Awaiting the Messiah: A Musical Advent Calendar {Week 1}

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Welcome to Week 1 of our musical advent calendar, Awaiting the Messiah! Thank you for joining us!

As a real quick summary, each day of Advent has movements of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, assigned to it. I have provided videos of the pieces, the Scriptures each piece was inspired by, the sung text, a Spotify list of the week’s movements, and a music appreciation lesson, fit for the whole family, based on a single movement each week. This devotion is meant to be very flexible for families of all ages and sizes. Some may only want to read the Bible verses and listen to the pieces. Others may want to try all the activities below. Do what will work for and help your family grow closer to the Lord this season  – everything else is straw. If you just found us and would like more background on this Advent calendar, please visit the Overview post from last week.

Here are some ways to participate:

  • Simply read the Bible verses and listen to the day’s selection(s)
  • Have older child(ren) look up the pieces’ Bible references
  • Memorize one of the featured verses per week
  • Read both the Biblical and sung text
  • Have older child(ren) read along with the sung text while listening to the pieces
  • Have older child(ren) compare both texts
  • For older child(ren), use the texts for handwriting or copywork
  • Pick one movement to learn as a family
  • Listen to the playlist for the week during the day as free listening
  • Listen to the whole work straight through if traveling (video in overview post)
  • Enjoy the weekly music appreciation lesson (at end of this post) as part of your homeschool, morning time, before nightly advent devotions, or whenever best suits your family’s schedule
  • Attend a local performance of Messiah with your family

 

Please let me know in the comments how you plan to use this Advent Calendar with your family!

{Week 1} Playlist:

For a little more exposure to this week’s selections, we will be playing this list in the background throughout our day. Some times that have worked for us are during art, while we’re driving in the car, when everyone is doing their chores, during a meal or its preparation, and while my five little ones play. It would also make a lovely soundtrack while out looking at Christmas lights, decorating, or making Christmas goodies.

 

Nov. 27th, DAY 1:

  • Part 1 “Sinfonia” – Overture (music appreciation lesson below)

Nov. 28th, Day 2:

  • Part 1 “Comfort Ye My People” – Recitative for Tenor

Isaiah 40:1-3

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: (for she hath received of the Lord‘s hand double for all her sins.) The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Sung Text:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare, her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardon’d, that her iniquity is pardon’d.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

  • Part 1 “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” – Air for Tenor

Isaiah 40:4

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

Sung Text:

Ev’ry valley, ev’ry valley shall be exalted, shall be exalted, shall be exalted, shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain, the crooked straight, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain, and the rough places plain. Ev’ry valley, ev’ry valley shall be exalted, Ev’ry valley, ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, the crooked straight, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain, and the rough places plain, and the rough places plain, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Nov. 29th, DAY 3:

  • Part 1 “And The Glory Of The Lord” – Chorus

Isaiah 40:5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Sung Text:

And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Breaks into overlapping parts)

Nov. 30th, DAY 4:

  • Part 1 “Thus Saith The Lord” – Recitative for Bass

Haggai 2:6,7

For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

(Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and) the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

Sung Text:

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts: Yet once a little while, and I will shake the heav’ns and the earth, the sea and the dry land; And I will shake, and I will shake all nations; I’ll shake the heav’ns, the earth, the sea, the dry land, all nations, I’ll shake, and the desire of all nations shall come.
The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, ev’n the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in; Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.

  • Part 1 “But Who May Abide The Day Of His Coming?” – Air of Bass (Alto)

Malachi 3:2

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, (and like fullers’ soap:)

Sung Text:

But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? Who shall stand when He appeareth? But who may abide, but who may abide the day of His coming?  And who shall stand when He appeareth? And who shall stand when He appeareth? When he appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, for He is like a refiner’s fire. Who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, for He is like a refiner’s fire, and who shall stand when He appeareth? But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand, and who shall stand when He appeareth? When He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, like a refiner’s fire, and who shall stand when He, when he appeareth? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and who shall stand when He appeareth, when he appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, for He is like a refiner’s fire.

  • Part 1 “And He Shall Purify” – Chorus

Malachi 3:3

(And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver:) and he shall purify the sons of Levi, (and purge them as gold and silver,) that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

Sung Text:

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Overlapping parts)

Dec. 1st, DAY 5:

  • Part 1 “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive” – Recitative for Alto

  • Part 1 “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion” – Air for Alto and Chorus

Isaiah 7:14

(Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;) Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, (which being interpreted is,) God with us.

Isaiah 40:9, 60:1

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Sung Text:

Behold! A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us.

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain! O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain! Get thee up into the high mountain! O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold your God! say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold your God! Behold your God!
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, arise, shine, for thy light is come; arise, arise, arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord, and the glory of the Lord is risen, is risen upon thee, is risen, is risen upon thee, the glory, the glory, the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (Chorus with some overlapping voices)

Dec. 2nd, DAY 6:

  • Part 1 “For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover The Earth” – Recitative for Bass

 Isaiah 60:2,3

For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

Sung Text:

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people,  and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

  • Part 1 “The People That Walked In Darkness” – Air for Bass

Isaiah 9:2

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Sung Text:

The people that walked in darkness, that walked in darkness, the people that walked, that walked in darkness have seen a great light, have seen a great light. the people that walked, that walked in darkness have seen a great light, The people that walked in darkness, that walked in darkness, the people that walked, that walked in darkness have seen a great light, have seen a great light, a great light, have seen a great light: and they that dwell, that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, and they that dwell, that dwell in the land, that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined, and they that dwell, that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined, upon them hath the light shined.

Dec. 3rd, DAY 7:

  • Part 1 “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” – Chorus

Isaiah 9:6

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Sung Text:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Overlapping voices)

Music Appreciation Lesson 1

The dichotomy of Messiah’s first movement, “Sinfonia,” could not be more apropos for “Stir-up” Sunday, the first day of this new liturgical season and church year. The halting pause of the two note motif (musical idea) in the first part reminds me of the vast chasm of sin that separated mankind from God, before our salvation was wrought by Christ’s death and resurrection. We all stand in the garden and mourn our deaths with Adam and Eve. In contrast, however, the second fugue portion, though still in a minor key, is tinged with the hope of Advent, the joyful anticipation of the world awaiting their Messiah. The Lord’s plan for redemption has been set in motion. Like the tree of Jesse, my mind drifts through the generations, as the fugue’s 8 note motive rises step by step, branches twisting and falling but still reaching closer and closer to Jesus. We are caught in Handel’s net of twigs, until the “piu lento” (a little slower), and we are released to float like a leaf to the ground in time to greet John the Forerunner face to face in the next movement, “Comfort Ye My People”.

For our lessons this Advent, we will be using our family’s easy ABC method for listening with purpose. It is a simple three step process that can be used with the whole family and all ages. Your family will be listening to the piece three times, but with a different purpose and activity each time. The whole lesson should take about 15 minutes if you include all three steps. This method is intentionally adaptable to fit all families. Read through the lesson beforehand and pull out and use what you know will work with your child(ren).

 

Our Easy ABCs for Music Appreciation

Begin by gathering everyone together for your listening time and explain how your family will be using this Advent calendar as well as the name of this first movement. Also, at the bottom of this post is a worksheet you may print for each child to participate. (Just click on the picture to download) If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I want these lessons to be as user friendly as possible!

You can share what you like from the following or use it as an easy script:

Messiah is a dramatic musical composition that is like opera without all the sets and costumes. Since it was written in 1741, it is from the Baroque (“bar-oak”) era of music. We can also tell it is from the Baroque era by the many ornaments of tiny short notes heard. The first movement, “Sinfonia,” just means symphony in Italian. A symphony is a piece written for an orchestra that does not have words. “Sinfonia” is also an overture, or opener piece, for the oratorio. It has two distinct parts that we will hear in a minute. The first section has a slower tempo (speed) that Handel wrote as Grave, while the second potion is a more upbeat fugue. A fugue is where a composer takes one musical idea and reworks it in new ways over and over again.

Now onto the main processes of our Listening ABCs.

A – Attentive Listening

Before you play the piece for the first time, ask your family to close their eyes and listen silently. Ask them to try and get a feeling, picture, or story in their mind of what the music reminds them of. For older children, this may be two different answers given the two contrasting segments of “Sinfonia” We really want them to get their imaginations running for this first listening. Ask them to share what they saw in the music. There is no right or wrong answer.

B – Bodily Movement

For the second listening our eyes can be open and we’re going to add a bodily movement to help our brains connect our memory and the music. Here a child can use the printed worksheet to draw what they saw while listening the first time through or dance in their seats with the tempo (speed) of the music. It can be more than one  thing to make a music collage. Another child can tap their palms in their laps along with the music, or even older children can try to match the their pats to how the notes are being played (dynamics: loud, soft, jumpy). If an older child can recognize what instruments are being played, they can join in and pretend to play along with the orchestra or draw/write them on their music collage as well. Choose what will work best for the ages of your children.

C – Conversation

This third listening is where we talk about the elements we hear in the music. Each time your family listens with purpose using these ABCs, they will hear and be able to verbalize more and more. Any observation is welcome and should be praised during this listening. Some may hear and mention a specific instrument like the violin, oboe, or bassoon. While others might hear how the piece slows down at the end where Handel wrote “piu lento” (a little slower). Maybe someone can tell if the piece is in a major or minor key. Major keys sound joyful while minor keys have a sadder tone. The mood of the piece can also be discussed here by asking how the music made your family feel and sharing your own response. Again there is no wrong answer to this question. Older children who can write may use the worksheet to write down what they heard in the music as well.

This step is also where I give any biographical or historical information I want to add. Below I’ve included some details from Handel’s life and the premier of Messiah to be read. These two sections may be split over Days 1 and 2.

 

G. F. Handel

In 1685, George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany. As a young child he was fascinated with music and longed to learn about it. At the encouragement of his mother, Handel began studying under Frideric Wilhelm Zachow, a local organist. In addition to learning to play, Zachow taught him how to write music. They have now been lost, but Handel’s early musical compositions were chamber pieces (written for smaller spaces) and church music.

His young adult years were spent teaching music, composing, and playing the violin. In 1705, when he was only 19 years old, Handel’s first opera, Almira, premiered in Habsburg, Germany. After later traveling throughout Italy, Handel went to work in London at the King’s Theatre. His first opera commissioned there, Rinaldo, brought him much lasting acclaim in 1710. Handel went on to play for English royalty and form his own opera company. He continued to compose operas for over ten years until the form lost its popularity in London. At this time Handel turned from opera to a new rising musical form that was less expensive to produce, the oratorio.

Inspired by Charles Jennen’s apocryphal libretto (text), Handel was requested to compose an oratorio by the Lord Lieutenant of Dublin. I imagine the night of the premier may have gone something like this:


It was a brisk evening in April 1742 when George Frideric Handel peered out over the packed house of Dublin’s New Music Hall. The crowd was so large they had requested that all skirt hoops and swords be removed to make more room, and the patrons eagerly complied to maintain their spot in the audience.

After the excitement that fueled the usual furious speed of his composing – he finished his whole work in less than a month – Handel was cautiously optimist in his new Easter oratorio. Given the lackluster reception his other works received the previous season in London, Dublin would be a safer bet for his latest project on the life of Christ.

Even if they lacked a bassoon and oboe, he was confident in the ensemble before him. The two trumpets, string ensemble, and timpani drum would do fine. If things went well tonight he could go back to London for another premier and include those missing parts. “Soli Deo gloria – glory to God alone” Handel now thought to himself, just as he had written it on the final page of the completed score in his hand. He took one last deep breath and stepped out from behind the stage curtain to conduct what would go on to be the most performed oratorio of his composing career. After its debut in London the next year, Handel conducted Messiah annually until his death in 1759.

As was common at the time for Easter concerts, Handel gave the proceeds to local charities, the hospital and debtors’ prison. Many slightly different versions of Handel’s Messiah may be heard today, as he continued to alter the work to fit the assembled group of musicians he had available for a specific performance. The 1752 version is the one used most often. Because there were so many other appropriate options at that time, instead of remaining as an Easter work, Messiah filled the great void for Christmas music, and has stayed in that sacred space ever since.

(Just click on the picture to download)

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