In the Lutheran liturgy, the Gospel Acclamation, once known as the Alleluia, comes right after the second reading and precedes the reading of the Gospel. Verses are appointed for the day, which are sung after the Alleluia refrain. Over the years the LCH choir has sung settings by William Byrd, Heinrich Isaac, Carl Crosier, Peter Hallock, and Bruce Bengtson.
Starting from Christmas Day 2011 up to now, though, the choir has sung Gospel Acclamations by John Ferguson, (b. 1947) a prolific composer and organist who is the Elliot and Klara Stockdal Johnson Professor of Organ and Church Music at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Yes, it’s the same St. Olaf made famous by Rose Nylund of the Golden Girls sitcom!
We were fortunate to have Dr. Ferguson here in Hawaii for a Hymn Festival at Central Union Church a few years ago, along with his colleague from St. Olaf, Dr. Anton Armstrong.
There is a fascinating interview with John Ferguson on the Augsburg Fortress website which you can read by clicking here, in which Ferguson talks about the challenges of church music, the role of the choir in worship, how to make aging choirs sound great, how to attract people in the thirtysomething age group and what makes good worship. I was particularly happy to read that there is a waiting list of students who wish to study organ at St. Olaf, and interest in the organ is high. I think Ferguson gave the interview while he was in the midst of writing these Gospel Acclamations (2006).
The refrains we have used to date have been identical, and have a handbell accompaniment. There is also an organ part but we haven’t used it yet and I’m guessing that you either use bells or organ, but not both. The verses, though, are completely different, as they are appointed for the particular Sunday.
John Ferguson will retire from St. Olaf in June 2012.