, but one step I may see:


Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise, 
when songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to him, from care he sets me free;

 

May 7, 2020—Hymns from Home

Our Hymn from Home today was recorded this past Tuesday evening from our church home. As we wait for families to submit additional recordings, we thought it would be wise to record a few hymns, just in case. 

Today’s hymn is O God to Us, Show Mercy, set to the moving Welsh tune MEIRIONYDD, composed, or possibly arranged from a traditional Welsh tune by William Lloyd. This hymn is a prayer for God’s blessing upon his people and upon the nations, that all might come to know him and worship him as their God. May the Lord use this current epidemic to continue to sanctify his people and cause those who have once rejected the Lord Jesus to come to a right knowledge and fear of the Lord. May we also be mindful of the needs of our missionaries, who continue to bring the good news of Christ’s saving grace to the nations.

The singers for today’s hymn are Holly Cole, Victoria Boyce, Gregory Ammons, and Daniel Cole.

 
O God to us show mercy
and bless us in thy grace;
cause now to shine upon us
the brightness of thy face;
that so thy way most holy
on earth may soon be known,
and unto every people
thy saving grace be shown.

O God, let all men praise thee,
let all the nations sing;
in every land let praises
and songs of gladness ring;
for thou shalt judge the people
in truth and righteousness,
and through the earth the nations
shall thy just rule confess.

O God, let people praise thee,
let all the nations sing,
for earth in rich abundance
to us for fruit shall bring.
The Lord our God shall bless us,
our God shall blessing send,
and all the earth shall fear him
to its remotest end.

 

May 6, 2020—Hymns from Home

This morning’s Hymn from Home is It is Well With My Soul, sung by the Arthur family—Thomas, Jenni, Perrin, and Cambria. This family is a continual encouragement to many involved  in music here, and I know that their devotional this morning will be a great blessing to you today.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like the sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well, it is well with my soul;
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate
and has shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!
—my sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

O Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so”—it is well with my soul.

 

May 5, 2020—Hymns from Home

Today’s hymn is well-known and well-loved. It’s a simple gospel hymn, whose text and tune have the same author, Robert Lowry. Some of Lowry’s other well-known hymns include All the Way My Savior Leads Me and I Need Thee Every Hour.  

I would encourage you to spend some time reading and meditating on Hebrews 9:11–10:4, and to spend time reading through Lowry’s full hymn text, printed below. There is no other way by which man can be saved than through the blood of Christ. I pray that this truth would dawn afresh on us at this time, that we might cherish the simple perfection of the gospel, and share it with others.

What can wash away my sin?
nothing but the blood of Jesus;
what can make me whole again?
nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow;
no other fount I know,
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my cleansing this I see–
nothing but the blood of Jesus;
for my pardon this my plea–
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone–
nothing but the blood of Jesus,
naught of good that I have done–
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace–
nothing but the blood of Jesus;
this is all my righteousness–
nothing but the blood of Jesus

The following verses are not in the Trinity Hymnal:

Now by this I’ll overcome–
nothing but the blood of Jesus,
now by this I’ll reach my home–
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! this I sing–
nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring–
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

 

May 4, 2020—Hymns From Home

We hope you are well this morning as we are almost a week into the month of May and hope you were able to view Mr. Russell’s wonderful Bach recital this past Friday.

Please join us this Friday as our video recital series resumes at 12:30pm. We will be featuring two singers who have come through the Youth Chorus program. John Potvin, baritone, has just completed his sophomore year at Furman University School of Music as a vocal performance major. Lyndsay Greene is a soprano who recently graduated from Boston University School of Music and is now continuing to study privately in Miami, performing and auditioning. What’s particularly encouraging is that Lyndsay will be accompanied by her brother and organ scholar, Ryan Greene, who will begin attending the Eastman School of Music this coming fall.

This week, as Mr. Russell will also explain in today’s video, we will be starting a series called Hymns from Home as part of our daily music devotions. We’ve invited numerous families to contribute videos of favorite hymns and spiritual songs being sung and played from home, and we will post these, as well as our Friday video recitals, through the month of May. 

Today, Thomas and Julie Russell will be playing an arrangement they wrote of How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.

The words of the hymn, by Isaac Watts, published in his Hymns and Sacred Songs, are based on the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14: 16–24, and are printed below.


How sweet and awesome is the place
with Christ within the doors,
while everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
each of us cries, with thankful tongue,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear your voice,
and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God,
constrain the earth to come;
send your victorious Word abroad,
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see your churches full,
that all the chosen race
may, with one voice and heart and soul,
sing your redeeming grace.

 

 

May 1, 2020

First Fridays Organ Concert Live Stream, 12:30pm

Click here for Program

 

April 30, 2020

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Hebrews 6:17-18

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck served as organist of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam for 44 years (1577-1621). During his tenure at the Oude Kerk, iconoclastic movements set in motion by the reformation changed many aspects of worship in the Dutch Reformed Church, including the use of the organ. The organ had been banned from use during services. It was still highly valued, however, and was frequently played in recitals after services where it was common for organists to improvise variations on Genevan psalm tunes. Sweelinck’s Variations on Psalm 140 are a written example of one of these improvisations.

Psalm 140 is a lament of God’s people under threat. They are under threat from ungodly enemies in this particular circumstance, but the truths of this Psalm could be applied to all types of threat or affliction. The Psalm begins by recounting openly the terrible and severe nature of the threat, asks God for deliverance, moves to expressions of confidence in God’s justice, and ends in affirmations of trust in God. 

We are in the middle of a long period of waiting. We long to be delivered from this pandemic. We long to come together again in person as a church. We long for an end to sickness and death. We long for the stress and anxiety brought on by our new reality to be alleviated. These are only a snapshot of some of the pandemic-related threats that are added to the afflictions we bear from “normal” life. Alec Motyer, in his devotional book Psalms by the Day, offers this insight on what the wait for deliverance teaches us about ourselves and our God:

Prolonged trouble causes an erosion of human resilience, a loss of vitality to face another day, but there is always a second factor in every circumstance, however wearying: the good Spirit of God, seen here as at hand to take the initiative to bring about a new situation, a land where things are as they ought to be. The end of our tether is but the beginning of his!

I find it striking that Sweelinck chose to go the direction of strength and optimism in his setting of Psalm 140. And yet he is not overly exuberant in his music, as if not to write off the reality of the threat. In truth, it is impossible to know exactly what Sweelinck meant in his musical choices since he did not tell us. Regardless, I hope you find encouragement in this music and especially in the Scripture on which it is based. 

I also hope you will be able to join us for our First Fridays live stream organ concert tomorrow (Friday, May 1) at 12:30pm for a program of “essential” Bach works. Watch this space for the program and link to the stream to be posted tomorrow.
-Thomas Russell

 speaker icon
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April 29, 2020

The final setting of Psalm 42 this week is a setting by Claude Goudimel, and comes from a performance of our music missions trip, in a Lutheran church in Warsaw, Poland in June of 2017. 

Claude Goudimel was born in Besançon in 1510, and had settled in Rome before 1540 where he opened the first public school for music, distinguished from the choir schools of the cathedrals.[1] While Goudimel has remained a relatively obscure composer, there is some speculation that students that came from his school include two of the most important and influential composers of the Renaissance--Orlando di Lasso and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

The complete Geneva Psalter was published in 1562. Goudimel, who had converted to Protestantism in 1560, set the entire Psalter of unison tunes to four-part harmony by the year 1564, and then composed yet another setting of the entire psalter in eight volumes between 1565 and 1566. Goudimel’s first published psalter was in simple counterpoint, which is essentially the form of what we have in our standard hymnals today. The latter publication, of which only three of the eight volumes survive, is in motet form, where the tunes are set in various contrapuntal treatments. Our excerpt today is of the latter style, and the text is the French setting of the opening two verses of Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” Goudimel came before the face of God in 1572 as a martyr. He was assassinated during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. 

The flowing character of the psalm tune fits the text perfectly, with the high point of the melody occurring on the text translated as, “my soul will always cry out following the great living God.”

As you listen, please keep our missionaries in mind and in prayer, particularly the work of Darius and Brooke Brycko with the Tolle Lege Institute in Poland, (https://instytuttollelege.org/en/) and the work of Paul and Missy Robelot in France (https://www.facebook.com/paulmissyrobelot).  Please also pray for future music missions opportunities.

[1] O. Douen, “Clement Marot and the Huguenot Psalter”, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 22, No. 464 (Oct. 1, 1881), pp. 505-508

 

April 28, 2020

I’ve been reading several books on the late Renaissance/early Baroque German Lutheran composer, Heinirch Schütz (1615–1672).  While not a household name, even among connoisseurs in the world of classical music, he is considered by some to be the father of German music.  As we look back on the great Germanic tradition throughout the history of music–Strauss, Wagner, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, J.S. Bach, Buxtehude—we find Schütz at the start of this impressive musical genealogy.

The reason I wanted to research Schütz’s music (which, of what we have left, is almost entirely sacred and Protestant), is because he reached his artistic maturity during a time of historic upheaval and economic hardship in Northern Europe.  The Thirty Years’ War lasted from 1618, and ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.   It is estimated that close to 20% of Europe’s population died as a result of the war, most of the death caused from disease and famine.

Heinrich Schütz was appointed as the Kapellmeister (music director) at the court in Dresden just one year before the outbreak of the war.  As already mentioned, the war resulted in significant economic hardships, which in turn diminished the musical forces that Schütz had at his disposal.  The larger scale works of sacred music were replaced with a simpler, more refined, but exceptionally expressive level of musical composition that ultimately served as the fundamental foundation of modern classical music as we know it. So exceptional were these works that they are still studied, taught, performed, and recorded this very day.  From a musician’s perspective, Schütz’s influence cannot be overstated.  Today’s musical example, published one year before the Peace of Westphalia, is scored only for 2 violins, 2 singers, and continuo (organ and cello).

While I have had the sincere  joy and privilege of performing a variety of Schütz’s works as a singer and a conductor, today’s music was new to me­–a setting of verses 5 and 6 (and repeated in verse 11) of Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  It should be mentioned that this same refrain is also repeated at the end of Psalm 43, implying that these two psalms should be paired.

I confess that it may be a bit ivory tower and naïve of me to pontificate about the music of Heinrich Schütz during a time of national crisis, but history teaches us lessons if we allow it to do so.  The lesson that can be learned here, I think, is that in times of duress and difficulty, the Lord will use his servants to bring Him glory, and to create works of great beauty which reflect the beauty of creation and the beauty of the Lord himself.  The work and labor of his servants, whether those servants be faithful pastors, elders, deacons, housewives, fathers, missionaries,  or even musicians, becomes the vehicle by which his Word is brought to the nations.   It is a remarkable work of God’s common grace that the greatest treasures of biblical, Protestant church music have been largely embraced, valued, and ultimately sustained by those who have not given themselves to the One for whom the music was written to give glory and praise.

I’ve attached a pdf of some listening notes below the translation to guide you through the piece, and have also attached a pdf of the music if you are inclined to follow along.   I hope that listening to this especially beautiful setting of verses from Psalm 42 (and 43) will help you to praise the Lord for your salvation, and to set your hope afresh on his redeeming love and care.

Listening Guide

Music Score

Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele
Why downcast are you, my soul

Und bist so unruhig in mir?
And are so unrestful in me

Harre auf Gott;
Hope in God

denn ich werde ihm noch danken,
then I will again give him thanks,

dass er meines Angesichtes Hülfe,
that he will help my face

(who is the health of my countenance)

und mein Gott ist.
and my God is.

 

 

April 27, 2020

As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 42: 1, 2

This week we will look at a few settings of Psalm 42, a psalm which seems to speak directly to our own individual and corporate yearnings in the current situation. 

Those of you familiar with the art of hunting (of which I am a somewhat bumbling novice) know that mature bucks will often bed down near sources of water, because while they can go for almost 30 days without food, they can also die within a matter of days if they don’t have water. The King James translation uses the term “hart” in lieu of deer. A hart is a mature buck, a stag. This wording reinforces the desperation and necessity of the psalmist’s situation.

In the second verse, the psalmist asks the question that we all are asking—when shall I come and appear before God? It is likely that the psalmist, whom Calvin believes to likely be King David, is not in the condition of perceived abandonment from the Lord’s presence that he finds himself in the Psalm 13. It seems that here, particularly in light of the proceeding lamentation in the 3rd verse, which is a remembrance of the joys of corporate worship, the psalmist is thirsting for the Lord’s presence that can be experienced in that unique activity we call “going to church.”

We see much today in the news about the scorn being heaped on churches that continue to gather during this “shut-down.” If the motivation of these particular churches gathering to thumb their nose at the civil authority, as a type of watered-down Christian-ish, political statement, then, in my opinion, their scorn is warranted. But it is always the case that the unbeliever who knows nothing of the joys of coming together to worship the Lord will, at best, be puzzled by it, and at worst, have a malevolent disposition towards the Lord and his people, as we see in verse 3.

All this to say that it is good and right to be missing our times of worship together.  It is good to ask the question, “When shall I come and appear before God?” If we sense that there is a type of void, then let us give thanks for that longing, as it is an evidence of the grace of God’s saving work in our lives, and then, as the psalmist implores, let us hope in God, for we shall again praise him.  I, for one, am particularly looking forward to that day, whenever the Lord deems that time to be right to do so.

As the hart longs for flowing streams,
So longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul does thirst for the living God;
When shall I come to see thy face?

My tears have fed me day and night,
While men have said, “Where is your God?”
But I recall as my soul pours dry,
The days of praise within thy house.

Why do I mourn and toil within,
When it is mine to hope in God?
I shall again sing praise to him;
He is my help, he is my God.

Tune:: THE WATER IS WIDE
Text: based on Psalm 42, adapt. Danna Harkins, 1975
Performance: Combined Children’s Choirs of FPC, from His Mercy Lasts Forever: Psalms, Hymns & Anthems

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April 24, 2020

We are pleased to announce that our video recital series begins today, at 11am!  You should receive a notification on the app and you will also be able to watch the performance by clicking on the link below.

The purpose of this series is to allow musicians to encourage, and be encouraged, by sharing their gifts and training, and for you as a member of the congregation to get to know a little bit more about our musicians.   The month of May will feature, predominantly, musicians who are completing or have recently completed their undergraduate or graduate studies.  I would only ask that you keep these young men and women in your prayers as they, like all of us, desire wisdom, patience, and direction during this pandemic.

Today’s recital will feature Justin Robinson, who is completing his doctorate at USC School of Music in trumpet performance.   Justin will be accompanied by Claudio Olivero, who serves on the piano faculty at USC.  They will play Seven Spanish Folksongs, by Manuel de Falla, transcribed for trumpet and flugelhorn by Professor James Ackley.

And another reminder that Mr. Russell will resume his excellent Fridays at First recital series, live but online, one week from today at 12:30pm.  If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend these monthly concerts, be sure to tune in. 

Our choirs continue to meet and pray over Zoom meetings, and we long to be back in the Lord’s house to worship together with you.  

Until that time, may the Lord continue to put a hedge around our homes, our pastors, officers, staff and congregation, and may he give us grace to redeem the time for his glory and our edification.

-Daniel Cole

video recitals


April 23, 2020

I love to tell the story;
For those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest.

And when, in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story,
That I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story

of Jesus and His love.

“I Love to Tell the Story” is a hymn that came out of a lockdown context, so to speak, over 150 years ago. Catherine Hankey, an English nurse and missionary, was homebound for quite some time following a significant illness. During that stay-at-home period, she wrote a poem that became the basis for two gospel hymns: “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and, today’s hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story”. William Fischer contributed the well-known tune and refrain. 

Hankey had a zeal for evangelism. There is abundant evidence for this in her writings and in her contributions to home and foreign missions. When you love something, when something is precious to you, you want to tell everyone about it. There is nothing more precious or amazing than the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. As the hymn testifies, it is the story that we will sing for eternity as our love for Jesus continues to grow and grow.

The organ setting of “I Love to Tell the Story” that you will hear today was written by contemporary American composer Carson Cooman. It was commissioned by Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN for the dedication of their new Sanctuary and organ in 2009. Today’s recording is from the March First Fridays program earlier this year. Many who were present at that concert expressed their love for this piece. Beside the fact that it is an engaging composition, I believe the widespread connection to the piece comes from the fact that we are a people who share the joy of proclaiming the Gospel, and this piece communicates eagerness and joy. Admittedly, we can all grow in boldness to tell others about Jesus, but those who have been saved by Him cannot help but delight to both hear and proclaim the good news of what He has done. 

—Thomas Russell

(Click here for video.)

 

April 22, 2020

Confidence in the Lord, to Whom alone I look for the supply of my temporal wants, keeps me (at least whilst faith is in exercise) when a case of distress comes before me, or when the Lord’s work calls for my pecuniary aid, from anxious reckoning like this: Will my salary last out? Shall I have enough myself for the next month?, etc… In this freedom I am, by the grace of God, generally, at least, able to say to myself something like this: My Lord is not limited; He can again supply; He knows that this present case has been sent to me. And thus this way of living, so far from leading to anxiety, as regards possible future want, is rather the means of keeping me from it.
                                                                                        -George Müller

Fanny Crosby penned the hymn All the Way My Savior Leads Me in 1875. The story behind the hymn is one that is not unfamiliar among saints who can testify to God’s promise of provision in times of difficulty. Crosby was in need of money, five dollars to be exact, and wasn’t sure where she was going to get it. She prayed about it, and minutes later a visitor came to her home and gave her five dollars. If you have ever read George Müller’s biography, there are numerous instances of similar events occurring. 

Before we moved to Columbia, almost thirteen years now, I composed a setting of this hymn for the youth director at our church in Hockessin, PA. I then set it for piano and voice shortly after arriving here, having the privilege of first singing it with Mrs. Beverly Taylor at the piano for a summer evening worship service.

I pray that the words and musical setting of this hymn may be a reminder that God is always faithful, and always eager to answer our prayers and provide. We simply need to humble ourselves and ask.

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April 21, 2020

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4: 8

The musical selection for today’s devotion is a setting of Samuel Rodigast’s deeply moving poem What God Ordains is Always Good by composer Josh Bauder. The recording is an unedited take from the choir’s February recording session. As we anticipate gathering together again to worship, we can also look forward to singing the communion hymn that the church commissioned from Dr. Bauder in celebration of our 225th Anniversary Year. As Dr. Thomas has stated several times, nobody could have predicted that our celebratory year would have turned out as it has, but we hold on to the truth that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purposes. (Romans 8:28)

One line of Rodigast’s hymn which is not in Bauder’s exceptional setting reminds us of this truth:

What God ordains is always good:  (Romans 8:28)
He never will deceive me;  (Titus 1:2)
He leads me in His righteous way,  (Psalm 23:3)
and never will He leave me. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I take content what He has sent;  (Philippians 4:11)
His hand that sends me sadness
will turn my tears to gladness.
  (Psalm 30:5)

You will notice that each verse of the hymn has a scripture reference.  This is a good reminder that great hymns, such as this one, are almost always poetic paraphrases of the truth of God’s word, whether it be in the form we see here, or in the psalm paraphrase of an Isaac Watts hymn.

I might encourage you to take the time, even before listening to today’s devotion, to read through the text below, and locate the Scripture verses that Rodigast is referencing. Spend time, then, meditating on how the Lord has been true to his word to you during these challenging weeks. May the Lord bless you with a heart full of thankfulness today.

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
And though the path be wrought with thorns,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed in every need,
Knows well how He will shield me;
To him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good:
He is my friend and father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
though many storms may gather.
Now I may know both joy and woe,
some day I shall see clearly
that he hath loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good:
though I the cup am drinking
which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief,
my heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good:
this truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken
I fear no harm, for with his arm
he shall embrace and shield me;
so to my God I yield me.
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April 20, 2020

It is hard to believe that we are starting our fifth week of daily online music devotions. Perhaps you, like I, thought that by this time we’d surely be back to life as we knew it before COVID-19. But the Lord’s ways are not our ways, and so we will continue to bring these music devotions in the hope that they are a help and encouragement to you.

For today’s devotion, we wanted to take the time to announce something that will be starting this week—an online recital series.

As part of the daily music devotionals we will be posting a brief, pre-recorded, fifteen-minute music recital video every Friday, starting this Friday, through the end of May. In the Lord’s providence, this series will put the spotlight on several of our exceptional musicians that are completing undergraduate or graduate degrees in music. 

We will spend a few moments during these recitals to get to know our musicians a little better, and to see how the Lord has been working in their lives through the gift and training that he’s given them, particularly during this epidemic.

Our first featured musician will be the wonderful trumpet player Justin Robinson, who also directs our brass ensemble.   

We are also excited to announce that Mr. Russell will continue his First Fridays series, playing his usual 30-minute program on Friday, May 1, live at 12:30pm! 

It is our hope and prayer that we will soon be able to gather together again for worship, and to resume our normal musical activities at the church. But for now, we hope these methods of reaching out to you will be an additional way to encourage and sustain you. 

Our music today is pianist Ryan Smith playing his own arrangement of It is Well With My Soul. You may recall that the hymn was penned by Horatio Spafford as he was traveling to England to be reunited with his wife after she and their four daughters were involved in a tragic accident while crossing the Atlantic on a trip to England. Though his wife survived the accident, all four daughters perished. The name of the hymn tune, VILLE DU HAVRE, was the name of the ship that was carrying Spafford’s family. Spafford’s poem evidences a deep, abiding, and surrendered faith during a period of unthinkable loss and sorrow.

May Ryan’s meditation on this text be a reminder to you of blessed assurance of the gospel, and the future glory that is ours no matter what our circumstances may be in this present day.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain

My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain

O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul. Refrain 

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April 17, 2020

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was an English composer, organist, and teacher, best known for his large output of church music for choir and organ. Like most 20th century composers, his compositional style is unique and, honestly, may be a bit of an acquired taste, but it is a highly effective style. If you think of Impressionism as seen in Monet’s paintings or Debussy’s compositions, this sets the stage for what you will hear in Howells’ music. He uses the compositional elements of music in a less straight-forward sense, creating colorful shades of harmony, naturally-contoured melodies, and free-flowing rhythms.

The technical name for today’s piece is Psalm-Preludes Set 1, No. 3, Op. 32. It is an extensive meditation on the 4th verse of the 23rd Psalm. Howells wrote out the verse at the beginning of the score, so his intentions are clear. There is no written script for how each measure of music is to be interpreted, but here are several things this organist hears “happening” in the music.

The prelude begins with the footsteps of the believer walking “through the valley of the shadow of death”. The mood is hesitant, fearful, and ominous. The music opens up as the minutes go by, intensifying in volume, increasing in the number of notes being played at one time, and becoming more resolute.

At the peak of the crescendo, the music locks in to an expansive texture of long, sustained chords in the key of C Major: a key of familiarity and security. C Major is a key that allows the organist to play across the entire range of the organ, as is the case at this moment in the piece, since the lowest note of the pedal board is a “C”. The musical sensation at this point is one of fullness, transcendence, and security. The believer is at the point of “fearing no evil” because of the comfort the Good Shepherd brings by His rod and staff.

After the climax, the prelude recalls the earthly realities of evil, sin, and fear that threaten us in this world. However, as the piece draws to a close, everything calms down until all that is left are long, very quiet C Major chords, and nearly-inaudible low pulses as the “footstep” motive comes to rest because the believer knows the comfort of the Good Shepherd.

Howells’ prelude is an incredible musical depiction of the truth that in the midst of evil, even the “valley of the shadow of death”, those who are in Christ know no want and will ultimately “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Praise God that he does all of this for us, and all “for his name’s sake”.

-Thomas Russell

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April 16, 2020

Last night, during our online choir prayer group meeting, a dear sister who hasn’t been involved in the choir for a few seasons, due to health reasons, joined us in our prayer time. It was a joy to have this dear saint join us again, and especially to have her pray with us. But it was also a joy to make introductions, as we have had so many new members join the choir this year.

We all have been in the situation where we are speaking to someone and say, “Do you know my friend so and so?” and they say, “No I don’t know him.” So you respond, “Well you absolutely h