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Easter music musings April 3,2021

Easter Vigil

What (where?) is Taizé? It is a monastic community in eastern France, especially welcoming to young people. Visitors from around the world stay and engage in communal life, Bible Study and services which include the meditative, repetitive harmonized chants. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger.

Worship at Taizé

Much of this music – 232 songs in 20 different languages – was composed by Jaques Berthier (1923 – 1994). Father Bob Ihloff was a particular fan of Taizé music and introduced me to it. We even had a service at some point in the 90s when a Brother visited.

When we began doing an Easter Vigil, it seemed like a good match to use this music between the readings and build the service music around it. Community singers would often join—the music is fairly easy for the choir and very easy for the congregation—the only (very) complicated part being the “roadmap” of who sings what solo when and who play which instrument when. We have had players from professionals in the choir to elementary students with special easy parts made mostly of whole notes. (This year for virtual we could not accommodate the beginners but I hope we will again in the future). I even remember years when our former organ assistant, Eric, brought a sitar.

Our recorder player, Mariam Bora, visited Taizé in 2014, bringing me back the latest new music. Mariam shares: “Taizé taught me that each day should be about opening up yourself to the joy of life and discovery, and that at the end of the day, you should ask yourself: what brought light and joy into your day? We also discussed temptation, and how our greatest temptation is to give up and fall into discouragement. We can overcome this temptation via prayer, whether expressed silently in thought or soulfully through words or music.”

It is my hope that our virtual Taizé Vigil will open your hearts to some Easter joy.

Easter morning

Our prelude is G.F. Handel’s Worthy is the Lamb arranged for brass and organ by Lutheran composer S. Drummond Wolff.

The hymn I feel we MUST have on Easter morning is of course #207, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and the choir has done their best to give you the feeling of full choir stalls by participating with the brass and timpani. The tune is even called EASTER HYMN. This version of the anonymous 14th century Latin hymn, is first found in a collection entitled:—Lyra Davidica, or a Collection of Divine Songs and Hymns, partly new composed, partly translated from the High German and Latin Hymns; and set to easy and pleasant tunes. London: J. Walsh, 1708. The fourth verse (“Sing we to our God above”) is a doxology by Charles Wesley. The descant we sing on the 4th verse was written by me—but from early childhood chorister memories, so if anyone recognizes another source, do let me know! I must say, this tune is both rather low and rather high, but good C major for working on solfege in zoom choir!

The choir was working so hard on Holy week content, I decided the best other hymn to do was #417 “This is the Feast of Victory” (FESTIVAL CANTICLE). It is basically unison with descant, and a verse highlighting tenors and basses and one highlighting the kids (the way I do it). Many Lutheran churches sing this very often, but at Grace, we have always used it as the offertory hymn on Easter because of the wonderful brass parts provided by composer Richard Hillert (1923-2010), Professor of Music at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill from 1959-1993.

The younger kids, aka “School Choir I” or “the red choir” came up with a gesture decades ago which somehow got passed down from year to year. Here it is caught on video in 2017.

Our anthem is “The Storm is Passing Over” by Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (1851 – 1933), American Methodist minister and gospel music composer. This arrangement by Dr. Barbara W. Baker, internationally known conductor, composer and educator. In the past, this has been the “kids’s anthem” SSA, but this year we had the adults join us and got the SATB version going as well. Percussionist Wesley Ostrander provided some great drum set work.

Tindley.jpg

Tindley’s story is an unbelievably inspiring one. (The following condensed from the Wikipedia article.) His father was a slave, but his mother was free. Tindley himself was thus considered to be free, but even so he grew up among slaves. After the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia, where he found employment as a brick carrier. He and his wife Daisy attended the Bainbridge St. Methodist Episcopal Church. Charles later became the sexton there, a job with no salary.

Never able to go to school, Tindley learned independently and by asking people to tutor him. He enlisted the help of a Philadelphia synagogue on North Broad St. to learn Hebrew and learned Greek by taking a correspondence course through the Boston Theological School. Without any degree, Tindley was qualified for ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church by examination, with high ranking scores. After serving various churches from 1885-1900, Tindley then became the pastor of the same church at which he had been a janitor. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly from the 130 members it had when he arrived. In 1906 the congregation moved from Bainbridge St. to Broad and Fitzwater Sts. and was renamed East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church. The property was purchased from the Westminster Presbyterian church and seated 900, though it was soon filled to overflowing. The congregation over time grew to a multiracial congregation of 10,000. After his death, the church was renamed “Tindley Temple.” The Tindley Temple United Methodist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

Although this is favorite of our choirs, it really seemed important this year to sing something uplifting and hopeful. “Though the night is dark…the morning light appears.”

Happy Easter!

Sunday Music musings March 27, 2021

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and I couldn’t remember how we did Palm Sunday last year, I had to look it up. I DO remember watching on my bed with my cat and waving a daffodil instead of a Palm branch. I found the video, and looks like we were still singing (recorded)(2 staff singers Katie and Brandon and my daughter, Grace), we were distanced but not masked—there was so much we did not know yet!

Grab a Palm before tomorrow at 10!

This year Palm Sunday is also our visit from the bishop, and it will be held on the diocesan zoom, so check your email. We have lots of “choir” though, several virtual renditions. A whole lot of singers sent in their lonely videos of All Glory, Laud and Honor for a big grand rendition. Many of the kids sent their traditional verse of Were you There? (I dare you not to cry!)

A few weeks ago, I had a socially distanced recording session with my brass, so as well as Easter music, I used them on “All Glory, Laud” and for a solemn prelude, Henry Purcell’s Sinfonia arranged for brass, timpani and organ. Purcell (1659-1695) wrote this as incidental music to “Abdelazer Suite” (1695), but you’ll recognize it as the tune used by Benjamin Britten as the theme for Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.  Here is a cool rendition by the Boston Youth Orchestra. Watch is with you kids/grandkids!

Yesterday I livestreamed a recital featuring music by women composers and composers of color. You can watch it here, (and read about it in my last blog.) For the last two years I have really tried to bring some balance to how many women composers I program, and during pandemic I realized that my organ music is the most lacking. This is not because there are not excellent women composers, especially living, but I feel like the men (some wonderful composers as well) have kind of cornered the market by the publishers really not trying very hard, and conservatively sticking to the tried and true. For example, I looked in my collection of Easter organ music: 20 pieces, two women. A British publisher’s collection of Postludes contained one women in the whole book (June Nixon). Of course, there is the problem of women organists breaking into the big cathedral jobs which is just now finally beginning to happen. There is a lag, and by being more intentional, your average organist can help!

That was a very long intro to one of my favorite composers, Melissa Dunphy (b. 1980). The adult choir will sing a piece we learned completely in pandemic zoom rehearsals, A New Heart, with a text from Ezekial: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”

Catching up with Melissa Dunphy last March at ACDA Rochester, right before the world shut down

Born and raised in Australia, Melissa Dunphy immigrated to the United States in 2003 and has since become an award-winning and acclaimed composer specializing in vocal, political, and theatrical music. She first came to national attention in 2009 when her large-scale choral work the Gonzales Cantata was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, where host Rachel Maddow called it “the coolest thing you’ve ever seen on this show.” Her choral work What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach? won the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers Composition Competition and has been performed nationally by ensembles including GRAMMY Award-winning Chanticleer, Cantus, and the St. Louis Chamber Chorus. Dunphy has a PhD in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a Benjamin Franklin Fellow, and a Bachelor of Music from West Chester University. She currently teaches composition at Rutgers University and is also active as a sound and lighting designer, actor, theater owner, and podcaster (The Boghouse).

Harmonium Choral Society gave the New Jersey premiere Work in Dec. 2019 on a text is adapted from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Just yesterday Dunphy had a work virtually premiered by PhilHarmonia with words by Abigail Adams. “Remember the Ladies.”

Most fun of all, I recommend her podcast The Boghouse which about how she and her husband purchased an old theater and became an amateur archeologists.

I wish you a blessed and mindful Holy Week. If you get a chance to thank a choir member, please do–that submitting of virtual content thing is HARD. We only get to enjoy it after the video editors work their magic. Thanks Paula and Eric!

Lenten Recital March 2021

The Friday Lenten organ recital series was begun in the 1950s by Helen E.J. Thomas, and has continued ever since, serving the Madison community. Every year Dr. Anne and Patricia Ruggles usually give a recital in honor of Mrs. Thomas. It seems particularly appropriate this pandemic year, on the 15th anniversary of her passing that we honor women composers and composer of color. Dr. Anne’s pandemic practice project has been to bring some equity to her repertoire of organ music. Thank you for listening!

Helen E.J.Thomas 1917-March 26, 2006

HELEN E.J. THOMAS MEMORIAL CONCERT

Grace Church Lenten Organ Recital Series

March 26, 2021 1 p.m. streaming

Chaconne for Good Friday                         June Nixon (b. 1942)

Ise Oluwa (The Work of the Lord)            Godwin Sadoh (b. 1965)

Reflection on “Lift High The Cross”         Janet Linker

Were You There?                                         Calvin Taylor (b. 1948)

St. Clement                                                  Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927)

Spiritual: Round About the Mountain      Noel Da Costa (1929-2002)

Crimmond (Psalm 23)                                 Barbara Harbach (b. 1946)

Adoration                                                    Florence Price (1887-1953)

Deep River                                                   Adolphus Hailstork (b.1941)

Great Day  Hailstork

June Nixon (b.1942) is one of Australia’s best known organists, choir trainers and composers. She was appointed Organist and Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne in 1973 and is on the teaching staff of Melbourne University Faculty of Music. A chaconne, or passacaglia is a set of variations over a bass line, in this case the organ pedals.

June Nixon

Godwin Sadoh is a Nigerian ethnomusicologist, composer, church musician, pianist, organist, and choral conductor, whose compositions have been performed and recorded worldwide. In his own words: (credit: https://www.sistema-toronto.ca/) “I developed interest in playing musical instruments when I joined the choir at Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Idi-Oro, Lagos, and my high school choir. I was exposed to piano at school, while I was introduced to piano and organ at Saint Paul’s Church and Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, where I saw the magnificent pipe organ for the first time in my life. It was an awesome experience to behold the size of the organ. I enjoyed listening mainly to Western classical music during my youthful days, but developed interest for traditional and popular music when I went to the university to study music in Nigeria and the United States. My favorite composer is the most famous Nigerian composer, Fela Sowande (1905-1987), because he was an organist and a composer. I learned a lot about organ composition from his organ works. At the end of each service on Sundays, I always ran as quickly as I could after the recession of the choir from the church, back to seat as close as possible to observe the organist play the postlude.  It was heavenly for me.  I would watch the feet of the organist as they move on the pedals and saw the pulling out of the stops and change of sound.  I wanted to play the massive instrument so badly and accompany the congregation in singing.” Ise Oluwa is a Yoruba Hymn meaning “the work of the Lord will never be destroyed.”

Godwin Sadoh

Ohio organist Janet Rupp Linker’s Reflection on ‘Lift High the Cross’ sets the tune clearly and meditatively in the right hand. Janet Linker received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Organ Performance from Capital University and The University of Michigan (with Marilyn Mason).  She held church positions in Lubbock and Waco, Texas, Sacramento, California and Columbus, Ohio. She is now organist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Mrs. Linker’s first teaching position was at Texas Tech Univ. in Lubbock, Texas. She taught at the Capital University Conservatory of Music for over 30 years. For many years she played for various events at the Ohio Theatre, on the well-known “Mighty Morton” theatre organ.

Janet Linker

Calvin Taylor (b. 1948) 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 and Spiritual Suite for Organ, 2002, commissioned by and dedicated to Dr. Marilyn Mason, with whom he studied at the University of Michigan. Never far from his roots in religious music, Taylor has traveled for many years throughout the U.S.A. presenting thousands of concerts in America’s churches, and has toured the world. Were You There is a setting filled with both anguish and clear delineation of the tune.

Calvin Taylor

Emma Lou Diemer was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 24, 1927. Her great interest in composing music began at a young age and she majored in composition at the Yale School of Music (BM, 1949; MM, 1950). She went on to study composition in Brussels, Belgium on a Fulbright Scholarship from 1952 to 1953, ultimately returning to the United States to receive her Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music in 1960. She was professor of theory and composition at the University of Maryland 1965-70, and joined the faculty of the University of California (UCSB) in 1971 where she has been professor emeritus since1991. Diemer has written many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, voice, chorus, and electronic media. As a keyboard performer she 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. Her compositional style over the years has varied from tonal to atonal, from traditional to experimental. This traditional and lovely setting of the evening hymn ST. CLEMENT is from a collection called “Organ Voluntaries on Saintly Tunes” (2012).

Emma Lou Diemer

Although of Jamaican parentage, Noel Da Costa (1929-2002) was born in Lagos Nigeria. He later moved to Jamaica, coming to the U.S. at age 11. He pursued his musical education at Queens College (CUNY) and Columbia University, where he was awarded the Seidl Fellowship in Music Composition. Subsequently, he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence under a Fulbright Scholarship. Da Costa served as Professor of Music in the Mason Gross School of Fine Arts at Rutgers University from 1970 to his death. (notes by Michael Thomas Terry, African-American Organ Music Vol. 5). I love the dark, bluesy setting of Round About the Mountain, a spiritual which has had other classical settings. (Here is Florence Quivar singing it).

Noel Da Costa (1929-2002)

Dr. Barbara Harbach, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita of Music, University of Missouri-St. Louis has had a distinguished career as composer, harpsichordist, organist and teacher. She founded Women in the Arts-St. Louis to highlight women’s work and gain more performances for musicians and composers. A number of her pieces have been recorded by the Slovak Symphony Orchestra; its recording of a collection of her music released in 2008 received three major classical music awards. In 1989 Harbach founded the small Vivace Press, to publish music by underrepresented composers. In 1993 she was a co-founder of the journal, Women of Note Quarterly, and continues as its editor. The full title of this piece is Crimmond: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want – Fantasy Toccata and Variations. The fanfare-like toccata both opens and closes the work. My favorite variation is the third, which uses “Amazing Grace” as a counter-melody.

Barbara Harbach

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. 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. You can read more about her in my blog from August 1, 2020 (and many other better sources!), from when I played the organ piece “In Quiet Mood.” Adoration is simple and lovely.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Adolphus Hailstork received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, having previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music, under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger, and at Howard University with Mark Fax. Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and opera which have been performed by major ensembles around the country. In a wonderful recent interview on YouTube, Dr. Hailstork explains how although his music is influenced by African American culture, he is steeped in classical and liturgical traditions. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A KNEE ON A NECK (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra. Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Deep River is simple and touching setting of the spiritual, while Great Day (the Righteous Marching!) is a rousing ending with cheerful, jazzy rhythms. The tune is shared by pedals and right hand. Right before the end there are a series of really dissonant chords (like the last gasp of protest) before the final triumphant ending.

Adolphus Hailstork

This Lenten Recital is in memory of Helen E.J. Thomas, soloist, organist and choir director of Grace Church for over fifty years.  Helen E.J. Thomas (1917- March 26, 2006) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. She began studying music at the age of 4. She started her career in liturgical music while attending Barnard College in New York City, N.Y., singing in the choirs of St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University and Temple Emanu-el on Fifth Avenue in New York. Following graduation from Barnard in 1938 with a degree in economics, she married Morgan G. Thomas. Mrs. Thomas was named assistant organist in 1957. She was a trained and talented soprano, as evidenced in a 1962 LP the choir made with The Baroque Chamber Orchestra and The Choirs of Grace Church featuring Handel’s Laudate Pueri, with Helen Thomas, soprano.

Mrs. Thomas in rehearsal

For nearly 50 years she served generations of youth and adults at Grace, mentoring young singers and instilling in them a love of music.  Among her other achievements at Grace, she designed the Cutler Memorial Organ, which took the church from a small six rank organ to 35 ranks plus eight ranks in the gallery. In 1969 Helen Thomas replaced Marino Nardelli as organist/choir director, building a large choir program. In 1991 Helen Thomas retired as organist choir director, but stayed on as organist emerita, playing the 7:30 service.

Dr. Anne Matlack holds degrees from Yale University and the College-Conservatory of Music (University of Cincinnati.)  She has been organist/choir director at Grace Episcopal Church for 30 years, directing a full program of children and adult choirs and a concert series, Grace Community Music. She is also Artistic Director of Harmonium Choral Society, recognized for its musical excellence and innovative programming. In August 2015 members of the Grace Church Choirs and Harmonium served as choir-in-residence at Winchester Cathedral.  She is the 2003 recipient of the Arts Council of the Morris Area’s Outstanding Professional in the Arts. Her organ teachers have included Charles Krigbaum (Yale) and David Mulbury (Cincinnati). Dr. Anne currently serves as President of the NJ Chapter of the American Choral Director’s Association.

Dr. Anne at the Cutler Memorial organ (Tellers)

Sunday Music Musings March 20, 2021 -Happy Birthday Bach!

Sunday March 21 is Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday.  He was born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685 into a family of musicians. In fact, the name “Bach” came to be synonymous with “musician.” Organists get pretty excited when this falls on a Sunday, because, as Classic FM succinctly puts it “Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was music’s most sublime creative genius. Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque Era.” Here is their “Fast and Furious Guide to Bach”

This is a bit silly but fun, and ignore the piano references

The life story of Bach is well beyond the scope of a weekly blog, but several aspects of Bach that church musicians relate to are his deep Biblical faith, the hard time he sometimes had with various authority figures, and wrangling recalcitrant boys in his choirs to sing incredibly difficult music. He famously signed his works “Soli Deo Gloria”-“To God alone be the glory.” My predecessor Helen E.J. Thomas often did the same in homage.

I have been saving this favorite prelude for the late solemn weeks of Lent. “O Mensch bewein dein Sunde groß” (BWV 622) (O Man Bewail Thy Grevious Sin) to me is one of the most profound pieces in the Orgelbüchlein. It is based on a 23 verse Passion hymn composed by Sebald Heyden in 1530 about the stations of the cross. The tune is set out in the right hand, ornamented, meditative, full of yearning suspensions and moments of sublime surprise.

Bach used this chorale in his St. Matthew Passion as the conclusion to Part I. In 2019 I got to realize a dream when I conducted this piece with Harmonium Choral Society and the New Jersey Youth Chorus Sola Voce as the children’s choir voices that join in singing this tune. You can find it at in this video at 1:07:20.

The offertory is Bist du bei mir, which I often do with the choristers, and a particularly good fit for my cantor who speaks German. It is from the Anna Magdalena Bach book, an anthology of keyboard works and songs the composer presented to his second wife. You can learn more about it here.

Be thou with me

Be thou with me and I’ll go gladly

To death and on to my repose.

Ah, how my end would bring contentment,

If, pressing with thy hands so lovely,

Thou wouldst my faithful eyes then close.

English Translation © Z. Philip Ambrose

Translations by Z. Philip Ambrose are published in J.S. Bach: The Extant Texts of the Vocal Works in English Translations with Commentary Volume 1: BWV 1-200; Volume 2: BWV 201- (Philadelphia: XLibris, 2005) and online at www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach

The postlude by Bach is also from the Lenten section of the Orgelbüchlein. It is a setting of O Lamm Gottes unschuldig (O Lamb of God Most Holy.) Some older choristers and my adult choir members probably recognize the tune from the Eccard setting we sometimes sing, with the children on the chorale tune and me forcing the reluctant adult sopranos to all sing SII. The Bach setting uses descending patterns of duples which in the Baroque affections help express emotions of yearning. The tune is clearly in the pedal, and then follows a canon in a rather hidden middle voice (in blue highlight in the picture.)

O Lamm Gottes unschuldig BWV 618, with canon between pedal and middle voice (blue)

So happy birthday Bach!

In the non-Bach part of Sunday, we’ve been doing a different Kyrie every week, and this week we do S-97 by Richard Felciano (b. 1930). Felciano is a very famous composer, known especially for his work with electronic music.  Here is the Wikipedia short version: “Felciano was born in Santa Rosa, California and studied at San Francisco State College where he received his BA in 1952. In the same year he also obtained an MA from Mills College, where he studied composition with Darius Milhaud and went on to study privately in Florence for a year (1958–59) with Luigi Dallapiccola. He also earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1959. He taught the University of California, Berkeley before becoming composer-in-residence for the city of Boston from 1971–73.” This little Kyrie is short, sparse and piquant. I wonder how many churches use it?

Our hymn of the day is the well-loved Isaac Watts (1674-1748) text When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, set to the tune Rockingham. There are 17 Watts texts in the hymnal 1982, of the 800 some he wrote in his lifetime as an English preacher and writer. Rockingham is by Edward Miller (1735-1807) a flutist in Handel’s orchestra, who harmonized this melody found in a collection of Psalms from 1780.

Usually during Lent I give Friday lunchtime organ recitals, and every year we do one in honor of my predecessor, Mrs. Thomas. This Friday, March 26 at 1 pm I will livestream a recital. It is actually the 15th anniversary of her death, and I hope to blog some history of her time at Grace church by mid-week. I will also put up the program which highlights my pandemic project of bringing more representation of the under-represented to my organ repertoire. Join us for works by June Nixon, Godwin Sadoh, Janet Linker, Calvin Taylor, Emma Lou Diemer, Noel DeCosta, Barbara Harbach, Florence Price and Adolphus Hailstork. Join us on the Grace Church YouTube Channel and the recital can be viewed any time after.

Sunday Music Musings March 13, 2021

Mid-Lent Sunday (Laetare Sunday, Mothering Sunday, Rose Sunday) is the fourth Sunday in Lent, and marks a “lightening up” and thereafter a reaffirmation of Lenten disciplines.  “Mothering Sunday” goes back to the pagan festival held on the Ides of March (March 15) in honor of Cybele, mother of the gods. The Christians took this pagan festival, and turned it into a day on which offerings were brought to the “Mother Church” instead.  Traditionally children living away from home returned to visit their parents, and servants were given a day off so they could do the same. They brought gifts for their mothers, typically flowers and a SIMNEL CAKE. Our offertory carol “White Lent” is set to the tune of a French carol “Quittez pasteurs.” The words are attributed to Percy Deamer (1867-1936),  English priest and liturgist, but are posssibly older, as collected by him for the Hymnal 1906 for which he was an editor.

Signs of spring at church Mid-Lent

Our prelude is a Little Chaconne on a Lenten Hymn, that is, a set of short variations over a repeated bass line (similar to a passacaglia). The hymn in question is the Lutheran chorale “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN). The composer James Edward Engel (1925-1989) was born into a large family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He worked hard to raise the standards of 20th century Lutheran church music, and taught at Luther College.

As we have been doing a different Kyrie every week, this week I picked Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Kyrie (HYMNAL S-96) from the Deutsche Messe — for its cheerfulness! In our church we are much more familiar with his Sanctus S-130. You can hear the whole mass with orchestra here (much slower than we will ever sing at church).

Schubert is of course known for his amazing songs (Lieder). In his short life he wrote over 6oo of these, setting some of Germany’s greatest poets, and granting the piano and equal partnership in explicating the poems. I can’t help posting this video by my son-in-law the amazing German baritone and Schubert expert Johannes Held. Frühlingstraum, (Spring Dream) from Winterreise, Op. 89, D. 911: No. 11.

Our hymn is an old favorite, My Faith Looks up to Thee, to the tune Olivet by American music educator Lowell Mason (1792 – 1872). The author, Ray Palmer (b. Little Compton, RI, 1808; d. Newark, NJ, 1887) is often considered to be one of America’s best nineteenth-century hymn writers. After completing grammar school he worked in a Boston dry goods store, but a religious awakening prodded him to study for the ministry. He attended Yale College and was ordained in 1835, going on to pastor Congregational churches in Bath, Maine (1835-1850), and Albany, New York (1850-1865). He wrote these words while employed as a teacher at a private girls’ school in New York. He had experienced a difficult year of illness and loneliness and was inspired to write this verse one night after meditating on a German poem that depicted a sinner kneeling before the cross of Christ. Two years later he showed them to composer Lowell Mason in Boston. Mason’s prophecy that Palmer “will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee’ ” has certainly come true. (Hymnary.org)

The postlude is one of Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, BWV 553-560, a collection of works formerly attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, now believed to have been composed by one of Bach’s pupils, possibly Krebs or or the Bohemian composer Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer. BWV 555 in E minor has a stately prelude with a long string of suspensions, followed by well-crafted fugue with chromatics, inversions and stretto. This is one of my favorite pieces ever, probably because it is one of the first pieces I ever learned. You can tell how long ago I learned it, by looking at this music, which looks as old as Bach.

Looks as old as Bach–only as old as me

I am happily exhausted, because this afternoon I met my brass quartet and percussionist and made live music! Spread around the empty chancel we recorded Easter hymns and anthems over which the choir will virtually sing. It was a great feeling.

Socially distanced live music making (the trumpet & trombone front right are married)

Happy Spring! The only bad news is losing an hour of sleep tonight!

Sunday Music Musings March 6, 2021

The prelude is a setting of Aus tiefer Not (Out of the Depths) by contemporary composer Daniel Gawthrop. This old German melody attributed to Marin Luther (1483-1546) has always been associated with psalm 130, and its opening descending 5th embodies a descent “to the depths.” Our cantor will sing a verse first (from HYMNAL #151) and then you can hear how Gawthrop’s setting exploits the opening motif, and then turns it into a plaintive new tune. Gawthrop (b. 1948) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was inspired to compose by his high school choir director, Mary Miller, and his first organ teacher, Vincent Slater. He attended Michigan State University, 1967-1968, where he majored in organ, continuing those studies in northern Germany while serving in the Navy. He later attended Brigham Young University, 1971-1973, where he changed his major to composition. Gawthrop is an active composer and has received over one hundred commissions from individuals and institutions. His best-known choral work is the lovely Sing Me To Heaven, with words by his wife, poet Jane Griner. The prelude is from Symphony #3 for Organ: The Reformation, a work that was commissioned in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

Command central

Just because I am thinking about this being the anniversary of the last time my choral society, Harmonium, sang together here is a setting of Aus Tiefe Not by Johann Walther sung by my Chamber Singers a year ago.

This week’s Kyrie is by William Mathias. We always sing his “Gloria,”  “Sanctus,” and what my choristers call “scary Lamb of God” during Eastertide. The Kyrie sounds just like “scary Lamb of God,” a moniker given by the kids because of the chromatic organ chords at the beginning. Mathias (1934 – 1992) was a Welsh composer known for his choral and organ works.

Our gradual Hymn is Let thy Blood in Mercy Poured (Jesu meine Zuversicht), HYMNAL 313, another German melody by Johann Cruger (1598-1552), with words by John Brownlie (1859-1925), a Scottish Presbyterian minister. To me it is important to learn these German chorales because so many composers set them so beautifully, and in “normal times” we would sing this during communion and I would play a Bach setting. I always the tell the kids if they sing out really well during the refrain I will “happy cry” and that has definitely happened. I really miss hearing the kids sing during communion.

Our offertory is Wilt Thou Forgive that Sin (Donne) which you can find in the hymnal #140, a tune by Renaissance composer John Hilton (1573-1631). In this case we are using an arrangement by contemporary composer Peter Crisafulli (b.1946), from All Saints, Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The main story here, is the fantastic poem by John Donne. Here’s a blurb from Enotes about it:

John Donne probably wrote this poem in 1623, after he had recovered from a serious bout of the “spotted fever” which gripped London in an epidemic that year. There is a confidence in this poem’s tone, which gives the reader the impression that Donne has “assurance of Gods favor to him.” He has been saved from a disease which was very often fatal, and the speaker of the poem seems to be baiting God a bit in this song-like poem of eighteen lines.

The poem is in three stanzas of six lines each, each ending with “When thou has done, though has not done / For I have more.” In each stanza the speaker holds up his sins to God (and these confessions, while couched in this punning, sometimes daring tone, are nonetheless sincere), and he hopes that God will forgive him for these things. But, with a dark glee, the sinner assures God that “he has more” of these sins – the sinner is a collection of many sins, and God has his work cut out for him to do the forgiving. He begins with original sin (the belief that certain Christian sects have that Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden were passed down to all humanity), and then progresses on to sins that he has brought others to (“…made my sin their door” line 8), to a sin of “fear” (line 13). The speaker is begging forgiveness of God, but he is like a difficult child taunting his parent with ever increasing transgressions.

The puns in refrain lines at the end of each stanza have to do with names. “Done” which is repeated six times, refers to Donne’s own name, and “more”, which ends each stanza, refers to his wife Anne More’s maiden name. The meaning of these puns seems to be to add a certain levity to this poem, and may mean either than his wife incites him to more sin, or, perhaps, she is his consolation for his sins.

The reference is tinged with sadness, however, because Anne More Dunne died in 1617, some six years before this poem was written. The final line reads “I fear no more,” meaning after he dies his sins of fear will be erased and he will once again be with his wife. This hymn was set to music by John Hilton, during Donne’s lifetime, and was probably sung in some English churches during the seventeenth century.

The postlude is a setting of Aus der Tiefe (similar, but not the same as Aus Tiefe Not), the tune we use for the Lenten Hymn “Forty Days and Forty Nights” – HYMNAL #150. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 –1788) the fifth child and second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. A recent article by Tom Huizenga on NPR succinctly described his style: “educated by his dad, he spent nearly 30 years in Berlin as the harpsichordist to Frederick the Great before decamping to Hamburg to become the city’s director of church music. As a composer, Bach charted his own startling, original path and was a principal proponent of a trend called Empfindsamer Stil, or loosely translated, “sensitive style.” In his 1753 treatise on how to play the keyboard, C.P.E. Bach emphasizes music’s ability to touch the heart and trigger emotions, saying that musicians should play “aus der Seele,” from the soul.

There is a lot going on with me today, a lot to be thankful for. This morning I gave a session on leading choirs and worship on zoom for the Diocese of Newark. It was nice to be able to share positive things that still go on with my choirs. Here what I talked about and a lot of fun links.

I am finishing late because I had two stepdaughters and two grand-toddlers in the house and that was such a blessing! Tomorrow I get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I miss my choirs more the closer we seem to get to the end of this thing.

Speaking of anniversaries, we mark the one year of this pandemic with a composition by one of my choir members, on a text by her aunt, featuring our sopranos and altos and honoring angels in our midst, people whose courage and faithfulness have carried us through such a difficult year.

Sunday Music Musings February 27, 2021

Tonight’s notes on the music may be shorter than usual, because I have family visiting from Germany who I have not seen in a year and a half, including a 16-month old who has wonderfully topsy-turvyed our space.

As I drove home from my Saturday practice session I was happily reminded of the relationship of the word Lent with the lengthening of days.  Our Lenten Prelude is from the church organists’ staple, J. S. Bach’s “Little Organ Book’, or Orgelbüchlein. The plan was to set 164 chorales covering the whole liturgical year. “Only” 46 were set in this collection, but they do span the church year, and although fairly short, many are deeply profound. Most were written during Bach’s Weimar period between 1708 and 1717.

Autograph of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639

Ich ruf zu dir (“I call to Thee”) is found in our hymnal at #634. Bach has set the Lutheran chorale clearly (slightly ornamented) in the top line (I like to use an oboe stop), with moving 16th notes in the accompanying left hand, and a walking bass pulsing with heart-beat-like eighth notes.

Today’s Kyrie setting is S-87 from the Corpus Christi Mass of Jackson Hill (b. 1941). I am admitting that I have never used it before but I certainly will again! Jackson Hill is an American composer with a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A composer from the age of 14, he studied composition with Iain Hamilton at Duke University (1964–66) and Roger Hannay (1967-68). He has served as a visiting scholar and choral assistant at Exeter College, Oxford, and as a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He studied Buddhist chant as a Fulbright Fellow in Japan in the 1970s, and traditional Japanese music has been a strong influence in his work. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, and taught at Duke University (1966-1968) and at Bucknell University (1968-2008), where he served as Associate Dean, Presidential Professor, and Chair of the Department of Music.

The hymn of the day is “The God of Abraham Praise” to the tune of Leoni (a Hebrew tune also known as Yigdal). The text is attributed to Daniel ben Judah, a Jewish liturgical poet who lived in Rome, as paraphrased by Thomas Olivers (1725-1799), an itinerant minister, and for a while, associate of John Wesley.

The hymn we are using as the offertory is the tune Bourbon, a southern folk tune attributed to Freeman Lewis (1780-1859), a Pennsylvania surveyor. There are two Lenten texts in our hymnal, #147, “O Let us All with one Accord,” and the one we are using today, “Take Up Your Cross,” #675. This is a text by Charles William Everest (1814-1877), a priest from Connecticut.

The tune Bourbon is one of the tunes I requested in the set of Three Lenten Works for Solo Flute that I commissioned from Thomas Keesecker. I wrote more about this last week.

Here is my friend and wonderful flutist Kris Lamb playing the second movement on Bourbon. (I played this over zoom for our Friday noonday prayer group). Thomas definitely was thinking of southern blues (Bourbon Street?) in this setting which captures the foot-stomping quality of the tune with some jazzy blues notes.

The postlude is an exciting Toccata on “The God of Abraham Praise” by the prolific Michael Burkhardt (b.1957), choral clinician, organ recitalist, and hymn festival leader, who is currently Director of Worship and the Arts at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Livonia, Michigan.

Have a good weekend, everyone, enjoy the lengthening days.

Sunday Music Musings First Lent, February 20, 2021

Our prelude and postlude are by Healey Willan, the great Anglican Canadian composer who I discussed just a few weeks ago. I love his treatment of the tune St. Flavian.

St. Flavian, from Day’s Psalter (1562) is a simple but eloquent tune. Originally published by John Day of London in 1562, “Sternhold and Hopkins” was the first complete English language version of the Psalms. It remained the standard version in England for almost two hundred years.

The text “Lord Who Throughout these Forty Days” is by Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838–1898), née Ibotson, born in Surrey, England. She was both the daughter of and wife of a clergyman, and wrote over 150 hymns, many for children. This is the only one that remains in frequent use, with its clear tale of how Lent works and why.

During Lent with a single (wonderful) cantor, I am going to have her sing a different Kyrie setting every week, so we can use this time to learn something new. Usually I use a Kyrie (S-88) in which the youngest kids can act as leaders. Sunday we will do S-86 from the mass setting New Plainsong by David Hurd. Here at Grace we know much of this setting very well, the Trisagiom (S-100), Gloria (S-277) and especially the Sanctus (S-124) and Lamb of God (S-161). This makes this Kyrie seem very familiar!

Composer and organist David Hurd

David Hurd (b. 1950) is a composer, concert organist, choral director and educator. He began his career was as a boy soprano at St. Gabriel’s Church in Hollis, Long Island, New York. He was educated at Oberlin College and the University of North Carolina. Hurd is an outstanding recitalist and improvisor and a composer of organ, choral, and instrumental music. In 1987 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, by the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

Dr. Hurd was at General Theological Seminary, Chelsea, New York City, for 28 years first as Director of Chapel Music and later also as Professor of Church Music and Organist.   In 1985 he became director of music for All Saints Episcopal Church, New York, followed by the position of Music Director at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, until May 2013. He is currently serving The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin as Organist and Music Director.

The anthem is The Bellman’s Song arranged by Simon Lindley of Ave Maria fame (at least fame amongst the Grace choristers who love this setting). Here is an SATB version of Ave Maria with the composer conducting at a rousing clip!

Simon Lindley (b. 1948) is an English organist, choirmaster, conductor and composer. He was Leeds City Organist from 1976 to 2017. Before Leeds he was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and Royal College of Music in London then served as Assistant Master of Music at St Albans Cathedral to the legendary Peter Hurford and Director of Music at St. Albans School.

The Bellman’s Song is an English folk carol, the kind of carol you can use for Lent rather than Christmas since it dwells on our mortality. The bellman was a kind of town crier—hence this is a similar carol to “Past Three o’Clock.”

A Bellman “Awake, awake, good people all…”

“This carol is much in use in the midland and western counties…The functionary known in bygone times as the Bellman was a kind of night watchman, who, in addition to his staff and lantern, carried a bell, and at a certain period of the year was wont to arouse the slumbering inhabitants of the town to listen to some such effusion as that now printed.”(William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

We will be singing 4 verses in bold.

The moon shone bright and the stars gave a light,

A little before ’twas day;

Our Lord he looked down on us,

And he bade us awake and pray.

Awake, awake, good people all,

Awake and you shall hear

How our dear Lord died on the cross

For us he loved so dear.

O fair, O fair Jerusalem,

 When shall I come to thee?

When shall my sorrows have an end,

Thy joy that I may see?

The fields were green as green could be,

When from his heavenly seat

Our mighty Lord he watered us

With his heavenly dew so sweet.

And for the saving of our souls

Christ died upon the Cross;

We ne’er shall do for Jesus Christ

As He has done for us.

The life of man is but a span,

And cut down in an hour:

We’re here today, tomorrow gone,

The creatures of an hour.

Some think that this was originally a secular May carol, to which Puritans added verses. There are many more verses in various sources including some at the end that sound like a wassailing carols. Lindley’s setting stops before these three rather dire verses.

7. Instruct and teach your children well,

The while that you are here;

It may be better for your soul

When your corpse lies on the bier.

8. Today you be alive and well,

With many a thousand pound;

Tomorrow dead and cold as clay

When your corpse lies on the ground.

9. With one turf at your head, good man,

And another at your feet,

Thy good deeds and thy bad, O man,

Will altogether meet.

In other choir news, we had an Ash Wednesday service on zoom this week, and I was helped by my husband and 22 year old daughter (the Pandemic Family singers). The hymn of the day was a 16th century tune Erhalt uns Herr, Hymnal 143. For a “house prelude” I played a flute setting by Thomas Keesecker.

Thomas Keesecker (b. 1956) has enjoyed a long career as a church musician, which has allowed him the freedom to be creative in composing music in a variety of styles. He studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  In Advent, I discovered some new pieces he had just written for flute alone on Advent tunes. A few weeks ago I asked him if he had written any Lenten ones, and a joking exchange “no, but want to commission me?” turned into an actual commission. I got together a few flute-loving friends to go in with me (including some Grace church people), suggested some tunes, and faster than the engraver could set them, Thomas wrote “Three Lenten Preludes for Solo Flute.” The dedication reads “For flutists everywhere during the Pandemic of 2020-2021. Commissioned by Anne Matlack, Melissa Honohan, Tom and Judy Honohan, Kris Lamb, and Maureen Lewis.” The fantastic Kris Lamb has also virtually premiered them, so listen to “Erhalt uns” here:

virtual premiere by flutist Kris Lamb of a piece I commissioned (with a little help from my friends) by Thomas Keesecker

If you hear a bit of homage à Jethro Tull, rest assured it was intentional. Tom recently posted on social media:

“50 years ago in March 1971, Jethro Tull released their album Aqualung. They were on tour in the summer and I went to see them at the Alexandria, VA Roller Rink in July. I had just turned 15. Tickets were $5.50. It was my first rock concert. In the beginning of their set Ian Anderson incorporated Bach’s famous Bourree in an extended flute solo. (A few years later my best friend learned the Bourree on his guitar while pursuing a music degree.) Very recently I was commissioned to write a set of Lenten pieces for solo flute. A requested hymn tune was “Erhalt us, Herr.” In some hymnals the setting of the tune uses the Bach 4-part chorale “Erhalt uns, Herr.” The first 8 notes of the Bourree and the Chorale are the same. I played with this idea in my setting. My arrangement alternates between phrases or motifs from each piece.  Other hymn tunes in the set are BOURBON and PANGE LINGUA.”

For Lent I also started playing some music from home after 12:15 noonday prayer on Fridays. Tune in this Friday and you may hear another movement of the flute set! (Grace Zoom room gracemadison.org). The music is available for purchase from the composer.

Sunday Music Musings Feb. 13, 2021

I am starting this blog really late tonight, because I have been working on a History of Music at Grace Church for the Historical Society who are putting together a book about Madison Arts groups I think. Anyway, I’m not sure they wanted 5000 words, and that was the short version. I am glad I was forced to turn into prose a power point presentation I made about 10 years ago, and update it and look back on the trends of what I have really done over 30 years. Ultimately you will get to see the long version!

I have also been working on “An Eclectic Epiphany Evensong” which was just released moments ago, thanks to the hard work of my choirs, and Paula my video editor.  It is eclectic because it includes a prelude (Bach Trio Sonata movement) recorded in September (but not yet used), a Ukranian Phos Hilaron from the St. Gregory of Nyssa songbook that worked well with my teen sopranos and altos, a Magnificat not too hard to rehearse on zoom for my adults, a Nunc dimittis chanted by my kids,  a Peruvain Gloria as an anthem that has a good range for my teen tenors and basses, and Abbie Bettinis’ Love is Love round from the Justice Choir Songbook for everyone on Valentine’s Day. My daughter and my cantor did a duet version of Psalm 67 (Robert Powell) in one safe take. Round it out with some priestly chanting in front of the windows that were the prettiest the day we finally recorded, and a postlude by a woman composer based on the Peruvian Gloria, and it is actually quite nice to have—even though my hair does seem to grow 4 inches from beginning to end!

Sunday is the last Sunday in Epiphany, the gospel is the Transfiguration, and it is the day the kids would have been counting “alleluias.” It strikes me as odd that the great Transfiguration hymn “O Wondrous Type” does not have a single alleluia in it, although it tells the story well! The text is from the 15th century Latin, after J. M. Neale. John Mason Neale (1818-1866) was a prolific writer of prose, poetry and hymns, translator and Anglican priest, high church, in poor health, and enamored of the Oxford movement. You can read much more about him here.  Some of his most famous translations (there are 45 in our hymnal) include: All Glory, Laud and Honor; O come, O come, Emmanuel; Of the Father’s Heart Begotten; Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle; Ye Sons and Daughters; Good Christian Men, Rejoice; and Good King Wenceslas. Oddly enough, he died on 6 August 1866, the Feast of the Transfiguration, so he is commemorated by the Anglican churches on the following day, 7 August, sharing this feast with Catherine Winkworth, who also translated hymns into English.

The tune is Wareham, named for the birthplace (in Dorsetshire, England) of composer William Knapp (1698 – 1768). A glover by trade, known in his time as the “country psalm-singer,” Knapp served as the parish clerk at St. James’s Church in Poole (1729-1768) and was organist in both Wareham and Poole. (Hymnary.org)

The composer of the Prelude on Wareham Herbert Murill (1909 – 1952) was an organist who from 1933 until his death was Professor of Composition in the Royal Academy of Music. He wrote operas, ballets and film scores, but is best known for his choral and organ works.

Speaking of Medieval Latin, the 11th century Urbs beata Jerusalem “Alleluia Song of Gladness” (which actually sounds very melancholy, but is a good way to get out 7 alleluias before Lent) is also a J.M. Neale translation.

The postlude is based on Lasst uns erfreuen, a 17th century German tune that we use for both “All Creatures of our God and King” and “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.” It is the latter I was thinking of when I programmed it, so you can “think” all your alleluias out as you listen, and be all ready to give them up for Lent. Hal Hopson (b. 1933) is an incredibly prolific a full-time composer and church musician residing in Cedar Park, Texas. He has over 3000 published works, which comprise almost every musical form in church music.

Sunday Music Musings February 6, 2021

In my search to increase the number of women composers of organ music in my repertoire, I recently ordered a volume by Canadian composer Rachel Laurin (b. 1961). After studying at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec, from 1986 to 2002, she was assistant organist at Saint Joseph’s Oratory. In 1988, she started teaching at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. From 2002 to 2006, she was titular organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa. She now devotes her time to composition, recitals, master classes and lectures. In 2008, she received the Holtkamp-AGO Composition Award. In 2009, she was awarded first place in the Marilyn Mason New Organ Music Competition.

Prologue is a coloristic and tuneful work, and the easiest one in this volume 4 of several volumes of “A Dozen Short Pieces” all on commissions. Some of the works use liturgical tunes and some are programmatic and impressionistic.

Rachel Laurin, composer/organist

Our hymn tune of the day has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I began organ in the 8th grade. Although it is relatively hard for a brand new organist (F minor, triplet, lots of pedal), I am pretty sure it was the second hymn I learned—because I wanted to! (St. Anne was the first—what was yours?) When I ask the choristers “what country is this tune from?” they often just shout out “Wales” because there are so many good tunes! This is known as Ton-y-botel, or Ebenezer in some of the 212 hymnals in which it appears. Another clue to its Welsh heritage is the name of the composer, Thomas John Williams (1869-1944). Williams was in the insurance business (like Charles Ives!) but studied with David Evans at Cardiff and later was organist and choirmaster at Zion Chapel (1903­-1913) and Calfaria Chapel (1913-1931), both in Llanelly, in southeast Wales. Ton-y-botel means “tune in a bottle” from a legend that it was found on a Welsh beach in a bottle.

At the time I learned this hymn from the 1940 hymnal, it was to the words “Once to Every Man and Nation,” by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). Lowell was from Cambridge MA, a Harvard graduate, lawyer, diplomat, editor and poet. The stirring text was a favorite of many a romantic among us, but did not make it into the 1982 hymnal on theological grounds. “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide/In the strife of truth with falsehood for the good or evil side.” But no. Lucky for us God’s grace and forgiveness is extended more than once a lifetime. (Lucky for nations too!)

But lucky for hymn lovers we find this tune set to two texts in the 1982 hymnal, #527 “Singing Songs of Expectation” and today’s hymn #381 “Thy Strong Word did Cleave the Darkness.” Both of these strong texts stand up to the strong tune. Author Martin H. Franzmann (1907-1976) was an American Lutheran clergyman, theologian and author who wrote and translated numerous hymns. Originally from Minnesota, he began his career teaching at Northwestern, and ended it at Westfield House, the theological college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, in Cambridge, England. The extended imagery of light, and God’s word as a beacon in the darkness, makes it a great Epiphany hymn.

The postlude by Healey Willan (1880-1968) is a wonderful, tortured, late romantic, fugal approach to this tune. (I am sure he was picturing Lowell’s text.) Neo-romantic, stylistically conservative Healey Willan is best known for his liturgical music, though his output of more than 800 works includes opera, symphony, chamber, organ, piano, band, incidental scores, song, folksong arrangements, and much more. Over half of his works are Anglican church music. Born in England, he migrated to Canada and there became probably the most influential composer of liturgical music of his time. His influence spread across North America, spilling over into the musical traditions of most major denominations. Those of us familiar with the Episcopal church of the 1940 hymnal, or Rite One services, are very familiar with his service music. If you have time, watch this amazing resource, A 1966 Canadian TV program “Telescope” with Fletcher Markle interviewing the 86-year old composer. Enjoy!

Our anthem is O Christ the Healer We Have Come, set by Richard Gieseke (b.1952). Now enjoying retirement in Missouri, Gieseke served in many Lutheran parishes and also had calls to Concordia Publishing House, Lutheran Hour Ministries, LCMS Foundation, and Lutheran Blind Mission. He studied at Concordia Teachers College with Dr. Carl Schalk and Dr. Richard Hillert.

I can’t believe I got his far in blogging without writing about Fred Pratt Green CBE (1903-2000) – one of the best-known of contemporary hymn writers. A hymnary.org puts it: “his name and writings appear in practically every new hymnal and ‘hymn supplement’ wherever English is spoken and sung.” Mr. Green was born in Liverpool, England, and ordained in the British Methodist ministry. You can find the full text here.