On June 25, River Road Church hosted the opening concert of the American Guild of Organists Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention. Preparations had begun more than a year in advance, and four new works were commissioned – settings of hymns that were originally composed in the sixteenth century. The choir, my colleagues, and I were all impressed by the variety of musical treatments that these four pieces embodied.

The first commissioned work, a setting of Hymn 457 (I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art) by long-time friend of River Road, William Bradley Roberts, was inspired by Renaissance wind instruments, as exemplified by the opening brass gesture and interludes. The first stanza was sung by our Camerata. Just imagine eight children and youth filling our sanctuary with their beautiful, clear sound – with 750 people present! This piece also included an unaccompanied choral stanza, building towards a triumphant finish with brass, choirs, timpani, and organ. Bill conducted his work – a decision based on the fine rapport he established with our choirs during the dress rehearsal.

Mary Beth Bennett’s “All Glory Be to God on High” included three different styles of composition within a single work: Renaissance, Baroque (Bach), and post-romantic/modern (Bennett). The harmonic writing in the “Bennett” sections was absolutely gripping. Dr. Bennett was present for the performance and received generous applause from the audience.

Andrew Senn was my choice of composer for a setting of a lesser known Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Again.” Andrew’s setting included brilliant introductory brass fanfares which were taken up again in the conclusion of the final stanza.

The final commissioned work, by Julian Wachner, Director of Music at Trinity Church, Wall Street, was a setting of “I’ll Praise My Maker.” The tune, “Old 113th,” stems from the time of French/Swiss reformer, John Calvin. This work, opening with festive brass fanfares, included a meditative section which featured the Camerata again. It included an extensive organ interlude, which began quietly and furtively, with a dramatic crescendo to the final stanza, sung “full out” by choir and audience (almost eclipsing the sound of full organ).

I would like to express my gratitude to the Chancel Choir and Camerata for their tremendous contribution of time and talent. We spend many hours preparing for this long-anticipated event, and our congregation should know that the choirs demonstrated extraordinary devotion to the task throughout the spring. Thank you for all your hard work!

Written by Bob Gallagher

Originally published in the 2017 Fall Quarterly Explorer

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday, which is celebrated on the last Sunday of October, commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This year marks the 500th anniversary of this important church event. Join us for worship at 11AM in the Sanctuary. The Chancel Choir with orchestra will sing J.S. Bach’s Cantata 80 – Ein Feste Burg.