by Jesse Ratcliffe
As a choral director, I find that my faith is intensified as I peruse the myriad of texts and musical settings of those texts that detail the last days of Christ. It is a joy to have prepared the music ministry to provide beautiful pieces for this year’s Holy Week and Easter.
Most notable of the works prepared for Holy Week is O Holy Jesus, A Passion Cantata that was penned by Harold Rohlig (1926-2014). This work was broadcast on Palm Sunday (you can still view it at facebook.com/heavenlyrestabilene).
Rohlig was born in Aurich, Germany and his father was a German-Methodist clergyman. The young Rohlig was forced into the Hilter Youth and was later incarcerated in a French Prison Camp. His father, who opposed Hitler’s regime, was incarcerated at the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. Upon Harold’s release in 1948, he began formal musical studies, eventually earning a doctorate in pipe organ design. In 1953 he immigrated to the US and taught at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL—a position he held for fifty years. His passion cantata utilizes the beloved chorale Herzlibester Jesu (Ah, Holy Jesus - 158, Hymnal 1982) and recitations from Isaiah to convey the last hours of Christ. While Rohlig preserves the melody of the chorale, with some embellishment, it is the supporting voices (alto, tenor, and bass) that create a mournful backdrop to the tune. One will hear unique introductions and interludes in the cantata—the work was first published in 1959, a period of musical experimentation, yet the “unique” sounds can be viewed as a reaction to Rohlig’s experience as a prisoner of war and a small child during the German Reich.
For the liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday parishioners experienced a wide variety of musical genres and instrumentation: music from Taize accompanied by a small chamber ensemble; harp music provided by Barbradon Brooks; plainsong psalm settings, a late Renaissance Hymn-Anthem; chorales from the German Baroque, and shape-note hymns.
Easter Sunday resounded with brass and choral music at both 9AM and 10:30AM services. The courtyard service featured the Key City Brass quintet leading all hymns and accompanying the anthem and the 10:30 a.m. service utilized music for organ and two trumpets.
I hope that you will find assurance and joy in the music you will hear in the weeks to come.