Dear Friends in Christ,
At our recent church retreat we had a wonderful icebreaker called "Three Faith Words". We went around the room and shared 3 words that helped shape our personal faith journey. More often than not music played a key role and I will forever remember when one of the participants said how much Contemporary Christian Music shaped her faith forever because for the first time in her life she heard words about a loving God rather than a God who was judgmental. Incredible. The piece the choir is sharing with you today is an important piece for me and my faith journey here at GA. I fell in love with the beautiful harmonies and setting of this text back in 2006 when the GA choir sang selections from it for Good Friday. This was a time of major transition for GA. It was the first Holy Week after the death of Pastor Amos, the church was in the call process, and our future was uncertain. Would our doors stay open? Would I still have work as a church musician? This music lifted us up for a brief moment and somehow said to us that everything would be OK. God had everything under control and we just needed to trust in that goodness. I'm thrilled that we are able to present selections from this moving cantata 7 years later in the same church that is alive and thriving.
John Henry Maunder, the composer of Olivet to Calvary, was born in the Chelsea district of London on February 21, 1858. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and held a succession of organist positions in churches, conducted local choirs, and was highly regarded as an accompanist for concert singers. All of this shaped his understanding of the voice and his compositions favor the voice with telling effect. He has some early success as a composer of operetta, but most of his compositions are sacred. His masterpiece, Olivet to Calvary, was published in 1904. In its public reception Olivet to Calvary came to be yoked with The Crucifixion by Sir John Stainer, a work on which it was clearly modeled. Both can be performed effectively by the smallest parish choirs, and it became customary for churches to perform them alternately from one Lent to another. Both are modeled on the early passion form typified by Bach, in which the biblical narrative of Jesus' passion is set to music with soloists taking the roles of individual characters-for example Jesus and Pilate-and the chorus is that of the crowd. Soloists and chorus comment on the narrative in meditative recitatives, arias, hymns, and choruses.
Twentieth-century "modernists" delighted in deriding these Victorian and Edwardian passions as sentimental twaddle, but after more than a century, they are emerging as enduring classics that fulfill a real need in church music. With its considerable beauty, directness, and simplicity, the work by Maunder helps to guide listeners in meditating on the mystery of the crucifixion of Christ.