Reflections from the Organ Bench by Kenneth Dake
Posted on December 16, 2013 by Ken Dake

We are celebrating the arrival of our new Marble Choir CD: it’s about love!

Sunday, December 8 was an historic day for the Marble Music Ministry, as exampled by the line to buy CDs extending out the doors and down Fifth Avenue following worship! Thanks to all of you who helped make the launch of it’s about love such a resounding success.

Why I am I so excited about this particular CD? What makes this one special? What are some of my favorite tracks? I’m so glad you asked!

To an extent even greater than our other CDs, it’s about love represents the full range and versatility of The Marble Choir as well as the eclectic diversity of the Marble music ministry. Is Shape-Note music from the American folk tradition your thing? Check. Ethereal Latin motets based on the ancient Ubi Caritas? Got it. Music from the high Anglican tradition? Done. Premiere contemporary classics composed especially for Marble? Absolutely. Crossover ballads that penetrate the heart? You bet. African-American Spirituals to stir the soul and set the feet dancing? Sure thing!

To me every track on it’s about love is compelling in its own unique way. Many are a cappella, others are accompanied by organ, horn, harp, percussion. Some are extremely delicate, meditative and deep. Others are rollicking, joy-filled, triumphant. The sublime acoustics of St. Joseph’s Yorkville played a big role in bringing the music to life. Their magnificent sanctuary was so reverberant, however, that all the singers brought blankets and quilts and spread them over the pews every night in an effort to quiet down the space! The CD’s audio quality is of the very highest level – in fact our masterful producer and engineer, Tim Martyn, was just nominated for a GRAMMY as Engineer of the Year for one of his other projects – we were truly blessed with the best!

it’s about love is also special because the theme of the songs form a kind of arc – a sacred journey into the heart of what really matters. We sing about Being God’s love in the world (Let Us Love in Deed and in Truth / Ubi Caritas / Prayer); Welcoming love’s birth at Christmastime (Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day / Born on a New Day); Recognizing that we are loved (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing / Jesus, Lover of My Soul); Commemorating Christ’s sacrificial love (It Is a Thing Most Wonderful / When I Survey the Wondrous Cross); Celebrating love’s victory at Easter (Rise Up, My Love) and Making love our life’s greatest legacy (How We Love). Then there are a couple of songs that have nothing to do with any of that but they are REALLY fun to sing and listen to, so we threw them in the mix!

A few of my favorite tracks? This is hard because I love them all. But here are a couple standouts for me along with audio samples:

- Let Us Love in Deed and in Truth (Larry King) LISTEN Larry was for many years the Director of Music/Organist at Trinity Wall Street and he devoted himself to directing the volunteer Family Choir, for whom this anthem was written. It has such a simple directness of message and a gentle lyric melody which for me makes it one of the most poignant tracks on the CD. The piece ends with the text, “And this is my commandment that ye should believe in the Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” As the choir repeats the words “love one another” the effect is an ethereal, tender beauty that tugs at the heart.

- Prayer (René Clausen) LISTEN We were on a choir retreat when we first began work on this piece. I had just received word that a beloved friend and pillar of Marble, Dwight Rangeler, had passed away. This piece unleashed torrents of emotion for me that weekend, and still does. Its text is by Mother Teresa: “Help me spread Your fragrance wherever I go. Flood my spirit with Your spirit and life. Shine through me….so that every soul I know will feel Your presence in my soul.” Those words serve as a model of what it means to serve God by serving others.

- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (arr. Moyer) LISTEN I love American folk hymns and their earthy, rugged style. It’s music of the people. In its original form it wasn’t meant for concert hall performance by professional musicians but for community singing by common folk. I often refer to it as ‘survival singing’ because these hymns served as anchors – music that people could hold onto for emotional support amidst the countless everyday trials of frontier life. To me this music wants to be proclaimed more than just sung.

- Rise Up, My Love (Ken Medema, arr. Dake) LISTEN I first heard Ken Medema sing this in the context of a choir retreat in Florida. We had just listened to a woman recall the story of how her husband had fallen into a coma and she would visit him faithfully day after day, week after week, not knowing if he would ever wake up. Then on the day before Easter he opened his eyes and looked at her, and recognized her. Imagine her joy. He later made a full recovery. Tears streamed down everyone’s cheeks as Ken responded with this beautiful song. Ken later explained to me that he was inspired to write it by the belief that God used these very words to sing His Son out of the grave that first Easter morning: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

- There Is an Old Belief (Hubert Parry) LISTEN This motet represents the pinnacle of English choral music of the late romantic period. Parry wrote six a cappella Songs of Farewell in 1916-1918 on the heels of WWI. He felt utterly devastated in mind and heart by the war, as did all of Europe. He must also have sensed that his own life was drawing to a close, for these motets are not merely spiritual, they are deeply personal. “There is an old belief that on some solemn shore / Beyond the sphere of grief, dear friends shall meet once more.” Parry was grasping for the hope that love would bridge the divide between the human and the spirit realm, that relationships temporarily severed by death and tragedy are eternally reunited in heaven.

- How We Love (Beth Nielsen Chapman, arr. Dake) LISTEN I first heard this song while on a church musician’s retreat in Grand Rapids. It lodged itself in my heart and has yet to let go. One of my favorite old hymns is “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” so when I arranged this contemporary ballad I chose to embed the old hymn within it as a blending of sacred and secular, old and new. Featuring soloist Michael Graye, this final track serves as the culmination of the CD’s message: “All that matters when we’re gone, all that mattered all along, all we have that carries on is how we love.”

Let me know your favorite tracks and why – I’d love to hear what resonates most within you! I pray it’s about love will minister deeply to you and that you will feel compelled to share the beauty of this music and its message with those whom you love.

Listen to samples of all the tracks of it’s about love here.

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