Musicians at Play
” And young and old com forth to play On a Sunshine Holyday.” John Milton L’Allegro
This afternoon I have invited several of my favorite people to help me with this program. When I named it “Musicians at Play,” I had a specific idea of “play” in mind. We know that children learn by their play (Piaget) and that the paradox of humor is firmly situated in an idea of playfulness and not taking oneself too seriously. I was delighted to find that the Oxford English Dictionary speculates that the origin of the English word, “play,” “might perhaps cognate with Middle Dutch pleyen to dance, leap for joy, rejoice, be glad (compare also Dutch pleien to play a particular childrens’ game)…”
Musicians know that it is easy to overthink their task and often tell themselves to “just play” in performance. To do music well is to forget oneself and let the music come through the player as a life force of its own. I think we and you will experience some of this today. I am eschewing my usual rambling narration and instead am providing program notes to edify and entertain you. This seemed like the best idea in a program that already consists of some dramatic readings.
So sit back, relax and enjoy as we all do a bit of playing. – Steve Jenkins
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
After our new Martin Pasi organ was completely installed, several parishioners mentioned to me that Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor would sound cool on it. I had never learned this piece. So today, I present it as a thank you to the parish for this wonderful instrument. Bach only wrote one piece like this in his life. We’re not even exactly sure he was the composer since it only exists in the handwriting of one of his students. Peter Williams, the late renowned Bach scholar and expert not only remarked on the unique nature of this piece but called it a “puzzle” since it’s put together like no other existing piece of music.
Reading from Duke Ellington’s Music is My Mistress
Rev Jen, Reader; Jordan, Tenor Sax
There is no doubt in my mind that Duke Ellington was one of a handful of master composers of the 20th century (of any genre). This section from his memoirs clearly outlines an aesthetic that I and my colleagues present today share. It is summed up at the end of the reading: “when it sounds good, it is good.”
Prelude on the hymn Tune Rhosymedre by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Jordan, Soprano Sax; Rhonda, Piano
Whenever I hear Vaughan Williams famous piece, I think of Grace’s longtime organist and member, Joy Huttar. I believe it was one of her favorite pieces. Everytime I performed it at church, she reminded me that she wanted it played (by me) at her funeral which exactly what I did. The sound of the soprano saxophone and piano instead of the usual organ stops bring out a unique beauty of this piece. We who knew Joy Huttar all miss her warm presence, humor, and intelligence.
Stirred Hearts and Souls (Jan 19, 2017) by Steve Jenkins
Amy, Violin; Dawn, Cello; Steve, Piano
This piece was written for Amy, Dawn, and me to perform as an instrumental prelude to our Eucharist when we were praying as a community in the basement. We were in the basement while the church was being prepared acoustically for our Martin Pasi organ and improved congregational singing. I wrote it as an attempt to dispel discouragement and to remember that we can have “stirred souls and hearts” no matter what is happening in our lives. The middle section uses the tune to the hymn, “Blessed Jesus at thy word.” The title alludes to the first two lines of this hymn: “Blessed Jesus at thy word we are gathered all to hear thee: let our hearts and souls be stirred now to seek and love and fear thee…”
Prelude on the hymn tune Cwm Rhondda by Steve Jenkins (B. 1951)
Several years back, I received a phone call out of the blue from a new musician in the area. She, her husband, and two children had just moved here after living several years in Bremen, Germany, where she studied with the famous teacher, Harald Vogel, on a Fulbright. She had just accepted the position of organist at Hope Church. I was very flattered that she reached out to me as a colleague. Since then, she has been a valuable friend and resource for me. She was instrumental throughout the process of our organ project.
The melody for the hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory,” is named Cwm Rhondda (Rhondda River in Welch). As with many tune names, this one is named for a location. Cwm Rhondda (Rhonda river) is found in south Wales.I thought it would be cute to write a piece for her based on this tune. I wanted to call it “Help me, Rhonda,” but eventually came to my sense and titled it with the tune name. My little piece is inscribed “With apologies to J. S. Bach.” You can probably see why. I even wrote a verse about her that could be sung to this tune or even to this little composition. The words go,
“I’m glad Rhonda lives in Holland,
That is why I made this song
Not sure why we both live in Holland,
sometimes seems it’s just plain wrong.
Those we love are from around here,
Plus the churches, Hope and Grace,
help us live in this crazy place.
- Allemande from Trio Sonata I in F Major by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1715)
Amy, Violin; Jordan, Soprano Sax; Dawn, Cello; Steve, Harpsichord
A Baroque trio sonata is normally performed by four people. Originally this piece was written for two flutes and basso continuo. The basso continuo was normally played by two instruments: a bass instrument and an instrument that could provide chords. Today the cello is covering the bass line. I am chording at the harpsichord. Amy and Jordan are playing the upper two parts of the piece. Again, the change in instruments and unusual combination provides a satisfying rendition of Corelli’s lovely little dance.
Sissieretta Jones ad libitum from Olio by Tyehimba Jess
Eileen, Reader; Jordan, Soprano Sax, Steve, Piano
In his Pulitzer Prizewinning book-length poem, Olio, Tyehimba Jess uses actual historical figures and places from our American history to create a searing critique of who we are. From the lists of burned churches to imagining people like Scott Joplin and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Olio is a complex and beautiful masterwork of our time.
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, known as Sissieretta Jones, (1868 or 1869 – 1933) was the first African-American woman to headline a concert on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. She was sometimes was called “The Black Patti” in reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti. She was known to dislike this nickname. In some parts of Olio, the reader eavesdrops on her interior monologue often peppered with musical terms like ad libitum. Today’s reading provides a skeleton of outrage through which Jordan and I improvise.
Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) arr. for piano trio by José Bragato
Amy, Violin; Dawn, Cello; Steve, Piano
For several years I served as an accompanist for ballet classes at Hope College. My favorite part of the work was performing tangos for exercises. I think I fell in love with them then. Piazolla’s Oblivlion is an exquisite example of the tango.
Gavotte by William Byrd (1538-1623)
When I was a high schooler preparing to enter college, my parents awarded me with $600 to get me started (it was 1969). I took the money and, to their chagrin, purchased a kit to build a harpsichord. I had help from many skilled friends and ended up with a decent instrument. This is the one I am playing for you today. It has been restrung but the rest of the instrument dates from my youth. Before my father died, he told me that not only had I done the right thing then, but asked me never to get rid of the instrument or if I wanted to do so to give it to him (he was a keyboardist himself). This dance by William Byrd was taught to me by my beloved deceased teacher, Ray Ferguson, professor at Wayne State University and organist/harpsichordist for the Detroit Symphony.
Prelude from Suite in G Major for Cello BWV 1007 by J. S. Bach
I first heard the Bach cello suites as background music in Ingmar Bergman’s famous film, “Through a Glass Darkly.” I instantly loved them and purchased vinyl recordings of Pablo Casals playing them. They are all beautiful, but I asked Dawn to get this one back into her fingers share it with us today. It’s one of my favorites.
Why am I a bird? by Nick Hornby
Rev Jen, Reader; Jordan, Flute; Steve, Marimba
Nick Hornby(B. 1957) is an English writer and lyricist. He is best known for his memoir Fever Pitch and novels High Fidelity and About a Boy, all of which were adapted into feature films. Hornby’s work frequently touches upon music, sport, and the aimless and obsessive natures of his protagonists. He wrote today’s essay for the magazine, Granta, in the year 2001.
Drek 2019 by Steve Jenkins
Amy, Violin; Dawn, Cello; Jordan, Flute; Rhonda, Piano; Steve, Marimba
Many years ago I had coffee with a concert pianist. He was a devout church goer and an excellent church musician. However, he was a bit of snob. In the course of our talk, he referred with disdain to much of the music he and I had perform at church which he saw as of lower caliber. He called it “drek.” Later it occurred to me, that his co-called “drek” was what I spent much of time enjoying and doing. How different my own aesthetic was from his! This inspired me to write and perform this simple piece. This is the first time I have performed it in church. My son-in-law, who is Jewish, was very amused that I had written a piece with a Yiddish title. The word is usually translated as “rubbish” or “garbage,” or even worse.
Jennifer Adams is an unusually calming, intelligent presence for the Grace Episcopal community where she serves as priest and spiritual guide. Sports is a life-long passion of hers as is taking a public stance for people often found on the margins of our society.
Rhonda Edgington is a world wide recognized recitalist. She currently serves as staff accompanist at Hope College and organist for Hope Church. She is dean of the Holland AGO and enjoys reading, cooking, and long bike rides with her family. Her website is rhonda.edgington.info/index.php
Amy Hertel is conservatorily trained violinist of symphony quality. She enjoys not owning a car and getting around Holland on her bike and via public transport. Her passions include Romantic music and her two beautiful sons.
Eileen Jenkins is a retired library worker and former Math teacher. She has found a passion for weaving in her retirement. She spends her days weaving and working on making her 100 year old home more environmentally friendly. She drives a Mini Cooper which is also one of her passions.
Steve Jenkins Is an unusually lucky old man. In his sixty-eighth year of life, he loves leading Grace Episcopal Church in its weekly singing. He also loves composing, reading, thinking, and reading a couple sentences of Homer in the original ancient Greek daily. You can follow his continuing adventures at www.jupiterjenkins.com.
Dawn Van Ark is a retired cellist from the Grand Rapids Symphony and former library worker at Hope College Library. While working at Hope College and continuing lessons, her cello teacher took a semester off. The replacement teacher heard Dawn play and, though she was not a music major, recommended she audition for the Grand Rapids Symphony. The rest is history.
Jordan VanHemert is a saxophonist extraordinare who has chosen to return to Western Michigan after his extensive recent education. He is founder and director of the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra and has recently been invited to serve as Assistant Professor of Music at Hope College. Also a composer, his other passions include improvising and teaching. His website is https://www.jordanvanhemert.com.