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A Glimpse of God's Beauty

Dear Friends,

Many have asked how I pick my preludes and postludes for our worship services. It is a somewhat complicated, sometimes arbitrary process, but most of the time I give it much thought and prayerful consideration. I try to pick pieces that set a mood, or to direct our thoughts, based on the lessons appointed and the theme for the day, which also governs our choice of hymns.

Often I select a chorale prelude or fantasy piece based on a hymn to be sung, or one that might be a very familiar hymn associated with the day. Many composers have followed the tradition of hymn-based pieces from Sweelinck, Buxtehude, and Bach, to Brahms and Reger, to Parry and Vaughan Williams. There are also French Mass Suites with movements utilizing different colors of the organ. Perhaps I might choose a Kyrie or Gloria as a Prelude and an Offertoire as a Postlude.

Other times I might opt for a non Chorale-based piece such as a Prelude, Fantasy, or Fugue. My bias comes out in the fact that the glorious and somewhat complex music of J. S. Bach seems that much more special, so I rely heavily on his music for important Feast Days.

For the Sunday after Ascension Day, I like to play Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Major, because the Prelude begins with a repeated ascending D Major scale in the pedals. The Fugue, nick-named the "sewing machine" or "Spinning Wheel" spins out an active 16th note figure, into a frenetic piece, ending with a wild pedal solo in dialogue with the manuals, which makes me think of how the Apostles must have felt after Jesus' ascension, perhaps spinning out of control?

On Pentecost we hear that the Spirit descended with the sound of a mighty wind. Bach must have had this in mind when he wrote his Fantasy on the Chorale "Komm Heiliger Geist" (Come Holy Ghost) in which the melody is in the deep base, played by the pedals as the wind rushes over the melody in a flurry of 16th notes. I like to play this as a postlude to send us out feeling the power of the Holy Spirit.

For Trinity Sunday, our "Name-Day" Feast, I like to play Bach's Fantasy in G Minor for the Prelude. It has two differing musical ideas in dialogue; One is angst-ridden and dissonant, and the other more calming and plaintive. I like this piece for Trinity Sunday because the day's lessons include the creation story. I see in that story a tension between the void, and the creation. At Christmas, we read in the Gospel of John that the Word was from the beginning. Our Triune God was from the beginning of creation. The Theology of the Trinity is complicated and we can get mired in language to try to explain the Trinity, including three-legged stools, triangles, and the like. In our attempt to understand the Three-in-one, we sometimes lose the one-ness of God. Have you ever meditated on our beautiful stained glass window to see all the symbols of God hidden in its singular beauty? Despite Bach's G Minor Fantasy's two-themed, contrasting character, it holds together as one piece. It also seems to me to be the perfect launch into the first hymn "I bind unto myself today", our Trinity anthem, also in G Minor, which also has two distinct sections; One the Theologically heavy texted part, and then, in the middle, the simple, affirming prayer in G Major "Christ be with me". Bach's piece can set us up to feel the musical contrast and text of this hymn more fully, at a deeper level. My postlude for Trinity Sunday is the last movement from Sonata II in C Major by Felix Mendelssohn, who is often celebrated for re-introducing to the world the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, after it had been nearly forgotten after his death. Mendelssohn's music is so filled with energy it felt like just the right piece to celebrate our Name Day feast.

I am always happy to talk about the music I choose and why. It is my prayer that whether consciously or subconsciously the non-texted music you hear in church on Sunday might draw you into a deeper relationship with our Creator, and that you might catch, at least, a glimpse or two of God's beauty.


Robert Barney

Director of Music

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