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Monday, November 12, 2007

Musical Musings: For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits

My commute is short, 5 or 10 minutes, so I don't spend much time listening to the radio. This time of the year, though, I tend to tune in to NPR instead of my favorite rock station. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, B101 starts playing Christmas music 24/7. Since I view Advent as a season in its own right, and one I particularly cherish, this relentless intrusion of "arrival" into my time of "expectation" truly grates. In hopes of avoiding the unavoidable, I shun the mall, and prevail on my beloved spouse to do the grocery shopping (and even he, unchurched for so many years, is starting to feel the dissonance). The advent of iTunes (pun fully intended) has let me create my own musical space, and starting on that first Sunday in Advent, I will shuffle delightedly through my several hundred song Advent playlist. Join me in reclaiming a bit of that space...

1. Ode to St. Cecilia (Benjamin Britten) and The Trumpet's Loud Clangour (from Handel's An Ode for St. Cecilia's Day): I'll admit, neither of these are truly Advent pieces, but the feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, falls on November 22, so they start my playlist. The Britten piece is gently but richly textured, with a soaring soprano line. (Britten was aptly born on the feast of St. Cecilia.)

2. The Messiah: Yes, I know, it's a traditional Christmas war horse, particularly the Hallelujah chorus. For Advent, though, listen to Part I, especially Every Valley, And the Glory of the Lord (the texts are from Isaiah). There are hundreds of version of this but I like this one from St. Martin in the Fields. (For Christmas, try For Unto Us a Child is Born, the Hallelujah Chorus is really for Easter!)

3. Bach's Advent cantatas are not to be missed. I once spent an Advent in Vienna, so this DVD brings back memories of going to Vesper's at St. Stephen's cathedral there and hearing this magnificent music. This is Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting...

4. Some might consider the Magnificat to be the original Advent hymn, though New Testament scholars are more likely to point out its roots in Old Testament canticles. There are thousands of versions, but Handel's Carmelite Vespers is a place to start. In same vein, Cathy and I invite you to listen to Anonymous 4's English Ladymass

5. An Advent playlist would certainly not be complete without O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but try adding Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, In the Bleak Midwinter and Ralph Vaughn Williams' The Call to the list.

7. The O Antiphons, the short snippets traditionally used before the Magnificat at Vespers on the last days leading up to Christmas, form the basis for O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but I prefer this version by Marty Haugen for my own sung prayer: My Soul in Stillness Waits

May you find in this season of light, a few tranquil moments, perhaps shepherded along the way by some of this music. In case the music is not enough, I offer in closing this prayer:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favorably upon your people throughout the world. By your mysterious providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; for all time belongs to you, and all Ages. We pray then, in the fullness of your time bring all things to perfection by him, through whom all things were made—your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God of Love, for ever and ever.
(With thanks to Fr. Vincent Pizzuto and the New Skellig Community.)

Uh-oh:'s coming, too! To celebrate musically, try
Copeland's Simple Gifts or the Brigham Young University's choir (on both CD and DVD).

Notes: I have an earlier version of the Britten CD, which is out of print, but Amazon has used copies. The painting is Rubens' robust St. Cecilia.


  1. Wow. I am so excited with this play list. And I have a day off to explore and download! woohoo. Thank you!! A much needed diversion.

  2. This all sounds beautiful, thank you for the recommendations, Michelle!

  3. This is GLORIOUS!

    And I love Amazon's new (to me) feature of
    "listen to all," which gives a 30 second snippet of each piece. I'm loving listening to these as I work...odd that the disjointedness doesn't's just enough to have those lovely sounds in the background.

  4. I like the "listen to all" feature also. And, Amazon now has many of the CDs where you can dload as mp3s to your Itunes through an Amazon Downloader - not hard at all to do.

    Michelle, I have the Advent Cantata DVD - it's lovely.

    Thank you so much for giving such a wonderful list of music for Advent and Thanksgiving.

  5. Advent music! How wonderful.

    And may I suggest "Keeping the Baby Awake" by the Miserable Offenders...

  6. Awesome music - can't wait to do this at home where my high speed allows me to actually listen to some of this!

    Let me also suggest "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come" by Paul Manz. I sang this motet in St. Paul, MN during seminary, with Manz conducting it; one of my most cherished musical memories.

  7. Thanks, Michelle--this looks lovely.


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