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Sunday Music Musings August 1, 2020

If we are learning anything from these turbulent times, it is how history is shaped by those who “tell the story” and in classical music that has been years of dead white men (some of whom I love dearly). Just as Ginger Rogers had to do it all backwards and in heels, imagine an African American woman born in 1887 trying to get her symphonies and concertos performed! So indulge me in a very long program note about someone you may have missed in music history, especially if you are my age.

Florence Price (1887-1953) was born into a middle-class family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She attended New England Conservatory, one of the few conservatories to admit African-Americans at that time. She returned to Arkansas, married and began to raise a family, composing songs, short pieces and music for children. In 1927 she moved to Chicago, divorced her abusive husband and began to compose larger works as well.

Who is Florence Price? — Lake Forest Symphony

Price was the first black woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra when the Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony in E Minor in 1933. She sketched or finished 4 symphonies, wrote songs setting to music poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and became well-known for her arrangements of spirituals. Her orchestral music is Dvorak-like in that it is well-orchestrated late Romantic style claiming elements of the African-American heritage in references to jazz, spirituals, and chromaticism with a luminous quality uniquely her own.

Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker article of 2018:

“The reasons for the shocking neglect of Price’s legacy are not hard to find. In a 1943 letter to the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, she introduced herself thus: ‘My dear Dr. Koussevitzky, To begin with I have two handicaps—those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.’ She plainly saw these factors as obstacles to her career, because she then spoke of Koussevitzky ‘knowing the worst.’ Indeed, she had a difficult time making headway in a culture that defined composers as white, male, and dead. One prominent conductor took up her cause—Frederick Stock, the German-born music director of the Chicago Symphony—but most others ignored her, Koussevitzky included. Only in the past couple of decades have Price’s major works begun to receive recordings and performances, and these are still infrequent.”

Price’s 4th symphony is was just premiered in Arkansas in 2018, and her re-discovered violin concertos were recently recorded by Er-Gene Kahng with the Janáček Philharmonic.

Here is the 2016 East Coast premiere of her 3rd Symphony by the Yale Symphony (on a stage dear to my heart).

Here is our friend Gloria Bangiola singing Price’s setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sympathy, which receives allusion in Maya Angelou’s I know why the Caged Bird Sings. “Price’s song composition balances the extended tonality characteristic of 20th century composition with the singability of American vernacular tunes,” writes Gloria in her recital notes. “Price’s voice is crucial in any conversation about access and agency in the arts. I do not seek to speak for her by singing her composition. Instead, I strive to give Florence Price a forum to speak for herself.”

Gloria Bangiola performs Sympathy by Florence Price, poem by Dunbar

In writing this I read the New Yorker article and an oft-quoted New York Times article about how her music fell into obscurity and is now enjoying a “revival” after 2009 when, in the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois, hours of piano music, piano duets and 2 violin concertos lost for 30 years were discovered in a summer home that she once owned that was about to be renovated.

Digging a little deeper I found this quote on the Harry T. Burleigh Society page: “The (NYT) article suggests Price and her music had been forgotten, only now returning to the public eye. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Florence Price’s music was performed, published, and studied during her life and after her death. Her music was not forgotten in Black classical music or regional communities, as music scholars …discussed earlier this year. Several times she contacted colleagues, such as Marian Anderson and Harry T. Burleigh, to help her access the white-dominated music publishing world… The ‘rediscovered’ Black composer is a tired, damaging trope. It reflects an active process, where certain histories and cultural memories are not considered ‘relevant’ to the mainstream until they prove useful. Black musicians kept the name of Florence Price on their lips, in their minds, and under their fingers. She was not forgotten.” – Kori Hill Ph.D. student in musicology studying Price’s concertos

In Quiet Mood (Sunday’s Prelude) is the only available organ work I know of—if you can correct me please do! It is nice in pandemic to have time to learn new repertoire and this is another piece I was working on to increase my repertoire of women composers.

Thanks for considering the music of this composer and the telling of her story.

Lead Me, Guide Me, is our hymn of the day, from the hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing II.  Here we find another female powerhouse of a composer, Doris Mae Akers (1923 –1995). Akers was an American gospel music composer, arranger and singer. Growing up in Missouri with 9 siblings, she wrote her first song at the age of 10.  Akers moved to Los Angeles, California in 1945 and gained fame as the founder and leader of the Sky Pilot Choir and pioneer of what became known as the Doris Akers/Sky Pilot Sound, referring to her distinctive style of directing and arranging. Here she is singing “Go Down Moses” with Sky Pilot Choir. What a voice!

She was also a recording artist and songwriter in her own right, writing over 300 gospel songs and hymns. Among her best-known compositions were ‘Sweet, Sweet Spirit’, ‘How Big Is God’ and ‘Sweet Jesus’. Here she is singing “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”

In 1958, along with her friend Mahalia Jackson, Doris co-wrote the song, “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain,” which sold over a million records. Through the 80s and 90s she became director of music at Grace Temple Deliverance church in Minneapolis, before her death from cancer at the age of 72. She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. 


Lead Me, Guide Me, was recorded by many and found in many hymnals. It was even in Elvis’ last movie Change of Habit, and also became a big hit/favorite of his.  Akers wrote it in 1953 in Oakland, California. The text is an earnest plea for an intimate walk with God.

Our postlude is “His Eye is on the Sparrow” sung by Donna Ward. Although today it is a staple of African-American worship services, this was written in 1905 by two white songwriters, Canadian-American lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel.  Here it is sung by actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Mahalia Jackson’s recording of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2010. (Mahalia Jackson connects this piece with the last!) It was sung by Whitney Houston in her last movie, Sparkle, which was released posthumously.

Civilla Durfee Martin (1866 – 1948) wrote many religious hymns and gospel songs in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Like Emily Dickinson she was frail and housebound. Her husband, W. S. Martin, studied ministry at Harvard, becoming a Baptist minister, later Disciples of Christ. Together they created hymns and songs, but she used the initials “C.D.” rather than her husband’s name on these collaborations. Some of her most popular pieces include “God Will Take Care of You”, “One of God’s Days”, “Going Home”, and “Like As A Father.” “His Eye is on the Sparrow” was inspired by scripture: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye (Psalm 32:8). “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26) and “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856 – 1932) was a writer of over 7,000 gospel songs. He used several pseudonyms, including Charlotte G. Homer, H. A. Henry, and S. B. Jackson. Sometimes he wrote both words and music and sometimes just the music. Born in Iowa, and raised on a farm, he was given music opportunities with his father and his church. Eventually he served as music director at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, San Francisco, California (1890-2). He moved to Chicago, Illinois, and in 1912 he began working with Homer Rodeheaver’s publishing company. To give you an idea of how prolific he was, Gabriel edited 35 gospel song books, 8 Sunday school song books, seven books for male choruses, six books for ladies, ten children’s song books, nineteen collections of anthems, 23 choir cantatas, 41 Christmas cantatas, 10 children’s cantatas, and books on musical instruction. An index to denominational hymnals published from the 1890s to 1966 lists 37 tunes by Gabriel. One tune that Grace Church (especially Daughters of Zion) would know is “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

The singer of this postlude, Donna Ward, grew up in Madison and began singing church services for me every Christmas Day from about second grade because she was my daughter Virginia’s best friend and I would bribe them both with solos. After she did her Catholic duty finishing CCD, she joined the Grace Choir permanently, becoming head chorister with Virginia, and singing many solos both gospel (City Called Heaven) and classical (Rejoice Greatly from the Messiah during which my daughter Grace fainted—but that is a story for another day!)

Donna endured the death of both of her parents (dear friends of mine) over the space of a year in 2017 and sang at both of their funerals at Grace. Now she is an elementary music teacher at both Kings Road School and Torey J. Sabatini School in Madison, and the lead singer of local cover band, Mama D & the Vexations.   Donna earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Theater from Muhlenberg College in 2009, achieved teaching certification in Music and Theater through New Jersey City University in 2014 and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from The College of New Jersey.  Donna currently lives in Fanwood NJ with her fiancee and their two corgis Lily and Charley.

I had decided on all of this music weeks ago, while honoring Black Lives Matter and women musicians. I had no idea John Lewis’s funeral would be this week and Bill Clinton would reference this piece. (16:48) But such is the mystery.

I am really enjoying learning much more about the composers we sing, and especially YouTube education—there are so many historical recordings up there, whether it is Florence Price, Doris Akers or Elvis, it’s a blessing what we have access to! I hope you go down some fun rabbit holes this week!

I leave you with Donna singing a hopeful solo with Harmonium:

The Rain is Over and Gone – Paul Halley – Harmonium Choral Society -Donna Ward

I write these on Saturday and the services come out Sunday at 8. Here is a Sunday update: link to the service on Grace Church YouTube

Sunday Music Musings July 25, 2020

It’s hard during pandemic to make music together in real time, so it seems like a good time to work up those offerings for instruments alone, like last week’s awesome Bach cello suite. My flute student, Mia, is my neighbor, so we’ve actually been having lessons with her braving the heat in my back yard and me at the piano inside the dining room. But I also gave her my favorite flute alone offering, a very coloristic piece by Debussy. I remember playing it in church in high school—and my organist calling it “Adagio” because, yes, it is very secular—the story of a Greek mythological creature. Yet I believe that any offering of our best work to God is sacred, and this rendition of a flutist in my back yard, attracting the birds and butterflies certainly is.

The socially distant flute lesson

The actual story of Syrinx tells the myth of the invention of the flute, well, panpipes. The demi-god Pan, half god and half man was lusting after the beautiful nymph Syrinx and chasing her through the forest. When she came to the banks of a river, in her desperation to escape, she prayed to Zeus to change her into the reed grasses. When Pan came to the river and couldn’t find her, he sat down and sadly sighed. As he sighed, his breath made a lovely sound blowing across the reeds, so he cut them down and fashioned the first panpipes upon which he played melodies to soothe himself until the nymph was forgotten (not to metion cut down!) In terms of how I think about this as a church prelude, it really does remind me of last week’s reading “sighs too deep for words.”

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a very influential and ground-breaking composer, considered the first “Impressionist” although he himself rejected the term. He wrote Syrinx in 1913. It contains whole tone, chromatic, and far-eastern scales, and is the first and most important work for solo flute since the Baroque.

Our hymn of the day (Father We Thank Thee Who has Planted-#302) although a communion hymn, was taken from a post-communion prayer, and speaks to the Gospel of the sower last week and the mustard seed this week. Although we are not breaking bread now, we are still the church in our hearts, where the word of God is planted. The explains: “This hymn text is rooted in the early Christian church, all the way back to the Greek-language Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a Christian manual from the Church of Antioch, Syria, which some scholars date as early as A.D. 110.” The is text poetically translated by Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984) who I wrote about Father’s Day weekend when we sang one of his 17 offerings in the 1982 hymnal, Our Father, by Whose Name (Hymn 587). Son of a bishop, Tucker was educated at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1945, he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia. He never thought of himself as a poet until he was asked to serve on the Joint Commission for the 1940 hymnal, when he began translating and theologically working over older texts. He also worked on the commission that reviewed material leading up to The Hymnal 1982, and 1980, was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America.

The tune is RENDEZ À DIEU, originally from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561) and Guillaume Franc, and harmonized by Claude Goudimel (1505-1572). It has wonderful harmonies which this week I discovered are hard to sing alto and play at the same time! No boring alto line here! Here is more about Goudimel from the “When the complete Genevan Psalter with its unison melodies was published in 1562, Goudimel began to compose various polyphonic settings of all the Genevan tunes. He actually composed three complete harmonizations of the Genevan Psalter, usually with the tune in the tenor part: simple hymn-style settings (1564), slightly more complicated harmonizations (1565), and quite elaborate, motet-like settings (1565-1566). The various Goudimel settings became popular throughout Calvinist Europe, both for domestic singing and later for use as organ harmonizations in church. Goudimel was one of the victims of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots, which oc­curred throughout France.”

Claude Goudimel - Wikipedia
Claude Goudimel

Our postlude is a Toccata by Emma Lou Diemer. As I tell the children at the Halloween concert before playing Bach—“toccata” means “touch” but in organ music it means touch as fast as you can in a showy manner! I love this postlude because it is actually not very hard, while still being showy and exciting. I am also continuing my presentations of women composers, and Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927) is a very important composer of the last 70 years. She holds degrees from Yale University (BM,1949; MM, 1950), Eastman School of Music (Ph.D.,1960) and also studied composition in Brussels on a Fulbright Scholarship (1952-53).  Diemer has written many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, voice, chorus, and electronic media. Diemer is a keyboard performer and over the years has given concerts of her own organ works at Washington National Cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Grace Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, and others. Diemer’s compositional style over the years has varied from tonal to atonal, from traditional to experimental. (Wikipedia). If you would like to hear a truly hard keyboard work, have a listen to the Piano Toccata (1972). I also love her choral music, and her Three Shakespeare Madrigals are now a staple of High School Choral Repertoire. What versatility!

Emma Lou Diemer

Finally, I actually “attended” a virtual RSCM Camp, seeing many friends from the Kings College Course in Wilkesbarre. We had some education, a talent show, and even a fairly satisfying “hymn sing.” Although everyone was on mute, I wailed away here at home, happy that someone else was playing the hymn, and somehow seeing their faces made it better. Tomorrow I even get to chant my favorite line (“keep me as the apple of an eye”) in out divvied-up zoom Compline service. But boy, do we miss each other, singing together, and the amazing space at St. Stephen’s. Here is grand piece from a few years back, the words of which are pretty eerily appropriate right now!

For, lo, I raise up that bitter and hasty nation,
Which march through the breadth of the earth,
To possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.
They are terrible and dreadful,
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
And are more fierce than the evening wolves.
And their horsemen spread themselves,
Yea, their horsemen come from far.
They fly as an eagle that hasteth to devour,
They come all of them for violence;
Their faces are set as the east-wind,
And they gather captives as the sand.
Yea, he scoffeth at kings,
And princes are a derision unto him.
For he heapeth up dust and taketh it.
Then shall he sweep by as a wind that shall pass over,
And be guilty,
Even he, whose might is his God.
Art not thou from everlasting,
O Lord, my God, mine Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, thou hast ordained him for judgement,
And thou, O Rock, hast established him for correction.
I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower,
And look forth to see what he will say to me,
And what I shall answer concerning my complaint.
And the Lord answered me and said:
The vision is yet for the appointed time,
And it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie:
Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.
For the earth shall be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
But the Lord is in his holy temple:
Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 1.6–12, 2.1–3,14,20)

Stanford–For Lo! Richard Tanner conductor, future head chorister of mine front right!

Have a great week! “Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.”

Sunday Music Musings July 18, 2020

The organ prelude is the first two movements of “Variations on the Ash Grove” (Welsh tune we are using for our Gloria) by Minnesota composer Christine Shulz. (I played a movement as postlude last week). I love her story: “Music has always been a very important part of my life.  I began taking organ lessons at age 4 and played for my first church service at Garden City Christian Church at age 7.  My dad built special pedal extensions so that I could reach the organ pedals!  At age 10, I was hired to provide organ music while people dined at the Cat ‘n’ Fiddle Supper Club near New Ulm — a few years later, I was “promoted” to waitress. Two months after graduating from Lake Crystal High School, my alto saxophone and I toured 7 European countries with the U.S. Collegiate Wind Band.  That fall, I began my seemingly endless college career at MSU, earning B.S. (music), A.S. (secretarial), and Master of Music (organ performance) degrees.  During this time, I was the accompanist for the MSU Concert Choir, and we were invited to perform at Bethlehem.  I remember falling in love with the big, beautiful sanctuary and wanted to get my fingers on the pipe organ!  I was delighted to learn in 1990 that Bethlehem was looking for an assistant organist.  I auditioned and was offered the job– but before deciding to take it, I attended a worship service to get a “feel” for the place.  The warm welcome from strangers and the four pastors, plus hearing the uplifting music, made my decision easy!”

Christine Schulz.jpg
Christine Schulz, composer

This reminds me of exactly 30 years ago when I was called to Grace church. The air-conditioning was broken when I auditioned, it was HOT and a lovely group of choir members came out to put me through my paces on hymn playing! I left for a Cape May vacation only to find a note from Father Bob Ihloff pinned to my front door upon my return—as they were frantically trying to get hold of me! Such was life before cell phones. In August I secretly visited a service in the congregation to “get a feel” and someone told me at the peace that I should join the choir! I took it as a good sign that the congregation was paying attention!

Composer Christine Schulz worked as a medical transcriptionist and part-time organist until after 16 years, and ready for a change, she also became office assistant position at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. She considers having “Variations on The Ash Grove” for organ published by MorningStar Music in 1995 a highlight of her career. She is secretary for the Sioux Trails Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and since February of 1984, she’s been the rehearsal/performance pianist for over 130 musicals at MSU-Mankato. Everyone has their own way of crafting a life in music.

Our Hymn of the Day goes with the Old Testament lesson, of Jacob’s dream. Jacob’s Ladder is an English folk tune, set in our hymnal by Jack Noble White (of “First Song of Isaiah—Surely it is God who Saves me” fame). The words are by Harry Loper, and the only information about him in the hymnary is that he was living in Camden NJ in 1902. In the history of Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden NJ I found a bit more: “On Monday evening, November 25th, 1895, the new pipe organ was opened with a great recital by S. Tudor Strang, assisted by the Orpheus quartette. Many other improvements to the church were made…At the beginning of the year 1896, Rev. Thomas Harrison, known as the “Boy Preacher,” assisted in Revival Services, continuing for eight weeks. The singing was in charge of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Loper, the singing evangelists, who had been for some time members of Tabernacle Church. They rendered very efficient service in the Revival. The whole of North Camden was mightily stirred.”

Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden 1893

I love that there are so many talented parishoners in our church-so our postlude is Erik Donough on saxophone. When looking for wonderful solo instrument/no accompaniment music, J.S. Bach’s cello suites are a go-to. Suite No. in G is the first of 6 six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012, composed them during Bach’s Köthen period 1717–23. They were not well known until Pablo Casals began recording them 1936-1939, at which point they became extremely popular.

Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G in Anna Magdalena’s handwriting

The Prelude from the first suite with its arpeggiated figures has inspired transcriptions for almost every instrument. Here’s Yo-Yo Ma who won a grammy for his recording of the cello suites. A quick search of YouTube found transcriptions for violin, viola, guitar, marimba, electric bass, flute, “Beach clarinet” …you get the picture! Enjoy Erik’s summery saxophone version!

Sunday Music Musings July 11, 2020

This week famed Italian composer Ennio Moriconne passed away at the age of 91. You might think you don’t know this composer, yet you probably do. As the New York Times obituary headline said “His vast output included atmospheric music for spaghetti westerns in his native Italy and scores for some 500 movies by a Who’s Who of directors.” I can’t do better than the Times, so I hope you will have a look. He scored movies ranging from “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Untouchables,” “Cinema Paradiso,” (a favorite of mine—look for the scene where the priest yells at the acolyte for falling asleep and forgetting to ring the bell), to Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015). You may have heard his music on The Simpsons or The Sopranos. Here is Yo-Yo Ma playing The Ecstasy of Gold, from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Morricone at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Ennio Moriconne, Italian film composer

Gabriel’s Oboe” (condensed from Wikipedia) is the main theme for the 1986 film The MissionJesuit Father Gabriel, walks up to a waterfall and starts playing his oboe, to befriend the natives with his music so he can carry his missionary work in the New World. The Guaraní tribesmen, who have been stalking him from a distance, approach Gabriel for the first time, puzzled by the sounds of the unknown instrument. This is one of Morricone’s most famous tunes, and he arranged it for orchestras, and soprano Sarah Brightman convinced Morricone to allow her to set lyrics to the theme to create her own song, “Nella Fantasia“. In 2010, Morricone encouraged soprano Hayley Westenra to write English lyrics for “Gabriel’s Oboe” in her album Paradiso. There are choral versions by Tom Fettke and Craig Hella-Johnson.

Moriconne was born into a musical family in 1928 in Rome, under Fascist rule. His father, a professional trumpet player, taught him trumpet and other instruments. “His World War II experiences — hunger and the dangers of Rome as an “open city” under German and American armies — were reflected in some of his later work.” (NYT)

It can be a blessing and a curse to grow up in a musical family—but more of a blessing during pandemic, when you can make real time music with your family. One of our favorite musical families at Grace includes Teddy Love on oboe, and the team of Kimberly Love on violin, her friend Aaron on cello, and Charlie Love on piano who put together a tribute video of Gabriel’s Oboe that is our prelude this week.

My own family choir provides the hymns, and I have now affectionately named them “The Pandemic Hymn Ensemble.” I know everyone looks for our cat Peter, but he’s been a bit shy—he is actually behind Grace, you may catch a glimpse of his tail right at the beginning. I am really grateful for them so I don’t have to sing these alone!

can you see Peter’s tail?

This week we are doing a hymn you may not have heard before, but it is really a beautiful tune and text. Speaking of families, the tune is by Jane Marshall, and her son Peter was my organ teacher at Yale, and is Keyboardist for the Atlanta Symphony. I asked Peter about the tune name WALDEN, and he shared that it is his grandmother’s maiden name. Jane Marshall (1924-2019) is one of a very few women composers found in the Hymnal 1982, so it is about time we sing this beautiful tune that sounds like the bell-peal Queen’s Change. Here is a short bio from the “Jane Marshall was born Jane Anne Manton in Dallas in 1924. She became a pianist and organist and composed music as a teenager. She earned a music degree in 1945 from SMU. She married Elbert Marshall. She went on to write more than 200 hymns and other sacred music works. She later earned a Master’s degree in 1968 from SMU in choral conducting and composition. She taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and tis Church Music Summer School from 1975-2010. She attended Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas for many years, collaborated often with other hymn writers, and encouraged many students.” Marshall’s most famous anthem is “My Eternal King,” but those of us at Grace know her best for her antiphonal children’s song “Keep Me, Keep Me” that we always sing at Compline for Kids.

The text for the hymn is by John Cawood (b. Derbyshire 1775-1852). He was of humble background and studied hard to become a priest. His 17 hymns are found in many collections, but were never published by himself. The text goes particularly well with Sunday’s Gospel.

Last week I talked a bit about how hard it is to make vacation happen, or make summer feel different from spring when we are mostly still social distancing at home. I have picked a new “Gloria” setting “The Ash Grove,” a Welsh tune that although not in our hymnal, is in over a hundred others, and is quite familiar and cheerful for summer use. It is from the English Folk Song Mass by Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. This is provided by a wonderful subscription publishing company out of North Carolina, St. James Music Press. Music Directors, consider using them, as for $139 a year you get unlimited access to wonderful compositions for all levels or choirs, bells, organ and instruments. Especially nowadays, it is great that streaming and printing licensing is included, and in the case of this mass, actual organ and choir files, giving our virtual choir process a bit of a summer rest. Please sing along, as we have provided the music right in the video!

The organ postlude is the third movement of “Variations on the Ash Grove” by Christine Shulz. You may see that I made a commitment to myself in both Harmonium Choral Society and church programming to improve the percentage of women composers and composers of diverse backgrounds that I present. In this day and age a little internet research provides a lot of information! I will talk more about this composer in the upcoming weeks as I play the rest of the movements to go with our “Ash Grove Gloria” singing.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a family to make some music with, please appreciate them! If not, sing at home, take a zoom voice lesson, join a virtual summer sing, or a virtual RSCM camp, play your flute to the birds, remember to warm-up!

And Happy Birthday to my firstborn musical child! She’s doing the essential work as a music therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and it makes me so happy she still writes songs.

Sunday Music Musings July 4, 2020

This week I might want to make this blog a bit shorter, as a nod to a “holiday” weekend. What makes a holiday in pandemic? You have to make your own. For me it was watching Hamilton with my family last night.  I remember driving home from Cape May in 2016 and listening to the whole show while my daughter Grace explained it. Last summer we finally went to the room where it happened. Last night, watching on Disney+, I especially enjoyed having closed captioning on–highly recommended!

As a nod to this 4th if July, I am playing a prelude based on “America the Beautiful,” by Katharine Lee Bates (1893), tune name Materna. Bates went to Wellesley and later became an English Professor there. The provides this information: “In the summer if 1893 when she was lecturing at Colorado College she went to the top of Pike’s Peak. Inspired by the beauty of the view she wrote all four verses of ‘America the Beautiful’ which was an instant hit when it was published. She had an intimate relationship with Katharine Coman, dean of Wellesley, who she lived with for 25 years, until Coman’s death. ‘Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance’ celebrates their love and partnership. She enjoyed traveling, the out of doors, reading and friends.”

Katharine Lee Bates

My favorite verse is the third. After 9/11, that thing about alabaster cities used to make me cry, but now the last two lines resonate more, speaking to individual rights versus the good of all.

O beautiful for patriot dream

that sees beyond the years

thine alabaster cities gleam,

undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

confirm thy soul in self-control,

thy liberty in law.

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The tune is by 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. The tune was originally meant for the text “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem,” but a publisher paired it with Bates’ poem in 1910, earning Bates posthumous induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

And finally, Charles Callahan is an incredibly prolific organ composer, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pa., and The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. (I feel a special affinity to Curtis, having grown up in Philadelphia, and having studied at a scholarship student at the Germantown Branch of the Settlement Music School, a place where Mary Louise Curtis’s portrait used to look down on me as I did my homework in the waiting room).

The Canticle is a Jubilate we used as a psalm a few weeks ago (Psalm 100). Trying to record Anglican chant virtually only points up how much we depend on being able to hear one another to “sing with one voice.” I still love seeing all the choir members who were willing to take a stab at this. Anglican chant is fairly unique to the Episcopal church, and strives to recreate a speaking cadence that is harmonized.

The hymn of the day, 692 in the hymnal 1982, references the Gospel “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (which of course, makes some of us think of Handel’s Messiah). The text “I heard the voice of Jesus say” is by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), whose family has had representatives among the clergy of the Church of Scotland during two centuries and more. He was a Scottish minister and hymnodist.

The tune is by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585). It is truly a mark of genius that Tallis could so excel in the grand and the simple that two of his most famous works – Spem in Alium (40 separate parts, in Latin-here is Harmonium singing it in 2016) and If Ye Love Me (simple, beautiful SATB motet in English, sung by my friends at my wedding!) – are both so perfect. Tallis, also an entrepreneur, was granted an exclusive patent in 1521 with William Byrd to print and publish music.

Thomas Tallis - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This tune, known as his “Third Tune” is one of my favorite things ever, mostly because of Ralph Vaughan Williams gorgeous setting for string orchestra, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis composed in 1910. That work is scored for an expanded string orchestra divided into three parts: orchestra I, a full-sized string orchestra; orchestra II, a single desk from each section; and a string quartet. Tallis’s original tune is in the Phrygian mode and was one of the nine he contributed to the Psalter of 1567 for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Vaughan Williams included it in his edition of the English Hymnal of 1906.

I recently learned a new organ voluntary on this tune by Gerald Near (b. 1942), which is the postlude. Near, one of the finest composers of church music writing today, first studied theory and composition with Leslie Bassett, organ with Robert Glasgow, later returned for graduate study in orchestral conducting with Dominick Argento and conducting with Thomas Lancaster at the University of Minnesota. In 1982 Near was one of the first recipients of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. He has been commissioned by the AGO and Gloria Dei Cantores and was for many years organist/choirmaster, and subsequently, Canon Precentor of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. Many of his works explore Gregorian chant themes. He is Director of Aureole Editions and presently resides in New Mexico.

So much for shorter…but I realized I am using these blogs to “talk” to my choirs who can’t gather now, and I really love what I am learning. For example, I did not realize the Newark NJ connection to America the Beautiful.

I also made my choirs a video this week so they keep their voices in shape. feel free to use and share! Happy independence Day!

Sunday Quarantine Deep-dive June 28, 2020

We have developed a system of meeting as a chorus on Sunday nights over the last two month of pandemic life. On zoom, first we have a “guest” instrumentalist or composer, then a social time, including a kahoot game about each section (tonight the tenors), and then we sing the piece of the day, plus “Where There is Light in the Soul” by Elizabeth Alexander, which we will record soon virtually. Tonight I am adding a sing-along for our final event before summer hiatus—We will play our YouTube of “Let the River Run” and sing along (muted of course L).

Tonight’s special guest is composer Lori Laitman. Her piece which I programmed on the “moon” concert is definitely the most challenging musically, so we’ve been having some “sectionals” leading up to tonight’s “sing through.” (Tenors, that’s why yours is at 7 tonight).

Lori’s setting of one of her Art Songs, Partial Lunar Eclipse, for chorus follows logically on last week’s discussion of Richard Hundley’s Moonlight’s Watermelon and Elena Bird’s lovely introduction to Art Song. Here is a recording of baritone Richard Scarlata singing it.

Described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and hundreds of songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets (including those who published in the Holocaust). Her music is widely performed, internationally, internationally and throughout the United States, and has generated substantial critical acclaim. The Journal of Singing wrote “It is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music.” Lori is also the sister of our good friend at Morris Arts, Lynn Siebert!

Lori’s most famous choral piece is Vedem, an oratorio that tells the story of the boys of Terezin and their secret journal Vedem (Czech for “In the Lead”). The Three Feathers is a one-act children’s opera commissioned by The Center for the Arts at VA Tech. Based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, given a feminist take, the opera presents a young female protagonist, Princess Dora, as its hero. The opera The Scarlet Letter was recently premiered by Opera Colorado and released by Naxos. If you explore Lori’s unofficial biography you can find the inspiring story of how she balanced a music career and raising three children, and how she came to vocal writing and Art Song fairly late in that career.

Lori provides these notes for Partial Lunar Eclipse:

Partial Lunar Eclipse Sept. 7, 2006 sets a poem by Sri Lankan poet Anne Ranasinghe. The song was composed in 2007 for solo voice with piano, the first of two songs of a short cycle entitled And Music Will Not End, commissioned by the Lyrica Society of Word Music Relations. In 2018, the Alexandria Choral Society, under the direction of Brian J. Isaac and the Virginia Choral Society, under the direction of Sarah Gallo, co-commissioned me to re-envision the song for chorus with piano accompaniment.

The poem reflects the mystery and timelessness of the universe, our place in that universe, and Anne’s realization that she was nearing the end of her life. I found the poem to be particularly well-suited to a choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and the richness of the choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and richness of the choral sound helping to create a sense of the vastness of the universe. The piano part proceeds along its own orbit, slightly dissonant and repetitive. Above this the voices glide with several instances of word painting: for example, a small descending motifs associated with the word “slipping”; a quickened pace as the “orb” begins to “sail its lonely journey”; and a climax with a long, loud choral chord emphasizing the idea of a “link with the universe”. As the song draws to a close, the original pacing returns, and the voices and the accompaniment drift off unresolved. Cementing the idea of “no return”.

“No return” could also be biographical of the poet’s early life. Anne Ranasinghe (1925-2016) was born Anneliese Katz in in Essen, Germany. Fearful for her after Kristallnacht, in 1938 her parents sent her away to stay with an aunt in England. Her parents and all other relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Later she left England when she married a Sri Lanken doctor, becoming a citizen in 1956. Sri Lankan blogger Uditha Devapriya  sums it up thus: “the theme she resorted to the most: the thin, fragile line between the past and present, between forgetting and remembering.”

One more thing will aid your understanding of this poem:

pe·num·bra /pəˈnəmbrə/

  1. the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. ASTRONOMY
  2. the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse. ASTRONOMY
  3. the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core.

Partial Lunar Eclipse

The eerie drama

of moon and earth and cloud:

an eclipsed orb slipping

from penumbra to umbra

to penumbra, reappearing

newly created, from earth’s shadow,

to sail its lonely journey —

golden, remote, mysterious;

a link with the infinite universe.

I too will slip

from penumbra to umbra, but

while the moon navigates the millennia

for me there will be no return.

Partial Lunar Eclipse, Sept. 7th, 2006 by Anne Ranasinghe(1925-2016).

Used by permission of the poet.

Sunday Music Musings June 27, 2020

Motto of the Royal School of Church Music:

Psallam spiritu et mente

I will sing with the spirit and the understanding also

(I Corinthians xiv 15)

Choir reocognition 2019

This Sunday we thank the acolytes, Sunday School and Choirs. Traditionally on a Sunday in June, our youngest choristers who have been in choir one year receive crosses with a black ribbon (and they will have them when we return to robing and singing), then my children’s choir assistant and I spend a long morning switching out all the crosses/ribbons to colors that reflect the years of service. Susie is making a gorgeous bulletin, so I will link to that Sunday when the service goes up on YouTube, and you can see everyone’s name, their years of service, and my awesome assistants, librarian, and head choristers. The Head choristers even made a virtual video of the head chorister badge hand-off I think you will enjoy.

The youngest of our children have still been meeting and learning sight-singing and good vocal skills on zoom, mostly one-at-a-time. Our older singers have zoomed socially and joined in some virtual choir anthems. One of the pieces the younger singers use in their lessons will become the School Choir Virtual Anthem this week. I am so proud of them, because ultimately this required them to sing by themselves (or with a sibling) and self-direct their notes, up and down, leap and step. We miss being mentored by our older peers, the teenagers, but due to the magic of video editing, we are together this week.

You may recognize the text of the Prayer of St. Patrick as the middle verse of Hymn 370, I Bind Unto Myself, that we often sing at confirmation and Trinity Sunday (not this year, 7 verses in pandemic were too daunting). It is verse 5, where we break into another tune. This ancient text is attributed to St. Patrick, the 2nd Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland (c.372-466). The English version is by Cecil Frances Humphries (1818-1895), wife of Rev. William Alexander, the Anglican bishop of Ireland. She was a poet of many hymns including a whole collection for children (think “All Things Bright and Beautiful”) She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Cecil Frances Alexander Poems > My poetic side
Cecil Francis Alexander

The treble setting is by William Shoenfeld (b.1949), member of the Choral Conductor’s Guild of California, organist, and composer of church music. Here we are singing it at a choral festival we hosted a few years ago with the American Boychoir training choir, NJYC Choristes, and the Hampshire Choral Society.

Our offertory hymn is Dr. Anne’s favorite, King of Glory, King of Peace, #382. I don’t know which I love more, the words by George Herbert, or the tune by David Charles Walker, 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 (1593-1633) 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.

I want to take this moment to thank what I have now dubbed “the Pandemic Hymn Ensemble” which is basically my family, recording around the piano every Wednesday. Grace, Jabez, thank you! Grace is also my tech help, aiding me with wordpress and uploading videos to google drive. Peter the cat eats my paper when he wants attention, and shows up in hymns only when it pleases him.

Image may contain: Grace Van Cleef and Anne Matlack, screen

I want to also thank my singing staff, Brandon Johnson-Douglas, who jumped in with the Gargoyles right before the Halloween concert, and Katie Hendrix as always for her work with the children and beautiful singing of any part thrown at her!

Our adults and older choristers recorded K. Lee Scott’s Chorister’s Prayer. K. (Kayron) Lee Scott is an internationally known musician and composer of sacred music from Alabama. He composed some of our favorite anthems, like “A Vineyard Grows,” “The Apple Tree,” and one we often do on Easter “The Glory of Christ.”  

The original Chorister’s Prayer text is:

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.


Here is more about its origins from the RSCM website: “The Chorister’s Prayer seems to have first appeared in The Choirboy’s Pocket Book, published by the School of English Church Music (the former name of the RSCM) in 1934. Despite being so well known, the prayer is not given an author in this source (some say it was the RSCM’s founder, Sir Sydney Nicholson, while others link it to Cosmo Gordon Lang, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1929). The English version of this Prayer appears to be very close to the Latin of 1595–96

Vide, ut, quod ore cantas, corde credas, et quod core credis, operibus comprobes.

But this year, I felt sad that we were not actually “in thy temple” so when Bishop Hughes called for “Quaratine Prayers” from members of the diocese of Newark, I wrote a parody version for quarantine:

The prelude was me trying out an app called “A Cappella” with the bells on a Saturday, which is my day to be in the church building. This app allows you to layer parts over yourself. It was fun, but I would much prefer being able to have actual multiple people—but until then…

So many chins though…

The postlude is a setting of another hymn we would sing on Choir Recognition Sunday “When in Our Music God is Glorified,” 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. Here is the text which according to “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 (st. 1), the aesthetics of musical worship (s1. 2), and the history of church music (st. 3). The final two stanzas present a biblical model (st. 4) and quote Psalm 150 (st. 5).”

Robert Hobby’s joyful setting sets the 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 from Indiana.

It is really hard for our choir people not to sing together—our favorite thing to do—but I am so grateful that they have been staying together as a community. We WILL sing again, and our faith will keep us strong. I am grateful that I have time to write these blogs of the stories we would be sharing in rehearsal.

Please everyone, keep singing at home, as I leave you with the collect for church musicians from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace Church 1938 Boy’s Choir

Sunday Quarantine Deep-dive June 21, 2020

Tonight’s deep-dive is into art song in honor of the piece “Moonlight’s Watermelon” by Richard Hundley (1931 – 2018). Hundley is especially known for his American Art Songs, performed by such greats as Renee Fleming and William Warfield.

Tonight’s meeting of Harmonium will feature guest soprano Elena Bird who was our soprano soloist for the St. Matthew Passion and sang with us for several years – also soloist in Andrea Clearfield’s Farlorn Aleman. Elena received her Master of Music degree in Voice Performance from Florida State University and her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She maintains a private studio in Morristown, New Jersey, including several Harmonium students, and where she resides with her husband, two daughters (one a newborn!), and dog. Elena’s 7:30 program will be an introduction to art song and will help inform your performance of this piece as well as well as next week’s Partial Lunar Eclipse by Lori Laitman.

Image result for richard hundley

Richard Hundley was born in Cincinnati, but from the age of 7, lived with his supportive and influential grandmother in Covington Kentucky (which is right across a bridge from Cincinnati.) In High School, he studied piano at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, (which is where I got my MM and DMA), thriving under his strict Hungarian teacher enough to perform with the Kentucky and Cincinnati Symphony.

Song of America explains “During high school, Richard was introduced to the mother of a classmate, Mary Rodgers Fossit. The resulting friendship would profoundly and permanently influence him.  Mary Rodgers Fossit was a poet and introduced Richard to the works of Gertrude Stein, Baudelaire, Kathryn Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, and the biographies of Frederic Chopin and Peter Illytch Tchaikovsky by Herbert Weinstock. She also introduced him to the music of Jean Sibelius and Sergei Rachmaninov. She provided a sympathetic environment where he could express his innermost thoughts and feelings and his lifelong, deep love of the arts was nurtured through this warm relationship.”

(In quarantine I have been cleaning out an office/music room and feeling particular nostalgia for the adults that influenced my young musical self…lucky it was for Hundley to have these strong women in his life, grandmother, piano teacher and literary mentor).

In 1950 Hundley moved to New York to study piano at Manhattan School of Music, but ran out of money after a year, and left the school. For several years, he vacillated between New York and Kentucky, but in 1957, settled permanently in New York City.  In 1960 he won a position in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus which gave him an opportunity to begin showing great singers his works. His composition teachers in New York included Israel Cirkowitz, William Flanigan and Virgil Thomson.

In 1967, Hundley began to accompany the vocal studio of the great soprano, Zinka Milanov.  He said, “My relationship with this great singer gave me one of the deepest inspirations of my life.”  Between his own singing, piano study and intimate knowledge of other singers, especially in the bel canto style, he became a master of graceful, singable, lines, full of varied textures in both piano and voice.

During the late 1960’s, Hundley was invited and participated two summers at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  In 1987 the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, designated Richard Hundley as one of only twelve standard American composers for vocalists. He continued to live and compose in New York City until his death in 2018. 

Hundley was commissioned by Whitman College Chamber Singers (Walla, Walla, Washington), Robert Bode, director, to re-set the solo song for chorus and piano. (Robert Bode also got his DMA at Cincinnati with me). The original song was part of the composer’s “Octaves and Sweet Sounds,” a group of songs to contemporary poets. Hundley said, “I was immediately attracted to the poem ‘Moonlight’s Watermelon’ by the magic sounds of the poet’s words. My first consideration in setting this abstract poem to music was to set the words for clarity. For me the poem recalls my childhood living with my grandmother in Kentucky when we ate watermelon, fresh from the garden, on summer evenings.”

“A song is like a short story, and from the first notes played by the piano I am telling the listener how I feel about the text.” -Richard Hundley

The text by Jose Garcia Villa (1908 – 1997) is all about the sound of words and the feel of them in the mouth. It reminds me of what the judges say to our student composers “live in the poem—let it roll over your tongue.” Villa was a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, and painter. He was known for the extensive use of punctuation marks—especially commas, which you can see in this poem.

Moonlight’s, watermelon, mellows, light,

Mellowly. Water, mellows, moon, lightly.

Water, mellows, melons, brightly.

Moonlight’s mellow, to, water’s, sight.

Yes, and, water, mellows, soon,

Quick, as, mellows, the, mellow, moon.

Water, mellows, as, mellows, melody,

Moon, has, its, mellow, secrecy.

Moonlight’s, moon, has, the, mellow,

Secrecy, of, mellowing, water’s water-

Melons, mellowly. Moonlight’s, a, mellow,

Mellower, being, moon’s, mellow, daughter.

Moonlight’s, melody, alone, has, secrecy,

To, make, watermelons, sweet, and, juicy.

Sunday Music Musings June 20, 2020

Our prelude on the Irish harp is Eleanor Plunkett, one of the most popular compositions by blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). He is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer. Sharlys is a former head chorister at Grace who now works in business and lives in Ocean Grove. As a child she played in her family band, Dugans Hooligans with her parents and her brother Connor, a champion fiddler as a youth. I am so happy to have her “here”.

Image result for o'carolan

Our hymn of the day is one of my favorite tunes, Rhosymedre, which you can probably tell is a Welsh place. The hymn tune was written by the 19th-century Welsh Anglican priest John David Edwards who named the tune after the village of Rhosymedre in the County Borough of Wrexham, Wales, where he was the vicar from 1843 until his death in 1885. So here we are again with priests writing the tunes, but a priest also wrote the text.

Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984) was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Son of a bishop, bible scholar, priest and hymn composer, he was educated at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1945, he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia. Tucker served on both the commission for the 1940 hymnal and the commission for the Hymnal 1982, for which he used his poetic skills to re-write texts that were too obsolete or sexist for late-twentieth-century use.  The Hymnal 1982 includes 17 of Tucker’s offerings including, O Gracious Light (Hymns 25-26), Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted (Hymns 302-303), and this on his original text, Our Father, by Whose Name (Hymn 587). In 1980 Fr. Tucker was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America.

The tune was used by Ralph Vaughan Williams as the basis of the second movement of his organ composition Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes. Jabez and I had it played (by Chris Hatcher) at our wedding. It was also played at the funeral of Princess Diana, and at the weddings of her two sons: Prince William (in April 2011) and Prince Harry (in May 2018).

Our wonderful recorder player (and former head chorister—I detect a secret theme) Mariam Bora plays a theme and variation on “Flow My Tears” a famous work originally by Renaissance lutenist John Dowland and then set by countless composers from the 16th century to the present. Jacob van Eyck was a blind Dutch carillonist, recorder player, and 17th century composer.

Van Eyck spent his early years in southern Holland before being appointed carillonist in Utrecht in 1625. In addition to his carillon duties, the cathedral paid Van Eyck to wander the grounds and entertain the passers-by with songs on his recorder. This Pavane Lacrymae variations is his most famous work, and is particularly unusual as the instrument used is the less popular descant (soprano) recorder rather than the more common alto. There are several more variations that Mariam may play us sometime!

I just noticed another secret theme: both the composer of the prelude and the postlude were blind musicians.

I had one more piece on my mind this week and that is the “Black National Anthem,”Lift Every Voice and Sing.” James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. He wrote the words and his brother  John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) set it to music in 1899. You can learn more about the history of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at this NAACP webpage. On Friday, (Juneteenth), the Justice Choir held a “sing” at 6 pm, all over the world, based in Minneapolis. Jabez and I serenaded our neighbors from the porch. I am glad this is a song we know in our diocese! Learn more about this in this video.

Last year, our composer/musician friend Mark Miller was involved in a Juneteenth celebration at Carnegie Hall that was re-broadcast last night. You can find two members of the Grace Church Choirs (Jabez and Crary) singing in Mark’s Juneteenth Mass Choir. Check out Mark’s powerful piece at Let Justice Roll at 40:30, our Bishop Michael Curry at 1:04:26, or watch the whole thing if you can.

Sunday Music Musings June 13, 2020

H. T. Burleigh

This Sunday’s hymn is arranged by Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh was born in Erie, PA, in 1866, the grandson of a freed slave. His formative musical years were spent there in the choir of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul. His fine baritone voice also had him hired as soloist for civic events, and at Park Presbyterian Church and the Hebrew Synagogue. In 1892 he was granted a scholarship at the National Conservatory of Music in New York, where he met and influenced as well as being mentored by Antonin Dvorak. Eventually he joined the men and boys choir at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, a prominent New York City black Episcopal Church. When the director of the National Conservatory, Jeannette Thurber, heard of a baritone opening at St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church(1) in Styvestant Square, she encouraged him to apply. The rector, Rev’d Dr. Rainsford, and the choirmaster, knowing the audition would be controversial, arranged for blind auditions from behind a screen. Predictably, when the committee realized they had hired a young black man, they balked, but Rainsford, with the support of Senior Warden J.P. Morgan (who covered pledges some threatened to withhold) stood firm. Burleigh would have withdrawn quietly, but the choir director, William Chester insisted “your place is here with us.” And so it was for 52 years.

Dr. Rainsford believed the church should grow in its community and that music was central to that growth. Services were reported on regularly in the New York newspapers, and Burleigh was often listed as soloist—becoming legendary for his Palm Sunday rendition of J. Fauré’s The Palms. Burleigh earned a reputation early in the 20th century as a composer of classical art songs, as well as anthems, and some works for violin*. In 1916-17 his solo arrangements of spirituals were first published, which were performed by many singers of the time (including John McCormack) and became quite popular and his lasting legacy. In 1924 Organist/Choir Director George Kemmer inaugurated and annual Vespers service of Negro Spirituals to celebrate Burleigh’s 30th anniversary at St. George’s and to honor him as an arranger and composer. The service was so popular it was standing room only a half hour in advance and had to be repeated in April. These services were broadcast on the radio beginning in 1925.

In 1944 Burleigh was honored as a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He was also a founding member of ASCAP.

One of his last compositions was a hymn tune, named McKee in honor of Elmer M. McKee, (rector from 1936-1946). This was the first African-American tune included in a mainline hymnal (1940), with the words by John Oxenham “In Christ There is No East or West.” According to a letter from Charles V. Stanford to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (who arranged the tune in a piano set), it was originally an Irish tune taken to the United States and adapted by African American slaves. It became associated with the spiritual “I Know the Angels Done Changed My Name,” which appeared in J. B. T. Marsh’s The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1876).

Burleigh retired in 1946, and died in 1949. His body lay in the chapel at St. George’s where hundreds paid respects, and thousands attended his funeral, but no cemetery within New York City would accept the body of an African-American. The rector secured a plot in Hastings-On-Hudson, NY. Burleigh was re-interred in 1994 in Erie Cemetery thanks to the intervention of the Burleigh Society. He is honored (with a quote from McKee) in a stained-glass window at St. Paul’s.

Today (Sunday June 14) our head chorister, Kimberly L. is playing her senior violin/viola recital at 3 pm, and it will be streaming on facebook and instagram. She will be playing Burleigh’s Southland Sketches*(1916) for violin and piano with her brother Charlie (another Grace chorister) on piano. The composition works in several spirituals and folk tunes including Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River.”

For some reason the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 leaves out a (second) verse:

In Him shall true hearts everywhere

Their high communion find

His service is the golden chord

Close binding all mankind.

My sources for this blog were The Hymnary, The Harry T. Burleigh Society, and a fantastic  April 2016 AAM Journal article by Ethnomusicologist Jean E. Snyder. (1) St. George’s is now Calvary-St. George’s, and there is large plaque paying tribute to Harry T. Burleigh.