A “motet” is a particular kind of choral piece where each phrase of the text is treated in a slightly different musical way.
In Chautauqua, a motet isn’t just a choral piece — it’s one of its top choirs.
“The Motet Choir is made up of specialists from the Chautauqua Choir that sing Monday through Friday mornings all summer long,” said Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “As an enhancement to that, many years ago one of their members, whose name was Richard Kemper, started the Motet Consort. Kemper was a woodwind teacher.”
Once a week, Jacobsen said the Motet Consort performs before the worship service starts, and that the group often features members of the Motet Choir playing on different musical instruments.
“The second thread running through next week is that our preacher, whose name is the Rev. Susan Sparks, is not only a Baptist minister from New York City, but also a standup comedian,” he said. “She contacted me in early spring and said she was thinking of doing a series of sermons this summer on the Christmas story. Well, I love doing Christmas in July.”
At 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen will lead the Sacred Song Service, “A Little Advent Music,” with a program of music designed to both honor Kemper and complement Sparks’ series of sermons on the Christmas story.
“I told (Sparks), ‘I can see why you’d want to do this,’ ” Jacobsen said. “There are a whole lot of interesting characters in the Christmas story, in the narratives that have come down to us. So this week, we’re looking at laughter and at what is funny, not only in the secular world, but also in the religious world as well.”
Jacobsen said that the stories most essential to the Christmas story come from the Advent readings, the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah.
“Susan wanted to set the stage on Sunday morning by talking about Advent,” he said. “And one of the pieces that goes along with that is Hugo Distler’s A Little Advent Music, Opus 4.”
Distler’s piece was inspired by the ancient Latin hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come,” which was written by St. Ambrose, a fourth-century Milanese bishop.
The instrumental musicians performing in the service “all have a connection to Richard Kemper,” according to Jacobsen.
“(Kemper) loved the Chautauqua Choir and the Motet Choir so much,” he said. “Richard was the kind of guy who would say, ‘What musicians do you need for this concert today?’ He’d enlist his own children who were musicians into coming and playing, or he would get a student who was visiting to come and play. They’d walk in the door, and he’d hand them the sheet music and say, ‘Welcome to Chautauqua, by the way, this is what we’re playing.’ ”
Part of the allure of attending this service, according to Jacobsen, is a distinct sense of togetherness that’s shared by all the musicians.