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Good Friday

The following post is from John Hanson, former Section Head of the NLS Music Section.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. It is a major Christian holiday marking Jesus’ crucifixion. “Holiday” seems a little too joyful a term given its origin.  But the stock market is closed. Wall Street has a holiday.

For me, growing up, Good Friday was always a time of pain. Extended pain. In the heavily Norwegian and Norwegian-American Lutheran church I was raised in, Good Friday services were three hours long. From 12:00 noon until 3:00 pm., attempting to mirror the biblical texts that told of this event. The meaning of it all comes later in life.

I was required by my parents to attend the entire service, which was structured around the so-called “seven last words of Christ on the cross.” It was interminable to me, especially in the earliest years. I mean, this was in California, the weather was always great and there was no school.  And where was I? Sitting in a hard uncushioned pew.

Some things changed over the years as I got older. I was required to serve as an acolyte during the service and its seven parts. But it was still three hours long and the weather great outside.

When I was an exchange student in Norway, at the age of 17, I learned what “Good Friday” is in Norwegian.

It’s “Lang fredag.” Long Friday. Boy, did I understand that. Deep down somewhere, that explained my experiences.

Then, some years later, after college, I was living and studying in Oslo. On Good Friday I once attended the American Lutheran Church in Oslo. Typical American service, one hour, in English, but otherwise with all the traditional liturgy, hymns and music of Good Friday: slow, dark, somber, minor keys, laden with the sounds and words of the crucifixion scene. The darkest stuff in the hymnbook.

After the service, I met a native Norwegian who was visiting the church service. He immediately commented on how happy and joyful the hymns were to his ears!  Well, I’m glad I didn’t grow up in his church. I had enough trouble with my three hour detainments in good weather.

But I also need to say that I found some light during these services of my youth. It was the sound of music. Hymns are hymns, and Lutherans, going back before Bach, have a strong musical tradition. So there came to be some good exposure to music here, both on the organ and in communal singing. And this is still appreciated.

And, lo, and behold, the NLS music collection has some of it as well. Not enough, but some. We have the soprano part to Bach’s Cantata no. 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in the bonds of death) at BRM35465. There is also the New Cathedral Psalter: Good Friday, at BRM05100.

Theodore Dubois wrote The 7 Last Words of Christ for chorus, with solos, which we have in braille. BRM05211.

Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs, op. 29, includes no. 5, The Crucifixion, BRM21210.

Then there is Wagner: Good Friday Music from Parsifal, BRM01790. And, even more modern, there is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Crucifixion from Jesus Christ Superstar, found at BRM34931.

And, lastly, Bach. At DBM00066 we have an unusual audio recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

So if you have an interest in this day, or holiday, whether good or long, there is music to be had. Music accompanies everything, whether a funeral, a protest, a wedding, St. Patrick’s day, or any old time, good or bad.

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