Yesterday, our long-time friend from the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, Randy Knutson, sent me this cartoon and it reminded me about what I wanted to write about for a long time — the organ prelude.
Now, if we were in the Mormon church, we would read this from the Church Handbook of Instructions: “Quiet prelude and postlude music creates an atmosphere of worship that invites the Spirit into Church meetings. The organist or pianist usually plays hymns or other appropriate music for five to ten minutes before and after a meeting. Playing hymns helps members review gospel teachings in their minds.”
Further is this observation by Boyd K. Packer: “Prelude music, reverently played, is nourishment for the spirit. It invites inspiration. That is a time to, as the poet said, ‘Go to your bosom … and ask your heart what it doth know.’ Do not ever disturb prelude music for others, for reverence is essential to revelation. ‘Be still,’ He said, ‘and know that I am God.'”
For me, the prelude “sets the stage.” It is not necessarily a quiet piece, and in fact, on festival Sundays, the prelude is a celebratory piece and can get pretty loud. But the prelude often competes with people greeting and conversing with each other.
Sometime ago, at LCH we instituted a new procedure for the beginning of the service, all in an effort to quiet people down to listen to the prelude. We would have the ushers ring the bell once about five minutes before the service begins. Then Pastor Jeff Lilley would make a few opening remarks after which I would launch into the prelude music. This works most of the time, but other times, I wonder whether we need a prelude.
Well, guess what. For the Feast of the Transfiguration, this week my prelude is going to be “Joie et clarté des corps glorieux” (Joy and brightness of the glorious bodies) by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) and it probably needs some explanation. The piece is part of a larger work called “Les corps glorieux” (The glorious bodies) which was written in 1939. It starts off with a jazzy trumpet solo, then repeats a long-short-long rhythmic pattern in several permutations. There are two lyric melodic sections which alternate with the long-short-long rhythmic pattern and the jazzy trumpet section.
It’s definitely not a quiet, meditative piece but hopefully, one which “sets the stage” for the Feast to come. By the way, this Sunday’s postlude will be the last until Easter Day. No postludes in Lent, yippee!