Instant—and very reluctant—pop stars

A tip of the Café hat to reader Ren Aguila for sharing a follow-up on the Cistercian monks of Heiligenkreuz, Austria, who made headlines when they were signed to produce an album of Gregorian Chants and again when the album was released in Europe last month and entered the charts in the top 10 in several countries (and at No. 1 in Austria). They are now coping with a flood of publicity that's interfering with their traditionally contemplative life, and have had to put one monk in charge of public relations.

But as the New York Times reports, there is an interesting sidebar to the story that actually is a story into itself. Despite their seclusion, the monastery is very connected to the outside world via the internet, which had a hand in their rise to success.

This clip on YouTube was the one that captured Universal Music's attention during their search for authentic Gregorian chants, which were demonstrating increased popularity for no discernible reason, although some news sources are mentioning the Halo video game series soundtrack as a possible influence.

Eager to get in on the trend, Universal’s classical music label took out an advertisement in Catholic publications, inviting chant groups to submit their work. Finding another ensemble like the Benedictines was going to be a long shot, the label’s executives figured.

“Not all monks want to enter into a commercial relationship because that’s not what they spend their days doing,” said Tom Lewis, the artist development manager in London for Universal Classics & Jazz.

But the advertisement was spotted by the grandson of a monk from here. He tipped off Father Wallner, who, in addition to his public-relations duties, runs the monastery’s theological academy and its Web site.

“An Austrian monk would never know what Universal Music is,” Father Wallner said. “We were chosen by divine providence to show that it is possible to have a healthy religious life today.”

Divine providence may have less to do with it than one monk’s resourcefulness. Father Wallner sent Mr. Lewis a short e-mail message with a link to a video of chants that the monks had uploaded to YouTube after Pope Benedict XVI visited the monastery last September.

While monks in many monasteries chant, Heiligenkreuz is particularly proud of its singing, which has been honed over years by one of the monks, who used to direct choirs in Germany.

Mr. Lewis was entranced, recalling that the video eclipsed the more than 100 other submissions. “There was a smoothness and softness to the voices that you associate with younger people,” he said.

Universal negotiated a contract with the monks, who proved to be anything but naïve in the ways of business. It helped that the abbot, Gregor Henckel Donnersmark, has an M.B.A. and ran the Spanish outpost of a German shipping company before he entered the monastery in 1977.

Among the clauses he sought: Universal cannot use the chanting in video games or pop music. The monks will never tour or perform on stage. And Heiligenkreuz will earn a royalty based on the sales of the album, which the abbot said worked out to roughly 1 euro per CD sold.

Read the whole thing here.

The sound of music, not gunfire

Sheila Stroup in the New Orleans Times-Picayune :

The Rev. William Terry isn't naive. He knows criminals won't come running when they hear about a gun-exchange program.

But Horns for Guns is about more than turning in guns. It's about putting musical instruments into the hands of young people and teaching them to play. It's about people coming together as a community.

"It reaches across our parochial boundaries and offers kids an alternative to the streets," Father Bill says.

Organists' guild focuses on staying relevant

Eileen Guenther, the newest president of the American Guild of Organists, gets spotlighted in a Religion News Service interview this week. Facing declining membership, Guenther explains that organs haven't so much been replaced as the instrument of choice in churches as they have been supplemented by other instruments. The result is a new landscape for church musicians, one that she hopes the guild can help them face:

Q. It seems like one of your greatest challenges would be that many houses of worship don't use organs anymore. Is that the case?

A. That's an interesting question. Lots of places use organ and other instruments as well, and I think a challenge is to reach out to everyone who is involved in music-making in houses of worship, regardless of the instruments they play.

Q. So you want to include instrumentalists who play instruments other than the organ even though you've been an organization of organists?

A. Right. Many of our places of employment want more than just the organ, and we want to be able to support organists, of course, but also encourage them to acquire more skills that will ... meet the long-term needs of the marketplace. It's not a phrase that people use within the church, but it's kind of a reality.

Story here.

Oh, the hymns you will sing

Timothy O'Toole has a column in today's Albany Union-Times on the abundance and diversity of church music.

Church music is limitless. Throughout America, sanctuaries resonate with the sound of the classics (Mozart and the 3 B's — Bach, Brahms and Beethoven), Gregorian chant and plainsong, jazz (Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday"), folk (Michael and his boat that never quite makes it to shore), and ethnic melodies from Africa, Asia and South America (best sung in the original language). Even the predictable two-dimensional "praise music," which enlists drums, mikes and electric guitars — in keeping with John Wesley's 1761 instruction "Sing lustily and with good courage."

I am reminded of Harvard psychologist William James' 1902 book, "The Varieties of Religious Experience." Just as there are different ways of experiencing the divine in our daily existence, there are different ways of raising our voices in song, and opening our ears and minds to inspiration.

Most hymnals have work derived from European sources, but America is blessed with an exceptional variety of home-grown music. Drawing from Charles Wesley's English experience, what was once secular can become sacred with a few lyric modifications. In 1882, Salvation Army founder William Booth wondered, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" To which we Presbyterians might add, "Why do the Methodists have all the best hymns?" Need gender-neutral lyrics? Call Brian Wren, an Englishman who now lives in New Hampshire and specializes in non-sexist imagery.

We resonate to William Billings' energetic New England hymns; the raucous, nasal sound of Sacred Harp and shape note singers, cousins of Southern harmony, spirituals and gospel; even bluegrass renditions with their own bittersweet quality.

Read it all here.

Let the music play

The Houston Chronicle has a piece on the phenomenon of professional musicians who serve multiple houses of worship--even if the houses of worship are of different faiths.

At Congregation Emanu El and Congregation Beth Israel, the city's two large Reform synagogues, an unexpected combination has proved successful and nurturing for decades. At both, the organist and most of the paid singers are Christians, some of whom also work at big churches.

The same situation sometimes occurs in reverse at churches. A paid Beth Israel singer who is Jewish also sings at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church. More generally, as an acquaintance noted, "Check the orchestras playing in churches at Christmas and Easter, and half may be Jews." They're the musicians who are available at that time.

Ann Frohbieter became organist at Emanu El in 1967. She also plays at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and previously worked at Grace Presbyterian Church and St. Luke's United Methodist Church.

Tom Crow eased into the position at Beth Israel in 1978 with a strong background in Jewish worship, having attended a temple with his best friend in high school and then playing there during college. He also works at Bethany Christian Church and previously was at St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Memorial Drive Lutheran Church.


Both Crow and Frohbieter have had minimal reactions from acquaintances and friends about their crossover jobs.

"I've never really had anybody mention it except some who know me tease me about getting mixed up and playing Avinu Malkeinu (the High Holy Days prayer) during communion some Sunday — that kind of thing," Crow said.

Frohbieter gets the same kind of reaction: "Often the person will say, 'How do you know what to play at each place? Don't you get confused and play the wrong music at the wrong place?' "

It hasn't been a problem, she said.

Are our hymns becoming stupider

Professor John Stackhouse thinks that contemporary hymns are insipid and says so in a blog post here. Ben Myers of the Faith and Theology blog takes a different view:

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Christian music in recession

USAToday reports:

The recession is slamming the arts (no news here) but Christianity Today has a great look at how Christian musicians are hanging in, even one who sometimes gets paid in barter.

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Cathedral invites people into a new rhythm with traditional music

Trinity Cathedral in Miami Florida is finding that classical Anglican music sung in its traditional setting is just the thing for people who are rushing past its doors.

Speaking of the Anglican Chorale, the only group performing such music regularly in Southern Florida, the director points out:

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Trinity Wall Street tribute to Michael Jackson

From organist Robert Ridgell.

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Horace Boyer 1935-2009

Horace Boyer, editor of the Episcopal Hymnal, Lift Every Voice and Sing, a beloved musician who loved teaching others to sing with passion, enthusiasm and excellence, has died at age 74.

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The Yizkor Requiem

THOMAS BEVERIDGE (Composer and Conductor): I realized that I could put together a piece that kind of stands on the bridge between the two religions, the Christian religion and the Jewish religion, and takes a look at, simultaneously, at the ritual for the dead.

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'We get to carry each other': U2 as theologians

Everyone covering popular culture seems to want a piece of the "gospel according to ___" business on any available topic where people are willing to use the name of God. And of course, anytime you cast a net that wide, you find varying levels of success.

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Oh, Mary Don't You Weep

A little something to help you pass Saturday evening with a smile on your face and a tap in your toes.

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A rap for All Saints Day

In anticipation of All Saints Day, we present The All Saints Rap, written by the youth group at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, in Mill Valley, California, where Café contributor the Rev. Richard Helmer is rector. (You may need to give it a moment to download.)

The vocal is by Willie Van Doren, Our Saviour's youth minister. Music by Dow Brain.

Parsing Handel's Messiah at 12 years old

At the National Cathedral, the boys' choir prepares to sing Handel's Messiah, spending 15-20 hours in rehearsal, in between football practices, schoolwork and all the other busy-ness of adolescents.

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"Messiah" at Trinity Wall Street

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U2 the rock'n roll "Book of Common Prayer"?

The Guardian (UK) offers an interesting theological reflection upon Bono and the band U2 and their Christian roots and even their Christian evangelism through their music and advocacy for social justice:

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Music of "The Boss" raises funds for food

The music of Bruce Springsteen will accompany a Eucharist to raise funds for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's food bank according to The Oregonian's

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Rejoice Now!

Most Episcopal Churches are just now beginning or just concluding their Easter Vigil services. For most of the country it is Easter! And the first part of the service includes the singing of the Exultet. This version, in Spanish, sung at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark NJ is worth your time. Feliz Pacua!

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Haiti: music school brings hope

NPR features the Sainte Trinité Music School and the Haiti Philharmonic:

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How to write a truly awful worship song

Following up on how to lead mega-church worship Stephen Altrogge, writing at Blazing Center, tells you how to write an awful worship song:

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Sung Compline on a Sunday Night

Many living in Austin, Texas, are aware of the Sunday-night tradition of going to hear the Compline Choir at St. David's Episcopal Church. (It soothed this young seminarian's nerves more than once on the evening before a major paper was due.) It turns out Susan Richter has been recording these events for the past four years and offering them on her web site, where they are broken into their respective service portions.

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Wither traditions?

N. Graham Standish writing for the Alban Institute says:

I believe that a passion to help people experience the Holy, however it is defined, is at the root of every form of worship. Every liturgy developed by every movement at one point was designed to help people experience the Holy. Many congregations today, in all denominations, consistently ask themselves how they can connect people with an experience of God through their worship. And whenever they stop asking that question, others emerge to ask it and to provide new opportunities to encounter the Holy in a way that modifies tradition.

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My favorite music is way better than your favorite music

Hey, I have an idea: let's argue about church music!

Bruce G. Epperly and Darryl Hollinger wrote this week's offering from the Alban Institute. It begins like so:

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Church musicians (heart) weddings

For any long-suffering church organists in need of a chuckle and who have not already seen the video, "The Wedding Consultation", follow this link.

Christmas carol trainwreck

Maggie Dawn directs us to this recording of O Holy Night captured by the Music Academy. Apparently, it is for real. And, as one commenter said, it is not without sincerity. Stil...

Thanks to Dave Paisley for leading us to the true source - spoof!

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The young choral voice meets science

Science can now tell what it is about the voices of young choiristers that gives us goosebumps. It can tell us how they produce the sound, and how it could be artificially recreated. As to why our brains respond to that sound, that's an emotional driver that's yet to be identified reports the BBC:

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Rate your favorite hymns

As we noted yesterday, Robert Coote looked at 28 hymnals from the six largest mainline denominations and tallied up the most commonly occurring songs. 13 hymns appear in all 28.

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Hymn Madness results

We asked our readers to rate their top five hymns from a list of the 13 most common hymns.

It's not too late to cast your vote, but the current results of the balloting on the top five hymns can be found here.

To cast a vote, go here. One entry per person, on the honor system.

2011 Hymn Madness champion named

Thank you to the 404 visitors who participated in our Hymn Madness poll. The poll asked you to rank your top 5 of the 13 most common hymns (here's how they were seeded). After discarding those faulty ballots we ended up with 312 entries. A first place vote was given a weight of 5, a second place vote a weight of 4 and so on.

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The song of Jesus

When Barbara Brown Taylor was recently asked to preach on "Word and Music" for a special service, she began to search out what Jesus had to say about music in the Gospels. She found very little, and what little was there was not very complimentary. But then she looked up the use of the word "hymn" in the Gospels.

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Good bye, Big Man

The Jungleland solo.

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Labor Day Playlist #1

Millworker by James Taylor. Sung by Emmy Lou Harris

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Labor Day Playlist #2

Youngstown by Bruce Springsteen

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Labor Day Playlist #3

Working Man's Blues by Merle Haggard

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Labor Day Playlist #4

Working Class Hero by John Lennon

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Labor Day Playlist #5

He Thinks He'll Keep Her by Mary Chapin Carpenter

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Labor Day Playlist #6

Paul Robeson sings Joe Hill.

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We could use a little mercy now...

h/t to BSnyder in comments.

Lyrics below

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New harmonies

The Christian Century wonders about the current state of church music in Church music after the worship wars, music and identity at four congregations:

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Oh Sacred Head/American Tune

From St. Matthew Passion by J. S. Bach.

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Jesus was an Only Son

Bruce Springsteen sings, and explains one of his lesser known songs, Jesus was an Only Son.

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Your song could go global

As the Anglican Church of Canada prepares for the 2014 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it seeks original music compositions:

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The young resist hymnal revision

One of the reports submitted to General Convention this year analyzes the interest in the Episcopal Church in revising the 1982 Hymnal. The task of doing the research was passed to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, and they've posted their long report on the Church Pension Group website. (See update below for more information regarding the report itself.)

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Musician as theologian

If you ask most people who's the theologian in a local congregation, they're more likely than not going to point to the ordained clergy. But that's just not the whole story according to an article by Mark Gorman posted in the Duke Divinity School Magazine.

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It is okay to sing patriotic songs in church. Yay or nay?

Pentecost fell on Memorial Day weekend this year. The Birthday of the Church was also the eve of the day on which Americans honor their war dead. (All of their dead, in fact, but their war dead in particular.) I am guessing this made for some interesting musical choices in Episcopal churches around the country, especially involving the inclusion of patriotic songs in the liturgy.

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Ode to Joy

it is night.
The night is for stillness
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be. (A New Zealand Prayer Book Night Prayer p. 184)

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Music's cohesive role in the London Olympics opening ceremony

The heritage of the isles was on display in the London Olympics Opening Ceremony - traditional music like God Save the Queen, the unofficial national anthem Jerusalem, and Cwm Rhondda were each sung by multiracial children's choirs. Abide with Me was sung by Emeli Sandé.

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Bless the Lord, O my soul

Thanking our contributors, Lowell Grisham, Linda Ryan, Maria Evans, Bill Carroll, Ian McAlister, and Molly Wolf, who keep Speaking to the Soul filled with thoughtful reflections every day and highlighting today's edition for your evening meditation, read the reflection and watch:

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A joyful noise on a Sunday morning

Dana Massing of the Erie Times News profiles the choir of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Voices, young and old, raised in song, give glory to God.

"Hallelujah," they sing. "Praise the Lord."

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Songs from a broken liturgy

Killing the Buddha offers music from an "experiment in deconstructed ambient folk-hymns known as “Broken Liturgy.” Curated by an arts and music collective known as saints&children, you can now download a six-song album “Songs from a Broken Liturgy.”"

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An offering for the Feast of All Souls

A musical offering and prayer by The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck, Dean and Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Syracuse, New York called "Silent Souls."

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Introducing: The Theology Jukebox

Giving something a try tonight. Below is a video of Tom Waits signing his song Come On Up to the House (lyrics). I heard it last week at the Bluegrass Mass at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. I don't know what I make of the theology of the song, but I love the line: Come down off the cross, we can use the wood. And it isn't every songwriter who can gracefully work a quote from Thomas Hobbes into his work.

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Theology Juke Box: Babel by Mumford and Sons

Tonight's feature on the Theology Juke Box is the title cut from the album Babel (lyrics) by Mumford and Sons.

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Nun responds to Vatican with song of protest

Sister Kathy Sherman of the Congregation of St. Joseph responded to the harsh assessment of women religious in the US with a song that has become the anthem of support for the sisters. Reported in the New York Times

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1 Advent

Something to get you in the mood for the season of Advent

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Once in Royal David's City

Another song of the season for your Sunday evening pleasure:

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The Rebel Jesus

A Christmas wish from "a heathen and a pagan."

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Once in Royal David's City

Wishing you a happy and holy Christmas Eve.

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James Taylor issues FB plea for 'Fire & Rain' church

A little Episcopal church that dubs itself "The James Taylor Church" because it's been damaged by fire and rain has garnered attention from the singer himself, who is using his Facebook page to help raise money to restore its historic pipe organ. Taylor posted this week, "St Paul's Episcopal Church in Jeffersonville IN is now known as the "James Taylor church," since it's been hit by both fire and rain! St Paul's is trying to raise money to restore their pipe organ after several floods and a fire. Click here to find out more:"

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Letting music lead us out of a bleak place

On Sunday, April 21, after a very bleak week of horrific news from Boston to Texas to China to Baghdad, the London–based Legatum Institute presented a choral concert, composed by Sir John Tavener, at the Washington National Cathedral. The power of music to lift the soul was once again demonstrated. US News reports that Tavener attended the concert much to the delight of the audience. Some comments:

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Beware the wrath of an organist

Do not offend the organist says an article in The Telegraph:

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Why hymnals matter in the digital age

At The Christian Century, Mary Louise Bringle writes about the enduring role of hymnals in the digital age:

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Because I am the mom!

Happy Mother's Day -one last word:

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Holiness of Beauty: interview with Carl Daw

Cowley Magazine offers in interview with the Rev. Dr. Carl P. Daw, Jr. focussing on how he translates and paraphrases psalms for hymn texts:

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Landfill Harmonic

The Rev. Jan Naylor Cope, vicar of Washington National Cathedral, illustrated her Pentecost sermon with this video. We aren't going to tell you what she said. But perhaps you can suggest the outlines of your own sermon based on this video and the readings for the feast.

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Be happy. Bobby McFerrin attends an Episcopal Church.

Bobby McFerrin talks with Kim Lawton of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly about music for spiritual journey, and remembers wanting to be an Anglican monk. It's worth sitting through the 30 second commercial for this excellent eight minute piece.

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A little more McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin sings Fix Me Jesus, courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

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Earth and all stars

For your summer Sunday evening:

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Music of The March

On the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington the Daily Beast highlights the music that accompanied the March on Washington.

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Music and faith: interview with Peter Hallock

Composer Peter Hallock talks about his music and experiences at St. Mark's Cathedral.

Featuring session footage and music from Byrd Ensemble's CD release, Peter Hallock: Draw on sweet night.

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Rutgers plans Bruce Springsteen theology class

Eric R. Danton reports in Rolling Stone:

The college in New Brunswick, N.J., will be offering a freshman seminar examining the theology of Springsteen, according to a Q&A on the Rutgers Today PR site with Azzan Yadin-Israel, the course professor….

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Portland choir to sing entire hymnal this Sunday

Here's an inspired fundraising idea: The choir at Trinity Cathedral in Portland is going to sing every hymn in the Episcopal hymnal tomorrow. From the Oregonian:

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Arguing about church music - deja vu?

Only a short distance from the National Cathedral (DC) a 150 year old fight over music in church is revealed in a recently discovered pamphlet. John Kelly discovered a pamphlet in which a man was going nuts about church music. "What had inflamed him?

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Pete Seeger: God's counting on you

Thanks for the songs, Pete Seeger -- may we keep on singing and working for a better world:

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Ladies and gentlemen: Monstrance

"They call themselves the Rectors of Rock. The Fathers of Funk. The Collar Studs."

So begins the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's story on a rock band comprising four Episcopal priests.

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Cathedral Choirs in Danger

Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, laments cuts to cathedral choirs in the Church of England:

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Church organist sets Guinness record for career longevity

From the Huffington Post:

Martha Godwin has been playing the organ and piano at the Macedonia United Methodist Church in Southmont, North Carolina, since she was 13 years old. Seventy-three years later, she's been recognized by Guinness World Records as the person who has had the longest career as a church pianist or organist.

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Why choral evensong is becoming more popular

Gerry Lynch, a friend of this blog, and communications director for the Diocese of Salisbury in the Church of England has written a brief essay on the growing popularity of choral evensong in the British church:

I’m addicted to weekday Choral Evensong. In a ‘bad’ week, I get to the Cathedral twice; in a good week, every night.

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The invitation of Taize

Bishop Mark Beckwith has returned from a visit to Taize and written about the experience on his blog:

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Falling in love with the language of hymns

Juan Vidal wrote a feature article for NPR, "Falling In Love With Language — Through The Power Of Hymns". An excerpt:

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