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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Easter?”

May 1, 2011

Dear Michael,

This is the first time I've written to you and what prompted me to do so was the heading for the April 18th program, “An Easter Awakening” and, more specifically, the sub-text “Music to commemorate the Christian Resurrection Festival and celebrate earth's joyful rebirth in springtime”. I found this sub-text in its rather abstract reference to the real reason for the day (Easter), that of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and use of the word “festival” and sharing reference to “earth's rebirth in springtime” to be curious. It gave me the clear impression that you (or is it MPR?) were trying to play down the religious, specifically Christian, aspect to Easter. Is this a correct assumption? If yes, why? If not, then why such an abstract reference to Easter and lack of reference to Jesus Christ in the title? A second reason for writing, also related to this same April 18th program, is that I found the words for the first hymn you played by St. Luke's, the famous, popular Easter hymn “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”, to be odd. The words sung by St. Luke's choir were certainly not the words I have ever heard sung for this hymn tune in my lifetime (61 years and, yes, I'm an Anglican). In fact, they are for a hymn similar to but NOT the same as the familiar “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” hymn for which the tune is usually associated, but rather the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, which is by Charles Wesley. The more familiar hymn was not by Wesley. Check out the words. So, I'm sorry to say it, but either you or St. Luke's were in error in using the hymn title “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” for the first hymn. I don't mind hearing something different but please be careful when titling and ascribing hymns especially for such a prominent, familiar Easter hymn. Back to my original reason for writing, I'd appreciate hearing your explanation for such an obscure reference to Easter which also pervaded your narrative. Has the secular society push taken over Pipedreams?




I'm not sure how best to answer your question. Traditions and beliefs have various meanings to various individuals. Not everyone who listens to radio is a Christian, though non-Christians may find something important in their experience of music that was composed for Christian rituals. Even Christians borrowed, and the 'real reason for Easter' is perhaps not as clear as might be imagined. The name Easter derives from the Saxon Eostre(a.k.a. Eastre). The ancient Saxons in Northern Europe worshiped the Goddess Oestre at the time of the Spring Equinox. The Goddess Easter represents the sunrise, spring-time and fertility, the renewal of life. Pagan Anglo-Saxons made offerings of colored eggs to her at the Vernal Equinox. They placed them at graves especially, probably as a charm of rebirth. (Egyptians and Greeks were also known to place eggs at gravesites). Only later did the Christians pilfer the name for themselves and graft their religion onto a pagan celebration. (This I have taken off a website.)So, perhaps I was trying to bring these two elements together? Is there any wrong in playing (Christian) Easter music and feeling festive as a result?
As for the opening hymn, I believe that I quote the first line of that hymn as it is sung: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today". Hymn texts and hymn tunes have lives of their own. Certain traditions get established, and then are broken. "Innsbruch, ich muss dich lassen", a once popular song of secular origin, was taken over by Luther with the new text "O welt, ich muss dich lassen". Charles Wesley wrote hymn texts that sometimes only gradually became associated with the tunes by which some of us know them. Our local organist's guild recently commissioned a regional poet to create a new 'hymn text' to be sung to the time-honored melody "The Old 100th" (which traditionally is associated with the 100th Psalm, but as you know, there are many translations of the original psalm, and the one used in the Doxology is not much like the original).I don't see anything wrong with someone creating a new text for the hymn tune (Lyra Davidica) to which Wesley's text is generally attached, though the tune itself pre-dates Wesley's text by 29 years.

PS: I was brought up Presbyterian, and am 64.




Chris responds,

Again, many thanks for your quick reply and my apologies for my brief response although I wanted to acknowledge receipt of yours while I had a moment.

I appreciate your rationale/explanation of the history behind our Christian traditions (frankly, I dislike that term "traditions". Seems so dismissive). I guess, though, what is behind my email to you, and also similar comments I'm finding that I'm making these days to others, is that Christianity is somehow being undermined, pushed aside, dismissed in our society, and especially here in Canada (as well as the US and Europe) all in the name of "multiculturalism" even though both of our countries were founded primarily by "Christians" and that, until very recently, over 90% of residents could be considered Christian, with a further 3-4% Jewish. And that is getting me annoyed. I guess I'm pushing back at those who want to push their views at the expense of mine. I'm not ignoring some of the troubling issues that have occurred within the Christian church our religious orders but those occurrences ought not to detract from the true message and value of Christianity which, as a Christian, I defend and promote. And, I'm not unmindful of the general decline in church (or any organized religious) attendance. But, what I'm seeing increasing examples of here in Canada are, in the pursuit of "political correctness" or whatever, is the avoidance of reference to Christianity. This past Easter weekend is now referred to as a "holiday" weekend because Friday is a Statutory Holiday, not "Easter" as it was when I was growing up. The CBC which, as you may know through Choral Concert with previous host, Howard Dyck, always recognized Easter (by the way, Howard frequently opened his Easter Sunday program with a recording of St. Luke's (Evanston) Episcopal Church choir singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today with the "correct" words and familiar "tune" that I referenced yesterday - the recording must date from the mid 80's). Now, the CBC is bland, and any reference or recognition of anything Christian (and to be fair, I guess, in turn anything religious) is taboo. Although we still recognize Good Friday here as a statutory holiday (something I know the US doesn't), it is decreasingly referred to as such and almost parenthetically or abstractly as "the day some guy by the name of Jesus Christ died 2,000 years ago".

So, there's my soapbox and having said all that, I guess what I saw, perhaps wrongly, was a similar lessening of the prominence and importance of Easter in society today in your program notes.

Now, back to your program. I do enjoy it thoroughly even though I'm not able to listen to it very often since it's not readily available on radio, hence I access it through the internet when I'm on the computer, usually at work.

FYI, "Organix 11" is beginning here in Toronto shortly, May 2 -30. Check out "www.organixconcerts.ca" for the program and list of artists.

By the way, I was aware of your Presbyterian background and age parallel to myself. I suspect you may deep down share some of my angst?

Keep up the good work and I hope you had a happy Easter!



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