Sacred Harp: Easter Vespers

Sunday 29 April 2018
4:30pm | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

Featuring songs of hope and comfort from The Sacred Harp

Gather with us in a brief vespers service to hear and sing music from the Sacred Harp shape-note tradition. First published in 1844, Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King’s now-famous hymnal is packed with vivid lyrics and familiar tunes, many of which adorn our modern hymnals.

The Elm Ensemble will lead the singing of a variety of selections from the hymnal, chosen to highlight the Easter themes of hope, comfort, and celebration of life. We will remember those in our community who suffer, especially those who suffer because of gun-related violence.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Free childcare is provided. Reception to follow. Service and reception are free and open to the public.

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Annunciation Vespers: Evensong at Saint James

Sunday 18 March, 2018
 | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

Celebrating International Women’s Day & Women’s History Month

Women in the ancient world faced many challenges. Few possessed the power to control their own destiny. Some did not even have names. Gather with us in a service of evening prayer to remember two biblical women whose voices are still heard today—Hannah and Mary.

Mother of the prophet Samuel, Hannah lifted her voice in gratitude to God. Mary is the Theotokos, the bearer of God, who carried Jesus for nine months and brought him into the world. Her faithful response to Gabriel’s call—the Annunciation—is a blessing to us and a witness to the value and strength of women.

The Elm Ensemble will perform musical settings of Hannah’s Song and a variety of Marian hymns by European masters Gabrieli, Eccard, Victoria, Palestrina, and Guerrero. The service concludes with a hymnic nod to Saint Patrick.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Free childcare is provided. Reception to follow in the fellowship hall. This event is free and open to the public.

[Subscribe to the Elm Ensemble to hear great sacred music in context.]

Evensong at St. James: Reformation Vespers

Sunday 29 October 2017
4:30pm | freewill offering
Two days before the 500th of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, we gather in a service of evening prayer to sing an ancient liturgy and hear the music of German composers Heinrich Schütz, Johann Walther, J. S. Bach, and Luther himself.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing.

Childcare provided. Reception to follow.
All evensong events are free and open to the public.

Evensong at St. James: Vespers for Peace

Sunday 24 September 2017
4:30pm | freewill offering
International Day of Peace on September 21, organized by the United Nations, is “a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.” We gather a few days later in a service of evening prayer to ask for peace, sing an ancient liturgy, and hear the music of English composers Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Childcare provided. Reception to follow.

Chorale Service of Holy Communion

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Wednesday, July 26, 7:30pm
Hartwick Seminary Summer Institute of Theology
Atonement Lutheran Church Oneonta, New York

The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Martin Luther was at the dynamic center of the events in Europe during the 16th century that would reshape Christian culture and theology.

On Wednesday, July 26, the Elm Ensemble and leaders from the Hartwick Seminary Institute of Theology will present a Chorale Service of Holy Communion after the tradition of Martin Luther’s German Mass (Deutsche Messe).

This performance-worship hybrid event explores Luther’s revisions to the Latin mass. Luther set parts of the traditional mass to familiar tunes to help the congregation participate more easily. The Elm Ensemble will perform pieces by Luther, Johann Walther, Heinrich Schütz, and J. S. Bach. They will sing Paul Manz’s contemporary classic E’en So, Lord Jesus and a newly commissioned motetCome to Me—by Robert Buckley Farlee. The audience will have many opportunities to join in the singing.

This event is free and open to the public.

New Motet Commission: “Come to Me”

On Sunday 9 July, the Elm Ensemble premiered a new choral work—Come to Me—by Robert Buckley Farlee, cantor at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis.

The motet is a lovely five-part arrangement of some verses from Matthew 11 (the lectionary Gospel text for that Sunday) juxtaposed with a brief excerpt from Luther’s last sermon in which Luther preaches on that same Matthew text:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28, 30)
Come to Christ, as he so lovingly invites us to do, and say: You alone are my beloved Lord and Master; I am your disciple. (from Luther’s last sermon preached in Eisleben only 3 days before his death)

The Elm Ensemble together with Christ Church commissioned the piece from Cantor Farlee on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

We hope the motet will be accessible to church choirs as well as professional ensembles. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kay Madson, a beloved member of the Christ Church family, and was funded in part by gifts to her memorial fund.

The Elm Ensemble will be performing this new commission again at a worship service in Oneonta, New York, on Wednesday, July 26 as part of the Hartwick Seminary Summer Institute of Theology. The service is at Atonement Lutheran Church at 7:30pm and is free and open to the public.

Epiphany Eucharist at Saint James

Sunday, February 19, 2017
9:30am | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

The Epiphany of Christ is a festival day celebrated annually, in Western Christianity, on 6 January. The birth and revelation of Jesus of Nazareth—the physical manifestation of our God—is the central theme of the season after the Epiphany, including the commemoration of the magi visiting the young Jesus, the holy family’s flight into Egypt, the presentation of Christ in the temple (think Simeon and Anna), the baptism of the Lord, and the transfiguration.

At Saint James Episcopal Church in Dexter, we celebrated the Epiphany season with a service of word and sacrament and musical selections primarily from the Christmas season, the beginning of Christ’s human journey on earth. 

“Ther is no rose of swych vertu as is the rose that bare Jhesu.”

An anonymous Marian hymn from the Trinity Carol Roll, a 15th century English manuscript that is our earliest known source of English polyphonic carols. The roll contains thirteen carols in Middle English and Latin, including “Ther Is No Rose,” which has reentered the popular choral repertoire for the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons.

“Shine on our darkness and lend us thine aid.”

Reginald Heber’s well-known Christmas text is almost universally arranged with the opening four lines of “hail the blest morn,” an anonymous addition that emerges in the American shape-note tradition as verse 1. Heber’s first verse then becomes the refrain, his other three verses rounding out the hymn as we so often find it today. Set to dozens of tunes, this shape-note variant has a long history, from Hickok’s 1832 Sacred Harp (#140) to Walker’s 1854 Southern Harmony (#16) to Chase and Hall’s 1875 Christian Hymnal (#37), where it appears (for the first time?) in a major key.

“Let not our selfishness and hate this holy seed remove.”

An inspiringly raucous fugal melody by Joseph Stephenson from White’s 1844 Sacred Harp (#273) is sung here to John Cawood’s 1819 text “Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast.” In Sacred Harp (1844), MILFORD is paired with the anonymous “If Angels sung a Savior’s birth” Christmas text. Both texts are below.


There Is No Rose of Such Virtue
There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bare Jesu.

For in this rose contained was
Heaven and earth in little space.
Res miranda [a wonderful thing].

By that rose we may well see
That he is God in persons three.
Pari forma [of the same form].
~Trinity Carol Roll 15th century English manuscript

Hail the Blest Morn!
Hail the blest morn, see the great Mediator,
Down from the regions of glory descend!
Shepherds, go worship the babe in the manger,
Lo for his guard the bright angels attend.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Shine on our darkness and lend us thine aid.
Star in the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer was laid.

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him, in slumber reclining,
Wise men and shepherds before him do fall.

Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems from the mountain, and pearls from the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
~ Christian Hymnal, 1875

Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast
Almighty God, your word is cast
like seed upon the ground,
Now let the dew of heav’n descend
and righteous fruits abound.

Let not our selfishness and hate
this holy seed remove,
But give it root in every heart
to bring forth fruits of love.

Let not the world’s deceitful cares
the rising plant destroy,
But let it yield a hundred-fold
the fruits of peace and joy.
~Music: Sacred Harp, 1844
~Text: John Cawood, 1775–1852

Event: 2/19 Epiphany Eucharist

Epiphany Eucharist
Sunday, February 19, 9:30am
St. James’ Epispocal Church, Dexter

On Sunday, February 19 the Elm Ensemble will assist in Sunday morning worship service at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Dexter as they celebrate the Time after Epiphany.

The seasons around the Epiphany are a time to hear and meditate on the stories of Jesus’ life here on earth—his birth as a vulnerable human child, his intense adulthood, and his death at the hands of religion and empire. When our scandalously human God encounters our all-too-human selves, we have the opportunity to see our sins more clearly, to repent, and to live out our Christian callings with renewed hope and joy.

Introit: Personent Hodie, Medieval European
Song of Praise: Hail the Blest Morn!, t. Reginald Heber, m. Southern Harmony
Anthem after Sermon: Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast (Milford), t. John Cawood, m. Sacred Harp
Offertory: Rejoice, Ye Shining Worlds on High, t. Isaac Watts, m. William Billings
Communion: There Is No Rose of Such Virtue, 15th century English traditional

Vespers in Remembrance

Sunday, November 10, 2013
4:30pm | Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis

This vespers program was designed to honor first the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht on Nov 9, 1938–Nov 10, 1938, the event considered by most as the main prelude or the actual beginning of the Holocaust. It was also intended as a time for the community to ponder the stark realities and deep hope expressed in our All Saints Day observances and to honor—around the time of Veterans Day—those who have given their lives in military service so that we might fight powers of oppression in this world and live freely in the Lord.

Below you will find an essay about the program, a PDF of the bulletin, a list of the readings from the service, and the translations of the tests for Heinrich Schütz’s motet Aus der Tiefe and J. S. Bach’s Cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus).

There is no audio recording from this program at Christ Church Lutheran, but you can hear other music offered by the Elm Ensemble on our YouTube channel.

. . .

The movement from autumn to winter is always an occasion to reflect on death and dying, as creation in this part of the world slowly becomes cold, dry, and hard. The end of the Christian church year—beginning with All Saints’ Day on the first of November and moving through to Christ the King Sunday at the end of November—is a time for Christians to think not only about endings but about the great witnesses of faith gone before us.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters draw great strength from the many faithful Jewish believers gone before them, millions of whom perished at the hands of the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The tragedy of history we call the Holocaust began seventy-five years ago today, when thousands of Jewish homes, synagogues, schools, and businesses were vandalized and Jewish citizens arrested and killed. This event is called Kristallnacht because of the broken glass scattered on the ground across Germany and Austria after that long, terrible night.

Christ Church Lutheran, founded over one hundred years ago by German Americans, is commemorating this history with a service of Christian worship that includes sacred music by two German Lutheran composers. Gary Wolfman, a talented conductor and faithful religious leader in our community, has graciously worked with us to craft a meaningful and authentic event that honors these sad memories with words of faith and hope, words drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures and also from the Christian New Testament.

Both Schütz and Bach drew heavily from the Hebrew Psalter, which Luther himself returned to daily for comfort and faith and called “the little Bible.” A significant portion of Schütz’s sacred compositions were psalm settings. Aus der Tiefe (Out of the depths), one of the Dresden master’s double-choir motets from the Psalmen Davids collection, was composed soon after Schütz had spent four years in Venice studying composition with Giovanni Gabrieli. Schütz’s rhythmic decisions nearly always follow closely the rhythmic patterns of the spoken German text. And his general compositional decisions always work to draw out the theological emphases of the text. The opening of Aus der Tiefe comes truly out of the depths, with all four voices in very low registers. And listen for the long pauses after the word harret (“await”) in the middle of the piece.

Bach’s ever-popular cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the very best time), was written very early in his professional career, during his short time in Mühlhausen, almost certainly for a funeral service. Bach was in his early twenties at the time, but you won’t find a musicologist who thinks the Actus Tragicus (Bach’s own subtitle for the cantata) is anything but the mature work of a master composer. Bach probably chose the texts himself, a selection of passages from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. And there is in the choosing itself a kind of personal theological statement from a young man still thinking about the many loved ones, including both his parents, he had lost already in his short life. In the beautiful alto aria, Bach sets the verse of Psalm 31 that Jesus himself quoted while dying on the cross. The ascending scales of the continuo strive upward toward heaven, perhaps a reference to Bach’s own hope in the resurrection.

Certainly Luther, Bach, and Schütz approached the psalms christologically, but in many ways they let the psalms speak on their own terms. We would do well to listen carefully. The psalms proclaim across millennia the tenderness, faithfulness, and redemptive desires of the one God, the maker of all creation.

Our gathering today, and the lifting up of our voices in songs of faith, is our testimony. We testify that we have sinned against our neighbors. We testify that God has proven faithful in his promises of redemption. And we testify that by God’s grace our communities can be made whole again and again, even in the face of unspeakable evil. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
—Josh Messner

Vespers in Remembrance bulletin (PDF download)

Top image. Gary Wolfman conducts the Elm Ensemble at Christ Church Lutheran in November 2013.

[Listen to Bobby McFerrin’s The 23rd Psalm (Dedicated to My Mother) sung by the Elm Ensemble.]

. . .


Deuteronomy 4:9. Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.

From Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Memoir by Rabbi Arthur Green. Rabbi Heschel liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come share with him in a ride in his coach. “But there is not enough room!” a disciple cried out. “The rebbe will be crowded.” The master replied: “Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.” Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of God or the crowded, sealed railway car. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice.

“Through Fields of Ripe Wheat” by Anne Porter

“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne

Isaiah 49:14-16. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

. . .

[Check out Julie Elhard’s viola da gamba site and Paul Boehnke’s coaching site.]

. . .


Heinrich Schütz | Aus der Tiefe

Aus der Tiefe ruf ich, Herr, zu dir.
Herr, höre meine Stimme,
laß deine Ohren merken
auf die Stimme meines Flehens!

Out of the depths I call to you, O Lord:
Lord, hear my cry.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy!

So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen,
Herr, wer wird bestehen?
Denn bei dir ist die Vergebung,
daß man dich fürchte.

If you kept a record of our sins,
Lord, who could stand their ground?
But forgiveness is with you,
that you may be revered.
Ich harre des Herren; meine Seele harret,
und ich hoffe auf sein Wort.
Meine Seele wartet auf den Herren
von einer Morgenwache bis zur andern.
Israel, hoffe auf den Herren!

I await the Lord, my soul awaits,
and I place my hope in his word.
My soul awaits the Lord
more than they that watch for the morning.
Israel, place your hope in the Lord.
Denn bei dem Herren ist die Gnade
und viel Erlösung bei ihm,
und er wird Israel erlösen
aus allen seinen Sünden.

For in the Lord is much mercy,
and with him is plenteous redemption;
and he shall redeem Israel
from all their sins.
Ehre sei dem Vater und dem Sohn
und auch dem Heiligen Geiste,
wie es war im Anfang,
jetzt und immerdar
und von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
is now,
and ever shall be. Amen.

J. S. Bach | Cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit


2a. Chor
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit.
In ihm leben, weben und sind wir, solange er will.
In ihm sterben wir zur rechten Zeit, wenn er will.

God’s time is the best of all times.
In him we live, move and are, as long as he wills.
In him we die at the appointed time, when he wills.
—Acts 17:28

2b. Arioso (tenor)
Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken,
daß wir sterben müssen,
auf daß wir klug werden.

Ah, Lord, teach us to consider
that we must die,
so that we might become wise.
—Psalm 90:12

2c. Aria (bass)
Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben
und nicht lebendig bleiben!

Put your house in order;
for you will die and not remain alive!
—Isaiah 38:1

2d. Chor und Arioso (soprano)
Es ist der alte Bund:
Mensch, du mußt sterben!
Ja, komm, Herr Jesu!

It is the ancient law:
human, you must die!
—Ecclesiasticus 14:17
Yes, come, Lord Jesus!
—Revelation 22:20

3a. Arie A
In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist;
du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott.

Into your hands I commit my spirit,
You have redeemed me,
Lord, faithful God.
—Psalm 31:6

3b. Arioso und Choral (bass and altos)
Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein.
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
In Gottes Willen,
Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
Sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheißen hat:
Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.

Today you will be with me in Paradise.
—Luke 23:43
With peace and joy I depart, in God’s will,
My heart and mind are comforted, calm, and quiet.
As God had promised me: death has become my sleep.
—Choral text

Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit
Sei dir, Gott Vater und Sohn bereit’
Dem Heilgen Geist mit Namen!
Die göttlich Kraft
Mach uns sieghaft
Durch Jesum Christum, Amen.

Glory, praise, honor, and majesty
be prepared for you, God Father and Son,
for the Holy Spirit by name!
The divine power
makes us victorious
through Jesus Christ, Amen.