During a worship service a while back, the chorus of Emmanuel Music sang a motet “Der Herr denket an uns,” which is #9 in Johann Hermann Schein’s “Israels Brünnlein” collection. The text is from Psalm 115, verses 12–15. I sat there in my usual spot in the third row, soaking up the beauty in my usual way—not following along in the program but watching the singers, players, and John Harbison’s conducting dance. And listening. Listening with a ferocious desire for bigger ears so I could take in this miracle of sound that we call music. I’ve heard that the ears continue to grow throughout one’s life; what a great place for this wish to be coming true!
As I sat there imagining myself floating in a pool of shimmering sound, the music suddenly stopped. I snapped back to attention to see John’s hands hovering in the air, then cueing the players and singers to their next entry point. I looked down at the program to see where they were and, to my delight, they were repeating the line again: “Ihr seid die Gesegneten des Herren” or in English “You are the blessed of the Lord.” The pauses between the lines were long enough to create, in me anyway, an intense feeling of leaning forward, anticipating, feeling that pull of “What’s next?” The silence of the pauses was, as I suppose musicians already know, a kind of music in itself.
The line “Ihr Seid die Gesegneten des Herren” was repeated at least three times when I heard it. In a recording I found, it’s repeated six times. So maybe that’s how EMI performed it, but I honestly can’t remember because I was so completely transported I lost count. I found myself scooping up these silences like prized stones found on a beach, filling my hands and pockets with them. As much as I loved the music of the piece, it is these silences that are most vivid in my memory of this motet.
I’m still floating on this little musical offering, months later. Thanks to my local library, I found a collection of the “Israels Brünnlein” that has “Der Herr denket an uns” in it. If you can get your hands on this piece, the repetitions of this phrase and the accompanying pauses start at about 2:20. I don’t expect a recording to have exactly the same rapturous effects as my hearing it live did. For one, when you listen to a recording you can’t see the relationship between conductor, players, and singers. This was particularly delightful to see during these pauses—the intensity of the waiting, the anticipation, the alertness, the readiness, the commitment to the next measure. Goosebumps.
It’s easy to feel like “the blessed of the Lord” when music like this is echoing around in my brain. Johann Hermann Schein wrote “Israels Brünnlein” in 1623, but the need to hear “Ihr seid die Gesegneten des Herren” over and over is as keen now as it was then. Each brief and ballistic pause reminds me of more ways that I’m blessed. Imagine living every moment of every day with this feeling of blessedness woven into every fiber of our being.
Ihr seid die Gesegneten des Herren. You are the blessed of the Lord.
By Joy Howard