Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bach Vespers 2018: "Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut " on October 28th at 7:00 p.m.

                                                    Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Bach.
The Four Evangelists
Jacob Jordaens ca. 1625-1630

J. S. Bach
E. G. Hausmann, 1748


J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is irrefutably the champion of Lutheran church musicians.  During his years serving as a cantor, churches thirsted for new music in service of the church.  A good cantor taught singing, led the choirs, and accompanied church services with the organ. A great cantor was also a skilled composer.  Few composers in history have been as prolific and inspiring as Johann Sebastian Bach.
Thomaskirche - where Bach did much of his work.

In fact, Lutherans sometimes refer to him as the fifth Evangelist because his music proclaims the gospel in unique and glorious ways.

His mind and pen formed thrilling preludes and fugues for organ, elegant compositions for chamber instrumental groups, passions and oratorios proclaiming the gospel, and nearly any other musical form that can be imagined. In a class all their own, he wrote church cantatas – one for every Sunday of the year, save the Sundays in Lent.

Bach’s cantatas include choral fantasies, recitatives, and arias.  Some of his most popular music comes through the cantatas - most of which are based on well-known hymn tunes of the day.

It’s not hard to find Bach’s music in performance these days.  It’s revered in concert halls, sets the tone for worship in Sunday morning services, and is studied intently by anyone who commits to serious musical  study.

It’s a little harder to find the cantatas performed in their intended setting in worship.

Bach Vespers 2015
Chorus, Orchestra, Soloists

Twenty-eight years ago, St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, under the guidance of Cantor Jim Rindelaub, began offering Bach Vespers services.  These services maintain the form of the classic service of evening prayer with readings from scripture, hymns, and canticles.  When this form is combined with a carefully rehearsed choir, professional instrumentalists, and trained soloists, the church’s song reaches a level that is both spiritual and artistic.

This year’s cantata is N o. 117, “Sei lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut” – “Praise and Honor Be to the Highest Good.”  The tune, Es ist das Heil, is familiar to Lutherans today and is usually sung to the text “All Who Believe and are Baptized” or “Salvation unto Us Has Come.”

This year's Bach Vespers features service music by Jacksonville composer Bob Moore.  His settings of Phos Hilaron and Nunc Dimittis (“O Gracious Light” and “Lord, You Now Have Set Your Servant Free”) have a flowing chant feel complemented with modern harmonies that surprise and delight, without startling, the listener.  Magnificat (“My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord”) is a sturdy hymn of praise that is sensitive to the text.
Bob Moore is also the Director of Music Ministy at
Church of Our Savior, Episcopal, in Jacksonville
We are honored to welcome talented and trained singers as soloists: Dina Barone (contralto), Krzysztof Biernacki (baritone), and James Hall (tenor).  All three are voice faculty at the University of North Florida. Ms. Barone is also an adjunct professor at Jacksonville University.
Krzysztof Biernacki

Dina Barone
James Hall
Pastor Daniel Locke from St. Mark’s will preside.

St. Mark’s is happy to present cantatas of J. S. Bach within the service of evening prayer.  Please join us on Sunday night, October 28th (Reformation Sunday) at 7:00 p.m. Our address is 3976 Hendricks Avenue. Since this a service of worship, there is no admission fee. 

All are welcome to enjoy this music as it is sung to the glory to God!

The Four Evangelists: 
 By Jacob Jordaens - Marie-Lan Nguyen (2005), Public Domain,
Jacob Jordaens (1625-1630)

Bach Portrait
By Elias Gottlob Haussmann -, Public Domain,

By Dirk Goldhahn - Fotografiert von Dirk Goldhahn., Public Domain,

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Saturday Evening Worship: Unfailing Light

Sunset in the North Carolina Mountains

“The Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God.”

Sometimes the Spirit gathers us in the evening, at the close of day. For St. Mark’s, this evening gathering happens on Saturdays.

Our Saturday service is sometimes referred to as St. Mark’s “contemporary” service, but that ambiguous term means different things to different people. At St. Mark’s, “contemporary” refers to modern hymns played on the piano – most of which would be equally suitable for our Sunday morning worship. Songs are typically drawn from Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Worship and Praise – Augsburg Fortress’ contemporary songbook that was released in 1999. Additional songs come from a variety of other sources.

We have been slowly introducing a setting of Holy Communion written specifically for this time of day. “Unfailing Light” is the title with music by Marty Haugen and several original texts by Susan Briehl.  Especially in the gathering and sending, this setting draws images from scripture that invoke eventide.

With texts like “Your canopy of vigil lights, each star you set in place, bestows a blessing on the night. . .” and “let coyote howl and night hawk circle while solemn owl her wise watch keeps,” we are presented with comforting images of the approaching night.

Lighting candles for Evening Prayer - All Saint's Chapel, University of the South
Sewanee, Tennessee

The service also reminds us of the story of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. (“Stay with us, for it is evening. . .”) As it was for those disciples, bread is broken, and we are nourished.

When you can’t come to church on Sunday, please remember that we have this Saturday service on the first and third Saturdays of each month at 5:30 p.m. The mood is a little more casual, but we hear the same readings, pray the same prayers, and eat and drink at the same table.  You won’t find anything lacking.

Please join us. . .and bring a friend. 
Evening Prayer at St. Mark's

Friday, August 3, 2018


You know it’s fall when school is back in session, summer vacations are a not-too-distant memory, and mid-term elections are looming.  At the same time, churches begin their fall programs.  St. Mark’s is no exception.

Here are five music events to watch for at St. Mark’s this fall. You won’t want to miss any of them!

1. Ensemble rehearsals begin
Our summer break from rehearsals is nearly over and our usual practice schedule resumes on Wednesday, September 5th.

The St. Mark’s Ringers rehearse on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. in the nave.  We have positions for experienced ringers available, so contact Tony Cruz if you would like to play this year.  (“Experienced” means you already read music, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have experience with handbells – we will be happy to supply that!)
St. Mark's Ringers at Riverside Park UMC in May 2017

Is this the year that you join your voice with the voices of our Festival Choir?  We are hoping that is.  We have a strong need for sopranos and altos to join our ranks, but tenors and basses are also welcome. The Festival Choir rehearses on Wednesday evenings in the music suite from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.  All singers are welcome! The ability to read music is helpful, but not required.  If you have questions, talk to Tony Cruz or any choir member.
The Festival Choir on Reformation Sunday, 2017

Come help up lead the church’s song! 

2. Rising Star Organ Concert
Burce Xu, and AGO Rising Star

Last summer the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) hosted a regional convention in Jacksonville.  St. Mark’s was an important location for that event.

The competition begins at the chapter level. Winners at that level then compete regionally.  The winner at last summer’s Jacksonville competition (held at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church) was 14-year-old Bruce Xu who impressed everyone with his technical skill and dazzling performance of classical and sacred literature. St. Mark’s played a part in the competition because we were the warm-up site for the competitors!
This September, Bruce Xu returns to Jacksonville to play a concert on the organ at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.  The concert, September 9th at 7:00 p.m., is co-sponsored by St. Mark’s and the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. 

The event is free, and all are welcome.  An offering will be taken.

3. San Marco Chamber Music Society Kicks Off the Year with a Benefit Concert
The San Marco Chamber Music Society’s first concert is their always - popular community event to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.

JDRF’s mission is to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes and its complications through research. Learn more about JDRF at this link:

This year’s concert series includes five concerts of inspired, world-class chamber music programs by professional musicians.

SMCMS has been an important part of St. Mark’s musical outreach since 2008. Last year they took their act on the road to England.  Next summer will find them playing concerts in Germany.
The San Marco Chamber Music Society's concerts include a variety of composers and players. This picture is from a 2017 concert.

Eric and Ellen Olson, founders of SMCMS, are members of St. Mark’s.  Learn more about the group here:

4. St. Mark’s 80th Anniversary Celebration
Pastor Trexler
St. Mark’s was founded in 1938 – which means we have proclaimed the gospel and celebrated the sacraments as a community for eighty years!

Jim Rindelaub
From our first home at the Burns Naugle Funeral Chapel, then to property at the corner of Hendricks Avenue and Lasalle Street, to the current property at 3976 Hendricks Avenue, our story has been one of worship and mission.

We’ll celebrate in worship on Sunday morning, October 14th, at 9:30 a.m.  with music by the St. Mark’s Ringers and the Festival Choir.  Jim Rindelaub (St. Mark’s Cantor 1985 – 1999) will play the organ postlude. Pastor William Trexler (St. Mark’s Senior Pastor 1979 – 1995) will preach.

Mark your calendar now so you won’t miss this exciting day in church!

5. Our 17th Bach Vespers Service
In 1990 a Sacred Arts Festival at St. Mark’s included a performance of J. S. Bach’s cantata no. 7, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, under the direction of Jim Rindelaub. From that beginning, Bach Vespers has grown into an event that is unique to northeast Florida.

Bach Vespers is a worship service, rather than a concert.  It presents a cantata by J. S. Bach within the context of a Lutheran Vespers Service (Evening Prayer).  Singers from the community, trained soloists, an orchestra of professional instrumentalists, and Lutheran liturgy all combine to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a unique worship service.

This year’s cantata is BWV 117, Sei Lob und Her dem höchsten Gut.  The service will include music from an evening prayer service by Jacksonville composer Bob Moore, including settings of Phos Hilaron, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis – important hymns and canticles for Vespers.

Please tell all singers you know about this event because we would love for them to join us. Find current news and information at the Bach Vespers Facebook page:

Join us on Sunday, October 28th, at 7:00 p.m. for the service! Your financial gifts to Bach Vespers are deeply appreciated and will allow this St. Mark’s tradition to carry on for years to come.

There’s a lot happening at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Come and See!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Dear Tune, That Text Just Isn't That Into You

There are some things that go great together:

chocolate and peanut butter
cotton candy and the circus
macaroni and cheese

ice cream and meatloaf. . .
Those don't go together!

Wait a second! Ice cream and meat loaf? Of course not.

As in this culinary example, sometimes the marriage of a text and tune is equally less than ideal.

Stirring Tune, Inspiring Text, but Together?
One of my favorite hymntunes is Mit Freuden zart.  The first time I heard it was with Johann Jacob Schütz’s text “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above.”  Most Christians have sung this hymn at one time or another.  A pleasing tune to sing that is suitable to the range of most singers, it gives a sense of joy, even triumph.  It’s not hard to imagine it sung as a great procession with a grand organ, large choir, massive assembly, and Samuel Metzger’s bold arrangement - all coming together to make this hymn suitable for any of the church’s festive occasions. See what I mean in the following link: 

Perhaps it’s the sense of joy that has often left me feeling ill at ease when I sing it with Walter Russell Bowie’s hymn text “Lord Christ, When First You Came to Earth.”  Since the text is copyrighted, I can’t fully reproduce it in this blog, but it talks about how Christ was treated on earth.  It tells how “they” bound and mocked Jesus, crowned him with thorns and put a robe on him, a “robe of sorrow.”
Caravaggio "The Crowning With Thorns" via Wikipedia

The text tells how Christ’s power will eventually triumph against the nations, then asks the question if we will treat Christ the same way he was treated in the first stanza, or if we will instead seek the kingdom of his peace.

As the hymn closes, we opt for peace as “we bring our hearts before your cross” and ask Jesus to “come, finish your salvation.”

For me the pairing of Mit Freuden zart (an ice cream hymntune) with Lord Christ, When First You Came (a meatloaf text) has never made for a hearty meal. That said, the text is a perfect one for Year B’s third Sunday in Lent.

So. . .I’m allowing these two to have a musical divorce.

A Better Pairing?
Generally, texts are not written to go with particular tunes anyway.  So, now I have to find a tune with the same meter (87, 87, 887) that is more sobering musically.

I’ve found that quality in Kirken den er et gammelt hus – more commonly sung with the text “Built on a Rock the Church Shall Stand.”

Can't wait to sing Mit Freuden zart!
If you want to stick with the food metaphor, imagine Lord Christ, When First You Came to Earth as meatloaf and Kirken as gravy.

If you really enjoy the tune Mit Freuden zart, don’t worry.  I promise it will show up during the Easter Season with a very suitable text – With High Delight Let Us Unite.

Is there a text and tune whose marriage seems less than desirable to you? Name them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks to my friends Marcy and Lynne for their photos!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Things That Cantors Think About

Things that Cantors Think About - At Least Today

I should probably only speak for myself rather than presuming to be the voice of all Cantors, but I imagine that as we go about practicing the organ for worship, choosing music for our choirs to sing, planning the handbell year, recruiting musicians for musical ensembles, handling publicity for special services, trying to decide how best to spend funds authorized for the coming year, and a host of other tasks – there must be some common threads.
Directing a choir requires focus, but where does the Cantor's mind go the rest of the time?
Here are some of the things on my mind today.

Pastor Daniel’s Installation
What a great way to start 2018! There is so much to do!  Thankfully, Pastor Daniel is doing the bulletin.

The Installation service is at 5:00 and will have the same readings and propers* as the service that morning – so how can I make it not seem like a repeat?

First up, choose what the choir will sing. We’ve not rehearsed the last two weeks, so we’re only going to have one rehearsal to get ready. It would probably be wise to do something we already know. I’ve settled on Edvard Grieg’s “God’s Son Has Made Me Free” which we sang for Reformation Sunday.  Another good one would be Aaron David Miller’s “Breathe on Me.”  We haven’t sung it recently, but the choir knows it and it should come together fairly quickly. The breath of the Holy Spirit is a suitable image for an installation service.

Pastor Daniel Locke will soon be installed as our new Pastor.
What about the liturgy?  We’re singing Holy Communion Setting One for the Sundays after Epiphany, so maybe we should do something else in the evening.  Marty Haugen’s “Now the Feast and Celebration” may be just the thing.  Pastor Daniel likes Haugen’s music and it’s a liturgy the congregation enjoys singing. Yes, I’ll have to work on it.  This liturgy composed for guitars and piano doesn't translate easily to the organ, but there are ways to make it work. I know what I’ll be practicing this week!

I don’t want to sing the same psalm setting, so let’s do a setting from the Ionian Psalter.  It will take some extra work from the choir, but they are also excited about this installation and will be up for the challenge!

Lent and Easter

Ash Wednesday is like in two weeks, right? Yikes! I hope I can get some planning done this week.
Purple is coming!
Perhaps I can at least plan all of the choir’s music. It might seem an easy job to decide what the choir will sing, but it actually requires some pretty deep planning.  Do choir members have planned vacation time? I must be careful to choose music that is not too hard, but it also can’t be too easy. How many new pieces should we sing? How many should be repeated from past years. Just don’t pick anything with “Alleluia” in it – at least not until Easter.

Music for Children
I’ve had preliminary discussions with some of our families with children in the early elementary grades.  We don’t have enough for a full choir, but maybe we can do something equally engaging.  Instead of trying to meet every week, we can break it up into shorter sessions of about six weeks.

What might these “classes” include? Here are my initial thoughts:
Singing (I bet you knew that was coming!)
Orff Instruments
Hand Chimes
Musical Games
More Singing

Making music with kids is great fun!
I have a few kids in mind for this. How do I get the word out to others to let them know that all are welcome?

Bach Vespers
Thanks to a generous grant from the St. Mark’s Foundation and money already set aside, there are enough funds to do Bach Vespers this year! 

Which cantata shall we do and when should we do it?  (You can’t just pull a cantata off the shelf and go for it. It must be one that can be learned in three weeks before a final rehearsal with the orchestra.)

Will Ellen Olson hire the orchestra again this year?
Bach Vespers 2008 - A cantata by J. S. Bach sung in the context of a Lutheran Evening Prayer (Vespers) Service
We always have amazing soloists. Where do I find them this year?  (They must be of professional or near-professional caliber. We’ve had great success using music students from UNF and JU.)

People can hear Bach any day, but in the Jacksonville area only St. Mark’s performs these devotional works in the context of a Lutheran worship service regularly. This tradition is worth preserving.

Next thought: How do I start raising money for the next Bach Vespers?

The coming Sunday is always the most pressing item on the agenda, so I need to allow adequate preparation time for practicing voluntaries and hymns. Fortunately, Jane Daugherty is doing her Field Experience work for Trinity Lutheran Seminary by logging some service-playing experience at St. Mark's,  so this frees me from choosing and practicing a prelude and from worrying about the gathering hymn. Jane has those covered.

How do I handle the rest of the service?

I always try to rely on the wisdom of Barry Rose, the Organist and Choirmaster of Guilford Cathedral in Surrey, England. At a workshop I attended, he advised organists to prioritize according to this scheme:
1. Congregational music (liturgy and hymns)
2. Choir music (anthem accompaniments)
3. Voluntaries (preludes and postludes)

Paying special attention to congregational music seems like a good plan to the Lutheran in me. It’s even the first music we practice in our choir rehearsals.

Saturday Service
Do we have a Saturday service this week? No? Whew!

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
Seeing my thoughts in writing is a little daunting.  The trick is not to think of all of these things at the same time! I’m grateful for Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Christmas message this year.  When I engage a task, I will remind myself to think “Just this. Just now.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the things you have to do, this message might be exactly what you need – it’s message should not be limited only to the time around Christmas. Following this link might be the two best minutes you spend online today: 

*”Propers” are prayers specific to a day.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Great Things Happened in 2017: A Photo Blog

Interim Pastor Bob Hale installed members of the 2017 council on January 1st.

Who doesn't like to find a happy note in their mailbox at church?

Rehearsal with the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church (Father Donavan Cain, Rector and Michael Mastronicola, Director of Music). Our service of Lenten Devotions included K. Lee Scott's cantata "The Suffering Servant."
Our service of Lenten Devotions included a liturgy titled "For the Healing of the Nations" Worshipers were able to place candles on a map of the world as a sign of prayers for countries in conflict, places experiencing natural disasters, and places where the church is persecuted. The youth of St. Mark's made the map.
The Festival Choir with Interim Pastor Patrick Bell on Easter Sunday.
The Palm Beach Atlantic University Concert Choir (Dr. Geoffrey Holland, Director) performed an excellent concert on May 11th.

The St. Mark's Ringers were invited to perform a concert with the handbell choirs of Riverside Park United Methodist Church on May 21st.
Members of the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists spent two years meeting at St. Mark's to plan for hosting a regional convention of the AGO in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.  St. Mark's was the site of workshops and a reading session led by Donald McCullough, a member of our AGO chapter and Director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
We had another excellent season of concerts by the San Marco Chamber Music Society! The photo is from their Facebook page.
Two outstanding local organists concertized on our 36-rank Zimmer/R.A. Colby pipe organ in the past year. They were Dr. Peter DeWitt (left) and Dr. Laura Ellis (right).
Interim Pastor Bob Hale serves communion during our annual Blessing of the Animals service.
We called a new Pastor! Pastor Daniel Locke preached his first sermon at St. Mark's on Reformation Sunday! Pastor Locke is a recent graduate of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  He will be installed as our Pastor on January 14, 2018.  All are welcome!
The Festival Choir and our new Pastor on Reformation Sunday.
Orchestra students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts performed their third concert at St. Mark's this year.  They came for rehearsal, had dinner (above) then performed a concert of diverse musical styles by a variety of composers.
Detail from the cardboard box that one of our youth slept in during the Cardboard City event to benefit Family Promise of Jacksonville.  I'm not sure who painted this, but I thought it was beautiful.
Pastor Daniel Locke and Cantor Tony Cruz after their first Christmas Eve service together.  I hope there are many more to come!

Happy new year!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent Counts Us Down to Christmas

10. . .9. . .8. . .7. . .6. . .5. . .4. . .3. . .2. . .1. . .

Who doesn’t love a good countdown?  Not long ago countdowns were nail-biting,edge-of-your-seat preludes to launching a new rocket into space.  Today, “Alexa” will set an alarm that sound like it came out of a science fiction movie to let you know your dinner is done.  The church’s liturgical year is another counting device we use as we count off the Sundays after Pentecost.

At this time of the year, everyone’s favorite countdown tool is the Advent Wreath which we use to count the Sundays in Advent that lead to Christmas.

Advent used to be regarded as a penitential season, so much so that altar paraments were purple - as they are in Lent.  More recently, Advent has become a time of hope and expectation wherein we anticipate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but also his coming in glory at the End Times.  Now we use the color blue. A practice that is believed to have its roots in Scandinavia, blue represents hope, but also transcendence and mystery.
The Virgin Mary is usually depicted in blue.

There may be ancient practices harkening back to pagan times, but for us this evergreen adorned circle, which first began to take form in 16th century Germany, is filled with Christian significance.  The circle of the wreath represents Christ’s eternal victory over death, the evergreens remind us of eternal life and the importance of being faithful, and the lit candles represent the light of Christ in the world.

Some traditions use elaborate liturgies for the lighting of the candles.  They may have individuals or small groups lead litanies, they may assign special emphases to each candle (hope, prophecy, joy, promise, e.g.), and they may sing hymns.  These traditions can be pleasing and meaningful, but they are local practices, traditions rather than rules.  In fact, the use of an Advent Wreath is completely optional and is not required for Christian worship at all.

This year, at St. Mark’s, we will allow the wreath to speak for itself so that the candles will already be lit when we gather for worship.  One candle will be lit on the first Sunday of Advent, then two candles on the second Sunday, and so on.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, the center candle (also called the Christ candle) will burn brightly at the center of the wreath.  In our modern age of oil-filled candles we will not be able to see their gradual melting, but we can still participate in the “countdown to Christmas.”  Those who would like to meditate on the wreath might use the words from hymn no. 240 – Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah.

10. . .9. . .8. . .7. . .6. . .5. . .4. . .3. . .2. . .1
Christmas Eve Poinsettias

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Some of the information for this article came from the following article: