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Music Notes from Denise, February 24, 2024

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent when we read about Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis 17 about becoming the ancestor of nations, and Sarah becoming a mother at an advanced age. We will sing a new hymn, written by John Bell and Graham Maule for the Iona Community, from our hymnal supplement, My Heart Sings Out. The text describes the ancient and continuous story of our ancestors in faith: Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Joseph, Mary, Zacchaeus, and Martha. We will sing the select stanzas of God it was who said to Abram, that pertain to this Sunday to the familiar tune Holy Manna. (My Heart Sings Out, compiled by Fiona Vidal-White, 2005 Church Publishing Inc.)


In our Gospel reading for this day from Mark 8, Jesus calls to his community and says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me..”  St. Martin’s choir will sing a haunting arrangement of folklorist John Jacob Niles’ song, I Wonder as I Wander, by Keith Christopher. I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Savior did come for to die. For poor on’ry people like you and like I; I wonder as I wander out under the sky. When Mary birthed Jesus, ’twas in a cow’s stall, with wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall, The promise of ages it then did recall. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing. A star in the sky or a bird on the wing, Or all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing, He surely could have it, ‘cause He was the King (1995 G. Schirmer, Inc). Niles (1892-1980), who had a music background, traveled all over the Appalachian Mountains as a surveyor, listening to local people and transcribing their folk songs. He wrote the following concerning this song: “I Wonder As I Wander” grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police…they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out—-a tousled, unwashed and lovely young girl….she sang the first three lines. At 25 cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries…I had only 3 lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea.” The contraction on’ry is the Appalachian pronunciation for “ornery” or “stubborn”, but can also be understood as “ordinary”, as Jesus died to save ordinary human beings, such as us. (


Our Communion hymn will be Where He Leads Me, written by Ernest William Blandy. Rev. Blandy was a British minister who immigrated to the United States in 1884 with his wife, Eliza. He became an officer in the Salvation Army and, in 1890, about the time he wrote this hymn, felt called to live in a Manhattan, New York slum called “Hell’s Kitchen” with gangs and “low life” persons. (John Perry, Our final hymn will also reflect Jesus’ words, Take up your cross, the Savior said. It was written by Charles W. Everest (1814-1877) in 1833. He was rector at Hamden, Connecticut and also agent for the Society for the Increase of the Ministry. The text challenges each of us to consider what crosses we have to bear and what we each need to do to follow Christ. (

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