One of my favorite post-Thanksgiving rituals involves replacing all the CDs in my car. Although switching from ABBA’s Greatest Hits and the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack to songs of Advent may seem less than exciting, I find it is an important way for me to do something different during this special season of hopeful waiting. While I’d like to think I’m a pretty patient person, I’m sure my friends would disagree. With that, I try to wait differently during Advent. So, when I’m sitting in traffic or looping the terminal to pick up a friend from the airport or stuck in the pharmacy drive-through line that hasn’t moved in seventeen minutes, I try to wait and pray with the songs of the season. Here are some of my Advent favorites in CD and Spotify playlist form.
Take Comfort, My People from Candled Seasons (Steven C. Warner) This gem from Steve and the Notre Dame Folk choir contains some of my all-time favorite Advent songs, including Take Comfort, My People, which combines Isaiah’s proclamation with the traditional “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The album also boasts beautiful renditions of Steve’s Christ, Our Light and Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts, among others.
I wrote this piece on the guitar, with the intention of having it as a “bookend” or companion to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. At the time, I was working with a gifted graduate student, Ellen Coman. The genius of her arrangement was a beautiful achievement, which actually wed little fragments of “O Come, O Come” with the new tune and text. – Steven C. Warner
Day of Peace from Tryin’ to Get Ready (Janèt Sullivan Whitaker) If any piece of music embodies the longing for the restoration of creation in today’s world, it is Janèt’s Day of Peace. As a parish music director I turned to this piece often amid the hate and violence that seems so commonplace in our world. Praying the song during Advent, however, takes on an entirely new meaning.
“Day of Peace” was originally composed in response to the Columbine High School massacre in April of 1999. The parents of children at my son’s school were despairing and afraid. I wanted to write a song to help them: one that focused less on the dark, sinister, and dangerous – and more on the decent, loving, and peaceful world we all want for the ones we love. Peace doesn’t come without everyone pitching in to help make it a reality. It takes work. It also requires prayer, imagination – and living what we claim to believe. – Janèt Sullivan Whitaker
This Is Your Justice from I Am the Way (Craig Colson) I love Advent classics like “O Come, Divine Messiah” and “Creator of the Stars of Night,” but I also appreciate contemporary takes on beloved scripture texts, as embodied in This Is Your Justice. I challenge anyone to sit completely still while praying Craig’s driving call and response setting.
I’ve always loved the imagery of the “Lion laying down with the Lamb” and the “blind regaining their sight!” Such strong imagery of the justice and reign of God. God’s justice is not our own justice, that many in our world see. The least of all shall be the first and shall be exalted. This is the Good News! I find it very effective to use “call and response” music to encourage an Assembly to sing and sing a new song quickly. “This is Your Justice” is very easy to pick up on, as for most of the song, the congregation echoes back the Cantor and helps this song to be engaging in this short season of waiting and expectation. – Craig Colson
Canticle of Mary from Psalms from the Soul (ValLimar Jansen) I’ve yet to find a setting of the Magnificat that I don’t like. While I have a number of favorites, this one always rises to the top. As I listen to ValLimar sing these words from Luke, I can close my eyes and picture Mary praying them.
When approaching this setting of the Magnificat, I wanted the antiphon or refrain to be in a soulful, Gospel setting, with the verses giving a feeling of improvisation. I wanted us to feel as though Mary was singing this song for the first time—with the BVM singing to Elizabeth, in “their” present moment, as the Holy Spirit moved upon both of them.
I wanted the chorus of this Gospel setting of the Magnificat to convey a strong Mary—The Blessed Virgin Mary, who lets go of fear; listens to the Word of God; humbly, yet confidently brings her questions to God; fully believes the Word of God; puts all her trust in God’s plan for her life and then proclaims, to the world, that God brings to pass everything God promises. – ValLimar Jansen
Letanía de Adviento/Advent Litany from Adviento (Jaime Cortez) There is something comforting about a litany, and perhaps that is why I am so drawn to Advent Litany. The text drips with imagery, and the melody is worthy of the words paired with it.
I was fascinated by how many different names were used to call the Messiah through the scriptures of Advent & Christmas. I also wanted to use a familiar Advent melody in a fresh way. – Jaime Cortez