Music & Word is a form of liturgy and church music that has evolved since 2013 as an alternative to other more widespread and conventional forms. The organ, instead of being heard only when people are singing, talking or walking, is placed centrally and sings its own songs. Words are chosen less for their reassuring familiarity than for their unexpected resonances, and are taken from the Bible and from contemporary poetry. This opens us up to currents and influences from far beyond the church or even Christianity and to voices (especially female ones) that are normally sidelined or absent in liturgy.
So Music & Word can and should be challenging in the manner of the prophetic tradition; but it also (and more obviously) offers an atmosphere of meditative spirituality and mindfulness for which I’ve discovered many people thirst. On occasion we have combined Music & Word with Eucharistic liturgy, and have found that this can be done without losing that atmosphere.
I have used the clavichord in a Music & Word entitled ‘Still Small Voice’, but usually the music is provided by the small, anonymous organ at Kensworth Church in Bedfordshire, where Music & Word originated. This unassuming instrument is an example of the astonishing versatility that is made possible by simple design, a responsive mechanical action, and sensitive voicing in balance with the building’s acoustic. With careful selection of repertoire, it has been possible to include fine music from all parts of Europe and from all periods of the organ’s literature. (Composers have included Girolamo Cavazzoni, Merulo, Redford, Thomas Preston, ap Rhys, Taverner, Byrd, Tomkins, Sweelinck, Scheidt, Schildt, Frescobaldi, Froberger, Kerll, Speth, Fischer, Louis Couperin, Purcell, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Corrette, JS Bach, CPE Bach, Haydn, Liszt, Reubke, Tournemire, Dupré, Messiaen, Cage, Feldman, Leighton and others.)
Specification of the organ at St Mary the Virgin, Kensworth:
Bourdon 16 (bottom octave only); Stopped Diapason 8 (divided at tenor C); Open Diapason 8 (from tenor C); Dulciana 8 (from tenor C); Principal 4; Flute 4 (from tenor C). Pedal pull-downs with straight and narrow pedalboard.
Previous Music & Words:
Advent & Beyond (justice, mercy and hope)
Righting the Scales (the Magnificat and social justice)
Flowers in the Temple (poems by George Herbert and music from Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali)
Songs of Innocents (for Holy Innocents’ Day)
Still, Small Voice (using the clavichord: listening to innermost space)
Consider the Lilies (work and rest: faith and trust in abundant grace)
Today in Paradise (a Palm Sunday meditation for Passiontide)
For more information about Kensworth Parish Church go to https://www.parishlink.org.uk/church/kensworth-church/