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Sunday Music Musings November 29, 2020

I just adore Advent music. I’m excited for this week’s Advent Hymn Sing on Thursday at 7-8 in the Grace Church zoom room. The nice thing (for some of us) in the Episcopal church is the anticipation of WAITING to sing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve. That is a little different in pandemic times, because my choir needs to submit many of their carols for editing this week—but then we can put it behind us and do Advent! Anyway, as well as the wonderful hymns in the Advent section of the hymnal, there are many traditionally Advent-themed hymns that you find in other parts of the hymnal (Lift Up Your Heads, Wake Awake, Tell out My Soul) and Watchman Tell Us of the Night is one of these.

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. Parry received 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). This tune is also used for the Charles Wesley text “Jesus Lover of my Soul.” As I have said, tunes are names for places, places with this many ys are usually Welsh literally means “at the mouth of the river Ystwyth” in Cardiganshire.

The theme of the coming of the Prince of Peace makes this a good Advent hymn. The text is by John Bowring 1(792-1872), a Unitarian polyglot, translator, editor, poet and politician. The newly knighted Bowring became the fourth Governor of Hong Kong in 1854. His other most famous hymn text is probably “in the Cross of Christ I Glory.”

The organ setting is by Paul Lindsley Thomas (b.1929), a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, and Fellow of the American Guild of Organists (highest rank). The 90 year old Canon Dr. Thomas was honored this year by the Church Music Institute (CMI) a Life Achievement Award. The Joyce and Paul Thomas Wing is named in his honor at St. Michael and All Angels, Dallas, 1994. (Small world moment—this is where Eleanor Wroath sang after leaving Madison before returning to the UK.)

As we are back in lockdown, livestreaming without congregation, I have put in a familiar Trisagion, hoping you will sing along at home. David Hurd’s service music is oft-used at Grace. Dr. Hurd (b. 1950) was Professor of Sacred Music and Director of Chapel Music at the General Theological Seminary, New York City for 28 years. He is presently the Director of Music at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in New York City. 

Our psalm setting (Psalm 80;1-7) uses the tune of “O Come Emmanuel” as the basis for an Anglican Chant (St. Martin’s Psalter, St. James Music Press.)

On the first Sunday in Advent I always play a Gospel fanfare by Helmut Walcha, to the tune “O Heiland Reiss die Himmel auf.” The text to this tune in our hymnal (#64) is a rather tame “O Heavenly Word, eternal Light” whereas the German text means “O savior, rend the heavens wide!” Rip them open! Come down and save us! This is captured in Walcha’s grand setting in which a flourish based on the tune preceeds a loud rendering in the pedal. Walcha (1907-1991) was a blind German organist who specialized in the works of the Dutch and German baroque masters and is known for his recordings of the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach. He played for many years at the Dreikönigskirche (from 1946) in Frankfurt. In 1982 I travelled to Germany to meet him and got to hear him improvise at the organ, and then we were invited back to his home where his wife Ursula hosted us for tea. He had a pedal harpsichord at the house and offered to play. “What work of Bach would you like to hear?” He basically had them all memorized! He was a beloved teacher to many great American organists.

Walcha at the Dreikönigskirche organ, his house organ, view of the Dreikönigskirche

Our anthem is Advent Message by British composer and organist Martin How. Martin John Richard How MBE (born 1931) was Educated at Repton School, where he was a music scholar, he was awarded an organ scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where he read music and theology. How is best known for his work with the Royal School of Church Music, developing the RSCM “Chorister Training Scheme” which is something we still use at Grace Madison.

And finally the postlude gives me a chance to talk about the great Advent hymntune Helmsley. Charles Callahan (b. 1951), that incredibly prolific organ composer, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pa., and The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC wrote this short setting (see more about this composer in July 4’s blog). “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” is another great text by Charles Wesley. I will miss singing this verse

Ev’ry eye shall now behold him,

robed in dreadful majesty;

those who set at naught and sold him,

pierced, and nailed him to the tree,

deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

shall the true Messiah see.

First Advent does not really contain “gentle” music! The great tune Helmsley cannot be discussed without mentioning at least four composers. Our hymnal credits Thomas Arne (1710-1778) with Ralph Vaughan Williams for the harmonies. I will let the great Paul Westermeyer explain it:

“John Wesley attributed the tune HELMSLEY to Thomas Olivers in Wesley’s 1765 Sacred Melodies with his brother’s text of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending.” However, Olivers is said to have heard the tune on the street somewhere. Since the first line resembles a tune by violinist and composer Thomas Augustine Arne composed for Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return in 1761, it is speculated the tune was composed by Arne. Most likely, the tune comes from a 1763 edition Martin Madan‘s Collection of Psalms and Hymn Tunes Sung at the Chapel of Lock Hospital. Madan (1726-1790) was the chaplain at Lock Hospital.

(From Let the people sing: hymn tunes in perspective by Paul Westermeyer, 2005, GIA Publications, Inc.)

I hope you enjoy this long explanation of some short music as a way to meditate on Advent hymns. As well as the hymnsing on Thursday, I will be playing Advent piano music on Fridays after noonday prayer.

My favorite Advent calendar, slightly the worse for wear!

Sunday Music Musings November 21, 2020

Today I will write about Christ the King Sunday, Thanksgiving hymns, and St. Cecilia.

St. Cecilia poster from my dining room!

First, our prelude on Sunday will be J.S.Bach’s Toccata in D minor –not THAT one—one called the “Dorian.” The piece has no actual key signature, the sharps are written in, and in some phrases the scale is more modal (no C#) although it is certainly present in the driving opening theme. This BWV 538 was written during the Weimar period between 1708 and 1717. Bach even notates contrasting manual changes himself, which is unusual. After working this piece up over the summer, I thought it seemed appropriate for a grand Christ the King prelude, especially since we have worked out the kinks with the organ audio in livestream. Everyone associates the other Toccata in D minor with Halloween, but THIS one has the crunchiest dissonances!

Our pandemic Thanksgiving will be on zoom, but with music. The “big three” hymns to me are “We Gather Together,” Come Ye Thankful People,” and “Now Thank We All Our God.” The last will make a few subtle appearances in our Sunday’s service, as well as a hymn by Handel, “Rejoice the Lord is King.”

Our cantor will sing “Rejoice the Lord is King” which is Hymn 481, tune name Gopsal. It is a hymn much better suited to solo singing than congregational singing, maybe because of the downward seventh leap on the word “again.” G.F.Handel was of course, the exact contemporary of Bach (b. Halle, Germany, 1685; d. London, England, 1759). Handel studied music with Zachau, organist at the Halle Cathedral, and traveled and studied in Italy. But he was the darling of the English, and settled there in 1713. He wrote a large number of instrumental sonatas and concertos, operas, various anthems for church and royal festivities, organ concertos, and of course oratorios including his most famous–Messiah, in 1741.  The text “Rejoice the Lord is King” is by the great Charles Wesley (1707 – 1788), “The Bard of Methodism,” and author of about 6,500 hymns. Please allow me to save a full blog on Wesley for another day!

The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” (Nun Danket Alle Gott) is found in the Hymnal 1982 at 396 (perky Baroque rhythm) and 397 (more traditional chorale harmonization.) This tune is well-loved through the ages, and appears in many organ works and cantatas. The organ setting by late-romantic Leipzig composer Sigfried Karg-Elert (1877 – 1933) is a Thanksgiving tradition for many organists. It is super fun to play, although it alludes to the chorale tune rather subtly. You’ve got to love a composer who changed his name to include his mother’s maiden name, and composed lots of music for harmonium (and flute!). We also allude to the tune in our chant setting of Psalm 100.

On Thanksgiving morning, we will have a morning prayer and music service in the Grace church zoom room at 9 a.m. Bring your hymnals, or download the bulletin we will provide, and sing along (on mute)  ending with Nun Danket. Why not invite your family to join you from around the world? If you are being Covid-safe and not visiting, you can still attend zoom church together!

We will open Thanksgiving with “We Gather Together.” I am so old I remember singing this in public school! The tune Kremser comes from a sixteenth-century Dutch folk song “Ey, wilder den wilt.” Later the tune was combined with a Dutch patriotic hymn, which celebrated Dutch freedom from Spanish rule. It is named for its translator/arranger Eduard Kremser (1838 – 1914). He was a choir director, conductor, composer and musicologist, who edited a lot of folk music, and provided the text we translate as “We Gather Together” in a collection for men’s chorus.

The final of the “big three” is the harvest hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” tune: St. George’s, Windsor. As I am always saying, tunes are usually named for places, and this refers to St. George’s Chapel, Windsor castle. The composer of the tune, Sir George Job Elvey (1816–1893) was organist at St. George’s, beginning in 1835, playing for and teaching many royals. (The Grace Church choirs visited Windsor castle on our first day in England in 2015, but the inside of the Chapel was closed.) The composer of the text, Henry Alford (1810 –1871) was an English churchman, theologian, scholar, poet, hymnodist, and writer who came from 5 generations of clergymen.

So do please join us in the Grace Church Zoom room at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving, when my daughter Grace, former head chorister, promises to get up early and help my husband and me lead hymns from the piano in our dining room.

I will also play some lovely Thanksgiving piano preludes by Thomas Keesecker (b.1956). He has enjoyed a long career as a church musician, which has allowed him the freedom to be creative in composing music in a variety of styles. He studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His church music for piano has a lovely meditative feel.

Finally, the reference to our England trip reminded me that Nov. 22 is also St. Cecilia’s Day. St. Cecilia was a 3rd Century Virgin martyr, considered the patron saint of music, and often depicted at the organ. Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was commissioned to compose A Hymn for St. Cecilia by the musicians’ guild, “the Worshipful Company of Musicians” in 1960. He used a text by poet Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911-2007), the second wife of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Here we are singing it in Evensong at Winchester Cathedral in 2015, paired with the amazing photography of Andrea Gilhuley.

Grace Choirs at Winchester, 2015

Happy memories and Happy St. Cecilia’s Day!

Sunday Music Musings November 14, 2020

Today’s music is an eclectic variety in service to the liturgy. The prelude is a gorgeous minor key piece, “Folktune,” by British composer Percy Whitlock (1903 – 1946), that always conjures up autumn for me. Maybe it is that Whitlock studied with another of my very favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams (as well as C.V. Stanford) at the Royal College of music. From 1921-1930, Whitlock was assistant organist at Rochester Cathedral in Kent. After that he worked as an organist in Bournemouth both at St Stephen’s Church, and as the town’s borough organist, playing at the local Pavilion Theatre. He was also a great railway enthusiast, writing under the pseudonym “Kenneth Lark.” Whitlock was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1928. Near the end of his life, he lost his sight altogether, and he died in Bournemouth a few weeks before his 43rd birthday. He has a substantial number of works for organ, chorus and orchestra, although he was somewhat neglected for a while (except for the organists).

Our short organ offering at the preparation of the table is “Gottes Sohn ist kommen” (God’s Son is Coming) from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book). It is a German Advent hymn, but as happened last week, these pre-Advent eschatological readings call for some appropriate Advent hymns. Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or “end times.”  These readings that come up in the last few weeks before Advent refer not just to the coming of Christ, but the coming again. The gems of the Orgelbüchlein manage to encapsulate so much into a minute or two of music. Here there is a joyful running eighth-note figure in the right hand, a plucked bass-line in the left, and a reed proclaiming the chorale tune in the pedal. Plus the pedal and upper part of the right hand are in canon! All in about a minute! This hymn in our 1982 hymnal is “Once He Came in Blessing,” # 53.

Our communion solo is the beloved “How Can I Keep from Singing?” Often called a “folksong” or “Quaker tune,” it was actually composed by Robert Lowrey D.D. (1826-1899).

Robert Lowrey

Born in Philadelphia, Lowrey attended Lewisburg University and was ordained a Baptist Minister, serving in West Chester, Pennsylvania, New York City, and then to Brooklyn, ending his life at 2nd Baptist Church, Plainfield, New Jersey. Dr. Lowry has been associated with some of the most popular Sunday School hymn-books published in this country. “How Can I keep from Singing” is from one called Bright Jewels, 1869. His most famous hymn is probably “Shall We Gather at the River?” Today’s version is arranged by Ginger Littleton. There is also a version by Enya that I like a lot.

In the time of Covid, when we choral musicians are pretty much hurting, this text really helps.

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth´s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

Enya’s version includes the last verse:

When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

For many years, I have played a beautiful arrangement of “Deep River” by African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941). In the same collection is a postlude on the Spiritual “Great Day.” Another hidden blessing of pandemic I have mentioned is suddenly I have time to turn the page and learn a new piece just for fun. (Then I decided to play it this week.) Here are the lyrics of the spiritual on which the organ piece is based.

from« American Negro Songs » by J. W. Work, 1940 

Great day! Great day, the righteous marching

Great day-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

Chariot rode on the mountain top-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

My God spoke and the chariot stop-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

This is the day of jubilee-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

The Lord has set His people free-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

We want no cowards in our band-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

We call for valiant hearted men-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

Going to take my breast-plate, sword and shield-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

And march boldly in the field-God’s going to build up Zion’s walls

Adolphus Hailstork received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, having previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music, under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger (see this August blog ), and at Howard University with Mark Fax. Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and opera which have been performed by major ensembles around the country. You can see them described on his website.

In the wonderful recent interview above, Dr. Hailstork admitted that setting music for choirs is something he does at least every day. He also credited the excellent opportunities given him growing up in the New York State public school system; having opportunities as a chorister, and having a teacher who performed his compositions for chorus and orchestra. He also explains how although his music is influenced by African American culture, he is steeped in classical and liturgical traditions. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A KNEE ON A NECK (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra. Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Adolphus Hailstork

“Great Day” has a cheerful, jazzy rhythm with the tune shared by pedals and right hand. Right before the end there are a series of really dissonant chords (like the last gasp of protest) before the final triumphant ending.

As an extra bonus the bell choir will be ringing outdoors (about 10:45-11:15) as people leave or as they drive by to pick up communion. We are ringing a Celtic tune for 12 bells, 6 ringers with no sharing and socially distanced tables! We practice Saturday mornings at 9:30-10. Yesterday the tree service was kind enough to hold off their major grinding for about a half hour when they saw what we were trying to do! Then they told us we “got them in the spirit!” It was a nice pandemic moment.

Sunday Music Musings November 7, 2020

Some of the most joyful music is created in the midst of difficult circumstances. Displaced while his home underwent reconstruction, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) wrote the most famous of his cantatas, BWV 140; Philipp Nicolai (1556 – 1608), wrote the words to the chorale on which it is based upon the death of a pupil from the plague.

Ancient University town of Tübingen today (well, summer 2018)

Over four hundred years ago, in the historic town of Tübingen, (where my daughter Lucy got married) the pupil, a fifteen-year-old nobleman, succumbed the bubonic plague. His teacher and pastor, Nicolai, who had watched upwards of thirty burials a day, penned the chorale “Wachet auf” in memory of his young student, to conpemplate eternal life. The chorale text, based on the parable of the wise virgins in Matthew 25, is a sacred recrafting of the old Minnesinger song attributed to Hans Sachs (1494-1576). During Bach’s time, “Wachet” was the principal hymn for the twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity. This service, for which Bach wrote cantata 140, fell on November 25, 1731. This is where we find ourselves today—not quite Advent, but with this parable as Gospel, and the message to remain awake!

Movement 4 of the cantata, which was made into an organ work (BWV 645) that is today’s prelude, depicts Sion’s joy in greeting the Bridegroom. This is one of six organ chorales that Bach commissioned Johann Georg Schübler to engrave—so they are known as the Schübler chorales. The musical construction is a trio: a unison string melody of three basic motives over which the tenors float the second verse. (The Grace Church Choirs sang this cantata in 2017.)

For some reason I learned this piece in an edition that uses tenor and alto clef, and every year I force myself to play from this score because I think it keeps my brain young! The former string parts are in the right hand in alto clef. For the tenor chorale (tenor clef) I use a trumpet stop (awake!) and the pedal provides the third voice of the trio. With 5 lines on a staff, you can put the notes anywhere you want, and the clef tells—you where. Most of you are familiar with treble or “G” clef, which encircles the G telling you where it is, and in the bass, the F clef with those two dots that tell you where F is. In the alto and tenor clef, the little “bend” in the clef tells you where middle C is. The reason to use these clefs with certain tunes is to keep all of the notes on the staff without having to use ledger lines above or below.

Left to right: G-clef (treble), tenor, alto, bass

In the middle of the service I will do a very short setting by J.G Walther (1684 -1748), J.S. Bach’s cousin and contemporary. I wrote a little more about him a few weeks ago.

Our anthem will be a solo setting of the same chorale in a dance-like rhythm by German Baroque composer Franz Tunder (1614 – 1667), Buxtehude’s predecessor at the prestigious Marienkirche in Lübeck. There he founded the first public concerts in Germany—the “Abendmusik” concerts that were continued by Buxtehude, and for which he wrote many solo vocal works such as this.

For the postlude I play another setting of “Wachet Auf’ by 20th century Lutheran master composer, Paul Otto Manz (1919 –2009). Wikipedia says his most famous choral work is the Advent motet “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” and it certainly a favorite or our choir! After degrees from Concordia University Chicago and Northwestern, Manz received a Fulbright grant and studied with Flor Peeters in Belgium and Helmut Walcha in Germany. Manz concertized extensively and received awards too numerous to list from “Ten Most Influential Lutherans,” to “101 Most Notable Organists of the 20th Century.” He is well-known for his hymn festivals and organ settings of chorale tunes, such as our postlude which alternates a fanfare trumpet call with a majestic harmonization of the tune.

The hymn festivals alternated organ verses and choir verses. Here is a hymn festival in honor of the late composer’s 100th birthday, if you’d like some excellent Sunday listening!

So I plan to have you leave our service whether virtual or live, with this great tune stuck in you head!

All Hallows Eve Music Musings October 31, 2020

As I write this on Halloween (All Hallow’s eve) I am reminded of a verse that parodies the Great Litany

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties

And Things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord deliver us.

This has been attributed to the Irish, the Scottish, the Cornish, and the 14th century, but most likely it appeared as a sort of compilation fairie poem in the first decade of the 2oth century.

At Grace Church, every other year, we have had a Halloween concert since about 1994. I was inspired by the Yale Symphony’s midnight Halloween concert which I believe is still going. As a senior I actually got to play Bach’s Toccata in d minor on the magnificent Woolsey Hall organ. But I digress. This year, to help with celebrations in this weird time, and with the help of Paula Roper, my YouTube guru and video editor we have put out a playlist celebrating Halloween concerts of the past, including some never-before see pieces from last year.

The beginning of a long and fun Halloween playlist

This time of year, as the days get shorter, and the landscapes are full of austere beauty, many cultures celebrate harvest and remember the dead. It is a time when we can feel the “thin place” between the living and the dead. As I have lost some close friends in the last few months and years, I am thinking of really celebrating All Souls’ in true Dia de los muertos fashion by going to a cemetery with a picnic and sharing memories.

It is kind of a big deal when All Saints Day actually falls on a Sunday. There is almost too much to choose from—but this year, since we cannot sing hymns or have choirs, I will be doing two Requiem chant-based organ settings with my cantor chanting, a piece that quotes “For All the Saints,” and a beautiful unison anthem by Eleanor Daley.

Maybe the most familiar Gregorian chants still in our cultural ear are the Requiem chants, including the In paradisum (and the Dies irae) because they were quoted by so many composers from the Renaissance to the Romantic era and the 20-21st century (Duruflé is a particularly good dexample.) It makes so much sense that composers would want to quote the ancient chant when setting a work of remembrance, connecting us through shared melody to the many generations who have gone before.

Gerald Near (b. 1942) is a Catholic composer who has a whole set of Gregorian Chant preludes. His organ setting of the Requiem chant is clear and harmonized. The In Paradisum (as we imagine the departed already enjoying heaven, near the end of the Requiem service) has the tune in the pedals, but on a 2 foot stop, which means you are hearing it in a very high (heavenly) octave.

Here is more about Gerald Near: he studied theory and composition at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago with Leo Sowerby, and continued those studies with Leslie Bassett at the University of Michigan, where he also studied organ with Robert Glasgow, published organ and choral music, and completed his Master’s degree in orchestral conducting while studying under Gustav Meier. In 1982, he was one of the first recipients of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. The following year he moved to Dallas, where he was appointed organist/choirmaster, and subsequently, Canon Precentor of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. He is Director of Aureole Editions and presently resides in New Mexico.

Sine Nomine is the tune (and 8 verses of hymn) that many of us most associate with an All Saints’ service, so I will play a short meditation on this Vaughan Williams tune during the service. You may hear a few more variations live as you are seated before the livestream. Richard Proulx (1937-2010) was an American composer and editor of church music, including anthems, service music, and organ music, formerly based in Chicago. We in the Episcopal Church may know him best when we sing his Sanctus S-125. The pronunciation of his name is suggested by the section of his catalog entitled “Noulx [new] from Proulx”. The postlude puts the tune in a fugato (mini-fugue) in G minor.

Finally, happily continuing to try to represent for women composers is one of my favorites, Canadian Eleanor Daley (b. 1955), a composer, choral musician and accompanist who lives and works in Toronto, Ontario.

Eleanor Daley: Bio & Choral Music | Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Inc.
Composer Eleanor Daley

And God Shall Wipe Away All Tears is an anthem usually sing by our School Choir II trebles, so from her many years as head chorister, our cantor knows it well. It is a King James setting of revelations 21:4

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Compline on zoom Oct. 2020

Compline is the last of the four services in the Daily Office (BCP, p. 127). It is descended from the night prayers said before bed at the end of the monastic round of daily prayer. It ends with the Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon).

I first chanted Compline during my many years at the RSCM Kings College Course. We would chant an old-fashioned Sarum version of what you will experience Thursday. We sang in the gorgeous acoustic of the apse at St. Stephen’s church, Wilkesbarre PA. Some of my happiest memories of intimate music making are from that service.

Eventually, I brought this tradition to my adult choir as a Lenten discipline. We would leave the choir room for the choir stalls in the chancel, grab candles and chant from 8:45 to 9. A few people would come, but really it was for us.  It really does not take very long, but is beautiful and calming. We would end with an easy motet such as “Remember O Thou Man” (Ravenscroft), “Drop Slow Tears” (Gibbons), or “When Jesus Wept” (Billings). Chanted Compline is the last thing we sang together on March 12, 2020 at 8:45 pm.

This summer the RSCM Kings College Course had virtual choir camp. The chanted Compline service was amazingly healing for all of us. You can actually see it here.

It is impossible to sing on zoom more than one at a time unless it is family pod members in one screen. But since Compline is simply chanted a cappella it lends itself well to sharing, and we take turns unmuting. Our motet will be a virtual choir of 4 members of the Roper family singing Parry’s “Crossing the Bar,” a favorite of ours for All Saints’ season.

Our “Compline for Kids” also works that way, since the kids always take turns having “jobs” like cantor, reader, play the offertory, lead “Keep Me” with sign language. Families can join us the first Wed. of the month for that one.

So pull up a screen, dim the lights, light a candle, or put on a virtual candlelight background and join us for Compline!

It is actually less than 30 minutes, but we will hang around and visit

You can find the church zoom room by clicking on the icon for the servcie at https://www.gracemadison.org/ . The Compline booklet link is below the picture.

Sunday Music Musings October 24, 2020

Prelude in G” BWV 541 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is one of the most joyful pieces I know, and I am joyful that congregation (small!) is in the building this Sunday morning. The opening arpeggio leads into an ebullient Vivaldi-like tutti. This work was probably originally written around the middle of Bach’s formative period in Weimar, 1708-1717, but revised in Leipzig sometime after 1740.

His son, Wilhelm Friedemann used it to audition for the first post he won in 1733—the Sophienkirche in Dresden, with its new Silbermann organ. We have been tweaking the livestream audio, so I hope it is better this week! Organs are complex with a huge range of sound!

My cantor right now is Elizabeth “Chickie” Monkemeier, a former head chorister who has sung with me since 2nd grade. She is now a junior music major at Rutgers, with dual clarinet performance and music education. She is a drum major for the (currently virtual) Marching Scarlet Nights, — right now making a video of drum majors for the Big Ten. She is a public relations officer for the Rutgers Chapter for Nafme, and a music rep for the student governing association. She is currently leading virtual tours of Mason-Gross School of Music. She went on the 2019 Germany tour with the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir. Lucky for me, her classes are virtual, and she can stay in Madison helping me with the music, and using her years of experience in the choir and chanting psalms! She will sing as the Canticle of Praise “Come Let Us Sing Unto the Lord” by Jack Noble White again this week, and chant Psalm 90.

Elizabeth Monkemeier, pandemic cantor extraordinaire

If we had choir and congregation hymns, we would surely sing “O God Our Help in Ages Past” since it is a paraphrase of Psalm 90 by Isaac Watts (1674 –1748), an incredibly prolific hymn-writer.  With some 750 hymns he is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody.”  The tune, originally by William Croft (1678 – 1727)  is called St. Anne, because he wrote it in 1708 while he was the organist of St. Anne’s Church, Soho.

St annes soho 1.jpg
St. Anne’s Soho was dedicated by Bishop Compton (1632 – 1713) who had been tutor to Princess Anne before she became Queen.

The “Hymn Meditation” setting of “O God Our Help” comes from a Partita (Variations) by Dutch Organist Jan Bender (1909-1994). Born in Haarlem, Netherlands, he moved to Lübeck Germany, to study organ and conducting and became an organist at St. Gertrude’s. In 1960 he emigrated to the United States and settled in Seward, Nebraska, where he was a teacher. He also taught at Concordia Teachers College and Wittenberg University in Springfield Ohio. In 1976 he retired to Hanerau, Germany. In 1979 he served as visiting professor at Valparaiso University, in 1979-1981 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter Minnesota, and in 1982 at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. Many of his compositions use hymn (chorale) tunes. He can be considered a Neo-Baroque composer, part of the “Orgebewegung” (organ reform movement). Bender’s Partita is dedicated to David Fienen,  organist, pianist, harpsichordist and Emeritus Professor of Music at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The postlude is from the same work. Since the congregation is being seated early for our first “live” Sunday, they may also hear some more movements before the official livestream begins.

The offertory solo: “God of Mercy, God of Grace” is by Jerry F. Davidson (b. 1942) an organist and music educator originally from Arkansas. He holds a Ph.D from Northwestern University, and the M.Sac.Mus from New York’s Union Theological Seminary. The text is by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) who also wrote the words to “Praise my Soul the King of Heaven”—I wrote more about him on September 12.  In our Hymnal 1982, you can find it at #538, to a different tune.

Thank you for reading this—I feel like in pandemic I do as much talking about music as making music—and I do appreciate a listen!

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!)