At last night’s Advent Procession at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, certainly one of the most haunting selections was the anthem “Who is this?” by John Ferguson, which featured the “a cappella” choir with Anna Womack on viola. It begins with the viola playing “O sacred head now wounded.” The piece then alternates between the viola and the choir, with the choir singing a beautiful text by Sylvia Dunstan that continues to ask, “Who is this who walks among us?” It ends with a quote from the chant, “Adoro te, devote” (Humbly we adore thee).
The text reads:
Who is this? Who is this who walks among us? Who speaks such words? Is it Moses, or Elijah, or some prophet of the Lord? Can we name this suff’ring servant? Can we name the promised sun? Can we name the heir of David? Jesus, hidden, holy one. You are Christ, from God eternal! Living God from human womb, our deliv’rer and redeemer, known by cross and empty tomb.
Who is this? Hidden, holy one. Holy one.
John Ferguson (b. 1941, not 1978 as listed in last night’s program!) has for many years been associated with St. Olaf College, in Northfield, MN. “Before his career at St. Olaf College, he obtained degrees from Oberlin College, Kent State University and the Eastman School of Music; held a faculty position at Kent State; and served as music director and organist at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. While at St. Olaf College, Ferguson was Professor of Organ and Church Music, conducted the St. Olaf Cantorei, and served as Cantor to the Student Congregation. During his tenure, the organ department at St. Olaf College defied national trends by growing in enrollment and quality.” While he officially retired in 2012, “he continues to serve as Musical Advisor for Sing For Joy, providing guidance regarding musical selections and new recordings, and serving as ambassador of the program to audiences and congregations nationwide,” according to the Sing for Joy website, a production of St. Olaf.
In yesterday’s post, I wrote that the service had the fingerprints of Carl Crosier all over it, and even the piece “Who is this.” The anthem won the Fourth Biennial ALCM Raabe Prize (2005) of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, which is awarded every two years for a single musical work, that reflects a larger history of excellence on the part of the composer. Guess who was on the national committee that chose this anthem for the prize that year? Yup, Carl Crosier, who immediately purchased it for the LCH library after its publication. The anthem is part of a series for choir and viola by John Ferguson.
People were surprised to see me at church last night, but it is because the last few years I have been on the Big Island playing for the Kona Choral Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. This year, their performance does not coincide with Advent Procession, so now you know where I’ll be next weekend!
In the meantime, guess what I did on the day after Thanksgiving!