THE TOUCH AND Gesture OF CHRISTMAS
To the memory of my mother, who throughout her life gave me so much love, inspiration, and support.
Touch and gesture imply both physical and emotional action, and my title uses both meanings. The wonderful gift of God through Jesus Christ touches with the joy of salvation, a gesture that reminds and encourages us to reach out and touch others through gifts, help, friendship, and love. The carols touch our spirits; the organs represent touch through keyboards; the Theremin -- an unusual instrument that is never touched — is played only by gesture.
The most interesting keyboard instrument on this CD is a little hand-built pipe-organ from Austria which was probably designed as a child's instrument as it is very small; has a single roughly carved keyboard, and keys much smaller than those on standard keyboards; and only one rank of pipes. Its builder is unknown, but is thought to have been built in the mid 19th century. Even with its occasional dip in pitch, click of keys, or creek of pedals, it is charming in its simplicity of tone and design.
The Theremin -- the most unique instrument on this recording is played without touch. Its sound, sometimes like a voice, cello, violin, flute, or oboe, is still unlike any other sound ever heard. It was invented in 1921 in Russia by Lev Sergeyevich Termen (Leon Theremin) (1896-1993), a scientist, engineer, and amateur musician. While working on electronic experiments he discovered moving his body or hands near the equipment caused changes in the electro-magnetic field. Movement could be used to modify a sound to produce music. Thus was born the first musical instrument to produce sound electronically; the first instrument to produce a tone that could vary continuously in pitch and volume from one point to another without steps or jumps; and one of the very few instruments played by moving the hands without touching it (a technique referred to as "Space Control").
The Theremin has two antennas - - a vertical rod on the player's right, and a loop on the player's left. Moving the right hand toward the rod raises the musical note higher, while movement toward the shoulder makes the note lower in pitch. When the left hand hovers near the loop there is no sound, but sound begins and gradually grows in volume when the hand moves away from the loop. With careful movement of the hands, a player can play accurate musical notes and articulate them infinitely, free of any mechanical constraints.
In 1927, the Theremin was introduced in the United States and advertised as an instrument “so easy to play that anyone could play it”. The novelty created popularity in the beginning. Then people realized that playing it was not only very difficult, but nearly impossible. I fell in love with its beautiful and very expressive tone immediately. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I have selected the following types of music. – Kevin Utter
The Chorale Prelude contains the chorale melody as long notes or as a solo line. It is used in church services as an introduction to singing or as an organ solo.
The chorale preludes are from two collections by J S Bach. The Orgel Buchlein (little organ book) was intended both as a collection of music for church use, and as a teaching tool. The Schubler Chorale Preludes were named for the music engraver. They are adapted from Bach's cantatas, and are derived from settings for voices or strings.
In "Wachet Auf" and "Meine Seele erhebt den Herren" (Tracks 1 and 12), the melody is in a solo voice, phrase by phrase. "In Dulce Jubilo" (Track 2) will be familiar to many as "Good Christian Men Rejoice!" Listen carefully and notice that the melody is heard in canon (like a round) between the highest and lowest voices, while the inner harmonies are also in canon with each other. The melody in "In Dir Ist Freude" (Track 13) is woven through all of the voices in a complex way. I have included the Choral before the Choral Prelude, enabling you to more easily hear the melody.
"Wachet Auf" (Sleepers, awake) proclaims the coming of Christ. "Meine Seele Erhebt den Herren" (My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord) is Mary's song of praise following Elizabeth's recognition and proclamation of the Mother of Jesus. It is based on an early melody known as "The German Magnificat."
"In Dir Ist Freude" (In Thee is Gladness) was adapted from a 14th Century Madrigal. The joy is reflected in the active voices and repeating choral phrases, while the pedal line is sometimes compared to a joyous ringing of carillon bells.
The organist's spontaneous creation at performance time is an improvisation. Those presented here were captured from my actual performances.
Silent Night (Track 20): A cold, quiet, beautiful night, with Mary perhaps pondering the uncertain future, and at the same time, the promised blessing -- "Sleep in heavenly peace".
Of The Father's Love Begotten (Track 21) is a Gregorian chant melody. The text reflects on the wonder, adoration, and praise of God for His love for us in His gift of Jesus Christ. The improvisation is quiet and reverent, but expands to encompass the universal adoration and praise of God. It ends by musically illustrating the final text, "Ever more and ever more."
My arrangement of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" (Track 15) is my picture of a moonlit night with the angels' quiet proclamation of "Peace on the earth, good will to men". The quiet beauty of evening seems well described musically by Beethoven in "The Moonlight Sonata". Combining one song with another is a tool I like to use to emphasize the text or idea of a song.
The title and lyrics of "Away In a Manger" (Track 18) are very familiar and there were some 40 or more melodies set to those lyrics. I took the opportunity to combine 3 of these commonly known melodies into a medley. It begins with the tune known as "The Cradle Song" by William J. Kirkpatrick, followed by the more familiar, "Mueller" by James Ramsey Murray and finally concluding with the tune by J. E. Spilman.
Silent Night (Track 19), played on the Austrian Children's organ, is fashioned after what we believe is most like the original melody from 1818. The melody is only slightly different, but clearly not the way most of us are used to singing it. It seemed appropriate to use this arrangement on an instrument which was built near the birth place and time of this beautiful carol.
About the Producer/Musician
Kevin received his Bachelors and Masters of Music in Organ Performance from Colorado State University, studying with Robert Cavarra. He is now Organist at Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Born blind in 1960, Kevin began playing organ at the age of eight. In high school Kevin received the United States Congressional Award for Public Service. He played trumpet and was a member of and marched with the McDonald's National High School Honor Band. . His experience as a broadcast engineer together with his musical experience provides a valuable foundation for recording production.