Westminster‘s September 2nd worship service opened with a jazzy set of three organ preludes entitled “Organ, Timbrel, and Dance,” played by Melanie Ohnstad, the church’s Organist and Director of Music and the Arts.
The three preludes were based on German chorales as reinterpreted in jazz idioms. As a lover of German organ music and American and Latin jazz, I was fascinated and moved by the three pieces:
- “Swing Five” used the rhythms of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” for the chorale “Erhalt uns, Herr” (Lord, Keep Us Steadfast).
- “Bossa Nova,” the Brazilian rhythms for “Wunderbarer Konig” (Wonderful King).
- “Afro-Cuban,” the rhythms and melody of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story for “In dir ist Freude” (In Thee Is Gladness).
The composer is Johannes Matthias Michel, who was born in 1962 and grew up at Lake Constance (Germany) and who studied piano, church music, and organ in Basel, Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. He has composed many pieces for organ, and his organ discography includes more than a dozen CD recordings. One is of these three preludes, and there is a YouTube video of Michel playing these preludes.
Michel teaches artistic and liturgical organ playing at the University for Church Music of the Protestant Regional Church in Baden (Hochschule fur Kirchenmusik Heidelberg). Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the University is in the city of Heidelberg in the historical region of Baden on the east bank of the Rhine River. Baden is the western part of the Baden-Wurttemberg state of Germany.
Since 1999 he also has been the director of music at Christuskirche in Mannheim, which also is located in Baden. This is a Protestant church in the Oststadt district of the city. The church’s building was built in the early 20th century in the Art Nouveau style with Neo-Baroque accents. It escaped major damage in World War II. At Mannheim Michel also conducts the Bachchoir Mannheim and the chamber choir Mannheim and teaches organ at the State Academy of Music (Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik) in Mannheim.
Melanie Ohnstad has served Westminster as organist since November 1995. She received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Minnesota. She also holds the Master of Music in Organ Performance degree from Arizona State University and the Bachelor of Music degree from St. Olaf College.
A streaming video of the Westminster worship service is available on the web so you too can hear this amazing set.
4 thoughts on “Jazzy Music at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church”
Erhalt uns Herr has always struck me as a dreary bit of Pietism appropriate to being sung at a plodding tempo in a cold dark church during a nasty snowstorm. Bach may have shared my opinion because he only used it once in an early Leipzig cantata, although a recently discovered organ setting seems to be authentic. The Brubeck inspired setting must have been a wonderful improvement. (If you really must use the text, you can sing it to Old 100th – “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”).
I can’t quite imagine In dir ist Freude in West Side Story. I personally think the tune is great. Bach’s organ setting is a delightful version in triple meter over a pedal ostinato. It follows Das alte Jahr in the Orgelbuchlein, so I sometimes paired them as prelude and postlude on the Sunday before New Year.