Well, it is Ash Wednesday, and Lent has arrived! For Catholics (and many other Christians), Lent is a season of spiritual preparation to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection at Easter, marked, in particular, by the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. While most folks might try to take time away from "doing" in order to make room for more "being" during this season, for church musicians it can be an especially busy time of working and preparing for the looming celebrations of Holy Week, with extra services and rehearsals thrown in during Lent for good measure!
That said, I have always found this season to be one of the liturgical year's most musically inspiring to me as a composer. This Lent at St. Peter's, we are using several of the pieces I have composed for the season over the years, including a new piece.
One of the very first liturgical pieces I wrote as Music Director at St. Peter's (in 2002!) is Lenten Prayer. I originally composed it as a song to be sung during Holy Communion on the Sundays of Lent, but it has found, I think, a more suitable place as a Gathering Hymn. The text of the refrain is based upon the Lenten idea of "returning to God" in our hearts, a resetting of our spiritual compass. After I began programming this piece as a Gathering Hymn, I wrote a set of verses based on the entrance antiphons for each week, so that we sing a different verse each week, but continue to use the same refrain. This has become a perennial favorite at St. Peter's, and I do look forward to its use each Lent.
The idea of singing the appointed Antiphons of the Missal, especially during the season of Lent, became an idea that I decided to explore further in 2010. The result of this is a collection entitled Communion Ostinatos for Lent and the Triduum. In this set of pieces, I have paraphrased the appointed Communion Antiphons for the various celebrations during Lent and Holy Week, and created an ostinato refrain, one which repeats over and over as it is needed to accompany the Communion procession at Mass. To these refrains, I later added superimposed verses that can be sung by a Cantor while the refrain is being sung. I have also added a suggested keyboard accompaniment to each, although I encourage accompanists to improvise as the Spirit moves them. If you click on the image of the title page, it will take you to the score page of my website, where you can see some examples from this collection. We will again be using pieces from this collection during Lent and Holy Week at St. Peter's this year.
A few years ago at the parish, we introduced the celebration of Evening Prayer on the Wednesdays of Lent, following a simple soup supper. As this was likely an unfamiliar form of liturgical prayer for many of our parishioners, I decided to compose a simple hymn that could be used both at Mass and at Evening Prayer, in order to better aid participation, and to provide a little "cross-pollination" between the two forms of prayer. For this purpose, I wrote a very straightforward strophic hymn entitled Shine Your Light, O Lord, with the text based on the virtues of the righteous that Jesus outlines in Matthew 25 -- his description of the Final Judgment (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.). We have continued the practice of Evening Prayer on the Wednesdays of Lent at St. Peter's (including today... Ash Wednesday!), and this hymn continues to be part of that tradition.
Finally, new this year is a hymn entitled Through the Desert. This piece, as its title suggests, draws upon the desert image associated with Lent, tying the season to Jesus' forty days in the desert. Each of the three verses in this hymn are based upon the three temptations that the devil offers to Jesus, and his resistance to these. We come before God empty of something, but ultimately are filled only by God, not by the things that this world offers to fill the void. The verse text is simple and formulaic, which hopefully gives them substance. I have programmed this piece as a Closing Hymn this year throughout the season, using just one verse each week, as a way of encouraging those assembled for prayer to continue our Lenten journey with confidence that God is with us. But, I think it would also work well as a stand-alone hymn, particularly on the First Sunday of Lent, where Jesus' time in the desert is featured prominently, and as a general-use Lenten hymn. I hope that the words of the refrain will offer some encouragement:
Teach us, Lord, to love as you love us.
Guide us as we walk on the way.
Help us bear the Cross
As we follow you
Through the desert to the joy of salvation.
Have a look at the dedicated site pages for any of the pieces mentioned here by clicking on the title page image. You can also find a more complete list of music I have composed for Lent or other liturgical seasons here. I do not yet have audio samples of these pieces available, but am working on adding those. In the meantime, you can view sample scores on these pages. I am working on building dedicated pages with sample scores and audio for each piece listed, so keep checking back if you are interested but cannot find something. You can also let me know if you would like to see or hear a piece that is listed.
Also, I know that I have not posted anything in some time, but am planning to blog more regularly in the coming months. I have some projects on the horizon, and will keep you abreast of those as they develop. In the meantime, thanks for reading!