Rejoice! I’m gonna say it again…

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

We said it again last Sunday with The Mustard Seeds’ rendition of the carol “Gaudete!” Fresh from a workshop with our in-house orchestral percussionist (thanks Clare!), choir members devised their own accompaniment using triangle, bells and drum. Not only did we learn the techniques to play a range of hand percussion, but experimenting with musical choices gave choir members an insight into the feelings, thoughts and spirit that might have animated singers of this song throughout its history. And its lyrics are in the spirit of some even earlier calls to worship:

Refrain  
Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria virgine. Gaudete! Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the virgin Mary. Rejoice!
Verses  
Tempus ad est gratiæ, hoc quod optabamus, carmina læticiæ devote reddamus. At this time of grace and longed for blessing, love faithfully offers a song of praise.
Deus homo factus est Natura mirante, Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante. God is made human in this wonderful birth. The world is cleansed through the rule of Christ.
Ezechielis porta clausa pertransitur, Unde lux est orta, salus invenitur. The gate of heaven now opens which was closed, sending forth transforming light, through which holiness is found.
Ergo nostra concio psallat iam in lustro, Benedicat Domino, salus Regi nostro. Therefore we meet in songs of joy. We bless the Lord, King of our salvation.

 The refrain of this carol echoes our call to worship on Sunday,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]

Imagine Paul’s letters being painstakingly copied and circulated by hand, bringing that exhortation, “Rejoice!” to its readers at the time of the very beginnings of the church. More than a thousand years later, the invention of movable type allows printed books to be distributed with unprecedented freedom in renaissance Europe, and what do we find the faithful saying to each other through the music circulated at the time? Again, “Rejoice!”

We don’t know when “Gaudete!” was first composed, but its first recorded appearance is in Piae Cantiones, a collection of Latin songs published in 1582 under the imprimatur of the Lutheran church.[2] It contains a four-part musical setting for the refrain, but no music for the verses. The monophonic (single-voice) tune often associated with the verses is a Bohemian tune (possibly medieval) that was popular in the same period as this songbook. Both tunes – especially the refrain – clearly carry the feel of a dance, especially appropriate for a song of rejoicing and evocatively offered this week through the dancing of voices and percussion.

[1] Philippians 4:4–7, New International Version.

[2] Theodoricus Petri, Piae cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum (Greifswald, Sweden: Theodoricus Petri, 1582).

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