Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings July 24, 2021

THAXTED is the name of a beloved tune by Gustav Holst (1874 –1934) originally the theme of Jupiter from The Planets. It is one tune I really wish were in the HYMNAL 1982. It is beloved of the Brits who sing it to the words “I Vow to Thee My Country.”  Here is a version of Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity with an awesome woman conducting (Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki, Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms 2015.) The theme Thaxted comes in at 2:54:

The version we sing during communion is arranged by Pittsburgh Catholic priest/musician James Chepponis (b.1956), with his own communion words “As the Bread of Life Was Broken.”

The prelude is a setting by Michigan composer, organist (and piano technician) John Ignatowski. The postlude is a setting for organ and trumpet or flugel horn by David Howard Pettit, which allows me to keep Grace in in her trumpet chops! Pettit is Principal Organist/Composer in Residence at First Presbyterian Church of Bartlesville, OK, and holds graduate degrees from my graduate school, The College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

Our other “of the day” is composer Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921 – July 26, 2003).  Very few American musicians have had such an impact on the Episcopal Church. Dirksen served at Washington National Cathedral from 1942-1991, beginning as assistant and working his way through to beloved Organist/Choir Director, Canon Precentor, director of several glee clubs and the Cathedral Choral Society. He is known as a teacher, composer, performer, producer, recording artist and more. There is a centennial website with everything you ever wanted to know if you would like to learn more, and explore anecdotes and reminiscences.

His 2-part Jubilate Deo (1960) which the cantors sing as our offertory is something I remember singing in junior choir myself, and really loving. In the past 31 years I have done it maybe twice with my trebles, because it IS tricky! It was already in the choral library I inherited from Helen E.J. Thomas who was herself on the cutting edge of repertoire.

Dirksen has 7 hymns in the HYMNAL 1982. One of the most beautiful hymns is #34, INNISFREE FARM, an evening hymn in irregular meter and named for the studio of Rowan le Compte, stained glass master of the rose window at the cathedral. In preparation for the creation of the HYMNAL 1982, the committee asked Dirksen for a more square metrical version of the tune, and that is today’s hymn, We the Lord’s People, #51. The tune name DECATUR PLACE honors the home of Dirksen’s friend and predecessor at the cathedral, Paul Calloway. The words are by John E. Bowers (b. 1923).

This week I attended the wedding of a friend and awesome singer who I’ve known since she was two, music teacher and oft-times member of the Grace Choir, Donna Ward. It was a wonderful ceremony, great people, great music, a bit scarily post-covid…and my daughter was the matron of honor. One cool story I’d love to share is at the reception we were talking to one of the women who worked at the venue and told her the bride and many of us were music teachers, and she said, “oh I love music teachers, I remember my music teacher” who of course turned out to be someone I know! Another former Grace singer, Greg (former Gargoyles director) walked her down the aisle.

Congratulations Donna and Guy and all the best from us at Grace!

Sunday Music Musings July 17, 2021

Colorful Archangel Raphael Stained Glass Basilica Cathedral Puebla Mexico. Built in 15 to 1600s. Raphal is the healing archangle with fish as a symbol

Craig Phillips is a distinguished and popular American composer and organist and Director of Music at All Saints’ Church, Beverly Hills. His choral and organ music is heard Sunday by Sunday in churches and cathedrals across the United States, and many of his works have been performed in concert throughout North America, Europe and Asia. He was named the American Guild of Organists Distinguished Composer for 2012. Dr. Phillips holds the degrees Doctor of Musical Arts, Master of Music, and the Performers Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, where he studied with the great pedagogue Russell Saunders. 

His Archangel Suite was written in 2011, and is a four movement work: Michael-Raphael-Gabriel-Uriel. Our prelude, Raphael is subtitled “It is God who Heals” and is described by the publisher as “a lush cantilena; a shimmering meditation for celestes.”

We have a few Sundays left with both of our cantors, Elizabeth and Grace, who sing so well together, so I can’t help but give them challenging duets like Maurice Greene (1696 –1755)’s cheerful Baroque setting of the beginning of Psalm 23 The Lord is My Shepherd. The son of a clergyman, born in London, Greene had quite a distinguished career. Greene became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral under Jeremiah Clarke and Charles King, and then studied with the organist Richard Brind, becoming organist at St. Paul’s upon his teacher’s death. With the death of William Croft in 1727, Greene became organist at the Chapel Royal, in 1730 he became Professor of Music at Cambridge University, and in 1735 he was appointed Master of the King’s Musick.

During communion the cantors will sing the Psalm 23 words to James McBain’s Brother James’ Air which I wrote about on Good Shepherd Sunday.

The hymn of the day is Saviour Like Shepherd Lead Us the words of which were first found in a Children’s Hymnal from 1830. The tune is SICILIAN MARINERS. According to hymnary.org SICILIAN MARINERS is traditionally used for the Roman Catholic Marian hymn O Sanctissima. According to tradition, Sicilian seamen ended each day on their ships by singing this hymn in unison. The tune probably traveled from Italy to Germany to England, where The European Magazine and London Review first published it in 1792. The tune was associated with the German Christmas carol O du Frohliche, O du Selige.

The tune also appears to have had an influence on the African American song We Shall Overcome. Below is a fantastic 8 minute video about the roots of “We Shall Overcome” that traces the tune back through Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Charles Tindley, “No More Auction Block” to North Carolina Civil War Bands. I may have shared this before, but it is worth sharing again.

The postlude is a setting of this tune by early American composer Benjamin Carr (1768 – 1831). Born in England, where he studied organ with Charles Wesley and composition with Samuel Arnold, Carr emigrated to Philadelphia in 1793 and opened a music shop. Not only did Carr find success as a publisher, but he was also a notable tenor, organist, and composer. He published 71 songs throughout his lifetime and played an important role in the development of early American musical life. In 1794, he made his stage debut in Philadelphia as a tenor with the Old American Company and accompanied the ensemble to New York later that year. Carr spent a few years in New York, opening another music shop and continuing to perform and compose. Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1797, he became known as the “Father of Philadelphia Music and served as organist at several churches. (Source: New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).

Speaking of healing, I want to say I really, really appreciate all of your prayers as I go through what we hope is the end of 6 rounds of chemo for lymphoma. I’m really doing OK, but I get really frustrated with myself when I don’t have energy and I don’t have patience with not having energy, and I’m sure God is telling me to chill out! So anyway, cycle 5 of 6 now — I’m in the middle of it, my counts go down, and I feel a little crappy, but they gave me the “good stuff” (blood transfusion) on Monday which helped and God Bless the integrative therapists i.e. free foot massage! Best of all I felt good enough to go to my daughter Virginia’s birthday/housewarming party on Wednesday. Wow, if you ever get to go to a jam session with a bunch of music therapists (and my family memebers) – there is nothing like it. I did get a little weepy watching my own children sing Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game. Here is a taste! Long day, but I sure felt great after all that singing!

Right now in church, we are just singing the last hymn as a congregtion, and I asked everyone to really sing out on Amazing Grace last week (52:25) so the livestream could pick up the singing, and they did great! Keep it coming!

Sunday Music Musings July 10, 2021

Very few hymns have a more famous story than Amazing Grace, written by repentant enslaver John Newton (1735-1807). Newton was born in 1725 in London to a Puritan mother who died before his seventh birthday, and a stern sea-captain father who took him to sea at age 11. After many voyages and a reckless youth of drinking, Newton was impressed into the British navy, and ended up in the slave trade. The story goes that during a horrendous storm at sea, he prayed for deliverance, was delivered, repented and changed his life. According to this cool website

“In 1764, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services. He wrote the words for “Amazing Grace” in 1772 (In 1835, William Walker put the words to the popular tune “New Britain”)…“It was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving it that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” The tract described the horrific conditions on the ships and Newton apologized for making a public statement so many years after participating in the trade: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” The pamphlet was so popular it was reprinted several times and sent to every member of Parliament. Under the leadership of MP William Wilberforce, the English civil government outlawed slavery in Great Britain in 1807 and Newton lived to see it, dying in December of that year.”

The fifth verse is credited not to Newton, but to John Rees (1828-1900), yet it antedates his birth—according to some sources, it was was in print by 1790 attached to “Jerusalem, my happy home.” Harriet Beecher Stowe quotes it in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The tune, NEW BRITAIN, is a shape-note setting from Virginia Harmony (1831).

I hope you enjoy our jazz-infused setting by George Shearing (1919-2011) which is the prelude. Born blind to a poor London family, Shearing trained as a classical pianist but turned to jazz. He played dance-band gigs before settling in the United States in 1946. His quintet, first formed in 1949, lasted for many years and won a huge following for its many albums. He later worked extensively with Mel Tormé. He enjoyed an international reputation as a pianist, arranger and composer. Shearing was recognized for his inventive, orchestrated jazz. He wrote over 300 compositions, including the classic Lullaby of Birdland, which became a standard. Here is a performance by Shearing, and below is a performance (5:24) by the 2014 Daughters of Zion performing a (nearly) a cappella arrangement of Lullaby of Birdland with Devin McGuire, bass.

From his obituary: “Mr. Shearing was invited to perform at the White House by three presidents: Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. He performed for the British royal family as well. The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters gave him the Ivor Novello Award for lifetime achievement in 1993. In 1996, he was invested as an officer in the Order of the British Empire, and 11 years later he was knighted. “I don’t know why I’m getting this honor,” he said shortly after learning of his knighthood. “I’ve just been doing what I love to do.”

This week’s gospel is definitely a hard one to actually find music for, since it is about the beheading of John the Baptist. But suddenly I was reminded (by him) that my husband has written verse paraphrases for the whole Gospel of Mark. These are intended to be set to music, and this one is in long meter (LM) – so you can set it to any hymn tune in that meter (there is even a convenient metrical index in the back of the hymnal for when you want to mix tunes around). Grace and I decided to pick the appropriately plaintive tune BOURBON, a southern folk tune attributed to Freeman Lewis (1780-1859), a Pennsylvania surveyor.

When Herod took his brother’s bride,
John Baptist cursed their sinful pride.
The king would have him killed for this,
But feared to, for John’s righteousness.

So then came Herod’s birthday feast,
Where food and drink were all the best.
And there the daughter of his bride
Danced, to enflame his lust and pride.

Therefore he promised to give her
Whatever she should ask him for;
And she, to please her mother, said
“Give us John Baptist, just the head.”

So this was on a platter brought,
The thing the vicious girl had sought:
John’s mournful followers then came
And laid his body in a tomb.

Excerpt from Chapter 6 of “The Song of Mark:  A Poetic Gospel,” by Jabez L. Van Cleef (b.1949)  

Our communion anthem, Andrew’s Song is by Sarah MacDonald (b.1968), using a tune by John Penny. Her impressive bio is as follows:

Sarah MacDonald came to the UK from her native Canada in 1992 as Organ Scholar of Robinson College, Cambridge, after studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with Leon Fleisher, Marek Jablonski, and John Tuttle. At Cambridge she studied the organ with David Sanger. She has been at Selwyn since 1999, and is the first woman to hold such a post in an Oxbridge Chapel. Sarah has played numerous recitals and made over 25 recordings, variously in the guises of pianist, organist, conductor, and producer; she is a winner of the Royal College of Organists (RCO) Limpus Prize. Sarah has taught organ and conducting for Eton Choral Courses, Oundle for Organists, the Jennifer Bate Organ Academy, and courses run by the RCO, and she is a regular Director of the annual Girls’ Chorister Course at St Thomas’ Church Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Sarah is a Fellow, Examiner, and Trustee of the RCO, and is a member of the Academic Board. She is also Director of Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir.

I have enjoyed watching evensongs from Selwyn throughout the pandemic. Sarah has been ground-breaking but it is high time girl’s choirs and women organists get more respect and parity in this field, especially among Anglicans.

This anthem also sets one of my favorite texts by George Herbert (1593–1633), Welsh-born metaphysical poet, orator, and priest, Love Bade Me Welcome (also famously set by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Five Mystical Songs). These are love poems which function allegorically as a relationship between God or Christ as Love, and the believer as the beloved. You can find the full poem here.

The postlude is J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) reworking of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in A minor (first movement-Allegro) from a string orchestra piece to an organ piece. This is really a “concerto grosso”: a form of baroque music in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists and full orchestra. In the original string version, the small group is two violins and continuo. In Bach’s organ version, the player switches between full organ on the main manual (the “great”) and in my case, the gallery organ from the back serves as the smaller ensemble. It is exciting and fun to play!

And speaking of fun to play, my lady bell choir had a closing ceremony today, where we played a mini concert of 6 hymn arrangements from the porch for a small audience of family and friends, followed by snacks and fellowship. It was a perfect day for outdoor bells with no leaf blowers, partly cloudy and no sudden gusts of wind!

The audience assembles! The garden looks so great.

Sunday Music Musings July 3, 2021

Our hymn of the day is How Firm a Foundation using the American tune from The Sacred Harp tunebook (1884). Sacred harp singing originated in New England and there are still societies dedicated to singing this music. This type of singing employs “shape notes”: fa is a triangle, sol an oval, la a rectangle, and mi a diamond, and so forth–this helps with sight singing.

The anonymous tune FOUNDATION first appeared in Joseph Funk‘s A Compilation of Genuine Church Music (1832) and also appeared in Southern Harmony (another shape-note collection) as well as in the Sacred Harp. Joseph Funk (1778- 1862) was an itinerant singing-school teacher and music publisher, of German Mennonite heritage. Alice Parker wrote an opera, Singers Glen (1978), about Funk’s life. Below is a really good short video about shapte-note singing.

(You can see that they sing in a very bright and robust fashion, and take turns leading.)

In John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns (1787) the text is attributed simply to “K—”. For more information and a list of possible authors from hymnary.org you can follow this link.

I chose a Sacred Harp setting of the psalm as well. This kind of music is so uniquely American, I thought it was so appropriate for the Fourth of July. The text is an Isaac Watts (1674 –1748) paraphrase of psalm 48. The tune is called Aylesbury.

The God we worship now,   Isaac Watts
Will guide us till we die,
Will be our God while here below,
And ours above the sky.

How decent and how wise!
How glorious to behold,
Beyond the pomp that charms the eye,
And rites adorned with gold.

Far as Thy name is known,
The world declares Thy praise;
Thy saints, Oh Lord, before Thy throne
Their songs of honor raise.

Our prelude and postlude (from Partita on ‘How Firm a Foundation‘) are by the prolific (over 300 organ and choral works in print) composer Alfred Fedak (b.1953). Sometimes I grumble to myself when I am finishing my blog on Saturday night, but I have learned such amazing things myself, that it has totally been worth it! First, here is another strong New Jersey connection: born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Fedak attended the Pingry School and graduated from Hope College in 1975 with degrees in Organ Performance and Music History. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in Organ Performance from Montclair State University with additional study at Westminster Choir College (church music). He also did additional studies at Eastman School of Music (harpsichord continuo), the Institute for European Studies in Vienna, Austria (music history), and in England at the first Cambridge Choral Studies Seminar at Clare College, Cambridge. Fedak is an examiner for the AGO, having received the highest ever score on the 7-hour Fellowship exam (95%). He is currently Minister of Music and Arts at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Capitol Hill in Albany, New York. And finally, I just found out, his birthday is July 4th!

Happy Birthday Alfred Fedak – (photo by Nicole Villamora)

The movements I will play in the prelude are:

Prelude: a canon in the pedals and the right hand with a trio countermelody in the left hand

Canon: At first in 5/8, a round between tenor and treble voices, it switches to ¾ in the middle when the pedals join the canon.

Diversion: A whimsical flourish on a 4 foot flute

Chorale: a grander statement for our procession, ending with a loud quote of the tune in the pedal

The movements I will play for the postlude are

Trumpet Tune: this minor key hornpipe has a nautical feel—okay a pirate song for Jesus!

Finale: a toccata with the tune still very clear, its does quickly wander through a few keys before returning for the grand ending

During communion Elizabeth and Grace will sing a cool arrangement by Minnesota composer J. David Moore (b. 1962), who has created a “mash-up” of Bach’s famous Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier and America the Beautiful. Please read all about poet Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), who penned “America” on Pike’s Peak, and composer Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) a native of Newark, New Jersey, who became organist/choirmaster at Grace Church in Newark from 1880 until his death in 1903, in my blog from last July 4th weekend.

I played the funeral of a dear friend, Steve Fulda on Friday.

Reger’s autograph (in pencil)

Since he was such a music lover, which he shared with his late wife Sandra, the music choices were very important to him and included Gibbons, Sweelinck, Brahms, Bach, and Reger. When Steve moved from his home in Madison to Fellowship Village, he had offered me a look through his music collection and gifted me and some Reger Chamber music signed by the composer (in pencil!) (His grandparents were friends of Reger’s.) When he served as an usher he would hang out for the postlude and chat. I had three of his grandchildren in choir (back in the day) and it was great to see them all grown up. Two other grandchildren sang at the service, a touching and simple a cappella harmony of the Irish “The Parting Glass.” It was stunning, and a way to see the direct line from his love of music through the generations of his family. A small choir valiantly led the hymn singing from the gallery (Brother James Air and Jerusalem). It was a fitting send-off.

So good night, and joy be with you all.

This week’s service can be watched on YouTube here.

Sunday Music Musings June 26, 2021

As you know by now, I’ve been working hard to achieve equity in my programming of woman composers, and I have spent the last year learning as much new repertoire as I can and following the latest research. We have a thousand years to catch up with! Here is a cool meme I found on social media about equity.

credit: Sam Spencer

One amazing woman I stumbled across is Eugenie-Emilie Juliette Folville (1870 – 1946), Belgian pianist, violinist, music educator, conductor and composer. There are two free organ scores on ISMLP (The International Music Score Library Project) including our Prelude Verset. Folville had a successful career on the concert stage, and in 1897 took a position teaching piano at the Royal Conservatory of Liège. She lived for several years in London, and during World War II she lived and performed in Bournemouth. She died in Dourgne (France). She wrote many orchestral works, plus choral and keyboard works, which she signed as J. Folville – one can imagine why. This organ work is a free meditation on the opening notes of the communion chant “Tantum Ergo.” Here is a link to the Gregorian chant.

J. Folville

For our setting of the psalm “Out of the Depths” our cantor will sing a version from the hymnal, with the famous old German melody attributed to Martin Luther (1483-1546) which has always been associated with psalm 130, as its opening descending 5th embodies a descent “to the depths.” The HYMNAL #151 version is harmonized by the great German baroque composer Johann Schein (1586-1630).The original German paraphrase is poetically rendered into English by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), a British woman known for her English translations of German hymns, her piety and devotional life, and at the same time, her sympathy for the cause of women’s rights. In 1845 she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany where she learned German and German hymnody. There are 10 hymn translations by Winkworth in the Hymnal 1982, including “Now Thank We All Our God.”

I was looking for an offertory focused on healing and found in the supplemental hymnal “Wonder, Love and Praise” Heal Me Hands of Jesus by Carl Haywood (b.1949). The tune SHARPE was written especially for this hymnal, and named for a magnificent bass-baritone Sean Sharpe who studied with Dr. Haywood at Norfolk State University, sang in his choir at Grace Church, Norfolk, and sadly, died young. Haywood, a native of Portsmouth, Virginia, holds a Master of Sacred Music (organ) and Master of Music (choral conducting) degrees from Southern Methodist University, where he studied with Lloyd Pfautsch, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Southern California, where he studied with Halsey Stevens. Dr. Haywood has sustained a long tenure at Norfolk State University, where he is Director of Choral Activities and conducts the NSU Concert Choir and the Spartan Chorale. Dr. Haywood frequently serves as a clinician, adjudicator, guest conductor, and lecturer for schools, colleges, and churches throughout the country. He also serves as a National Conductor for the 105 Voices of History, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Choir.

Dr. Carl Haywood

The text is by Michael Perry (1942-1996), a British clergyman and one of the leading Angilcan hymnodists of the 20th century.

If you can only sing one hymn on a Sunday, The Church’s One Foundation (AURELIA) is certainly a favorite. The words are by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900), another British clergyman, and the wonderful tune is by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born in London, the illegitimate son of composer Samuel Wesley and his maid, Sarah Suter, and the grandson of Charles Wesley. After singing in the choir of the Chapel Royal (he was said by William Hawes, Master of the Children, to have been ‘the best boy he had ever had’), he embarked on a career as a musician, becoming organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1832. He moved to Exeter Cathedral three years later, and later held conflict-laden appointments at Leeds Parish Church, Winchester Cathedral and Gloucester Cathedral. Famous as an organist in his day, he composed almost exclusively for the Church of England. Wesley strove to improve the standards of church music in a period when they were rather lacking; his ideas were published as A Few Words on Cathedral Music and the Music System of the Church (1849). This tune was originially sung to the words “Jerusalem the Golden” from whence the tune name “Aurelia” comes.

S.S.Wesley’s plaque at Winchester Cathedral

Pablo Casals (1876 – 1973) is considered one of the greatest cellists of all time. He made many recordings throughout his career of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, including some as conductor, but he is perhaps best remembered for the recordings of the Bach Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939. Born in Catalonia, Spain, his father, an organist and choir director, gave him his earliest music instruction. His international career, which took him from Paris, London, to the U.S. and Puerto Rico, is beyond the scope of this blog, but you can read more here.

As well as being a cellist, Casals was a conductor and composer. Many of his pieces were written  for the Boy Choir at the Monastery in Montserrat, Spain. Eucharistica was written in Catalan, but Elizabeth will sing the English translation.

Our postlude, The Emperor’s Fanfare is a joyful celebratory piece by another Catalan composer, Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos, usually known as Padre Antonio Soler (1729 –1783).  Soler’s works span the late Baroque and early Classical music eras. He is best known for his many keyboard sonatas.

This week we had one last children’s choir rehearsal, followed by some socializing families and kids in a pool! Wow it felt great to be together. Before rehearsal we had some fun with solfege hopscotch!

Sunday Music Musings Juneteenth, 2021

Musically this week, I wanted to celebrate both Pride month and Juneteenth—now a national holiday! The readings are a good set about love and brotherhood—not to mention miracles…don’t you love it when that happens with the lectionary!

Our prelude is by Calvin Taylor (b. 1948), whose Were You There setting I played in my March recital. Calvin Taylor was born in Los Angeles, California. The composer, pianist, and organist made history at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1970 when he became the first organist in the school’s over 155-year history to improvise a graduate concert encore. Dr. Taylor is known for his orchestral works as well has his organ music such as Five Spirituals for Organ, 1998, commissioned and premiered by and dedicated to Dr. Marilyn Mason, with whom he studied at the University of Michigan. Talk About a Child that Do Love Jesus (sung here by the great Barbara Hendricks) is a moving spiritual that Taylor sets in an expressive manner.

Our service music is going back to our best known setting by David Hurd (b. 1950), composer, concert organist, choral director and educator who was at General Theological Seminary, New York City, for 28 years and is currently serving The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. You can read more about him in my February 20 blog.

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” This Old Testament reading in today’s lectionary, particularly appropriate for Pride month, is followed by Psalm 133 about all people dwelling together in unity. Our setting is an Anglican chant by the Elizabethan composer Richard Farrant (1525 – 1580).

Our anthem is I Dream of a Church by Mark Miller (b.1967), and we had a virtual version August 30 (with our wonderful Brandon Johnson-Douglas singing). You can read all about it and Mark, here.

We will also do another song from Mark’s wonderful publication “Roll Down Justice” called The Open Table (during communion). Grace and I are going to try using the piano and miking the piano as well as the cantor, as we do a little experimenting with what works best for in-person and streamed in this new world.

Our closing hymn is the great God is Love by Timothy Rees (1874-1939), Bishop of Llandaff, Wales. It is set to the wonderful tune ABBOT’s LEIGH which we also use for Lord You Give the Great Commission. The English composer Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907 – 1992) was a chorister at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and Westcott House, Cambridge. Ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1932, he served the church as both pastor and musician. His positions included being a producer for the BBC (1939­-1953), chaplain of the Royal School of Church Music (1953-1958), precentor of Salisbury Cathedral (1969-1975), and composing numerous hymn tunes.

The postlude is based on the popular (better known in Britain) hymn Love Lifted Me. Here is a link to a blog about the British hymnodist James Rowe (1865-1933) which includes the text. This hymn text particularly goes with the Matthew reading of Jesus’ disciples being afraid in the storm. The tune is called SAFETY and is by Howard E. Smith (1863-1918). I first learned it from Richard Tanner as a game/partner song to “lean FORward, lean BACKward, to the LEFT to the RIGHT,” at RSCM Choir Camp! The organ setting is by the very prolific Robert Powell (b.1932) Organist and Choir Director at Christ Church in Greenville, SC from 1968 to 2003.

This week we will have another senior sermon from our graduating senior head acolyte, Charlie Ehrbar, and the acolytes will (literally) “pass the torch” to another set of leaders.  

You can hear last week’s head choristers’ senior sermons here (17:00) Thanks to Chris Cullen for this photo of them after passing on their head chorister badges.

I’d also like to wish a happy graduation to all the graduating seniors, and a Happy Father’s Day to all Dads and those who have mentored us like Dads. There is a lot to be thankful for this weekend, and a lot of work still to be done. Thanks for reading!

Sunday Music Musings June 12, 2021

Our prelude is the festive Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) oratorio “Solomon.” I associate it with graduation season, and so I am playing it in honor of all of our seniors, especially today’s preachers, Anne Bolt and Kian Deane.

I was really happy that we were able to have an outdoor choir recognition service last week. Each small group sang something—the younger choristers demonstrated a round in solfege, the Daughters of Zion sang “Now I Walk in Beauty,” the Gargolyes sang the Peruvian “Gloria a Dios” and the adults led everyone in the South African “Siyahamba” – “We are marching in the Light of God”. One thing we could not do, was thank our two seniors, and pass on head chorister badges because one of them was away. Luckily this week, they are both giving senior sermons, something I look forward to every year. Please join us live at 10 a.m. (no pre-sign-up necessary—just sign in when you arrive by 9:45) or livestream with us on the Grace Church YouTube channel, or, watch it any time after!

Our head chorister Anne Bolt has been in choir since second grade. Although she is one of the busiest people I know, with advanced ballet commitments, sports and violin, she always had time to help with the younger kids and find a way to balance her commitments with choir rehearsals and Sundays. She is also Madison High School valedictorian, and will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. All through pandemic she came to zoom choir, submitted choir videos and mentored younger choristers. I am really happy to share a video I found where she had big solo in Britten’s Festival Ted Deum in our 2013 Britten’s 100th Birthday concert. (Her solo starts at 4:35).

Kian Deane is the most loyal and dedicated choir member, whose good nature, wry humor and calm will serve him well in college when he attends Lawrence Technological University to study mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology.  Kian also started in elementary school, and persisted with weekly lessons when at first he couldn’t match pitch–only to become head chorister! The Gargoyles under his leadership were very consistent throughout pandemic year—attending zoom rehearsals every Thursday night, and making virtual videos for offertories and Evensong, and even one really fast and socially distanced recording session for the Christmas Pageant service.

Kian will pass on Head Guy duties to two rising juniors, his brother Luke and Charlie Love. Anne was co-head chorister with junior Mia Melchior, who continues, and they will pass on co-duties to rising Junior Elisabeth Wielandy. As I was getting ready for what is usually a pass-off, I went out to the choir robes and realized that Anne, Kian and Mia have NEVER WORN THEIR HEAD CHORISTER BADGES because of the pandemic. Last year we did a virtual pass-off (39:25) of a piece of paper with a picture of the badge! I am happy they will wear them tomorrow and throughout the summer (I have 6 badges ready!).

Anne and Mia are serving as cantors as well, and for an anthem we are doing a sentimental senior favorite, Here’s to Song by Allister MacGillivray (b.1948). MacGillivray is a Canadian singer/songwriter, guitarist, folklorist, author, record producer, and music historian. His songs are largely Celtic in style and his best-known work, Song for the Mira, has become something of an anthem in Nova Scotia.

The Gargoyles will be our small gallery choir Sunday, and sing a tradition arrangement of the spiritual “Steal Away” during communion. They will join the cantors in chanting the plainsong psalm.

Our hymn of the day will be Jerusalem My Happy Home (LAND OF REST), Hymnal 620, a favorite. The text is credited to F.B.P (16th century) with nothing else known, and adapted by various hymnists. The tune LAND OF REST is an American folk tune with roots in the ballads of northern England and Scotland. It was known throughout the Appalachians; a shape-note version of the tune was published in The Sacred Harp (1844) and titled NEW PROSPECT as the setting for “O land of rest! for thee I sigh.” The tune was known to Texan musicologist of American folk music, Annabel M. Buchanan (1888-1983), whose grandmother sang it to her as a child. She harmonized the tune and published it in her Folk Hymns of America (1938), and she is also credited in our hymnal.

Annabel Morris Buchanan | Hymnary.org

Annabel M. Buchanan, folk music expert

The postlude is a setting by the very prolific Charles Callahan (b. 1951), American composer, organist, and teacher. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with graduate degrees from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC., Callahan has taught at Catholic University, Middlebury College, Baylor University, Rollins College, and The Bermuda School of Music. This setting of Jerusalem My Happy Home actually honors another of my favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872- 1958), by paying homage to his famous organ piece, Rhosymedre (which Jabez and I had in our wedding prelude 25 years ago this week).

As I looked for that video from the 2013 Britten concert, I found this video of the little-performed “Friday Afternoons” from the same concert which has great solos by many, and views of the head choristers past and future when they were in the “red” choir. Can you find them? I hope they forgive my showing their “baby pictures”! Please enjoy!

All head choristers, this year and next, plus two current cantors and some past heads can be found in this 2013 video!

Sunday Music Musings June 5, 2021

1. When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,
Hallelujah!

2. How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound
Hallelujah!

3. So has the church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue:
Hallelujah!

4. And did not Jesus sing a Psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
Hallelujah!

5. Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always:
Hallelujah! Amen.

Our hymn of the day is When in Our Music God is Glorified, (Hymnal #420) tune originally by the great late Romantic Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and text by the Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)-one of the most important 20th century hymn composers. According to hymnary.org the text “is the only hymn text in Christendom that explains the reasons for church music while simultaneously offering “alleluias” to God. The various stanzas deal with our humility in performance (verse. 1), the aesthetics of musical worship (verse. 2), and the history of church music (verse. 3). The final two stanzas present a biblical model (verse. 4) and quote Psalm 150 (verse. 5).”

The prelude is Robert Hobby’s joyful setting which sets this tune clearly in the trumpet in the left hand, and later in canon between hands and feet. Hobby is a prolific composer and church musician who serves as Director of Music for Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hobby received his Bachelor’s Degree in Church Music from Wittenberg University in 1985 and a Master’s Degree in Organ Performance from the University of Notre Dame in 1987.

Our Trisagion is Hymnal S-102, by Russian composer and conductor Alexander Andreyevich Arkhangelsky (1846-1924). This gives me a chance to utilize some harmony from my newly-reinstated adult choir singing from the gallery. They will also join our cantors (Elizabeth and Grace are back) in chanting the psalm.

Our anthem is the Duet from Cantata 15. The piece was initially thought to be an early work of Johann Sebastian Bach. However, Bach scholars reattributed the piece to his cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach (1677 –1731). It was likely composed in Meiningen in 1704 for Easter Sunday.  It may have been performed again under Johann Sebastian Bach in April 1726 in Leipzig, so no wonder history got confused! The title of the whole work is Denn du wirst meine Seele nicht in der Hölle lassen (For you shall not leave my soul in hell), and this soprano/alto duet is the 7th movement. When I have done this with the children’s choirs they have enjoy singing about foiling the devil and the about laughing — with clear text painting (the music sounds like mocking laughter).

Ihr klaget mit Seufzen, ich jauchze mit Schall,
Ihr weinet, ich lache: ob einerlei Fall;
Euch kränket die plötzlich zerstörete Macht,
Mir hat solch Verderben viel Freude gebracht,
So künftig Tod, Teufel und Sünde verlacht.
 I sing for joy, I laugh
I sing resoundingly for joy
you mourn with sighs

you weep over the same cause
the sudden destruction of your power distresses you,
to me such ruin has brought great joy,
since in future death,devil and sin will be mocked.

Also, please be careful of singing translations! ‘verlacht’ means ‘mocking laughter!’

Our communion hymn is my favorite, King of Glory, King of Peace, #382. I don’t know which I love more, the words by George Herbert (1593-1633), or the tune by David Charles Walker (1938-2018), named after GENERAL SEMINARY in New York City (remember, hymn means text, and tunes are usually named for places).

Walker died in 2018—here is an excerpt from his obituary: “The Rev. David Charles Walker, Class of 1973 (General Seminary), — priest, chaplain, organist and composer — died Dec. 3, 2018. He served as chaplain and director of pastoral care at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles from 1991 – 2003 and previously served congregations in San Diego, Beverly Hills, and Brooklyn New York. Walker also served General as Organist and Director of Music. He composed two hymn tunes included in Hymnal 1982: “General Seminary,” with the text “King of Glory, King of Peace” by George Herbert (Hymn 382), and “Point Loma,” with the text “Baptized in water” (Hymn 294).  After serving three years on General’s faculty, he moved to parish life, becoming rector of St. Philip’s, Dyker Heights-Brooklyn for the next four years. In 1980 he moved to San Diego to become associate rector at All Souls’ Church. Five years later, he began his ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles as associate for worship and pastoral care at All Saints, Beverly Hills. Walker became interim priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, Monrovia, in 1990 before moving to Good Samaritan Hospital, by then a century-old diocesan institution, where he served as chaplain and director of pastoral care until his retirement.”

George Herbert is one of my favorite poets: a Welsh-born metaphysical poet, orator, and priest. One of my other favorite texts by George Herbert is Bob Chilcott’s setting of “Vertue” , I just love discussing these profound concepts of what is transient (day, spring, rose) and what lasts (soul) with the children. One of my choristers gave me this framed text as a gift—it is his favorite hymn as well!

After we sing the last hymn, we will troupe out into the garden for some more live singing and a little choir recognition. We will pray the real chorister’s prayer, not the Covid version I wrote last year, and each group will sing a round, ending with all of us singing Siyahamba. I have prizes and bling for these kids who were so faithful and cheerful in zoom choir and submitting virtual choir videos all year.

Bless, O Lord, us thy servants,
who minister in thy temple.
Grant that what we sing with our lips,
we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts,
we may show forth in our lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Our bell choir of 6 choir women will play everybody out to the garden with “Come Thou Almighty King” arranged by Bill Ingraham. You can hear it here.

Here’s wishing you all a safe, steady and happy return to in-person music making!

Sunday Music Musings May 29, 2021

I love it when Trinity Sunday and Memorial Day intersect because we can sing the Armed Forces hymn, 579, “Almighty Father, Strong to Save.” Trinitarian in nature, it references Father, Christ, and Holy Spirit as sea, land and air. The original words were written as a poem in 1860 by William Whiting (1825-1878) of Winchester, England. Most people know “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” also known as “the Navy Hymn,” — found as number 608 in the hymnal, which is also Trinitarian.

The beloved melody, MELITA, published in 1861, was composed by fellow Englishman, Rev. John Bacchus Dykes (1823 – 1876), an Episcopal clergyman, canon and precentor at Durham Cathedral, and later vicar of St. Oswald’s, Duham. Dykes published sermons and religious tracts, but is best known for his over 300 hymns. Because of his musical ability, William Whiting became master of Winchester College Choristers’ School. Thus the poem for this hymn was penned by a musician, while the music was written by a clergyman!

Grace Choristers processing in, Winchester 2015

There are over 100 verses or the Armed forces hymn now, that can be found here, on this fascinating link I really recommend you click on!

The verse about outer space was written by a member of Grace Church, Joe Volonte, and sung at his funeral:

Eternal Father, King of Birth,

who did create the heav’n and earth,

who bids the planets and the sun

Their own appointed orbits run:

O hear us when we seek thy grace

For those who soar through outer space.

CDR Joseph E. Volonte, USN

3 May 1962

First you will hear four organ variations as the prelude by Michael Joseph: Adagio with Strings, Ornamented Chorale, Trumpet Tune and Finale.

As we take baby steps back into safe singing, the congregation is invited to sing the last hymn, so come to live church and sing MELITA! No sign-up is required this week (masks and social distance are maintained in the sanctuary-please arrive by 9:45 so the livestream can start with everyone seated).

Our cantors Grace and Elizabeth are away for the weekend, and I have invited a former Children’s Choir Assistant and friend, Caitlyn Roper to be our cantor. I am so happy that joining her is 6th grader Presley, whose brother is also the confirmand reading tomorrow. It was great to rehearse with her this morning and fit her for a blue robe which she should have received 1 year ago—but would now be way two short anyway!

Caitlyn and Presley know our anthems which are children’s choir favorites. Last year the kids even made a virtual choir version of The Prayer of St. Patrick for Choir Recognition Sunday 2020 (9:10). Often on Trinity Sunday we sing the glorious 7 verses of “I Bind Unto Myself Today” (ST. PATRICKS’S BREASTPLATE, and its middle tune DIERDRE). The words sung under DIERDRE are the ones used in this lovely anthem, William Schoenfeld (b. 1949). This ancient text is attributed to St. Patrick, the 2nd Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland (c.372-466). The English version of the poem is by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), wife of Rev. William Alexander, the Anglican bishop of Ireland. I’ve talked about her a lot – she was a poet of many hymns including a whole collection for children including “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf.

Cecil Frances Alexander

Anthem composer William M. Schoenfeld holds a B.A. in Music from Cal-State, Hayward, California; C.T.S. in Worship from the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California; and Master of Church Music from Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. His children’s and adult anthems are published by Choristers Guild, G.I.A., Coronet Press, the Lorenz Corporation, Shawnee Press and Sacred Music Press.

During communion we will sing another of my favorite treble anthems, for Memorial Day, a setting of the World War I poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian poet, soldier, physician and artist John McCrae(1872 –1918). Here is more about poppies and McCrae.

John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

    That mark our place; and in the sky

    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields.

Composer Alexander (Reid) Tilley (b.1944) is also Canadian, born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and educated at McGill. In the 1970s and 80s he was active in the Halifax City District a music specialist teacher, double-bass instructor, supervisor, and founder of the department’s Experimental Music Studio. Tilley has composed or arranged over two dozen choral pieces for school or church use, of which this has arguably gained the most fame.

The postlude is based in the most famous Trinity hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (NICEA), Also by Dykes. I am going to send you back to last Trinity Sunday if you would like to read more about the hymn.

Organ composer Dr. Jerry Westenkuehler, a native of Keytesville, Missouri earned the Bachelor of Science in Organ Performance, Music Education and Church Music from William Jewell College (Liberty, Missouri) and the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in Organ Performance from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, Texas). His organ teachers have included Poppy Koutz, Pauline Riddle, and Albert L. Travis. He currently serves Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas as organist. As a composer of organ and handbell pieces, his works have been published by MorningStar Music Publishing, Warner Bros., Shawnee Press, Broadman Press, and Alfred Publishing. (courtesy ECS).

Last Sunday the Gargoyles met in person in the gazebo across the street after church, in our first in-person meet since a VERY SHORT Christmas recording in November. Here is a snippet of another Memorial Day piece; Crosby, Stills and Nash Find the Cost of Freedom, with loud birds!

This week I look forward to some more short, in-person covid-safe choir practices with my small groups, and Sunday June 6, we will troupe outside after 10 a.m. (11a.m.) and celebrate the choir year with a few short anthems, group singing and awards in the garden! If you want to come for that, it will start at 11 sharp and last about 20 minutes!

Pentecost Music Musings May 22, 2021

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. -attr. Rabanus Mauris (776-856)

This post marks one year of weekly Saturday night blogs about Sunday’s music! It also turns out to be a record of what pandemic music making was for a church musician.

I am so, so happy that we have taken pretty major baby steps this week towards singing as choirs. I’ve been following all the science, and Morris County finally got out of red into orange. I had already decided to meet live with all my church groups at least once for closure on the year.

The first thing that happened was the Daughters of Zion (teen SSA) met on Thursday for 45 minutes. We tried singing on the Grace Hall porch, but it was like singing in a cloud—we couldn’t hear each other, especially because we are masked. Since Grace Hall has the most doors/windows ant the best HVAC, we stepped right inside the open door in a distanced, flat semi-circle of masked mostly fully vaccinated, a few mid-vaccinated singers. Nine singers had a great time, singing old and new SSA repertoire and hearing more than just themselves for the first time all year.

Friday morning 10 singers from Harmonium Choral Society, with 10 minutes of warm-up and 10 minutes of rehearsal, sang Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo at a former members memorial service. It was literal food for the soul. Here is a snippet.

In the afternoon, my younger kids had their very first live sing of the year right inside the open doors of Grace Hall. It was so much fun, maybe the kind of teaching I have missed the most, but I must say, these 10 choristers have learned a lot over zoom this year, and become independent thinkers and better sight readers. We even did a piece where they rang and sang at the same time! When I announce the hymn number (they never get it the first time), one of the boys joked “put it in the chat!”

Saturday morning finds my happy outdoor ladies bell choir on the porch or Grace Hall—we come outside so we don’t have to mask now. Then I rehearse with my cantors, and practice the organ. The afternoon was spent auditioning a new accompanist for Harmonium in the fall. All this is a very long explanation why I am posting this blog so late! It may be shorter, but for Pentecost I must say a few words!

It seems appropriate to call on the creator spirit with our first Sunday with a bit of choir (in in the gallery) and a closing hymn with congregation! There are two major chorale themes based on Gregorian chant which was set by many of the great composers. One is Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (“Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God”) by Martin Luther based on the ancient plainsong “Veni Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium.” This is the basis of the quite ornamented Prelude by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637- 1707).

Scan vom Reprint Spyer, 2008, Public Domain

The other tune is the great plainsong Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come, Creator Spirit”) at HYMNAL # 504 and pictured at the top. You can hear me play Alec Wyton’s setting during communion. Wyton (1921-2007), British born and educated spent most of his adult life in the U.S., and 30 years at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Veni Creator is what I would usually have the choir sing during communion, but since we can sing in harmony for the very first time this week, we will do the German’s harmonized chorale version Komm Gott Schöpfer found at # 501. The postlude is based on this, a short setting by Bach’s predecessor, Johann Walther (1496-1570), and then a very short setting by J. S. Bach himself from the Orgelbüchlein.

Our offertory is Listen Sweet Dove by Grayston Ives with words by my favorite metaphysical poet George Herbert (1593 –1633). Grayston (Bill) Ives (b. 1948) is a British composer, singer and choral director who until March 2009 was Organist, Choir Director, Fellow and Tutor in Music at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Listen sweet dove unto my song

And spread thy golden wings in me;

Hatching my tender heart so long

Till it get wing and flie away with thee.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow

That the earth did like a heaven appear,

The starres were coming down to know

If they might mend their wages and serve here.

The sunne which once did shine alone,

Hung down his head and wisht for night

When he beheld twelve sunnes for one

Going about the world and giving light.

Lord though we change thou art the same,

The same sweet God of love and light;

Restore this day for thy great name,

Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

Oh, and finally about that congregation hymn–first in 15 months: Hail thee Festival Day Salve festa dies, with words by Venantius Honorius Clematianus Fortunatus (b. Cenada, near Treviso, Italy, c. 530; d. Poitiers, France, 609), and a great tune by the greatest Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). There are versions for Easter and Ascension, but our tradition at Grace has been to save it for Pentecost. Yes, there are two different tunes for verses 1/3 and 2/4, but also a catchy refrain to hang onto each time, and a descant by yours truly.

Happy Pentecost!