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Sunday Music Musings October 17, 2020

This week I decided to have my cantor, Elizabeth, sing one more hymn. The stage of pandemic we are in is that we have started to livestream but we have not let any congregation in yet; that will start in a week or so. So while you are all still watching from home, I am hoping you are singing from home. The hymn “O God of Earth and Altar” combines a poet I admire (G.K.Chesterton 1874-1936) with a tune by a favorite composer (Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)-and pronounce his name correctly-“Rafe”) and a text that everyone needs to hear.

 O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

2 From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

3 Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

As I often say, tunes are usually named for places, and King’s Lynn is a seaport and market town in Norfolk, England, 98 miles north of London. Vaughan Williams collected folksongs beginning in 1903, many of which tunes found their way into the Hymnal (1906) and his chamber and orchestral compositions. In January 1905 he went to stay at a small commercial hotel in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. In the week that he was there he collected some seventy-six songs and four tunes, and a further ten songs in September 1906. Many of these came from farmhands and sailors.

Let's move to King's Lynn, Norfolk: it's beautiful – all cobbles, alleys  and warehouses | Property | The Guardian
King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England

James Biery’s prelude sets the tune clearly in the left hand on a strong diapason (principal organ sound) stop, accompanied by flowing strings. I must admit that our new livestream does not yet have the kinks worked out in terms of organ sound, and we are working to fix that, so I hope it comes out clearly! Biery (b. 1956) is an American organist who is Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. He was Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1996-2010.

I thought I’d have the canticle sung on Sunday, instead of another organ setting while we wait to improve the organ audio, so a Rite II setting of the Venite “Come Let Us SIng to the Lord” from the hymnal (S-35) is quite nice. It is by Jack Noble White (b. 1938) of “Surely it is God who saves me” fame.

I can’t imagine anyone has set more hymn-tunes in the 20th century than Charles Callahan (b. 1951). This meditative setting of “Joyful, Joyful” is from his partita on the hymn (based of course, on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”), full of charming short movements. Callahan holds degrees from Curtis and Catholic University, and is a prolific composer, church musician, consultant and recording artist.

Richard Billington (b. 1934) worked for many years as Associate Professor of Music at the University of Illinois and Organist at the First Methodist Church, Chicago. He has set many spirituals, both chorally and for organ. Since we are nearing the end of a long series of Old Testament readings on Moses, I thought I would include this bluesy setting of “When Israel was in Egypt’s Land” (a tune called Tubman in many hymnals.) The tune name of course, speaks to how this spiritual about the deliverance of Moses and the Israelites was code for slaves trying to escape bondage by travelling north on the underground railroad. Today it puts me in mind of the over-representation of prisoners of color in our penal system. Let us pray and work to change systemic racism everywhere. Also, every week I seem to find a New Jersey connection. Did you know about Cape May’s connection to Harriet Tubman?

This week we had another virtual hymnsing, which was good for my soul (but taxing on my voice—50 minutes of straight hymning was tiring.) Thank goodness I have family singing with me, thank you Jabez and Grace!

Truthfully, the zoom choir rehearsals are also challenging—I am so happy to see everyone, but trying to embrace process and education over just singing on mute. And I miss the energy I get back from my singers. We all do.

The teen girls actually met in the train station tunnel (great acoustics, open air) and did some a capella singing in person (masked and distanced – with their parents’ permission.) This Friday I felt the most successful with the “Red” Choir—grades 2-5 on zoom (and the 6th-7th graders that followed). They all have their manipulatives, and their hymnals. We are establishing a kind of routine, starting with vocalizing bubbles through straws into water (not something we will do in the choir room), having some sort of very physical stretch/warm-up, some solfege—showing our hand signals in the screen, some “dictation” on their large staff paper, then a hymn of the day, with a rhythm of the day (the 2 kinds of ti-ti), and a final song. The ½ hour flies by, but everyone participates, even unmuting themselves and singing by themselves (the only way to sing on zoom).

The choir room threw up on my dining room table…

When this crazy thing is over, they are going to have some strong musicianship background! Everyone is learning to do it themselves because there is no relying on a strong singer near you. I am so thankful we are starting to establish this routine, and that they are still coming. Also one of the kids came up with the most amazing tongue twister this week: “licorice twizzler”–try THAT 3 times fast!

And my six lady bell choir is bundling up and meeting outside on Saturday mornings! Click here for a snippet.

I wish you a wonderful week.

Sunday Music Musings October 10, 2020

Betty Jackson King (1928 – 1994) was a pianist, organist, vocalist, composer, conductor and educator. Her connection to church music began as a pastor’s daughter, and her mother was her first piano teacher. She received her B.M. in piano and M.M. in composition from Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois. She had further study at Oakland University, and this week’s NJ connection: Glassboro College (now Rowan University) as well as Westminster Choir College. She taught at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Roosevelt University, Dillard University (New Orleans, LA), and Wildwood High School (Wildwood, NJ), where she received the Teaching Recognition Award from governor Thomas Kean.

Feb. 17, 1928 Betty Jackson King, A Seasonal Sketch - YouTube
Betty Jackson King

Other honors included a scholarship from the Chicago Umbrian Glee Club, awards from the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., “Outstanding Leaders in Elementary and Secondary Education”, and “The International Black Writers Conference”. King was President of the National Association of Negro Musicians from 1970-1984.  I hope to look further into some of her compositions such as Saul of Tarsus, My Servant Job, Simon of Cyrene, Easter cantata; Requiem; The Kids in School With Me, ballet with orchestration; Life Cycle for violin and piano; Vocalise for soprano, cello and piano; sacred, secular novelty, choral compositions; and spiritual arrangements. This lovely little organ work, Nuptial Song seemed a good prelude for a gospel that includes a wedding. Since my organ does not have chimes, my cantor will ring a handbell in a few places.

For further listening, here is a beautiful vocal Shakespeare setting by Ms. King sung by Yolanda Rhodes and Deanne Tucker.

Here is a gentle piano Intermezzo played by my colleague Peter Hill at Chatham Methodist Church.

Our ‘organ Gloria’ is another setting of “Allein Gott in der Höh” (All Glory Be to God on High) (Hymn #421), this week by J.S. Bach’s cousin and contemporary, Johan Gottfried Walther (1684 -1748). His first organ lessons were with Johann Bernhard Bach, and at 18 he became organist in his hometown of Erfurt’s Thomaskirche. In 1707 he became organist at Weimar’s Stadkirche where he remained for the rest of his life! There he wrote 132 organ preludes based on Lutheran chorale melodies He also served as music teacher to Prince Johann Ernst in Weimar, and directed the ducal orchestra.

“J.S. Bach came to the ducal court in 1708, and the cousins struck up a close friendship, which benefited Walther artistically as much as, though perhaps not more than, his relationship with Werckmeister had. Walther was an omnivorous collector of information on music and theory, which led to the publication in 1732 of his Musicalisches Lexicon, Germany’s first major music dictionary, incorporating entries on both biography and terminology. His career stalled out, though, and Walther never rose through the Weimar musical system, much to his bitter regret.”-James Reel Allmusic

Walther’s chorale preludes are the bread and butter of the church organists’ Baroque repertoire. In both Allein Gott and the postlude, Herr Gott dich loben, a setting of what we now know as “Old Hundredth,” the hymn tune is clear in the pedals and echoed or foreshadowed in the upper voices, surrounded by tinkling contrapuntal figures.

Our hymn meditation is a setting of Schmücke dich (Deck Thyself, My Soul—Hymnal #339) by Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897). Brahms’ organ music is all contained in one sublime volume. The Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122, influenced by Bach and the Baroque composers he loved and studied, were among his very last compositions, composed in 1896, immediately before and after the death of Clara Schumann, his unrequited love.

Our offertory solo goes with the Epistle reading, “Rejoice in the Lord Always” by Richard Gieseke (b.1952). It is a favorite of our School Choirs, and I hope they will sing along from home! 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.

If times were “normal” the choir would be singing the Renaissance Anonymous version–so here you go choir: a version with the score for you to sing along! Stay in shape!

This coming week we will have another virtual hymn sing on zoom—Wed. Oct. 15 7-8p.m. — all are welcome from wherever! My family helps me at the piano, and you sing along with your family (on mute, so wail away!) and then we chat about why we picked our favorites. If your kids pick any, I promise to do those at the beginning of the hour. Please save any Advent/Christmas carols until our next one in December. Please stick to hymns in the Hymnal 1982 for now (there are plenty-known and unknown!) and submit them to amatlack@gracemadison.org by Monday!

Sunday Music Musings October 3, 2020

I am hoping as we move into live services, although we cannot safely sing yet, we can feel the hymns and worship through these organ settings. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” is a favorite hymn for St. Francis Day. The text is by is by Cecil Frances Humphries (1818-1895), wife of Rev. William Alexander, the Anglican bishop of Ireland. She was a poet of many hymns including a whole collection for children.

She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf. She wrote the English version of Dierdre, “The Prayer of St. Patrick” and which our children sang a version of (William Schoenfeld) for virtual choir recognition Sunday.

According to hymnary.org “ROYAL OAK is presumably named for a tree at Boscobel, Shropshire, England, in which King Charles II hid during the Battle of Worcester, 1651. A folk song that may well be older than the seventeenth century, ROYAL OAK was associated in the 1600s with the loyalist song “The Twenty-Ninth of May,” a song that celebrated the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II on May 29, 1660.”

The organ prelude has many movements that illustrate the text and the different colors of the organ. The first movement shows off the “principals,” the basic organ sound. “The Purple Headed Mountain, the River Running By” movement has text painting (illustrating the music) with the rapid running figures in the hands, and the melody in a loud reed stop in the pedals (feet). “The Sunset and the Morning” highlights the string stops, which are under expression (meaning that by opening some shutters with a foot pedal, we can hear gradual crescendo like dawn), and I also use a bit of a gallery stop in the pedal melody, although that spatial contrast is more obvious in the building than on the recording (maybe). “Each Little Bird that Sings” is pretty obvious text painting. By using a four foot stop (an octave above regular pitch) and a 2 foot stop (two octaves above—these are the teeny little pipes) we get some good bird sounds! Composer Larry Visser is a Michigan organist educated at Calvin College and the University of Michigan School of Music.

For the month of October, I am going to use an organ setting “Allein Gott in der Höh” (All Glory Be to God on High) as the Gloria. This hymn is in our hymnal #421, and many Lutheran churches use it as the Gloria. It was a favorite of Baroque composers. This setting is by Andreas Armsdorff (1670 –1699), a German organist who may have studied with Pachelbel. You can hear the tune in the right hand, and echoed in the pedal.

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr - Noten, Liedtext, MIDI, Akkorde

“Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot” (These are the Holy Ten Commandments) is a hymn by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther based on the Ten Commandments. This short setting from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein is the first of 3 Catechism hymns in that collection in which Bach evolves the figures of the counterpoint out of the first line of the tune. The counterpoint is strict, suggesting the rigidity of the rules or commandments of God. The repeated-notes put me in mind of Luther hammering 95 theses on a church door, but that may be a bit fanciful. There may be intentional numerology, in that the strict form of the motif, with tone and semitone intervals matching the first entry, occurs precisely ten times in the chorale prelude. You won’t hear this, as it is covered by all the other motives and counter-motives in canon—but it is enough to know it!

Our cantor for our first livestream is Elizabeth Monkemeier, a wonderful singer and clarinetist and former head chorister who is now at Rutgers, but lucky for me is there virtually, and in Madison right now. As our offertory solo, we are using a hymn I have never done before in my whole career!-and I am so happy to learn it–# 459, tune Halifax by G.F. Handel (1685-1750), and wonderful poetic words by Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952), which remind me of Psalm 19 with all the references to stars. (I also love the reference to ‘an altar candle’ for this, our first livestream back in our beautiful sanctuary.) As I have been doing these blogs it has been fun to find New Jersey connections that I never knew about. Robbins was educated at Yale University (BA 1899) and the Episcopal Theological Seminary (BD 1903). He was curate of St. Peter’s, Morristown, New Jersey! Rector of St. Paul’s, Englewood, New Jersey (1905–11), Rector of Church of the Incarnation, New York City (1911–17), Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York Ci­ty (1917–29), and on the Joint Commission that revised The Hymnal (1940).

Robbins photo1

Finally our postlude is a joyful setting of Psalm 19 by Italian Baroque composer Benedetto Marcello (1686 – 1739), a contemporary of Vivaldi.

I leave you with a traditional St. Francis weekend anthem that is a favorite of the children, Andrew Carter’s ‘O Ye Badgers and Hedgehogs’ (yes, there are dogs barking!)

Sunday Music Musings September 26, 2020

When I was in fourth grade, I got my very first classical album. Being a good Philadelphia girl, it was of course the Philadelphia Orchestra, with their lush and unsurpassed strings–and it was an album called Finlandia (I can’t believe I just found this on YouTube—well, yes I can!)

I would lie on the floor in front of the phonograph and dream my way through Peer Gynt, Valse Triste, and of course Sibelius’ Finlandia, ending with the entrance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing this tune (FINLANDIA). Looking back, I just now realize how influential this recording was on my whole life, especially the classical and choral seeds that were planted.

The hymn to this tune is usually set to the words “Be Still My Soul.” Here is a fantastic recording by the boy’s choir, Libera, complete with lyrics.   This hymn text was written by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (b. 1697) in 1752. She was an Evangelical Lutheran Stift (i.e. Protestant nun) at Cöthen. It really speaks to me in the time of pandemic anxiety.

In 1899 Finland’s most renowned composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), wrote a musical score for six historical tableaux in a pageant that celebrated and supported the Finnish press against Russian oppression. In 1900 Sibelius revised the music from the final tableau into Finlandia, a tone poem for orchestra. The chorale-like theme that emerges out of the turbulent beginning of this tone poem became the hymn tune, first appearing in the Scottish Church Hymnary (1927) and the Presbyterian Hymnal (1933). (again, thanks to hymnary.org, where you can also find the full text).

Our prelude is a setting by Chicago composer Edwin Childs for organ and instrument, in this case, the wonderful Erik Donough, showing his breath control on soprano saxophone!

According to his website, Ed Childs, born in 1945, is a native of New Hampshire. He studied composition with Jack Goode at Wheaton College, IL (BM); and with Wayne Barlow, Warren Benson, and Samuel Adler at the Eastman School of Music (PhD). He has taught music theory and composition at Cairn University (PA), Biola University (CA), and is currently retired from teaching at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Our hymn of the day is a definite old-timey favorite, “Rock of Ages,” but in my years of teaching this to young choristers, they really like it too! The tune, TOPLADY is named for the author of the words,  Augustus Montague Toplady. Born in Surrey, his father, a British officer, died when he was a child, and he was sent to Westminster School, London. He began hymn-writing at 14. At University at Trinity College, Dublin, he was converted at a service held in a barn. In 1758, he became an extreme Calvinist, which brought him later into conflict with John Wesley and the Methodists. “Wesley is guilty of Satanic shamelessness” he once said. He was ordained to the ministry in the Church of England in 1762. In 1776 he wrote an article about forgiveness, intended as a slap against Wesley, and ending with the poem “Rock of Ages.” There is a legend that Toplady was inspired to write this hymn after finding shelter from a thunderstorm in a cleft in a rock at Burrington Combe in Somerset, England in 1776. In 1768 he became vicar in Devonshire, which he held until his death from consumption at the age of 38.

The tune is by Thomas Hastings, born in Lichfield County, Connecticut in 1784. In 1786, his father moved the family to Oneida Co., N. Y. where amid a rough frontier life, Hastings nonetheless developed a penchant for music. “He went, in 1817, to Troy, then to Albany, and in 1823 to Utica, where he conducted a religious journal, in which he advocated his special views on church music. In 1832 he was called to New York to assume the charge of several Church Choirs, and there his last forty years were spent in great and increasing usefulness and repute. He died at New York, May 15, 1872. His aim was the greater glory of God through better musical worship; and to this end he was always training choirs, compiling works, and composing music.” -John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

Thomas Hastings
Thomas Hastings

Now that we are in America, the Gargoyles (teen boys) and some of their former directors (thank you PJ and Greggy!) have done a virtual choir of a Sacred Harp piece that we have had in our repertoire forever—The Promised Land. Many Sacred Harp tunes are without composer attribution, but this one cites a woman, Miss M. Durham. Matilda T. Durham (1815 – 1901) was a native of South Carolina. She married Andrew Hoy (1819–1890) in 1843; the ceremony was conducted by John Gill Landrum, who like her was a contributor to William Walker’s Southern Harmony. She worked as a singing teacher, and produced Baptist articles and tracts with traces of wit. Durham moved to Cobb County, Georgia after the American Civil War.

The adults also did one last virtual choir, and I am really happy that a few people participated for the first time. It is the Gospel Acclamation we use in the fall, to the tune Deo Gratias. This tune is interesting as being orginially a Medieval carol (the Agincourt Carol) that told the story of William the conqueror (Our KING went FORTH, from Nor-MAN-dy) and the Battle of Agincourt (1415).

Battle of Agincourt - Wikipedia
The Battle of Agincourt 1415

Soon we are going to livestream, so the music may change a bit, and although I will be happy to play organ in person, I will miss our virtual choirs for a while! Thanks to everyone who has participated of the past 6 months.

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!