Another holiday season is upon us, and with that comes a wealth of season-appropriate music. (Some good and some not so good. Here’s looking at you, Bob Dylan, and your Christmas album. Yikes.) The sacred realm, in particular, contains an absolute treasure trove of works that honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus. So much of this music has played an indispensable role in my life, and the season is not complete until I’ve given at least one listen to John Adams’s El Niño and Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, to name just two pieces.
To celebrate this time of year, me and my good friend/fellow music nerd, Geoff Nelson, have culled together a playlist that journeys through the story of Christmas, beginning with the longings of Advent and ending with hope for the new year. As with our Holy Week playlist this past March, our selections encompass a broad spectrum of styles and sounds, often wandering between them in unique and surprising ways. (Who knew that Palestrina and The Oh Hellos actually work really well together?) The playlist can also be approached in different ways. Since it is 31 tracks long, it can either be used as a sort of musical “Advent calendar” (i.e., listening to one track each day throughout the 31 days of December), or it can be consumed in a single sitting.
No matter how you approach it—and no matter your faith background—we sincerely hope that our musical selections will inspire reflection, hope, and joy as the world celebrates this holiday season.
Continue reading “A Playlist for Christmas”
What a difference a year makes! This time last spring, the existential dread was starting to sink in as we hunkered down for the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, several vaccines are being administered by the hundreds of thousands each day, businesses and schools are beginning to reopen, and there’s a general tone of optimism in the air. Of course, we still have a long way to go to reach normalcy (the multiple COVID variants are slightly worrisome…), but for the time being, hope is on the horizon.
Speaking of hope, another Holy Week is upon us. In April 2020, I created a Holy Week playlist on Spotify (which you can check out here) and enjoyed the process so much that I decided to make an entirely different one this year. This time, though, I had some input from my good friend Geoff Nelson, Director of Liturgy and Worship at New City Presbyterian Church. After some discussion, Geoff and I assembled a 3-hour playlist that brims with some amazing sacred music. Like last year’s version, this one presents an aural “journey” through the days of Holy Week and encompasses a spectrum of classical sounds along the way, from Renaissance polyphony to modern Passion settings. (You can view the lineup below; the Spotify playlist itself can be found at the bottom of this post.)
No matter your creed or belief system, we hope that this music will provide you with peace, hope, and encouragement for this time of year, as we look forward to brighter days in the future.
Continue reading “A Playlist for Holy Week 2.0”
Let’s face it, amidst our technology-saturated, go-getter culture, silence can be difficult to come by. We’re almost constantly surrounded by sound, whether it be from our devices, conversation with others, or ambient noise from our everyday activities. Silence, while sometimes sought out for a means of escape or reflection, is becoming an increasingly rare phenomenon.
In classical music though, silence can be a powerful tool. Say what you will about contemporary concert hall etiquette, but when an audience quietly respect the breaks between the movements of a symphony, it can be a wondrous moment. For composers too, silence can be a great asset. In an article entitled “Forerunners of Modern Music,” the American composer John Cage observed that, “The material of music is sound and silence. Integrating these is composing.” (Cage is perhaps most famous – or infamous – for his 1952 piece 4’33”).
One figure who makes an especially profound use of this idea is the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. In addition to utilizing simple tonalities and sparse textures, many of his pieces make ample use of silence, which is often meticulously composed into the score. Together, these features give Pärt’s music a strikingly original and contemplative quality, which has left a lasting impression on contemporary classical music.
Continue reading “Beauty in Silence: The Music of Arvo Pärt”