Music for a quiet Lent: Sunday, March 22

As of Friday, all the churches I sing at have closed down, to help protect communities from the spread of the virus. It’s the right decision, but it makes me sad nonetheless. I find it hard to even conceptualise Lent and Easter without music, to be honest. Singing is so intrinsically linked to my experience of faith, and Lent has always been the easiest part of the church year to connect to, for me. It is the time when we are reminded what it meant for God to become fully human, experiencing the world as we experience it, in solidarity with us. I find it comforting to know that God felt hunger, sickness, sadness, grief, betrayal, and death – but also generosity, community, faithfulness, joy, good food, the satisfaction of using one’s body in work or exercise or singing – the things that make life worth living. And right now, it feels particularly important to know that God is with us.

Sorry, that got very preachy.

Anyway, I can’t do without Lent, and I can’t do Lent without music. So each day from now until Easter, I’m going to post some music for the day. Where possible, I’ll match the Sunday music to the Revised Common Lectionary. On weekdays, I might use the Anglican lectionary, but honestly, I’ll probably just try to sneak in my favourite bits of Lenten music that I am missing this year regardless of what the lectionary is up to. In other words, expect much gratuitous Baroque and early music, because that’s how I roll. For the Sundays and the big services in Holy Week, I will also add a hymn or two that you might want to sing along to.

I hope you enjoy the music here, and that wherever you are, you are staying safe and well.

Sunday, March 22

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Today’s psalm is Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ which gives me almost too many possibilities to choose from. As a result, you may be getting more than your fair share of music this Sunday.

Let’s see what we have, shall we?

If you are me, you have already noticed, delightedly, that J.S. Bach did an entire *cantata* just for this occasion! You can find the lyrics in German and English here.

If your music director is looking for a crowd pleaser (or is hoping to placate the congregation after subjecting them to 17 minutes of German baroque music, not that they should be complaining about that), there is no better choice than the Goodall setting, which is great fun to sing, and familiar to anyone who ever watched The Vicar of Dibley.

If your music director is a closet romantic, or if your choir lacks tenors and basses, Schubert is bound to appeal.

If you don’t have a choir this week, but do have a couple of soprano or alto soloists who are ready to shine, the clear choice is He Shall Feed His Flock, from Handel’s Messiah. I really like this version, sung by Kathleen Battle, though I have to confess, my absolute favourite version is the decidedly UNliturgical one from Claus Guth’s deeply weird staged version of the Messiah. If you can get past the staging, Bejun Mehta’s ornamentations are some of the most beautiful things I’ve heard. And – bonus! it even has the recitative at the start, which fits in with the gospel reading for the day.

To sing along to

If you aren’t thoroughly tired of the 23rd Psalm by now, there’s always the hymn book version.

Alternatively, we could take some inspiration from the Gospel reading, about Jesus healing the blind man. Amazing Grace is an obvious choice though three years at a Scottish school that fetishised bagpipes ruined it for me forever more. But this version is pretty lovely.

I think my pick for the day would be O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, by Charles Wesley, because it’s a great song, and the lyrics are very much about being healed from sickness, released from oppression, and generally liberated. Let’s call that our closing hymn for this blog post.

Go to the Music for a Quiet Lent index page.

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