Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings September 19, 2020

This week I tried to continue #choirnotchoirbutstillimportant.  The adults and teens met on Thursday, and the younger kids had their first zoom choir of the year, supplemented by some choir supplies dropped off at their houses.

I had ordered these really cute tote bags,

but they were back ordered I had to settle for Trader Joes paper bags including:

HYMNAL

CROSS – wear it to choir!

Teeny straws for singing through, blowing bubbles in water warm-up

Index cards and marker for making things we will hold up in the screen for listening games (we’ll make these together)

Staff paper and 10 pennies we can use for notes

Pinwheel for breathing exercise

MACA Arts magnet

Two rounds and a Gospel acclamation (everyone)

Two anthems

My cat did “help” with one of the choir rehearsals by walking up and down the keyboard loudly.

This week 6 out of 8 of the Daughters of Zion managed to record for our prelude, a Shaker “Vision Song” called “All is Summer.” It is so hard and lonely to make these virtual choir recordings at home, finding a quiet time and space and all alone. But the final result brought tears of joy, and I hope you like it too! It is appropriate that this is just trebles, as in Shaker communities, men and women never mixed. The Shakers were millennians (they believed in Christ’s imminent second coming — as a woman). They practiced confession of sins, communal ownership, celibacy and withdrawal from the world. They were known for praying themselves into a frenzied dance, shaking their bodies wildly to get rid of evil spirits.

Shaker | Protestant sect | Britannica
Shaker Dance: women on one side, men on the other

This version was harmonized with second verse added for St. James Music Press by Susan Matsui. Susan Matsui is the organist and music director at the Second Congregational Church of Williamstown, MA, and a public school music teacher. She is an expert in Medieval music and Japanese music, and has published numerous children’s books.

We have replaced our Gloria or Kyrie this week with a Jubilate (psalm 100) – the well-known Henry Aldrich (1647-1710) setting S-13 in the hymnal. Anglican chant is a way of singing unmetered chant in speech rhythm and harmonized. When we recorded this last spring we realized that it is very hard to keep together in speech rhythm as a virtual choir without hearing each other, so be kind!

The hymn of the day (#9) often comes up in the fall, and it reminds me of fall with its minor key and poetry referencing “the royal robes of autumn moors” (make sure to roll you Rs!). The text of “Not here for high and holy things” is by Geoffrey Anketel Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929). According to Wikipedia, he was an English Anglican priest and poet. He was nicknamed Woodbine Willie during World War I for giving Woodbine cigarettes along with spiritual aid to injured and dying soldiers. After serving as chaplain and initially supporting the British war effort with enthusiasm (and rousing speeches), he became a pacifist and Christian Socialist. After the war, Studdert Kennedy led a church Lombard Street, London. His books Lies (1919), Democracy and the Dog-Collar (1921), Food for the Fed Up (1921), The Wicket Gate (1923), and The Word and the Work (1925) reflected his change of heart. He toured the country speaking on behalf of the working classes, and died in Liverpool, exhausted at the age of 45. The poor working people flocked to pay their respects at his funeral, but The Dean of Westminster refused burial at Westminster Abbey, because he said Studdert Kennedy was a “socialist,” even though he had distrusted most politicians and had refused to join any political party.

My favorite line to discuss with choir children is

“the purple pageantry of dawning and of dying days…”

and discuss it we did, even over zoom on Friday (sunrises and sunsets).

The hymn has six quite poetic verses, and you really can’t cut any, not just because of the gorgeous imagery, but because it is basically a giant run-on sentence!

I don’t know how such a distinctly British poet came to be paired with such an American tune. Perhaps because MORNING SONG is a folk tune that has some resemblance to the traditional English tune for “Old King Cole,” a tune which appeared anonymously in Part II of John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music (1813). Morning Song is attributed to Elkanah Kelsey Dare (1782-1826), a Methodist minister who was born in New Jersey (a lot of these!) and moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania sometime before 1818. Dare was probably the music editor for John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (1813), a shaped-note collection that includes more than a dozen of his own tunes. The tune is also known as CONSOLATION, its title in Kentucky Harmony (1816), where it was set to Isaac Watts’ morning song, “Once More, My Soul, the Rising Day.” Other texts that use this tune include “The King shall Come when Morning Dawns,” and “O Holy City, Seen of John.”

The postlude on this tune, by Gardner Read, actually references the title “Once More My Soul the Rising Day,” which explains the upward-leaping toccata figures in the hands, over the tune in the pedals, not to mention the morphing of the whole piece from minor up to major! Read (1913 – 2005) was born in Illinois. According to his obituary, he was a prolific composer of orchestral, choral, and chamber works and pieces for piano, organ, and solo voice. In addition, he authored a number of texts on musical notation and composition. Between 1941 to 1948, Read headed the composition departments at the St. Louis Institute of Music, the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1948, he was appointed composer-in-residence and professor of composition at the School of Music, Boston University, retiring in 1978. In addition, Read served as principal conductor with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra in 1943 and 1944, and put in guest conducting appearances over the years with the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, and various university orchestras in performances of his own works.

tune mostly in the feet…

It seems appropriate to start with a Shaker Song and end with American composers setting Shape-note tunes, with some good Anglican history in between. I hope you sing loudly from home!

Sunday Music Musings September 12, 2020

What is happening in “choir”?

The Daughters of Zion met on zoom, and talked about (and rehearsed) some virtual projects and how to mentor the younger kids virtually. It was so great to see them! The adults met after them-we talked a lot about the teachers and kids in our families and we will be presenting a zoom Chanted Compline on the last Thursdays of the month. The Gargoyles had a great meet-up of 6 teen guys and Brandon, to rehearse for our virtual ‘reunion’ of The Promised Land, which is a sacred harp staple of our repertoire for most of our years of existence.

Gargoyles sing “The Promised Land” in 2013

Next week the younger kids start up ½ hour zoom rehearsals, and they’ll be receiving a special delivery of supplies (including a hymnal, stickers, pinwheels, staff paper and other surprises).

As a nod to Holy Cross Day, which is Monday, I often have us sing Lift High the Cross this weekend, so (although I chose a different hymn) I am playing organ settings of the tune for Prelude and Postlude. The tune CRUCIFER by Sydney Nicholson 1875-1947, the founder of the Royal School of Church Music, is set here by Ohio organist Janet Rupp Linker. The “Meditation” sets the tune clearly and lyrically in the right hand, while the “Finale” (postlude) is triumphant and more contrapuntal.

When we are back in person, but there is no singing, I hope you will be ready to let these organ meditations on hymns be a way of worshipping in your hearts. If not singing, meditating on the words. Just like when the choir sings prayers for you in Evensong, and you worship by listening, I hope you can let the organ meditations do the same.

Here is some further biographical information from MorningStar Music: 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. She has published twenty six books of organ music, several anthems, and, in collaboration with Jane McFadden, over 60 works for organ (or piano) and/or brass and handbells, and a piano/organ duet book.

Janet Linker - Hope Publishing Company

I am happy that although I could not give my summer recital of organ music of women composers, I have been about to play much of it virtually this summer, aspiring to gender equity of the composers we have presented. Because representation matters! 🙂

A well-known and well-loved hymn is LAUDA ANIMA, Praise my Soul the King of Heaven. I hope you are singing loudly in your homes!

Let’s start with the words by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). Lyte distinguished himself at Trinity College, Dublin, by winning the English prize poem three times. He abandoned Medicine for Theology and took Holy Orders in 1815. His first curacy was in Wexford and in 1817. In 1818 he moved to Cornwall and had a spiritual conversion over the death of a fellow clergyman. Lyte says of him:—

“He died happy under the belief that though he had deeply erred, there was One whose death and sufferings would atone for his delinquencies, and be accepted for all that he had incurred;”…

“I was greatly affected by the whole matter, and brought to look at life and its issue with a different eye than before; and I began to study my Bible, and preach in another manner than I had previously done.”

Lyte was tall, handsome, eccentric, well-read and played the flute. He wrote many hymns-the other most famous one being “Abide with Me.”

The composer of the tune, John Goss (1800-1880) is an important Victorian Anglican musician, with lots of chants in our hymnal too. Born in Hampshire, as a boy Goss was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and later sang in the opera chorus of the Covent Garden Theater. He was a professor of music at the Royal Academy of Music (1827-1874) and organist of St. Paul Cathedral, London (1838-1872); in both positions he exerted significant influence on the reform of British cathedral music. Goss published Parochial Psalmody (1826) and Chants, Ancient and Modern (1841); he edited William Mercer’s Church Psalter and Hymn Book (1854). With James Turle he published a two-volume collection of anthems and Anglican service music (1854). (Hymnary.org)

Portrait of Goss inscribed to his former pupil Sir Arthur Sullivan

Goss also wrote the re-harmonizations that you hear under verses 1 and 3. (the “Father-like he tends and spares us” gets particularly creepy and “feeble” with chromaticism. The descant is by C. S. Lang (1891–1971), a New Zealand-born British organist, composer and music teacher.

The other thing that is really on my mind this weekend is our “virtual premiere” that is, YouTube release, of Open Minds, a cantata Harmonium sang last March 1 – which makes it the last thing we sang before lock-down. It is a challenging and beautiful work to open up a dialogue about mental health, and I hope you will “join us” at 7, or watch it afterwards at your leisure.

Sunday Music Musings September 5, 2020

Playing a quartet with 2 flutists

I have learned a lot of new technology during this pandemic, something that usually scares or stresses me a bit, but in the service of making music together, I have stepped up my game. One app called Acapella allows you to play multiple parts with yourself or collaborate with others. Once my flute student Mia, learned it, we realized we could not just play duets, but quartets and beyond! The thing that feels more collaborative about this, rather than everyone alone in their home sending the video editor one part at a time to the same practice track, in this app, as you add parts, you hear all the parts that went before.

J. P. Rameau

Our piece is an arrangement for four flutes of an early Baroque harpsichord work by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764). The son of an organist, he dodged becoming a lawyer, travelled to Italy, and when he moved to Paris in 1706 published his earliest known compositions, the harpsichord works that make up his first book of Pièces de Clavecin. La Villageoise-Rondeau is the last movement of the E minor suite. Later, he won fame as a music theorist and opera composer.

Our hymn of the day is “God is Love” by Timothy Rees (1874-1939) to the tune Abbot’s Leigh by Cyril V. Taylor (1907-1992).

Rees was Welsh churchman who became Bishop of Llandaff. Born in Cardiganshire, he was educated at St. David’s Lampeter. He served as an armed forces chaplain from 1914 to 1919, working in Gallipoli, Egypt and on the Somme, where he was awarded the M.C for his work in rescuing and aiding wounded soldiers. He was a monastic at the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire, until he became Bishop of Llandaff in 1931—the first member of a religious community to be appointed to an Anglican see in Wales for over three centuries. He was a distinguished speaker both in English and Welsh and a respected hymnographer.

Cyril Taylor was another of these hymn-tune writers who are both priest and musician.  “His positions included being a producer in the religious broadcasting department of the BBC (1939-­1953), chaplain of the Royal School of Church Music (1953-1958), vicar of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire (1958-1969), and precentor of Salisbury Cathedral (1969-1975). He contributed twenty hymn tunes to the BBC Hymn Book (1951), which he edited, and other tunes to the Methodist Hymns and Psalms (1983). He also edited 100 Hymns for Today (1969) and More Hymns for Today (1980). Writer of the booklet Hymns for Today Discussed (1984), Taylor was chairman of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland from 1975 to 1980.” (Hymnary.org).

Stone building with prominent three stage square tower. In the foreground is a grass area and road separated from the church by a stone wall.
Holy Trinity Parish, Abbot’s Leigh

This tune was originally written as a replacement for Austria for John Newton’s “Glorious Things of thee are Spoken.” In 1942, during World War II, when Rev. Taylor was a producer of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, he was stationed in the village named Abbot’s Leigh, outside of Bristol. “Glorious Things of thee are Spoken” had usually been sung to Josef Haydn’s tune “Austrian Hymn,” but since the German national anthem was also sung to that tune, new music was needed in wartime Britain. Another powerful pairing of this tune in other denominations is to Jeffrey Rowthorn’s “Lord You Give the Great Commission,” although not in our Hymnal 1982.

Finally, although not perfect, I have recorded a J. S. Bach Trio Sonata (No. 1 in E-flat) BWV 525, something I never could have done without pandemic practice time. Saturday is my day at the church, and especially at the beginning of this crazy situation, I really needed something to occupy my entire brain (and beyond!). The six organ sonatas were used to teach Bach’s children (especially his eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach), and students about organ and compositional technique. And they are masterpieces. Each voice of the three voices is of equal independence and importance. By three voices, I mean each hand and the feet. This week you hear the cheerful third movement.  

Quiet early Saturday morning practice time-view of gallery organ

The Sonatas make a world of their own, as distinctive and accomplished as the first movements of Leipzig cantatas or the preludes and fugues of Well Tempered Clavier I. The two hands are not merely imitative but so planned as to give a curious satisfaction to the player, with phrases answering each other and syncopations dancing from hand to hand, palpable in a way not quite known even to two violinists. Melodies are bright or subdued, long or short, jolly or plaintive, instantly recognizable for what they are, and so made (as the ear soon senses) to be invertible. Probably the technical demands on the player also contribute to their unique aura.” —Peter Williams, The Organ Music of J. S. Bach (2nd ed.-2003), Cambridge University Press 

Might as well play this while you can see my feet…

A Harmonium Remembrance: Terezin, the full version of the story

The Community of the Remembered

“…remembering is an act of generosity, aimed at saving men and women from apathy to evil, if not from evil itself.” 

Elie Wiesel

A few years after our Eastern European Tour in 2002, I grabbed the CD and randomly played it in my car. Suddenly I found myself in tears, as I listened to a performance, a live outdoor recording of three songs sung at the Jewish/Christian cemetery at Terezin. As I found myself trying to explain the Holocaust to a child, and why we were singing to an audience of only ourselves, I realized that this was the story I really needed to share.

When my choral society, Harmonium, planned a tour to Eastern Europe for summer 2002, we spent the year preparing by learning Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Slovakian repertoire, and music of Holocaust remembrance, including music on texts from Terezin.  Much of this music was first performed in a March 2002 concert entitled “Lamentations and Songs of Hope.” Ironically this concert was planned over the summer of 2001, but it took on a life of its own after 9/11. A local Holocaust survivor, Ursula Pawel, author of My Child is Back! spoke to the audience of her experience as a 16-year-old teacher of younger children at Terezin during this unforgettable concert.

My Child is Back by Ursula Pawel

The music in this concert included movements from Donald McCullough’s Holocaust Cantata, and a movement, Terezin from Robert Convery’s cantata, Songs of Children (1991). The three pieces that also went on tour with us were a setting of Birdsong, a specially commissioned work,  and Sid Robinivitch’s Prayer Before Sleep, from Talmud Suite.  Although Birdsong has many beautiful settings, the one we took was a capella, with a melody by Raymond Smolover, cantor emeritus at congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, New York, as arranged for SAB chorus by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, then a composition student at the Juilliard School.

The commissioned work was Before Too Long, by our composer-in-residence, Mark Andrew Miller, a wonderfully talented organist, composer and teacher of multicultural sacred music. The poem, by 14 year old Alena Synkova, is found in I Never Saw Another Butterfly.  It was preserved in manuscript in pencil on a scrap of yellowed paper.  Alena Synkova was born in Prague on September 24, 1926, and deported to Terezin on Dec. 22, 1942.  She survived and returned home after the liberation.

Terezin, a small town outside of Prague, was used during the war by the Nazis as a facade: it was made to look like a spa town for inspectors from the International Red Cross. Artwork, poetry and composition were “encouraged.” Talented teachers of art and poetry helped the children to express themselves which they did with amazing richness and hope. Children’s Drawings and Poems 1942-1944 from Terezin are collected in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly and provide a rich and poignant source of these primary texts. The Nazi’s ruse worked and the Red Cross backed off, allowing the death camps to continue their horrific work. Terezin wasn’t an “extermination” camp like Auschwitz, though it served as a way station to the camps and ghettos in occupied Eastern Europe. However, of the nearly 140,000 men, women and children deported to Terezin from the Czech lands, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary, 34,000 died there. From 1942 to 1944, transports carried 87,000 people from Terezin eastward; of those, 83,000 were murdered, tortured to death, or perished on forced marches.

Singing at Terezin Cemetery,Photo by Andrew Moody

Our Austrian tour guide Adreas, who was well-meaning yet biased, had an impossible time trying to convince our determined group of 42 that Terezin wasn’t worth seeing…just the fortress…there was nothing in the town…it wasn’t worth going into the town…Terezin was not a concentration camp, just a ghetto, blah, blah. We just dug in our heels and fought back!

Looking for Ursula’s old address

So before we headed into the town (now restored to the Czechs), maps in hand, looking for Ursula’s former address and visiting the Jewish museum, we visited the small fortress museum.  We prepared to sing by the large Star of David Memorial overlooking the cemetery to the Christian cross on the other side. We knew this was just for us, we didn’t expect tourists or audience except for our friends and family on the tour. First, one of our basses, Murray Speigel, led us, singers of all faiths, in the Mourner’s Kaddish, as he had at Auschwitz. We began with the Robinovitch, Baruch atah, Adonai…  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, with just a few clouds in the sky.

I forgot until I heard the recording again, how emotionally invested we all were in the singing; you can hear it in our voices even in the nonprofessional outdoor recording.  I forgot also, how loud the birds were. You can hear a little sob from someone nearby as the music builds. I remember as I got to the last page I looked down and saw wet splotches and thought I was crying. Actually, it was raining. The music blurred. The sun continued to shine. We all looked around in amazement as the gentle rain continued through the end of the song, and we began Birdsong, an anonymous text from Terezin, sorrowful yet still hopeful.  Maybe this was written right where we were standing, we couldn’t help but think.

He doesn’t know the world at all,

Who stays in his nest and won’t come out.

He doesn’t know what birds know best,

Nor what I want to sing about.

What I want to sing about is that the world is full of loveliness.

When dewdrops sparkle in the grass,

And earth’s a-flood with morning light,

A blackbird sings upon a bush

To greet the dawning after night.

Then I know how good it is to be alive.

Open up your heart to beauty,

And go to the woods some day.

And weave a wreath of memories there,

And if the tears obscure your way;

If the tears obscure your way, you will know how good it is to be alive.

As we finished, the rain stopped and the birds continued to sing. Before Too Long begins with an a capella solo, and our soloist was actually a fourteen-year-old girl. Like Birdsong, the text is sad yet hopeful.

I’d like to go away alone

Where there are other, nicer people,

Somewhere into the far unknown,

There, where no-one kills another.

                Maybe more of us,

                A thousand strong,

                Will reach this goal

                Before too long.

In the middle section “Maybe more of us…” The music again drops to the soloist, and then we added back our voices one by one, lifting our heads while we did so. The rain stopped and the sun shone.

“Many of us felt we had experienced something rather mystical,” said baritone Ken Hess. “It was a powerful combination of nature, the spiritual world, and music creating a spine-tingling moment that I will never forget.” No one could speak when we reached the end. Several of us had our teenaged children with us.  They hugged us. And no one heard but us. And the birds. And the rain. And everyone who ever remembers.

Soloist and Mom after Before Too Long in Terezin. Photo by Jabez Van Cleef

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

This was based on an article I originally wrote for the ACDA Eastern Division Newsletter, The Troubador, in October 2006

My Child Is Back! by Ursula Pawelis published by Vallentine Mitchell (London, England)

Here is Ursula on vimeo https://vimeo.com/80519606. We were privileged to have her talk at our concert in March 2002. Jabez and I were honored and delighted to call her friend and visit with her.

Ursula’s Obituary 2015

Before Too Long, c.1999 is by Mark Andrew Miller

A Prayer Before Sleep from Talmud Suite by Sid Robinovitch, Elmer Eisler Choral Series, Gordon V. Thompson Music, c/0 Warner Bros. VE.I 1091

Birdsong arr. Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, melody by Raymond Smolover, Transcontinental Music Publications 993147

A Harmonium remembrance for Dan

(Photos by Andrew Moody)

Today I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of Harmonium at a dear friend’s small covid-style graveside service. Non-covid, I could see 100 people singing, so we are planning a concert of his favorites in the future.

Dan Karger was one of the kindest, gentlest, giving, and most fun members of Harmonium. I still remember his audition, although I can’t remember how many, many years ago. Louise got in first. Dan was already a fan. I told him right away after the audition that he got in and he was so excited he hugged me. Since then as well as being a wonderful friend, he has done so much for Harmonium, and I really need to tell you about some of it because so much of it was like Dan, quiet  and efficient, but behind the scenes.

Dan served a term on the board, but like many board members, he left the board but kept his jobs forever. For many, many years, he served on the recording committee—doing all the work of making our CDs be produced, even driving to my house to leave final masters on my porch. Dan made the banners go up around town. Dan was the baritone section leader—keeping tabs on his flock. Dan met all the new people as he took their pictures at the first rehearsal and made them feel welcomed into the Harmonium family.

For so many years, Dan was the sunshine committee, sending cards and gifts to singers with joys or losses. Last year, when I was recovering from a really bad experience with chemo, Dan had (I am pretty sure, all this was a secret) an integral part in commissioning Mark Miller and secretly rehearsing a get-well work in my honor, which became The Children of All Others, a work about how we all have responsibilities for one another. Dan served on last year’s Open Minds committee, helping us to partner with mental health resources around the area.

I especially want you to know that Dan cheerfully sang every Outreach show in a nursing home, library or retirement community that he possibly could. Every caroling gig. Dan knows more Christmas carols than any good Jew I’ve ever known. Dan was an integral and enthusiastic member of all of our tours since Eastern Europe. It was on that tour that we sang the piece we sang (masked and distanced) graveside: Prayer Before Sleep from Talmud Suite, by Canadian composer Sid Robinovitch.  For the 2002 tour, we prepared  a set of Holocaust remembrance music for our visits to Prague, Auschwitz and Terezin.

Small Fortress Museum, Terezin

I can’t sing this without telling you the story of what happened at Terezin. Before we headed into the former ghetto/concentration camp, (now a town restored to the Czechs), maps in hand, looking for our friend Ursula Pawel’s former address and visiting the Jewish museum, we visited the small fortress museum.  We prepared to sing by the large Star of David Memorial overlooking the cemetery. We knew this was just for us, we didn’t expect tourists or audience except for our friends and family on the tour. We began with the Robinovitch, Baruch atah, Adonai…  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, with just a few clouds in the sky. The birds were loud. I remember as I got to the last page I looked down and saw wet splotches and thought I was crying. Actually, it was raining. The sun continued to shine. The music blurred.

Singing at Terezin, 2002

There is more to this story for another day. But all of us will forever remember what happened that day, and how we felt surrounded by those who were being remembered. That brings me comfort now, as Louise was moved to ask for this piece, like a way for us to be surrounded by Dan’s presence, as he will always be with us in Harmonium. Because he often didn’t have to say anything. He’d just be there listening.

Sunday Music Musings August 29, 2020

Our prelude this week is by our good friend Mark Miller, from “Roll Down Justice, Sacred Songs and Social Justice”. Mark serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music at Drew Theological School and is a Lecturer in the Practice of Sacred Music at Yale University. He also is the Minister of Music of Christ Church in Summit. He is a Yale and Julliard educated passionate composer and advocate for the power of music to change the world. 

Mark Miller, composer-in-residence for Harmonium Choral Society among a million other accomplishments

Mark has been known to write certain pieces very spontaneously. He says “I woke up one morning almost 7 years ago and was thinking, dreaming, about a more inclusive faith community. The United Methodists had been struggling (as always) over the worth of the LGBTQ+ community, and this song came out as a response to that debate. I might have had some help with the phrase from I Dream A World: Portrait Book of Black Women and the Langston Hughes poem ”I Dream a World.” It is dedicated to his friends Cassondra, Julian and Lydia, some of you around Drew and Harmonium have definitely heard them sing. One year, we I taught this to the children in Bibles School (the songs provided with Bible School curricula are usually dreck-but that is for another day….). I am thinking of the little motions we did to teach the kids the words…

Our wonderful staff singer, Brandon is so expressive and has the coolest posters in the corner of the room where he records. He is also a graduate of the Drew community.

The best part of the week for me was a visit from my daughter Virginia who I hadn’t seen since February. Since she goes to work every day as a music therapist, we mostly hung out outdoors, but she joined in our hymn singing masked from the porch!

Our hymn of the day is an American tune from The Hesperian Harp (1848), the largest shapenote publication in the Nineteenth Century. The melody is attributed to Freeman Lewis (1780-1859) born in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. He was a Pennsylvania surveyor and school teacher who wrote music on the side. The choir has sung an Epiphany song by him, O Thou Who by a Star (Dunlap’s Creek). As I say every week, tunes are usually named for places, but I have no clue about this one (Bourbon), although Lewis did have a “French connection” when In 1816, he accompanied Simon Bernard, a former French general and engineer of Napoleon I, in one of his early expeditions in America.

The hymn text is by American clergyman Charles William Everest (1814-1877). Born in East Windsor, Connecticut, he graduated Trinity College, Hartford in 1838, and took Holy Orders in 1842. He was rector at Hamden, Connecticut, from 1842 to 1873, and also agent for the Society for the Increase of the Ministry. This text comes from Visions of Death, and Other Poems (1833).  It is set to other tunes in other hymnals including Breslau, Erhalt uns Herr, and Gardiner.

Speaking of good German tunes, Wachet Auf is used in our hymnal to set not only “Wake Awake” (“Sleepers Wake”, the Advent text and famous Bach Cantata) but also this text, “Praise the Lord through every nation” by Rhijnvis Feith (1753-1824), Dutch patriot and man of letters who was also a lawyer and mayor of Zwolle. He helped compile the Dutch hymnal Evangelische Gezangen (1806).

It was translated by James Montgomery (1771-1853), himself the author of over 400 hymns including “Angels from the realms of glory,” “Go to dark Gethsemane,” “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.” “Born in Scotland, the son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school, Montgomery inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He also protested against slavery, the lot of boy chimney sweeps, and lotteries.” Hymnary.org

The tune has an even greater pedigree, with the original tune by Hans Sachs (1494-1576), adapted by Philp Nicolai (1556-1608), and harmonized by J.S. Bach (and beautifully sung by the Roper family).

Hans Sachs - Wikipedia
Hans Sachs

Sachs was a cobbler-poet and the subject of Wagner’s opera, Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Nicolai was a Lutheran pastor who argued with Calvinists and at one point fled the Spanish Catholics. He pastored a church in Unna, Westphalia during which time the plague struck twice, and Nicolai wrote both “Wie Schoen Leuchtet der Morgenstern” and “Wachet Auf” during plague times! Nicolai’s last years were spent as Pastor of St. Katherine’s Church in Hamburg. J.S. Bach’s harmonization comes from the end of Cantata 140, from his mature Leipzig period (1731).

So now that many of you have hymnals at home, I hope you will always take a peek at the bottom of each hymn for those riches of information about author, translator, tune, composer and arranger. What rabbit holes to dive down are contained therein!

Sunday Music Musings, August 22, 2020

This week I am happy to play more women composers. Nadia Boulanger (1887 –1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. Nadia entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9, studying with Faure and others. She won many prizes and championed her own works and that of her younger sister Lili, a hugely talented composer who died in 1918 at the age of 24. Nadia is known for having taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century, including Daniel Barenboim,  Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, John Eliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand, Darius Milhaud, Astor Piazzolla, Virgil Thomson.

Nadia Boulanger, 1966

Boulanger taught in the US and England, including the Juilliard School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Longy School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family’s flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92. (Wikipedia). From 1921–1935 she taught the French Music School for Americans in Fontainebleau.

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Nadia Boulanger liked to be known as “Mademoiselle” and you can watch a documentary by that name on YouTube.  She was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky, who was a good friend. She also performed occasionally as a pianist and organist. Petite Canon was shared in the publication of the AGO (American Guild of Organists).

For our service music we have left the Gloria based on the Ash Grove, for a Kyrie based on the English folksong Early One Morning, from the same English Folksong Mass by Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. Early One Morning is found in publications as far back as 1787. The well-known melody was first printed by William Chappell in his publication National English Airs c.1855-1859, but may be derived from an earlier song.

The hymn of the day goes with the gospel, when Jesus says to Peter, “who do YOU say I am?” It is officially for the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, which is January 18. The original text by William W. How (1823-1897) was “Thou art the Christ.” (From hymnary.org): Born in Shropshire, How studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and Durham University and was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. He served various congregations and became Suffragan Bishop in east London in 1879 and Bishop of Wakefield in 1888. Called both the “poor man’s bishop” and “the children’s bishop,” How was known for his work among the destitute in the London slums and among the factory workers in west Yorkshire. He wrote a number of theological works about controversies surrounding the Oxford Movement and attempted to reconcile biblical creation with the theory of evolution. He was joint editor of Psalms and Hymns (1854) and Church Hymns (1871). While rector in Whittington, How wrote some sixty hymns, including many for children. His collected Poems and Hymns were published in 1886. His best known hymn text is probably “For All the Saints.”

William Walsham How
William How

The tune Wyngate Canon is by one of the greats of Episcopal church music, Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921-2003). Born in Freeport, Illinois, the son of an organ builder, Dirksen played the bassoon in High School and was a drum major. Awarded a scholarship, he then studied organ at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory under Virgil Fox. Many of his hymns were composed for use in Washington National Cathedral, where he served in many capacities from 1942-1992. Some of my other favorite hymns by Dirksen are Vineyard Haven (Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart) and Innisfree Farm (Christ Mighty Savior). As I’ve said every week, tune names usually reference places, and this one honors Dirksen’s eldest son, Richard, who lives with his family on Wyngate Drive in Bethesda, Maryland. The tune is an actual canon or 4 part round, but the three family members of the Pandemic Hymn ensemble had to settle for three parts.  Please add a fourth from home!

The Prelude by Fanny Hensel (which is our postlude) is grand and almost bombastic. I love it, but I almost feel like she is trying to prove she can “play with the boys.” From Wikipedia: Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 –1847), later Fanny [Cäcilie] Mendelssohn Bartholdy and, after her marriage, Fanny Hensel, was a German composer and pianist from the Romantic era. She grew up in Berlin, Germany, and received a thorough musical education from teachers including her mother, Ludwig Berger, and Carl Friedrich Zelter. Her brother Felix Mendelssohn, also a composer and pianist, shared the same education and the two developed a close relationship. Due to the reservations of her family, and to social conventions of the time about the roles of women, a number of her works were published under her brother’s name in his Opus 8 and 9 collections. In 1829, she married the artist Wilhelm Hensel and, in 1830, the two had their only child, Sebastian Hensel. In 1846, despite the continuing ambivalence of her family towards her musical ambitions, Fanny Hensel published a collection of songs as her Opus 1. The next year, she suddenly died of a stroke.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

She composed over 460 pieces of music, including a piano trio, a piano quartet, an orchestral overture, four cantatas, over 125 pieces for the piano, and over 250 lieder, most of which went unpublished in her lifetime. Since the 1990s her life and works have been the subject of more detailed research.

The music historian Angela Mace Christian has written that Fanny Mendelssohn “struggled her entire life with the conflicting impulses of authorship versus the social expectations for her high-class status[…]; her hesitation was variously a result of her dutiful attitude towards her father, her intense relationship with her brother, and her awareness of contemporary social thought on women in the public sphere.”

This week we did indeed have a hymnsing on zoom. It was so great to be together and to know that everyone was wailing from home even if we couldn’t hear each other.

Virtual hymnsing for all ages!

Sunday Music Musings August 15, 2020

Johann David Heinichen (1683 –1729) was a German Baroque composer and music theorist who brought the musical genius of Venice to the court of Augustus II the Strong in Dresden. Heinichen enrolled at Leipzig’s Thomasschule at the age of 13 where he received musical training from the cantor Johann Schelle (1648-1701) and studied organ and was mentored by the influential Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722). Heinichen took a law degree at the University in Leipzig, practiced law in his hometown of Weissenfelds. After some minor court appointments, and dabbling in opera, in 1710, he published the first edition of his major treatise on the thoroughbass . Shortly after this he made the life-altering decision to travel to Italy, to learn from Italian masters, just as Schuetz did early in his career. In 1716, Heinichen met Prince Augustus III of Poland, son of King Augustus II the Strong, in Venice, and thanks to him was appointed the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Kapellmeister in Dresden, where he flourished for many years.

Johann David Heinichen - Home | Facebook
Heinichen–not about beer!

The Love family (and friend) will play an Allegro (fast movement) from his Triosonate. Although there are four players, the basso continuo (cello and keyboard) are considered one part, hence “trio.”

Psalm 133 is short and sweet, so Grace and I have duetted on a favorite children’s choir anthem, Hine Ma Tov by Allan Naplan. It sets verse 1 of Psalm 133 in a klezmer style. It is in Hebrew and then also “translates itself” in English. Allan Naplan grew up on the North Shore near Boston, surrounded by both Jewish and classical music. Naplan composes Jewish works that are universal; songs that can be performed “all throughout the year, not just for Hanukah.” His works have sold 1.3 million copies and have been performed in such high-profile venues as the White House and Carnegie Hall – and, tragically, aboard the space shuttle Columbia, when his “An American Anthem” was the wake-up call on the first morning of its doomed 2003 voyage. Naplan is also a cantorial soloist for multiple houses of worship, and in the past has been an opera singer. He currently lives and works in Arizona as executive and producing director of the Arizona Musicfest performance series. Another piece we sing in the Grace Choirs is Al Shlosha, a real favorite.! Here is a video of us singing it in 2014, so a real trip down memory lane—and guess what? Charlie Love, who played piano in our prelude was the opening treble soloist!Al Shlosha by Naplan – when our high schoolers were in the red choir!

The hymn of the day is a Trinitarian one, “Thou Whose Almighty Word,” words by John Marriott, tune name Moscow.  This tune is also sometimes known as Italian Hymn as it is by Felice de Giardini (1716-1796). Giardini was born in Turin, Italy, studied violin, harpsichord, voice, and composition in Milan and Turin; and from 1748 to 1750 he conducted a very successful solo violin tour on the continent. He came to England in 1750 and for the next forty years lived in London, where he was a prominent violinist in several orchestras. This hymn was written the request of Selina Shirley, the famous evangelically minded Countess of Huntingdon. It was included in Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1769), published to benefit the Lock Hospital in London where Madan was chaplain. In 1784 Giardini traveled to Italy, but when he returned to London in 1790, he was no longer popular. His subsequent tour to Russia also failed, and he died in Moscow in poverty. (Condensed from hymnary.org). A sad foornote to the tune name!

Lady Huntingdon and Her Friends
Selina Shirley, evangelical Countess of Huntingdon.

John Marriott (1780-1825) Rector of Cottesbach, in 1780, and educated at Rugby, and Christ Church, Oxford where he was the second ever to obtain honors. He was also Student of Christ Church, and for about two years a private tutor in the family of the Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke presented him to the Rectory of Church Lawford, Warwickshire. This position he retained to his death, although his wife’s health compelled him to reside in Devonshire, by the sea. He published books of sermons, but his hymns were never published with his permission. Also known as the “Missionary Hymn,” this was written “about 1813,” according to his son.

 Our postlude is the last movement of Christine Schulz’s Variations on the Ash Grove that I wrote about in this blog July 18. Next week we will do a different setting of service music, so I say goodbye to The Ash Grove with this cheerful Finale. You can hear the tune in the pedals and the choir bombarde (loud trumpet stop), and hey, we all need something cheerful! Since playing a few movements in July and sharing my blog with her, the composer and I have become kind of penpals. We have a lot in common making virtual pandemic church and having been a long time at our respective churches!

I also made a longer video, as promised for my choirs to warm-up to.

One other thing we are working on is a virtual zoom hymn-sing for next week. We realized that with Covid-19, it is going to be a really long time before we are using hymnals in church, and I have a large amount of not-so-gently used hymnals in the choir room that we are boxing up and offering for drive-thru pick-up (or drop-off). It is gratifying to actually get some response to this. Yes, people want to have a hymnal in their home. That makes me smile. Sunday I will have the hymnals out between 10 and noon. I can also drop them off for you. Hymnsing is Thurdasy August 20 in the Grace Church Zoom room!

Image may contain: outdoor
Drive thru hymnal pick-up 10-noon!

Sunday Music Musings August 8, 2020

Flor Peeters (1903-1986) was a Belgian organist and prolific composer. He became assistant organist at the Cathedral of St. Rombout in Mechelen in 1923, and served as a professor of organ at Ghent Conservatory from 1931 to 1938 and professor of organ at the Tilburg Conservatory in the Netherlands from 1935 to 1948. He wrote a huge output of organ music, especially known for short, useful, liturgical volumes on many hymn-tunes. He was a master of the variation form and a friend and admirer of the great French organist Charles Tournemire (1870-1939). He was also influenced by early music, from Gregorian chant to Renaissance polyphony.

Flor Peeters (Composer) - Short Biography

Joseph Stevenson of Allmusic explains:

“Germany attacked and occupied both Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940. Peeters refused to perform for the German occupiers. As a result, his passport was confiscated. Nevertheless, he was permitted to travel regularly across the border between Belgium and the Netherlands in order to continue his teaching at Tilburg, and, in the course of doing this, he carried secret messages between the authorities of the cathedrals of these two countries.”

Peeters became organ professor of Antwerp Conservatory in 1948, and became director of the Conservatory in 1952. He was in much demand as a teacher and gave master classes in addition to concerts throughout the world, including several teaching visits to Boys’ Town, Nebraska. In 1971, King Boudoin elevated him to the Belgian peerage as Baron Peeters, only the third Belgian musician so honored.

There are several vocal settings of “Whither Thou Goest” by many composers – often offered as wedding repertoire, or called “The Wedding Song.” I always wonder if the brides who pick this text realize it is being sung to a mother-in-law, as in Ruth to Naomi. Naomi has travelled to live in Moab because of a famine, but when her husband and both sons die she prepares to return to Bethlehem, and urges her two foreign daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to find new husbands (the only way for a woman to have security or status). While Orpah returned to her mother’s home, Ruth clung to Naomi and told her that she will stay with her and that Naomi’s God and people will be her God and people. The meaning can be extrapolated into following God’s path, the God of Jacob – Ruth ends up marrying Boaz and becoming grandmother to Jesse, father of David. I want to thank Linda for the beautiful work she did on this solo.

Our hymn of the day, Jesus Lover of My Soul has a strong pedigree, with words by Charles Wesley and a lovely minor key Welsh tune.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707-1799) was the youngest son and 18th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. One could write a dissertation rather than a blog about him. Here are the most pertinent facts from The hymnary.org

Charles Wesley, the son of Samuel Wesley, was born at Epworth, Dec. 18, 1707. He was educated at Westminster School and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated M.A. In 1735, he took Orders and immediately proceeded with his brother John to Georgia, both being employed as missionaries of the S.P.G. He returned to England in 1736. For many years he engaged with his brother in preaching the Gospel. He died March 29, 1788. To Charles Wesley has been justly assigned the appellation of the “Bard of Methodism.” His prominence in hymn writing may be judged from the fact that in the “Wesleyan Hymn Book,” 623 of the 770 hymns were written by him; and he published more than thirty poetical works, written either by himself alone, or in conjunction with his brother. The number of his separate hymns is at least five thousand.

The choristers know that a good guess to the question “what country is this tune from?” is always “Wales!” especially if there are this many Ys in the name!  Aberystwyth, in the historic county of Cardiganshire, literally means “at the mouth of the river Ystwyth.” We also use this tune for “Watchman, tell us of the Night.”

The Welsh composer of this tune, Joseph Parry (1841-1903), born into a poor but musical family, spent some time  in Danville, Pennsylvania in 1854, where he later started a music school. He traveled in the United States and in Wales, performing and composing , and he won several Eisteddfodau (singing competition) prizes. Parry studied at the Royal Academy of Music at Cambridge. He traveled in the United States and in Wales, performing, studying, and composing music, and he won several Eisteddfodau (singing competition) prizes. Parry went on to receive a Doctorate in Music from the University of Cambridge; the first Welshman to receive Bachelor’s and Doctor’s degrees in music from the University. He became professor of music at the Welsh University College in Aberystwyth, and established a school of music there. Later he was lecturer and professor of music at the University College of South Wales in Cardiff (1888-1903). Parry composed vocal and instrumental music, as well as over four hundred hymn tunes. (No relation to C.H.H. Parry).

The postlude is based on the Aberystwyth tune, and is a toccata (showy piece!) alternating flashy fast accompaniment patterns with clear iterations of the hymn in one hand or pedal in alternation with fantasia-like sections based on snippets of the tune. David Bednall is a choral and organ composer published by Oxford University Press. You can find this piece is their collection of music for Lent and Easter. David Bednall studied for a PhD in Composition at the University of Bristol where he combines his extensive freelance career with the post of Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral.

David bednall blackburn cathedral organ
David Bednall at Blackburn Cathedral organ

David works frequently in a duet partnership with Malcolm Archer, the arranger of our Ash Grove Gloria. They share a love of improvisation and this can be heard on their critically acclaimed Sounds Spontaneous which was recorded at Blackburn Cathedral. On this recording they took turns to improvise on themes and chants spanning the liturgical year. This seems to tie us back to our first organ composer of today’s discussion–Flor Peeters, who was inspired by hymns chants, improvising and the liturgical year.

Have a lovely Sunday!

Sunday morning update: Link to the service.

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. 

DorisAkers.jpg

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. https://youtu.be/P4LlvCsKw-o (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