Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Begins - "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland"

Martin Luther (left) and Johann Sebastian Bach (right)
As my friends on Facebook know, I post a Bach liturgical cantata on my timeline every Sunday morning, following the Lutheran liturgical calendar (the calendar with its associated cantatas can be found here). Well, today is the first Sunday in Advent, and Papa Johann composed three cantatas for that Sunday in the course of his career: BWV 61, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1714); BWV 62, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1724); and BWV 36, Schwingt freudig euch empor (1731). And all three share a common element - Martin Luther's Advent hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (gee, how did you guess?). BWV 36 uses the hymn in the second movement, as a soprano/alto duet. But BWV 61 and 62 are chorale cantatas and the hymn is the major element in both.

So what is it about this hymn of Luther's that made it so important? Luther wrote the words, based on St. Ambrose's Veni redemptor gentium, in 1524 and set it to an old Gregorian tune. Because the first Sunday in Advent is the "New Year's Day" of the liturgical calendar, and because Luther created this hymn specifically for that event, it became the preeminent musical piece marking the beginning of the church year in Protestant churches for centuries. Here, take a listen to the hymn in its pre-Bach form.

This kind of hymn is called a chorale. A chorale is a melody to which a hymn is sung by a congregation in a German Protestant Church service. The typical four-part setting of a chorale, in which the sopranos (and the congregation) sing the melody along with three lower voices, is known as a chorale harmonization. The performance above by the Jena Boy's Choir follows that structure, although there's no congregation to sing the melody with the sopranos.

Bach used the chorale harmonization structure of this hymn as the basis from which he built his chorale cantata setting. Interestingly enough, in BWV 61 he plays with this, setting what would normally be the opening chorus as a chorale fantasia in the style of a French overture, which follows the sequence slow – fast (fugue) – slow. If the congregation was starting to nod off, that opening chorus was going to wake them right up! Here's the complete BWV 61, starting with that chorale fantasia. This is the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists (on authentic period instruments) directed by the great Sir John Eliot Gardiner; I'm a sucker for Gardiner's work, so naturally this is my favorite performance of this piece.

In BWV 62 Bach stuck with the familiar chorale cantata structure, so the congregation would have understood what they were listening to. This is the grand chorale cantata that he was working his way up to after the experimentation of 10 years before, and grand it is! The opening chorus charges right off in typical Bach style and sets the tone for the rest of the cantata. It's quite a ride! Here's one of my favorite performances, from the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman, considered one of the premier interpreters of Bach's orchestral music.

So there you have it, a look at the hymn that starts off the Lutheran liturgical year and its evolution through the centuries, especially in the masterful hands of the great Johann Sebastian Bach. All songs should have such a stellar history!

Text © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sight and Sound - November

"The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees."
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load."
-   William Blake, To Autumn

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Morning at Sunset Rocks

As has become the family tradition, we went for a hike up on South Mountain on Thanksgiving morning. This year we went to Sunset Rocks, between the Appalachian Trail and Pine Grove Furnace State Park. No great, mountain-filled vistas from the top, this time; there are too many trees at the top to get a clear view. But there are plenty of lichen-covered rock outcrops among the pines to give a closer scenic view. And of course rocks are for scrambling over, as you'll see from some of the pictures. Put on your hiking boots and grab your walking stick, we're about to head up the mountain!

At the trailhead getting ready to go up

The trail is very steep and very rocky

Rock outcrops like this are the main feature of this area 

As I said, there are too many trees to get a good distance view

Scrambling over the rocks to get to the top

The crew resting at the top

Heading back down the mountain

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 


On Wednesday the day was very clear, very bright, and very calm. So naturally every body of standing water turned into a mirror reflecting the sky and the surroundings. It was a gorgeous day and great for photography. Here are some shots from the Dykeman Spring Nature Park.

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's Calendar Time Again!

Well folks, it's that time of year again, time to buy gifts for Christmas/Yule/Winter Solstice/Hannukah/whatever Winter holiday you celebrate. And as usual I've updated the calendars I have for sale on to the coming year (2017 in this case). So come visit my Spotlight page (click here) and pick out gifts for your loved ones. Here are some of the covers just to pique your interest and convince you that these are desirable gifts, or even something for yourself. Enjoy!

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Brief Visit to the Rail Trail

I took a brief walk on the Rail Trail this morning. The committee in charge of the trail got some extra funding and they've been developing the undeveloped part of the trail right back to downtown Shippensburg, and I went there today to see how far they'd gotten. I discovered that it's still in progress, and doesn't look to be done for a while yet. So I went up to the trail to see what the Fall color was like. I wasn't disappointed. 

The first mile and a half was very colorful indeed, but past the two mile marker the color pretty much faded out and by about the 2.5 mile point it was just bare trees, so I turned around and headed for home. But where there was color it was glorious!

Walking up Fort St. on the way to the trail I got stopped dead by this burst of color!
I was passed by a jogger near the beginning of the trail
Autumn in all its glory on the Rail Trail!
Nearing the Britton Rd. crossing I walked through a small flurry of leaves falling in the breeze
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing."
– Percy Bysshe Shelley

Now halfway through the month, it finally looks and feels like November. The trees are half bare, with patches of red and orange and yellow leaves clinging desperately to branches despite the recent winds. There's more wind and rain coming; by this time next week the trees will be naked and cold.

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Constitutional

A walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on a sunny Autumn Sunday morning. Time to feed the soul!

Looking across the Dykeman Spring wetland
Where the creek goes under the railroad tracks
Self Portrait of the Artist on a Bridge
Floating leaf on the north duck pond
A view north from the upland meadow
Looking across the meadow
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Nature's Beacon on a Dark Day

It's a dark day on two fronts - last night the US electorate signed the death warrant for this country, and today the heavens are crying, at least here in Pennsylvania; it's raining as a cold front moves through. But in the midst of the dark Mama Gaia has revealed some beauty as a momentary solace. The overcast skies have brought out the Fall color, which I discovered while running an errand this morning, and when I got home I found that some infrequent visitors to my feeder station had made an appearance. A White-breasted Nuthatch flitted in and out, several Black-capped Chickadees were zipping around, and a Carolina Wren landed and stayed around for a little. The Nuthatch never did sit still long enough for me to get a decent shot, and although the Chickadees were hopping around quickly I managed to get a couple of half-decent shots. And that Wren!

I'm still mourning for my country, but at least Mama Gaia has shown that not everything went to hell last night.

Branch Creek at King St. brightens up a rainy day
A Black-capped Chickadee at the feeder station
Another Chickadee with a mouthful of seed
A Carolina Wren checks out the situation
The Wren finds some food
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

An Election Day Sanctuary

Today is election day in the US, and given the highly contentious and raucous atmosphere of this particular election, I thought I'd create a sanctuary of peace and calm here on the Internet in the midst of all the noise and rhetoric. So here are some of my most peaceful slideshows, nature photos set to serene music. Sit back, relax, and escape from all the sturm und drang!

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sunday Morning

"Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt."
– William Allingham 

Photos © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

More Color

While running errands yesterday I noticed that the north side of town, and especially the Shippensburg University area, seemed to be a bit more colorful. So I went back today to get another look.

The entrance to Shippensburg University
Along North Prince St.
Prince St. at St. Andrew's Episcopal 
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


This Autumn has not been good for brilliant foliage change. The temperature has fluctuated too much, and on the whole it's been warmer than usual. So now, when normally we'd be at the peak of color in these parts, we have bare trees, trees that are still green, trees that are a drab, pale yellow, and some brilliant color. Today I went looking for what brilliant color I could find.

A Maple seedling along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A Dykeman Spring wetland scene
Colorful Maples on the grounds of Dykeman House
Colorful Maples around the Dykeman Spring
Color at the eastern end of the upland meadow
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger