Tag Archives: Gospel of Luke

Annunciation and Magnificat

annunciationmagnificatp3Annunciation and Magnificat. Brass quintet (with opt. flugelhorns), narrator, 22 minutes

Annunciation and Magnificat is a set of musings on the text of the first chapter of Luke, verses 26 through 55. Beginning with the announcement to Mary from the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus the Messiah, and ending with her song of praise, the text explores her questions and trepidations, the angel’s assurances, and Mary’s visit with her cousin Elisabeth who was then pregnant with John the Baptist. A narrator reads the text, which I’ve divided into eight sections. The quintet plays a meditation on the text after each section is read, the Magnificat ending with the non-scriptural but traditional Gloria Patri:

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
2. She was troubled
3. Fear not, Mary
4. How shall this be?
5. Nothing shall be impossible
6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
7. And Mary arose
8. Magnificat

Elements of the music appear, transformed, as the work progresses. In “Nothing shall be impossible,” the key of D-flat travels quickly to the farthest key away, G, and back again, which journey I tried to make as unnoticed as I could. Normally I take one emotion from each section and attempt to express that musically, but I do, in the Magnificat, follow the text closely. The antiphon recurs as in a sung Magnificat (albeit truncated sometimes), after each two-line thought; the overall feel is of a jubilant dance.

I am thankful to the Gaudete Brass for the opportunity to compose this. Their trumpeters are also excellent flugelhorn players, so I was happy to provide places in the music where those warm-sounding instruments could optionally be used.

Annunciation and Magnificat was premiered 3 December 2016 by the Gaudete Brass Quintet at St. Clement Parish, Chicago.

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.

2. She was troubled
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

3. Fear not, Mary
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

4. How shall this be?
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

5. Nothing shall be impossible
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.

7. And Mary arose
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And what is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

8. Magnificat
And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has showed strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

—Luke 1:26-55, Gloria Patri

Palm Sunday drums

[First published 26 Mar 2013 in the Broad Street Review and reprinted with permission.]


We continued our tradition of the chanted Passion this morning, Palm Sunday. Three singers, as Narrator, Christ, and Speaker, chanted this year’s appointed setting, which is from Luke’s gospel.

We’ve broken up the chant in various ways over the years. The congregation always sings, at times, verses from the Johann Heermann / Johann Crüger hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus.”

For other places, I’ve composed instrumental interludes, tweaking them from year to year. Or I write new ones, depending on who is available from the congregation to play. We’ve had recorders, strings, and handbells, with or without the organ, and when Priscilla was able to be here, a soprano shawm—very nasty, very effective.

This year I wrote all new interludes. We had two French horns, a cello (all high schoolers), and—to be played with mallets by two from the bell choir—12 handbells hanging from the bell-tree.

One bell player teaches school, one is an office worker. As for the singers: One works in a bank, one writes computer programs, one does something with music.

Orff “timpani” (tuned tom-toms) have been played over the years at various points by children and/or adults. Mike, who sells earth-moving equipment, played two of them today. Half-note and two quarters: two mallets on two drums together, over and over from up in the balcony, in the back of the sanctuary, at the moment when Jesus is arrested.

One drum is the lowest C, one is the F above, but I didn’t bother even to tune them, because when they’re that low they’re mud: just thumps: just perfect. Any lower and the tuning keys start to chatter.

Years ago, Mike showed up at September’s first handbell rehearsal with his young daughter. “We’d like to play,” he said. We thought he was using the royal “we,” speaking for his daughter; but no, Mike wanted to play, too. He didn’t know anything about music, so we taught him.

Mike learned that the open note gets four beats; the open note with a line gets two; the filled-in note gets one. Every week he learned.

For a year Mike played just one bell: the D in the bass clef. The middle line. Now he plays D, C and others if you need—accidentals, special effects, hand chimes, whatever you want. His rhythm is solid.

Mike’s daughter’s not in handbells any more. Mike is.

Rehearsing, 45 minutes before church, I look at Mike in the balcony and cup my hand to my ear. He nods, plays louder.

There are many other things that are good about church music, but at this moment I can’t think of any.