Letting go from music into silence

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

Are you doing any sort of fasting during Lent? We have one fasting discipline that we are doing as a community in our Sunday morning worship – we’re letting go of some of our music. It was introduced in this way on the order of service for the first Sunday of Lent:

The season of Lent is traditionally one of fasting and contemplation, modelled on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. To reflect this, there will be no prelude or postlude today, nor during any of the Sundays of Lent. This ‘fast’ from background music and the accompanying open silence are intended to provide an opportunity for reflection and private prayer – a time ‘in the wilderness’ for us.

On the first Sunday of this ‘wilderness’ experience, we took to it easily; I think most people found it to be a little more of a spacious experience of quiet rather than a deprivation of something good, which is undoubtedly also true of a fast. It was a good answer to the desire James had shared with the worship ministry group that our Lenten discipline would be about “relinquishing, not ripping out.”

Among the music team, when we contemplated letting go of our instrumental music before and after services for the duration of Lent, we immediately had a strong sense both of what we would be relinquishing and what the rewards might be. I paraphrase here some of the reflections from our musicians:

  • There are unique things that music can do for us in Lent, and we will dearly miss playing special seasonal pieces
  • There are also unique places that silence can take us to – we have a sense of anticipation about what might happen in this time
  • Having ‘decluttered’ the time before and after the service, with no competition between music and other activity, we will enjoy its simplicity
  • Being ‘in the wilderness’ in this way for musicians means a rest from some of the work of performing and a change of focus to other parts of our musical practice during Lent
  • We wonder how our appreciation of preludes and postludes might be enhanced when we reintroduce them after our fast

This Sunday (12th March) we’ll also have the experience of a short time for silent reflection in the midst of the service; Julie Hall says that a little breather like this “gives the soul time to catch up with the body.” Both Julie’s and our musicians’ insights remind me of Shirley Murray’s song “Come and find the quiet centre,” which says of clutter:

Come and find the quiet centre in the crowded life we lead… clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.

And of finding a pace at which soul and body come together:

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us…

This song goes with the tune Beech Spring. Since music and silence are such good partners, here’s a suggestion for an under-five-minute music and silence reflection time to try at home:

  1. Get a timer and set it for 2 minutes
  2. Read the quotes from Murray’s song above or all the lyrics at Hope Publishing
  3. Listen to Dan Carollo’s rendition of Beech Spring in the linked video
  4. After the music, start your timer, expect the lyrics to be true for you in the coming moments, relax and enjoy your silent time!

Love knocks and waits for us to hear

Katrina DowlingMusic2 Comments

Bossa nova means “new style” but it comes organically out of Brazilian genres such as samba; “new” does not mean completely different, but a new flowering from the same branch. Bossa nova has the same rhythms as samba, but played more slowly, and the playing and singing is always soft and gentle.

We learned the bossa nova setting of Daniel Charles Damon’s “Love knocks and waits for us to hear” at St Luke’s on 19 February as a way of exploring this text:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-48[1]

This text looks very demanding and living it out would be difficult. So it’s refreshing to get a feel for the pulse of its spirit through the gentle rhythms of bossa nova. Suppose these precepts were given to you in the form of a love song that showed what Love offers you, so that you need only give out of what you’ve received. Damon’s song puts it this way:

Love knocks and waits for us to hear,
to open and invite:
Love longs to quiet every fear,
and seeks to set things right.

Love offers life, in spite of foes
who threaten and condemn;
embracing enemies, Love goes
the second mile with them.

Love comes to heal the broken heart,
to ease the troubled mind;
without a word Love bids us start
to ask and seek and find.

Love knocks and enters at the sound
of welcome from within;
Love sings and dances all around,
and feels new life begin.

By popular request, we’re singing this song again next Sunday (26 February), and, because we didn’t have time to share our responses when we were learning it on the 19th, I offer here some passages that you might find resonate with the lyrics, and encourage you (whether you were in the music session on the 19th or you’re encountering the song for the first time here) to interact with each other via the comments.

Images in verse 1

Love knocks and waits for us to hear,
to open and invite:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Revelation 3:20

Love longs to quiet every fear,
and seeks to set things right.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2

Images in verse 2

Love offers life, in spite of foes
who threaten and condemn;

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

embracing enemies, Love goes
the second mile with them.

Matthew 5:38-48 – see the top of the post

Images in verse 3

Love comes to heal the broken heart,

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-18

He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Isaiah 61:1

     to ease the troubled mind;

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27

without a word Love bids us start
to ask and seek and find.

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Matthew 7:7

Images in verse 4

Love knocks and enters at the sound
of welcome from within;

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jeremiah 29:11-14

Love sings and dances all around,
and feels new life begin.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3:1

Please continue the conversation in the comments section – are there other Scripture passages that you feel speak through this song? Have you struggled with the text in Matthew 5 before, and is this a new way of encountering it? If you were at the music session on the 19th, how was your experience of meeting the Matthew text through a bossa nova?

[1] All Scripture in this post New Revised Standard Version.


Katrina DowlingMusic1 Comment

This is a strange aspect of music ministry. In two separate occasions within a week, people looked to me, as music director of the local church, to confirm whether certain behaviours among the congregation show ‘disrespect’ in corporate worship.

Honestly, I had no official line to give, despite the fact that, if I lead a choir, I will give members a code of conduct; but that’s the prerogative of a choir director and doesn’t relate to comportment in the congregation as a whole. So I became curious about what the church’s teaching is, and discovered that there’s nothing explicit, but that I could read into the spirit behind some of our guidelines and teaching.[1] Here’s what I found…

No guidelines on specific behaviours

The Uniting Church in Australia provides ethical guidelines for members and adherents, and these guidelines say that we are expected to treat people with respect, but it doesn’t mention treating worship, worship accoutrements, or God’s presence with respect. Beyond saying that we are expected to be courteous and let people know that they are safe, the guidelines don’t prescribe exactly how to behave in order to be courteous.

There’s also a code of conduct for lay leaders, which adds to the guidelines for members some practices we are expected to do, such as studying Scripture and praying alone and together;  but neither of these codes deal with ‘conduct’ in the sense of how you comport yourself in corporate worship.

Church traditions are expected to be changing, not fixed

The history of this church seems to stress that tradition is a living thing rather than a static thing to be preserved unchanging – its traditions live by means of renewal as well as preservation. The attitude is influenced by “the notion of ‘receptive ecumenism’ where churches are encouraged, in relationship to each other, to move from defensiveness to appreciation of gifts kept by other traditions which have been lost or obscured in one’s own.”[2] If we have living traditions, then we might retain many longstanding practices, but we can’t rely solely on how things have been done in the past to teach us how to do things today.

Guidelines on liturgy are only minimally prescriptive

Because the church doesn’t tell us how to behave when we are worshipping together, I looked at what the guidelines for liturgy might suggest. Firstly, although the services of worship set out in Uniting in Worship are normative and include clear directions on what must and should be part of liturgy, “this does not mean, of course, that the services in Uniting in Worship are intended to be used rigidly and without imagination. All worship should be geared to the particular situation of the congregation, be it large or small, urban or rural.”[3] So the local context is expected to influence how we do worship.

Secondly, our particular expressions of liturgy (which would include the way in which we comport ourselves) are given secondary importance in worship, because the church believes that “aids to worship are signposts for christian pilgrims, not the goal of their journey. Only the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can bring human words and works to life, enabling us to be true worshippers who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”[4]

Diversity is valued

The diversity of the Uniting Church is acknowledged:

The liturgical life of the Uniting Church is impossible to summarise. Its diversity encompasses a growing appreciation of the seasons of the Church year and of the Revised Common Lectionary, along with a commitment to liturgical freedom and, in some places, the exercise of continual novelty and an avoidance of written material.[5]

Diversity is supported and encouraged, as, for example, in Uniting in Worship, where, alongside an expectation of thoughtful and proper inclusion of all that’s needed for full entry into worship, there is the encouragement to treat the liturgies in the book more as a directory than as a book of common prayer.

Formal, middle and informal attitudes are all embraced

The Uniting Church provides for us to use a mix of formal to informal behaviours in terms of the language we use in liturgy. The preface of Uniting in Worship 2 discusses three ‘registers of language’ (note: “in speaking of registers of language, we do not imply registers of theology”).[6]

The liturgies in Uniting in Worship 2 use two registers of language – high “conveys a sense of dignity and the transcendence of God”; middle, through “a wider and warmer range of imagery… facilitates the connection between the Church’s corporate worship and our service of worship of God in everyday life”. Because it is a written book, it does not feature the oral tradition of low register language, which is “more colloquial and conversational… to speak to immediate situations, and to particular groups of people,” but it allows for liturgies to be conducted in informal language as well.[7] For me, this is the closest the church gets to saying what specific behaviours in worship are considered either appropriate or disrespectful; it seems to suggest that not only is a range of attitudes from formal to informal acceptable, but maybe also that we would be wise to use all of them to some extent, depending on our context, in order to experience the fullness of worship.

Conclusion… local cultures and church culture

Reading the spirit behind all of these guidelines, I think that, in general, the Uniting Church in Australia is more interested in enabling people to worship within their various cultural idioms than in establishing a unified church culture and enculturating people into it. It also seems that the church sees comportment (behaviour) as residing in the sphere of culture, making it a matter of local agreement, rather than theology, which would have made it something for the church to comment upon.

That leaves us with the task of agreeing in the local community on our expectations of our behaviour in worship: when to arrive and leave, when to move or be still, when to speak or be silent, what to wear, what posture to adopt, and so on… and the task of making it known so that we won’t be uneasy about whether we’re doing the right thing in this context. Further – and this is difficult to navigate for someone who needs to teach a choir or band to conform to expected behaviours for the good of the whole community – I’m reminded of Richard Foster’s warning against evaluating ourselves by our outward behaviours and against controlling others in their outward behaviours:

Jesus teaches that we must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). Yet we need to see that their righteousness was no small thing. They were committed to following God in a way that many of us are not prepared to do. One factor, however, was always central to their righteousness: externalism. Their righteousness consisted in control over externals, often including the manipulation of others. The extent to which we have gone beyond the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees is seen in how much our lives demonstrate the internal work of God upon the heart. …

If we are to progress in the spiritual walk so that the Disciplines are a blessing and not a curse, we must come to the place in our lives where we can lay down the everlasting burden of always needing to manage others.[8]

Please leave a comment if you can refine the understanding offered here of how Uniting Church traditions relate to ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ behaviour, or if you’d like to add a perspective from a different tradition.

[1] Disclaimer: I’m not speaking on behalf of the church here, but showing how I, as a layperson, understand what the church makes available for me to learn from.

[2] Robert Gribben, “Living Traditions in the Uniting Church,” in Being and Doing Church, A Uniting Church Perspective, ed. Christopher C. Walker (Adelaide: Mediacom, 2015), 4, https://assembly.uca.org.au/cudw/resources/item/1667-living-traditions-in-uniting-church.

[3] Preface to Uniting in Worship (Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1988), 8.

[4] Preface to Uniting in Worship (Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1988), 11.

[5] Preface to Uniting in Worship 2 (Sydney: Uniting Church Press, 2000), 9.

[6] Preface to Uniting in Worship 2 (Sydney: Uniting Church Press, 2000), 9.

[7] Preface to Uniting in Worship 2 (Sydney: Uniting Church Press, 2000), 9-10.

[8] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, Study guide edn. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989), 9-10.

Brighter than the sun

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

The concept that Christ is ‘brighter than the sun” has special force now. Epiphany is the season of revelation, with light being the preeminent symbol of God’s revealed presence in the world. In the Northern hemisphere it’s a midwinter season, and you can see lights shining in the darkness; in Australia, the brightness of the midsummer sun is expansive and everything is enveloped in light.

With its themes of revelation, light, the baptism of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, mission, and telling the news, Epiphany is a great time to sing gospel songs. I feel especially drawn to this genre right now. Since the choir is on summer holidays during Epiphany, I’ll be playing some gospel piano solos instead, so I thought it would be good to share the associated lyrics.

John Helgen has set “Brighter than the sun” for choir and piano in what he describes as a “down-home Southern Gospel” feel, and we’ve sung it with enjoyment at St Luke’s for many years. There are many arrangements of “I love to tell the story” – I like Joel Raney’s gospel-style piano solo arrangement.

“Brighter than the sun” (Ray Makeever)
Brighter, brighter than the sun is the candle of the Holy One.
Bigger, bigger than the sea are the waves of God washing over me.

Davezelenka: Baprism of Christ, 2005Gonna light my candle from the holy flame
of the one that’s brighter than my own name.
Gonna wash my body in the holy sea,
in the water of life that’s bigger than me

Gonna meet God’s children at the fountain of life,
where the word and the water and the Lord Jesus Christ
make a new creation out of every one.
Holy Spirit of love, let the waters run.

Gonna gather ’round and gonna welcome
in ev’ry child to be and ev’ry one who’s ever been.
Gonna breathe together with this spark of life:
Holy Spirit of God, make our flame burn bright.

“I love to tell the story” (Katherine Hankey)
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know ’tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else could do.

I love to tell the story;
’tis pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it,
more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story,
for some have never heard
the message of salvation
from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story,
for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting
to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old, old story
that I have loved so long.

How to come and adore

Katrina DowlingMusic4 Comments

In the Christmas season, singing “O come let us adore him…” reminds me of devotional (visual) art, which gives the viewer some ways to come and adore, typically:

  • Figures in the image look at or gesture to the viewer to invite you into the scene (e.g. the Botticelli Adoration of 1475, below)
  • Figures in the image model devotional posture to help you join in (this is especially strong in the Botticelli Adoration of c.1478-82, below)
  • The image imaginatively expands the Biblical account to make it vivid for you (as in the page from the Très Riches Heures, towards the end of this post, that depicts how the three magi might have met each other in order to make their journey together)

Sandro Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, 1475

Sandro Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1478/1482

Programme music can play a similar role. ‘Programme music’ is instrumental music that seeks to portray an image or narrative (without using sung words). The title of the music tells you what its ‘programme’ is so you can imagine it as you listen. For example, inspired by paintings in the Uffizi Gallery including the 1475 Botticelli above, Ottorino Respighi composed an orchestral suite called Trittico Bottecelliano [Botticelli Triptych] (1927), which includes a movement called “L’adorazione dei Magi.”

Respighi’s musical “Adoration” goes beyond the relatively static moment of the Botticelli painting that inspired it – the magi and their retinues having arrived and gathered around the scene of the nativity – to suggest an entire journey, more in the vein of the work of the Limbourg brothers in the Très Riches Heures illumination below.

It’s up to the listener to fill the story out, but along the way, you’ll hear:

  • musical arabesques to give the flavour of the eastern land from which the journey begins
  • quotations of “Veni, veni Emmanuel” [“O come, O come, Emmanuel”] to underscore the anticipation of the promised one (see also the post “O Come Emmanuel” and the Great “O” Antiphons)
  • quotations of the Neapolitan carol “Tu scendi dalle stelle” [“You came down from the stars”] to depict wonder

So here is a suggestion on how to come and adore in a 10-minute devotional time:

  • find your favourite recording of Respighi’s “L’adorazione dei Magi” or play from the linked video at the end of this post
  • set a painting of the journey or adoration in front of you; or close your eyes
  • imagine preparing to set off on the journey…
    • what do you bring with you? – what do the people in your home ask you to take on their behalf?
    • what do you anticipate? – what do you most deeply desire?
    • how does it feel when your fellow travellers join you? – what do they add to your journey?
    • as the landscape before you and behind you changes, what new prospects are revealed ahead? – when you look back, what seems new about the land you’ve travelled?
  • leave the prompts behind and keep on imagining, following where the music leads… you might not get to the destination in this short contemplation; it’s OK to take time en route.


Limbourg bros., Meeting of the Magi, Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, fol.51v, c.1412-16

Limbourg bros., Adoration of the Magi, Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, fol.52r, c.1412-16

New Year’s at St Luke’s

James DouglasUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Join us at 11.30 pm on New Year’s eve at High Street Road Uniting Church for a reflective entry into the New Year, and on Sunday the 1st of January 2017 for a start to the year that challenges and inspires.



Christmas at St Luke’s

James DouglasUncategorizedLeave a Comment

You are warmly invited to join us at St Luke’s to celebrate Christmas. With family-focused and traditional services, there is something for everyone.

Enquiries to James on 0425 747 850

Blessings count! New year review of music at St Luke’s, part II

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

Halfway through the season of Advent, with a strong focus on preparing for Christmas festivities, there’s such a feeling of spiralling into a conclusion that it’s hard to believe that the first few weeks of the Church year have barely unfolded yet. But we are indeed still at the beginning. Here is a picture of our music ministry at the present and as we imagine it developing through the rest of the 2016-17 Church year…

[for a look back at the past year, see part one of Blessings count]

Congregational music-making

To start with, we’re carrying over some priorities given to us by the worship ministry team last year:

  • help the congregation re-engage with traditional hymns and learn to sing all the harmony parts
  • maintain continuity of our singing tradition at more than a superficial engagement

To do so, we’ll be looking for opportunities for the congregation to spend time singing, such as:

  • hymn-singing for 15 minutes or so prior to some Sunday morning services
  • some ‘singing services’ similar to a service of lessons and carols
  • a ‘pleasant Sunday afternoon’ – not scheduled yet, but we’ll try for March 2017
  • increased use of congregational sung blessings

It will be a huge help to the ease and enjoyment of congregational singing that we are also addressing the church acoustics this year. We’re very excited to be able to improve both the natural acoustics of the room and the amplification system now, after attending to some repairs, the projection system in the church and works in other parts of the building during the past year. Establishing a slightly more live acoustic will greatly increase our sense of connection to each other when we sing and speak as a body in worship (see Alive sound)

There are two major new elements of the music program this year, one for children and one for people of all ages. Starting in term 1, our children’s ministry group is introducing Musical Sunday School on the fourth Sunday of each month during school terms. Children are invited to bring their own instruments and enjoy their Sunday School learning in the care of an experienced musician.

For both adults and children, a music session will be on offer as one of the features of the intergenerational services to begin in February 2017. Intergenerational services will have all the parts of the liturgy we know and love, with the addition of parallel sessions in which we can choose to explore the Word in one of three different ways: verbal, visual and musical. We’ll enjoy this format on the third Sundays of most months.

Musical services of worship

As in last year, Taizé-style services will be held in Summer-Autumn (February-May) and Spring (August-November) on the evenings of second Wednesdays in the month.

On Sunday 14 May 2017 there will be a special focus on a composer’s life and music. Last year we had a focus on J.S. Bach – but I won’t reveal the subject of our next composer-focus service yet!

Music for the wider community

As I mentioned in part I, we’ve recently modified the organ pedalboard with removable risers that enable short-statured players to reach the pedals with ease. We’d like to make the organ available to younger players in the local community who are interested in learning the instrument. If you know parents or teachers of children who are interested in organ, please contact St Luke’s to arrange access for teaching and practice. Remember that guests and new players need to do an induction, so put them in touch with the minister or music director.

Blessings count! New year review of music at St Luke’s: part I

Katrina DowlingMusic2 Comments

Happy New Year! The Church year began on 27 November, the first Sunday in the season of Advent. This post was going to be both a look back at the music program at St Luke’s in the 2015-16 Church year and a look at how we are starting this new 2016-17 Church year and some of the good things we anticipate. But the great news is that when I started to count our blessings, there were clearly so many that I had to split it into two posts – here, a look back. In the next post we’ll look at present and future.

Congregational music-making

We enjoyed some open-air singing, which is a little unusual for us, in our Palm Sunday procession and at the dawn service on Easter morning.

For our shared Pentecost celebrations, we banded together with the choir of Renewal Chinese Christian Church to form a combined choir. The music directors of our two churches conducted one song each.

We also collaborated with local Uniting Churches for our combined service in June 2016. Members of our congregation joined in with the choir, the chamber singing group and the instrumental music.

In September, the worship ministry group sent three of us to attend ‘Intergenerational Ministry Practicalities’ at the Centre for Theology & Ministry. Some insights from these seminars have already helped us in our approach to music-making in worship (see In the midst of generations)

It’s been a great pleasure to experience the congregational use of hand percussion instruments in services from time to time during the year. We don’t get the instruments out so often that we would get tired of them, but when we have them around the pews and give ourselves permission to pick them up and play, I’ve noticed that their spontaneous use during hymn-singing is always both musical and sensitive to the worship service.

Musical services of worship

In a big first, we celebrated two series of Taizé-style evening services during the past year: an Autumn series March-May and a Spring series August-November. As we took our first taste of this style of worship, it was interesting to see people arriving a little ruffled at the end of a full day, then leaving refreshed and renewed after just half an hour of chanting and silent prayer.

On Sunday 17 April 2016, the morning service had a special focus on JS Bach, not just by playing and singing his music, but also featuring deep reflection in the preaching informed by Bach’s life and faith.

Instruments and collections

We’ve expanded our collections through the purchase of sheet music and a hand percussion set and thanks to the kind donations of some harmony hymn books, sheet music, and a glockenspiel. In addition, a thoughtful and skilled member of the congregation made soft cases for all the hand percussion instruments so that the whole kit can be transported easily.

The organ has undergone an important development. Thanks to an ingenious and handy member of the congregation, we made modifications to the organ pedalboard and bench, creating removable risers that enable short-statured players to reach the pedals with ease.


Holy Humour Sunday in 2016 was a significant time for our chamber choir, the Mustard Seeds, as the occasion encouraged us to risk looking silly, and singing and dancing to Jason Gray’s “Laugh out loud” gave us an experience of choreography (see Laughter is a holy thing). It’s also dear to us because the preparation for this song marked the teaching debut of one of our children.

During the year we benefited from the generous loan of choral sheet music sets from High Street Road Uniting Church.

The Mustard Seeds undertook a discernment period during May-August 2016 and have begun, with enjoyment, the trial of new rehearsal format, under a new director and with a full-time accompanist for the first time, moving the focus away from a cappella singing.

Team of instrumentalists

During the year, two of our instrumentalists decided they had gained enough experience to move from quarterly to monthly commitments. We now have five principal musicians who play regularly at Sunday morning services, Wednesday evening Taizé services, Tuesday midday communion services, and other services at special times (such as evening of Ash Wednesday).

One of the points of pride in our music program is the flexibility of payment status for the musicians at St Luke’s – every year, each musician chooses from a range of options including full fee, part fee, travelling expenses, unpaid, or paid for some services and unpaid for others. Musicians appreciate the ability to make this choice without feeling that they will be locked into ‘volunteer’ or ‘professional’ status, and I’m always struck by the generosity of their contributions regardless of what kind of transaction is involved. During the past year, one of our instrumentalists transitioned into a different fee, and all of our musicians played at least some of their services at St Luke’s for no fee.

Music for the wider community

We held the second of our Local Voices songwriting workshop series during September-October 2016 (see Lyrics: Voices distilled. A sneak preview of Local Voices 2016). It was enjoyed by first-time and more experienced songwriters from St Luke’s and the local area, and the tutors took just as much enjoyment in learning from each other’s sessions, which provided a great model of workshopping lyrics and music for the participants.

Meanwhile, we published some songs from the first workshop series, Local Voices 2015, via the St Luke’s blog (see Welcome to this table, Free agents, and New life – new beginning). And as St Luke’s director of music I took special pleasure in seeing the warm reception one of our songwriters received when we shared his composition with local churches at the Ecumenical Hymn Festival in October 2016.

Finally(!) we built upon our relationship with Essex Heights Primary School by hosting the school strings concert in the church, which is a venue of just the right size for the string players and provided a bright, warm welcome to a large number of school families on a night of flooding rain in June 2016.

I know that my Redeemer liveth

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

To celebrate the Reign of Christ and the triumphant end to the Church year, let’s listen to a great Handel aria!

Handel monument at Westminster AbbeyAt Handel’s burial place in Westminster Abbey, there is a statue of him with pen in hand writing his own musical credo. It is the opening of the score of “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

The whole of Part 3 of Messiah is about Christ as redeemer and about his kingdom. This aria is right at the start of Part 3, and you can already hear the triumph that is to emerge in this story, not of escape from death in this world, but of embracing death and reconciling it into eternal life.

You might be familiar with the words of this aria:

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25-26)
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

But did you know that for the musical setting of the portion “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth,” Handel reworked material from an earlier opera that expresses an almost opposite sentiment? The little air that opens Act II of Riccardo primo has these lyrics:

Se m’è contrario il Cielo, e che sperar potrò frà tante pene.
If heaven is against me, what hope is there for me in all this trouble?

In both cases, the music supports the mood of the words. So how does Handel take this musical material from despair in Riccardo to hope in Messiah?

Both songs are set in the same key and for a soprano, both employ a continuo and strings, and the same melody is recognisable in both. Here is the soprano’s first entry in each song:

Riccardo primo II.1 Arioso “Se m’è contrario il Cielo”, mm.4-8

Riccardo primo II.1 Arioso “Se m’è contrario il Cielo”, mm.4-8

Messiah III.1 “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, mm.18-35

Messiah III.1 “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, mm.18-35

One of the main differences is that Handel has changed the meter from four beats per bar in “Se m’è contrario il Cielo” to three beats per bar in “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” That gives the Messiah piece the sound of a minuet, a dance.

He has also moved the metrical position of the melody. In the example of “Se m’è contrario il Cielo” above, I’ve marked the start of two phrases with red boxes. Both phrases start on a high E and they start on an off-beat (so they begin with very little accent).

The red boxes in the example of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” mark the same points – the start of the two phrases. You can see here that not only does the high E now fall on the first beat of the bar (ie. the strongest beat), but Handel has also added an upbeat to each phrase. That means that the E is arrived at by an upward leap of a fourth – a declamatory gesture.

Do you agree that these changes make the difference between music that suggests “let’s give up” and music that suggests “I have faith in my King”? Listen to these two recordings and see if you get any further ideas!

Sandrine Piau singing “Se m’è contrario il Cielo”

Eleven-year-old Henry Jenkinson singing “I know that my Redeemer liveth”