Easter 2024

31 March 2011
Copland, Aaron - solo organ pieces

In his Aaron Copland biography, Howard Pollack does say that Episode (1940) is Copland's only piece for solo organ

In actuality, Copland also arranged Preamble for a Solemn Occasion (1949) for organ. This was an orchestral work that was written for the first anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So which is it? What's the difference?

They way Pollack sees it, Preamble is a great piece (which it is), and Copland sought to give it a wider audience through various arrangements. (Copland dismissed it was a potboiler. He was wrong. It's a great piece.)

Episode, meanwhile, was commissioned by publisher H. W. Gray and organist William Strickland. After it's premiere, the work was largely ignored and, Pollack notes, not mentioned by Copland in his memoirs.

It's always been interesting to me that Copland, whose career was largely launched by his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, would then largely ignore the organ for the rest of his career.

Surely Copland understood how to write for the organ given his early work. He simply must not have been interested in its potential as a solo instrument.

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Copland, Aaron - film score for Our Town

Aaron Copland's only solo piece for organ Episode comes from his score to the film Our Town (1940).

His score was nominated for an Academy Award.

Here is the film, courtesy of

The music that Copland would later arrange for organ can be heard toward the very end of the film starting at about 1:19:30

Sadly, the film quality isn't great, but I for one look forward to viewing the whole thing when time allows.

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Donne, John - words set by Lee Hoiby

Today, the Episcopal Church remembers John Donne, priest.

From his Holy Sonnets, No. VII:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there.   Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood. 

This poem has been set to music by American composer Lee Hoiby who died earlier this week.

A recording can be heard on the website of the Harvard University Choir.

Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being: Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne, that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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30 March 2011
Lenten Music Notes - Week of 28 March

The latest "Lenten Music Notes" podcast is up. These audio guides are designed to provide context and commentary on the organ pieces performed as voluntaries for the Preaching Services.

In this week's podcast, David Sinden discusses music by Vaughan Williams, Copland, Sibelius, Duruflé and others.

Download MP3

Subscribe with iTunes

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29 March 2011
Hoiby, Lee - (1926-2011)

Just learned that American composer Lee Hoiby has died.

Gentle Jesus, grant him eternal rest.


25 March 2011
Carpenter, Cameron - in YouTube Symphony

abstinence - liturgical failing of

On a shirt for the Feast of the Annunciation.

22 March 2011
Lenten Music Notes - Week of 21 March

Just released: the third episode of a podcast that complements the Lenten Preaching Series at St. Paul's, Richmond. These audio guides are designed to provide context and commentary on the organ pieces performed as voluntaries for the Preaching Services.

In this week's podcast, David Sinden discusses music by Bach, Jehan Alain, Felix Borowski and Nicolas d'Grigny.

Download MP3

Subscribe with iTunes

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21 March 2011
down - bow

Happy Birthday J. S. Bach.

18 March 2011
theft - identity, weak attempts at

I just received the following email:

date Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 19:16
subject You Won Seven Hundred And Fifty Thousand Great British Pounds In British BPO Award. Send Your



I mean, are they even trying any more?


16 March 2011
Lenten Music Notes - Week of 14 March

Now available: the second episode of the new podcast that complements the Lenten Preaching Series at St. Paul's, Richmond. These audio guides are designed to provide context and commentary on the organ pieces performed as voluntaries for the Preaching Services.

In this week's podcast, David Sinden discusses music by Bach, Herbert Howells, Jehan Alain, Olivier Messiaen & Kenneth Leighton.

Download MP3

Subscribe with iTunes

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14 March 2011
Principal - Oak

Stop, collaborate and listen - Episode 3: Oak Principal

One of the Albino Squirrels in Oberlin

I had the extremely good fortune to be in Oberlin, Ohio over the weekend.

Here is a recording of the Oak Principal on the 1981 mean-tone instrument by John Brombaugh in Fairchild Chapel.

Stop: Oak Principal 8'
Organ: John Brombaugh, Op. 25 (1981), Fairchild Chapel, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
Organist: Charlotte Beers, demonstrating the stop with a Bergamasca from Fiori Musicali by G. Frescobaldi


I really love this little stop.

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09 March 2011
lunches - Lenten, with dessert!

The Lenten Preaching Series has been happening at St. Paul's, Richmond for a long time -- since 1897, I believe.

The Lenten Luncheon, however, dates from 1921, so today represents a 80th liturgical anniversary.

There's home-cooked food on a pretty big scale. Two seatings (before and after the service). Hot plates, cold plates, takeout, even frozen entrées.

Every Wednesday is Cheese Soufflé day. That includes today (Ash Wednesday, when many Christians choose to fast).

The desserts are a big draw. $2 each. $3 à la mode.

Better than lima beans, I guess.

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redesign - purple

You'll notice things look slightly different here today. At least, you will if you're at proper and not viewing this through a newsreader.

The design team is proud to release this visual update to the site for Lent today. Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.



08 March 2011
Lenten Music Notes - Week of Ash Wednesday 9 March

We announce today a new podcast that complements the Lenten Preaching Series at St. Paul's, Richmond. These audio guides are designed to provide context and commentary on the organ pieces performed as voluntaries for the Preaching Services.

In this week's podcast, David Sinden discusses music by Jehan Alain, Samuel Barber, and Zachary Wadsworth.

Download MP3

Subscribe with iTunes

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Lent - glorious

Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral
photo by the author, August 2009

Lent draws nigh. Lent, Lent, glorious Lent! We have been in Epiphany for a very long time.

If these first few sentences make no sense to you, I'll explain.

In the Christian Church, our primary feast day is Easter which celebrates bunny-rabbits the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The preparatory period of 40 days prior to this great Holy Day is known as Lent.

If you do the math, you find that 40 days (and 40 nights) is a bit more than 5 weeks. Five weeks and a Wednesday, to be exact. And that Wednesday, the start of Lent, is known as Ash Wednesday.

And before Ash Wednesday? Well, the Church doesn't really have a very good name for this, but its Sundays are labeled as being "after Epiphany" (Jan 6).

And here we are, quickly approaching Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011.

But do you notice how late it comes this year?

In fact, the last time Ash Wednesday was this late it was on March 10 in the year 1943.

In the news: Even our local paper has picked up this story

It has been a long Epiphany season. And I for one am ready, and excited for Lent. One reason is that I finally get to change the color of this website from green to purple (this blog changes colors with the liturgical year).

This year, I have the good fortune to serve in a church with a particularly active Lenten season. So, another thing I have to look forward to are ecumenical preaching services with good organ music (PDF) and lots of hymn singing. And Cheese Soufflé and desserts à la mode . . .

but that's another story . . .

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07 March 2011
principal - dolce

Stop, collaborate and listen - Episode 2: Dolce Principal

The backside of Taylor & Boody, Op. 7

photo by the author

Here's the second installment in a new, potluck effort to record interesting organ stops.

Here's the same stop that I first mentioned in this post, but in a different context, and with a more representative recording (no key noise).

Featured stop: Dolce Principal 8'
Organ: Taylor and Boody, Op. 7 (1983), Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Richmond, Va.


"Adagio" from Trio Sonata No. 3 in E-Flat Major, BWV 525
J. S. Bach

Right hand: Dolce Principal 8' (Great)
Left hand: Rohrflöte 4' (Rückpositiv)
Pedal: Subbass 16' (Great coupled to pedal)

Recorded live from the south transept, 6 March 2011

I also heard an interesting story about this stop. Apparently Taylor & Boody had a good deal of trouble with it at first, and elected to use an existing salicional from the outgoing chancel organ of the church on a temporary basis. The story that I hear is that the stop was re-done at a later time resulting in the delightful timbre I've attempted to capture here.

If you have an idea for a stop you'd like the world to know about, or if you already have an audio sample ready to go, send me an email at

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03 March 2011
stops - organ, notable, recorded

Playing yesterday on a wonderful little Taylor & Boody organ, I was struck by the idea to record stops from different organs.

Not in any systematic way (others have attempted this, but the results are clinical and unsatisfying), but just as the mood strikes and as circumstances arise. That said, it would be fun to collect a number of them.

If others are interested, I'm thinking that it might be fun to call this effort "Stop, collaborate and listen"

Runners up: "Don't stop believin'", "Rank and file", "Don't stop 'til you get enough", or "The Organ Stop Project"

In particular, I was drawn to the Dolce Principal 8' of the organ at Bethlehem Lutheran in Richmond. It was an unusual and unexpected sound that reminded me somewhat of the Oak Principal on the Brombaugh organ in Fairchild Chapel, Oberlin, Ohio, although I've never heard a stop that sounded quite like that.


So, there's my first effort. I'm already learning. I should have my stereo digital recorder with me when I visit a new organ, and I should obviously have taken a few seconds to move it further away from the console.

What do you think of the Dolce Principal?

Have a stop you'd like to add? email me at

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the "Dolce Principal" as the "Principal Dolce".

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01 March 2011
breath - everything that has

We're singing music by Larry King on Sunday.

No, not that Larry King. The other one. The one who was organist at Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York.

Larry King embraced the new electronic possibilities offered by magnetic tape. These iconic 1970's electronic sounds offered a completely new sound world to sacred music -- and they still do.

His pieces with electronic tape haven't really entered the mainstream.

But why not?

The psalms tell us: "Let everything that has breath / praise the LORD." (Ps. 150:6)

Note the two words "everything" and "breath".

It's not people that the Psalmist is after here, it's really about the diversity of instruments. Earlier in Psalm 150 we have "the blast of the rams-horn" (when have you heard one of those lately?), "lyre and harp", "timbrel and dance", "resounding cymbals", "strings and pipe" . .

Well, we at least have the strings and pipe part down, right?

But I think the Psalmist is really imagining a noisy sound world that offers praise to the Triune God.

Sound -- and hence music -- is made of pressurized air waves. That's how we hear pitch, dynamic, timbre, etc. Sound relies on things that have "breath".

Cymbals move the air. They have breath.

Organ pipes certainly have breath. I've always enjoyed early North German organ builders who knew this and drew little faces on their facade pipes so it looked as if they were singing (see here, though really I should be able to illustrate this better). Clearly, the pipes have breath.

And the speakers mounted on the walls of the church . . . maybe the Psalmist couldn't even conceive of this breath back then (neither could he conceive of trombones, I bet), but yes, the speakers, and the wav file and the iPod and the CD and the original electronic tape and the audio system in the church, this too has breath.

I'm electronic music's newest convert, it seems.

"Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD.

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