Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Music for Lent

We are now reaching the end of Lent, and though this is a little late, I thought I would give some recommendations for music to listen to during Lent and especially Holy Week. If nothing else, you could purchase them in preparation for next year.

St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach - J. S. Bach is the master, and every music library should include his works. As the title says, this is Bach’s work based on Matthew’s account of our Lord’s death. I wish I could recommend a particular version, but I only have a DVD of the work. You might want to visit amazon and read through some of the recommendations of various versions. Or you could just do what I normally do, and that is buy whatever version is cheapest.

Passio by Arvo Pärt - Arvo Pärt is a modern composer from Estonia. His style is a little unusual, but his works are very rewarding if you take time to orient yourself to them. This is his work based on the account of Christ’s death in the Gospel of John. This work, like much of his work, is very melancholic, often echoing the Eastern Orthodox tradition of his homeland.

The Gates of Repentance: Byzantine Hymns of Great Lent by Fr. Apostolos Hill – The title says exactly what it is: a cycle of hymns taken from the Byzantine rites of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, flowing from the beginning to the end of the “Great Lent” (as opposed to the Little Pascha or Lent, which the Western Tradition calls “Advent”). The hymns are sung in Byzantine chant style, but are unusual in that they are sung in English. This cd is only available at, so far as I know. They have apparently re-done the cd since I purchased it about three years ago, adding some new hymns. Once again, the work will be unusual to those not used to the Byzantine chant style, but is nonetheless very beautiful.

Music for Holy Week by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – Many are familiar with the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, performed every Christmas and broadcast on NPR and worldwide, and which many churches have taken to imitating. But they have recorded many other wonderful cd’s and dvd’s, of which this is one. There is a diversity of pieces here in English and Latin, including the familiar “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and a well-known piece by Thomas Tallis, “If Ye Love Me”.

The Loving Kind by Cindy Morgan – This is one for you Contemporary Christian Music fans. I listen to very little CCM anymore, but among the cd’s I still pop in every once in a while, the music of Cindy Morgan is among my favorites. Her first two cd’s were too dance and R&B-ish for my tastes, but her music began improving with the third cd. I usually listen to this one at least once during Holy Week every year. This is the height of her musical achievements in my opinion, with Listen coming in a close second (she just released a new cd, which I haven’t heard). Those who listen to CCM radio might be familiar with a couple of the tunes, but the entire album is a conceptual album based on the last eight days of Christ’s life. The highlight of the cd is a duet with Wes King based on the Last Supper, with Wes playing classical guitar as well as singing.

If you are a CCM person, and have no interest in my first four recommendations, let me encourage you to take a brave step and purchase one of those first four cd’s. It might not be what you are normally drawn to, but I think it can only do us good to spend time experiencing the great classical music of the world. Put them in the cd player, turn down the lights, get a nice glass of red wine, and allow the music to lead you in meditating upon our Lord’s bitter suffering and death.


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