Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings on MLK Music January 29, 2021

My grandfather, journalist and commentator Taylor Grant with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week I am celebrating Martin Luther King Day in music, as I look and pray for a peaceful and just future in our nation. Our prelude is We Shall Overcome by Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941). Dr. Hailstork lives in Virginia Beach Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. His “Great Day” was our postlude right after the fall election, so please read more about this great African-American composer in my blog from November 14.   He explained in a recent video  how although his music is influenced by African American culture, he is steeped in classical and liturgical traditions. This setting of We Shall Overcome is like a classical trio, with a walking bass, lilting left hand, and tune in the right hand.

We Shall Overcome is a gospel song that became a community anthem for the civil rights movement. The song is descended from “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1901. (Even before Tindley, the slave song “No More Auction Block” contains the melodic beginnings of this song).  It was sung during a tobacco worker strike in 1945 and by 1947 made it onto a publication of People’s Songs, an organization of which Pete Seeger was the director. It was a favorite of Zilphia Horton, then-music director of the Highlander Folk School of Tennessee, an adult school that trained union organizers. It was taken up by folksingers in the early 1960s, from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez, and used in a protests and marches. As a good child of the sixties I knew it well. I am wondering – do our kids still know it? I think we’ll be singing it in zoom Sunday School! I must say, there is so much amazing content on YouTube, if you are interested in hearing more about the roots of this song, try this History of the Song.

We will also be doing two pieces by Mark Andrew Miller (b. 1967), another favorite composer (I talked about him on August 29 when we did another piece from his publication “Roll Down Justice, Sacred Songs and Social Justice”.) We are singing a short setting of the Amos text Let Justice Roll. Originally it is a central theme of the larger work “Let Justice Roll” with chorus and narration from Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from the Birmingham City Jail’. You can hear a performance of the larger work (highly recommended) below, performed live in 2004 at Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, by the Marble Collegiate Community Gospel Choir (Mark Miller, conductor), and the Newark Boys Chorus (Donald Morris, conductor) and James Earl Jones, Narrator.

I really miss my work as a choir director and the many rehearsals and concerts, but the one blessing of pandemic has been the time to practice for hours on a Saturday (and write this blog!). Actually having time to learn new repertoire! The postlude is Mark’s Toccata on “Lift Every Voice,” “the African-American National Anthem.” I’ve been practicing this since the summer, because Mark is a really great organist with much bigger hands than me!—but I have enjoyed every minute. Mark wrote the piece while he was Director of Music and Organist at Covenant UMC in Plainfield, NJ in 2008, the same church where his father served as pastor 1989-1994. It is dedicated to his kids, Alyse and Keith. The piece itself is currently self-published at MarkMillerMusic but has garnered some attention recently and will be included in the next volume of Organ Music of African American Composers, Dr. Mickey Thomas Terry, Editor; MorningStar Music, publisher. Congratulations, Mark!

The great Hymn Lift Every Voice has its own story and deep meaning for black Americans. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem. Created by James Weldon Johnson, it was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, FL. The poem was set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson, and soon adopted by the (NAACP) as its official song. ( Here is a good video for learning more!

Our more liturgical music includes a setting of Psalm 139 using the Epiphany hymn that I played a lot last week, Nicolai’s Wie Schon leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star) as the basis for the chant.

The beloved Catholic hymn I the Lord of Sea and Sky or Here I am, Lord is so appropriate when we have the calling of Samuel in the reading. This hymn is loved for its tuneful, pop style.  Daniel L. Schutte (b. 1947), grew up in Wisconsin and became a Jesuit. He was one of the founding members of the St. Louis Jesuits who popularized a contemporary style of church music set to sacred texts sung in English as a result of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Schutte writes his own texts, grounded in scripture. He also wrote many mass settings. Here I Am, Lord (1981) found its way into the hymnals of many denominations.

Our Offertory Solo is Hymn to Freedom by Oscar Peterson, arr. Seppo Hovi. Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, (1925 – 2007) was a Canadian jazz pianist, virtuoso and composer. He was called the “Maharaja of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington, simply “O.P.” by his friends, and informally in the jazz community as “the King of inside swing.”  He released over 200 recordings, won eight Grammys and received numerous other awards and honors. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists, and played thousands of concerts worldwide in a career lasting more than 60 years. (Wikipedia). Read more about his amazing career if you have time. This song was on the album Night Train by the Oscar Peterson Trio, released in 1963 by Verve Records. With lyrics by Harriette Hamilton, it was embraced by the civil rights movement. Later it took on new life as a children’s choir piece. Listen to the great man himself play here:

All the lyrics had to do was express hope for unity, peace, and dignity for mankind.

It was easy to write.   –Harriette Hamilton

Finally, please join me Sunday afternoon for a Virtual Justice Concert in which my choral society, Harmonium is participating with The Children of All Others by Mark Miller.

As well as teaching at Drew and Yale, Mark Miller has also been composer-in-residence for Harmonium Choral Society since 1998. The text of The Children of All Others is from a book of poetic renderings of the Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (All One Family Sing) by my husband, Jabez Van Cleef. Along with rights come responsibilities; Article 29 states that we are all responsible for each other. I am glad to have this piece to meditate upon this week, and I look forward to the offerings from other groups in this concert:

Here is the live link:

Let me leave you with the words to Hymn to Freedom:

When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty
That’s when we’ll be free
When every hand joins every hand and together molds our destiny
That’s when we’ll be free
Any hour any day, the time soon will come when men will live in dignity
That’s when we’ll be free, we will be
When every man joins in our song and together singing harmony
That’s when we’ll be free

Sunday Music Musings January 9. 2021

The great hymn Wie schön leuctet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star) is another of these great chorale tunes that have been set by countless composers. The tune is by Philipp Nicolai (1556 – 1608) who I wrote about on Nov. 7 in relation to “Wachet Auf.”

I will start the service will a lively organ setting by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) whose Von Himmel hoch setting we just had on Dec. 27. I don’t mean this as a shameless ploy to get you to check back to my old blogs, but–well maybe…! The Pachelbel setting uses the tune as the basis for the counterpoint which then moves into 16th note figures to prepare for the pedal entry in which it is loud, clear and plain. The postlude is a similar setting, slightly shorter (and I usually play faster) by Andreas Armsdorff (1670-1699), who is thought to have studied with Pachelbel, and despite dying at 29, left a large body of chorale-preludes which were popular in his day. He held several organ positions in the town of Erfuhrt.

Reglerkirche Erfurt before 1900

Instead of a Kyrie, Gloria or Trisagion, I often use Canticle 11 Surge illuminare (“Arise, Shine”) as the opening canticle. Since it is accompanied plainsong, it works especially well for cantor.

Since it is the Baptism of Christ, our hymn of the day is #121, Christ when for us you were baptized to the tune Caithness. The text is by Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984), a Virginian priest who I wrote about on June 20 (haha).

The tune is from the Scottish Psalter, 1635. Although obviously this baptism text is used only once a year, the hymn text “O For a Closer Walk with God” (#684) is also sung to this tune.

The offertory, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day is a traditional Cornish carol that tells the full story of Christ’s life on earth. This version from St. James Music Press by Richard Shephard (b. 1949) has a charming organ accompaniment, and goes up through the verse about Baptism. There are several more optional verses to this carol:

5 Then down to hell I took my way

For my true love’s deliverance,

And rose again on the third day,

Up to my true love and the dance: [Refrain]

6 Then up to heaven I did ascend,

Where now I dwell in sure substance

On the right hand of God, that man

May come unto the general dance: [Refrain]

Richard Shephard MBE is a composer, former educator, and retired Director of Development and Chamberlain of York Minster. He is acclaimed as one of the most significant composers of church music today. Dr. Shephard was educated at The King’s School, Gloucester and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His anthems and service settings are sung widely in the cathedrals and churches of the UK and they have a considerable following in the USA. He holds the Lambeth Doctorate of Music from Oxford University and two Honorary Doctorates from the University of the South (Sewanee, TN) and the University of York (York, UK). (bio from SJMP).

There are several other wonderful versions of this carol: here is a rollicking arrangement by John Rutter sung by the boys of Winchester Cathedral (really looking like they are about to break into laughter!). And here is a completely different tune by another British composer, John Gardner, sung by my choral society. This is the one our church choir knows as well, and if you know my husband, Jabez, you can see him particularly throwing himself into this performance!

So there you have our music for baptism Sunday, otherwise known to the choir kids as “Wade in the Water” Sunday. They just love singing this spiritual and vying for solos, so we practiced it in zoom choir, and several are ready to unmute and sing for each other in zoom Sunday School in the morning!

Be well and keep learning!

Sunday Music Musings January 2, 2021

I have always loved the carol “Twas in the moon of wintertime” – but tunes and texts can have really complicated histories, and in new light of 2021, we may need to examine context with our eyes open to cultural appropriation. Perhaps we can learn and grow from studying these histories and hold on to what we love about a piece of music without sticking our head in the sand about its problematic roots.

I am working the blog backwards through the service, since the source tune to Sunday’s carol, Noel: Une jeune Pucelle set by Nicolas Antoine Le Bègue (1631-1702) is the postlude.

Le Bègue (1631-1702) was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was active in Paris from the 1650s, although he often travelled to consult on organ building and maintenance. Lebègue’s reputation today rests on his keyboard music. His important body of works includes some of the earliest known Noëls, all of which are from his Troisième Livre d ’orgue (1685).  According to Wikipedia, “Une jeune Pucelle is a French folk song from 1557, which has a melody that is based loosely on an older French song entitled Une jeune Fillette.” It became a well-known Christmas tune, or Noël, and was set not only by Le Bègue, but others, most famously Marc-Antoine Charpentier in his Messe de Minuit (1694). It is important to note, Une jeune Fillette was first an Italian dance tune, then a French secular song, and then turned into a Marian carol — so even by 1557 it was already a transmutation.

The hymn setting, Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, also known as the Huron Carol uses this French carol with words (“Jesous Ahatonhia”), written probably in 1642 by Father Jean de Brébeuf (1593 – 1649). Here’s where it gets complicated.

Brébeuf  was a Jesuit missionary  who arrived in Québec in June 1625 to work among the Huron people. (Huron is a European word, these people call themselves Wendat First Nation.) For about five months Brébeuf lived with a tribe who spoke an Algonquian language. He was later assigned in 1626 to the Huron who spoke an Iroquoian language. He was a teacher and linguist, made friends with the Huron people and gained good knowledge of their culture, language and spirituality. He tried to keep a complete ethnographic record of the Huron/Wendat. Brébeuf tried to find parallels between the Huron religion and Christianity, so as to facilitate conversion. This is evident in the carol, the words of which he wrote in the native tongue. Brébeuf worked to teach languages to other missionaries and fur traders. He was often in danger, and not very successful as a missionary in terms of conversions.

Throughout this period, the Europeans, both French and English, brought disease to the First People they encountered and by 1640, nearly half the Huron/Wendat had died of smallpox, causing great societal disruption. Ironically, this ultimately gave the Jesuits the image of great power, since they were not as susceptible to dying from the European-brought diseases.

Brébeuf was killed in 1649 after being taken captive with Father Gabriel Lalemant when the Iroquois destroyed the Huron mission village at Saint-Louis. The missionaries and native converts were subjected to ritual torture before they died. Because of his bravery, stoicism and concern for the converts and fellow Jesuits, as well as later miracles involving his relics, Brébeuf was later canonized by the Catholic Church.

Back to the carol: While he was the Montreal Herald’s correspondent in Quebec, a journalist from Ontario, Jesse Edgar Middleton (1872–1960) came across the first publishing of Noëls anciens de la Nouvelle-France (1899- Ernest Myrand), containing a French version of the carol which Father Brébeuf, had written for the Huron, whose descendants had handed it on by oral tradition. So you see that the carol went from Brébeuf’s original (Wendat? Algonquin? —still unclear) back to French, and then into English by Middleton.

The charming imagery of placing the Nativity Story into the Canadian winter has always appealed to me—after all, most cultures put their own stamp on this. But it is the European view of the culture, not theirs. The United Church of Canada recently posted some clarifying remarks by Dana Lynn Seaborn, of, who writes:

“As a Métis woman who has lived in territory named for the Wendat, and studied traditional Wendat culture and history, I find those lyrics, written almost a hundred years ago, to be typical of their time in their contempt for, and appropriation of, Indigenous culture. These English lyrics were written during a time when Indigenous people were viewed with what today would be called condescending, paternalistic racism.”

Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Seaborn has written a new translation which celebrates our common spirituality. As she says “Rather than a pseudo ‘Indian’ or colonist approach, I’ve tried to write lyrics that reflect the stories that the Wendat themselves would traditionally have been sharing during midwinter.  These are followed by two verses acknowledging the influence of Jesuit, Jean de Brébeuf. I believe that this is a song that Euro-Canadians, as well as Indigenous Canadians, will enjoy singing.  They can learn about, and celebrate, Wendat culture.  They can research other Indigenous Canadian traditions to discover the ways in which their stories are similar, or different, from those of the Wendat.  If they are Christian, they can look for similarities between the Christian and Wendat stories. Learning about, and respecting, each other’s culture is the first step to reconciliation.” (Bold is mine).

I highly recommend her full poem found here.

Here are the last two verses:

The Black Robes came from lands afar, and told us of a day

Judea had been colonized, and Rome must be obeyed.

A mother bore a child of light;

rejoicing filled the starlit night:

This is our sacred home, ‘neath heaven’s dome,

shining stars proclaim the dawn.


Rejoice! Have courage one and all! The stars shine overhead,

the same stars that shone down upon a baby’s humble bed.

The infant grew to be a man;

his words, like stars, light many lands.

This is our sacred home, ‘neath heaven’s dome,

shining stars proclaim the dawn.

I love the spirit of this re-write for it allows us to make connections between ages and cultures, just as the many compositional settings of a single tune can.

With that, I will mention our prelude, a setting by Denis Bédard (b. 1950) a Canadian organ composer. Bédard served as organ professor at Conservatoire de musique de Québec (1981-1989) and at the University of Bristish Columbia in Vancouver (2001-2004). He was organist at the Church of Saint-Coeur-de-Marie in Quebec City for 19 years. He served other churches and concertized, and in 2001 became organist at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver. He has written chamber, orchestral, and vocal works as well as organ.

His setting, Noël Huron, is from Deux Noëls (1997) – the other is a Toccata on Il est né, le divin Enfant. The tune is set in three ways-first as a trumpet solo over a drone-like accompaniment; next as “recit de cornet” over moving 16th notes in the crumhorn; and finally, a slow and slightly jazz-infused verse for string stops.

So that is a new look at the roots of “Canada’s first Christmas Carol.” I hope I have been respectful in trying show the complex relationships between missionaries and indigenous peoples. I am deeply thankful that I was able to find this discussion already being addressed by the United Church of Canada. There are also many online places to lean more.

One other piece: today’s offertory solo is the best-known work by Carl August Peter Cornelius (1824 – 1874), German composer, writer about music, poet and translator. He lived with his painter uncle Peter von Cornelius in Berlin from 1844 to 1852, and during this time he met such prominent figures as the Brothers Grimm, Friedrich Rückert and Felix Mendelssohn. His first mature opera, (Der Barbier von Bagdad) was composed during his brief stay in Weimar (1852–1858). After that he lived in Vienna for five years, and began a friendship with Richard Wagner, who encouraged him to move to Munich where he settled and raised a family.

The Three Kings is well-known in English-speaking countries because of Ivor Atkins’ arrangement included in the first volume of the David Willcocks/Reginald Jacques Carols for Choirs (the ‘Green Book’).  Solo mezzo or baritone sings the lied while in the accompaniment underneath is heard Philipp Nicolai’s chorale tune, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (“How brightly shines the morning star”). We will hear (and discuss) more of this chorale tune in upcoming Sundays in Epiphany.

The song is #3 of a collection of 6 Weihnachtslieder Op. 8 (‘Christmas Songs’) (1856). These are all wonderful, and I have recently been working on #6, “Christkind” (The Christ-child) sung here wonderfully by Angelika Kirchschlager. Cornelius composed the Weihnachtslieder on the recommendation of Franz Liszt who also gave him the idea of quoting the melodies of older Christmas carols in the accompaniment. Cornelius wrote the poems himself.

Last night I did the exercise of writing down things about my 2020, good on one side and bad on the other. Now, the bad ones were REALLY bad, like NO CHOIR (as we knew it) and the deaths of several dear, dear friends. But the good list was sooo much longer. Sit down and think about the good things and you might be surprised. I was. Still, Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go!

(And I went looking to see if the Grace Church School Choirs has ever recorded this and found this!)

Sunday Music Musings December 27, 2020

Today’s hymn-writer, Martin Luther was written about by the translator of another of today’s hymns

The tune Vom Himmel hoch first appeared in the Geistliche Lieder, Wittenberg, 1535, and is attributed to Martin Luther (1485-1546) “By his orders the first seven verses of this hymn were sung by a man dressed as an angel, whom the children greeted with the eighth and following verses.” Four verses remain in our hymnal as #80, harmonized by Han Leo Hassler (1564 – 1612) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827 – 1878) who I discussed on December 5th in relation to her translation of Comfort Ye. Winkworth was a British woman known for her piety and devotional life, and at the same time, her sympathy for the cause of women’s rights, as well as her English translations of German hymns, most famously “Now Thank We All Our God.”

On Christmas Eve I played as the first postlude a cheerful setting by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), and Sunday I will play a longer more contrapuntal setting by the same composer. (Organists tend to call the first one ‘the one with the repeated notes’). Pachelbel was one of Bach’s greatest predecessors. After organist posts in Vienna, Stuttgart, and other cities, in 1695 he was appointed organist at the St. Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, where he remained until his death. One of his pupils was Johann Christoph Bach, who then taught his younger brother Johann Sebastian – hence a direct line.

Our psalm today also uses the Vom Himmel hoch tune as the basis of the refrain and Anglican chant, from the St. Martin’s Psalter of St. James Music Press.

Our Canticle of Praise is a “Gloria for Christmastide” that I wrote many years ago as a “quodlibet.” Many carols are quoted in the setting of the “Gloria” text, including “On this Day” “Unto Us a Child is Born” the ‘other’ “Away in a Manger” tune, and “Angels We have Heard on High” as the refrain. There are also easy bell parts that would ensure that the choristers show up on Christmas morning to ring their bells!

The gradual hymn is “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” The tune, Divinum mysterium is an ancient Sanctus trope from the 11th century, collected in Pie Cantiones, a collection of late medieval Latin songs first published in 1582. This deep text on the Gospel of John by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-410), translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) captures the timelessness of the Christmas message “evermore and evermore.” This ancient plainsong melody is set like free Gregorian chant in the 1940 hymnal, but the 1982 uses a “rhythmic mode” of long-short, long-short to give it a more processional feeling. Here are two of the missing verses that point up the connection to today’s Gospel:

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:

Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;

All that grows beneath the shining

Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,

 That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,

May not henceforth die and perish

In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

Our offertory solo “Dost Thou in a manger lie?” is also from the hymnal, #97 in the 1982,  and #29 in the 1940 (a harmonization I have a soft spot for from my childhood).  The tune Dies est laetitiae is also from Pie Cantiones. The text is by Jean Mauburn (1460-1503), an Augustinian canon of various French abbeys. The translation is by another prolific Victorian British woman, Elizabeth Rundle Charles (1828-1896). “Charles’s best known book, written to order for an editor who wished for a story about Martin Luther, The Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family, was published in 1862, and was translated into most of the European languages, into Arabic, and into many Indian dialects. Mrs Charles wrote in all over fifty books, the majority of a semi-religious character, as well as writing and translating a number of hymns.” (Wikipedia). The text celebrates the humbleness of Christ’s birth. 

The tune Dies est laetitiae (literally, The Day is Joyful) became the German Chorale tune “Der Tag der ist so freudenriech” which J. S. Bach set in his Orgelbüchlein. While the hymn with the Mauburn/Charles text is subdued, this chorale is exuberant. The tune is set out loudly in the right hand while the left hand provides a tinkling ornamented figure which reminds be of a cymbelstern (a stop which sounds like tinkling bells) . This makes sense, since the German chorale text starts out

O hail this brightest day of days,

All good Christian people!

For Christ hath come upon our ways,

Ring it from the steeple!

Remember, we are just beginning the season of Christmas which lasts until Jan. 6’s arrival of the Three Kings. So, if you have not enjoyed our Christmas Eve service yet (including many virtula choirs and a children’s pageant), you can find it here.

I am deeply grateful to all the people that made it happen, especially my choirs and our wonderful video editors.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday Music Musings December 19, 2020

One of the joys of pandemic is having the time to learn something I’ve always wanted to knuckle down and learn. The organ seems to sound best on the livestream when loud- so I hope you forgive both a loud prelude and postlude to usher in this strangest of Christmas weeks.

Today’s prelude is one of J.S.Bach’s three “Nun Komm” settings of the Leipzig Chorales. It is dark and brooding and contrapuntal, with the tune unmistakably set out in the pedal. “Savior of the Nations, Come” is #54 in the Hymnal 1982, but in Lutheran hymnals, it has many more verses. There are so many Baroque settings of this, and on into the 20th century. A fine young organist I know, Katelyn Emerson, recently wrote in her recital notes “Although I rarely start my meals with dessert, I’m sharing the settings in “reverse” order, starting with the third in organo pleno, BWV 661. I’ll never forget a friend who, upon hearing it, remarked: “Well, that says to me ‘God’s coming and he’s *angry*’ more than anything else!” The disjunct fugal subject (presented rectus and inversus) might be imagined to represent the uncomfortable angularity that worldly living imposes upon us – but the subject, perhaps the arrival of the Savior, pierces these hard angles with its inherently clear, stepwise motion. We are granted moments of reprieve in sequences ornamented by the predictability of scales – but are led without ceasing to the frenzied conclusion, which causes the subject to reach to its highest peak before all finally relaxes (with relief!) into a Picardy third.” Thank you for this great description, Katelyn!

Another blessing of pandemic is to actually have time for that meditative book about Advent music I bought a few years ago, but did not have time to read! The book is “O Come Emmanuel” by Gordon Giles, and in the chapter about “People Look East,” the Besançon carol with words by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), Giles explains how the words are inspired by the Apocryphal book of Baruch. “Baruch’s readers were literally looking eastward to Jerusalem, from which they have been exiled. Nowadays we recall that the sun rises in the east, and thus it is in that direction that we look for the rising of Christ—the advent of the son of righteousness.” Eleanor Farjeon, children’s author and poet, may be best known to you for “Morning has Broken.” She wrote People Look East for her friend Percy Deamer’s 1928 Oxford Book of Carols. Each verse ends with “Love the ___ is on the way”– guest, rose, bird, star, and Lord respectively. Giles likens this to another canticle, the Benedicite.

Our psalm again uses a chant based on Veni Emmanuel, and also this week we have been releasing a verse a day with a different one of my teen trebles singing the verse. These Great “O” Antiphons originated in the Middle Ages as antiphons (refrains) to the Magnificat on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. Each is a title for the Messiah, and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah. They are called “O” antiphons because they all start with the word “O.” Here is our plan for the week:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom) Avery Benjamin

18 December: O Adonai (O Lord) Anne Bolt

19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) Mia Melchior

20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David) Claire Waskow

21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring) Elisabeth Wielandy

22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) Claire Siebert

23 December: O Emmanuel (O God with Us ) Niamh Kane

I am very proud of these members of our teen treble ensemble, called The Daughters of Zion!

That transitions into our offertory for the day “Daughter of Zion”, words by J.J. Eschenberg (1743-1820), to the G. F. Handel tune JUDAS MACCABEUS. Our cantor, Elizabeth Monkemeier, was a member of the Daughters of Zion when she was in High School.

Our gradual hymn is the Marian carol “The Angel Gabriel,” a Basque carol, translated by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) British priest and hymnodist of “Onward Christian Soldiers” fame. (Many choristers have been known to not-so-secretly miss-sing “Most highly flavored Lady”!)

I have really been trying to expand the diversity of my repertoire, especially with regards to woman composers of organ music. Recently I discovered a wonderful African-America composer, Evelyn Simpson Curenton. Her bio says she “earned many titles including composer, arranger, pianist, organist, vocalist, artistic director, lecturer, producer, and clinician. Her versatile skills make her one of the most sought after musicians in the area. Her talents have led her around the globe with performances in China, France, England, Italy, Austria, and a European tour with Bernice Reagon Johnson, founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Ms. Curenton has worked with some of the music industry’s best. She was commissioned to do arrangements for the Carnegie Hall concert featuring Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and the Chorus and Orchestra of New York’s acclaimed Metropolitan Opera. Several orchestras and ensembles have performed her works such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, The National Symphony, The Baltimore Symphony, The Minnesota Orchestra, and The U.S. Marine Band. Distinguished musicians like the late Duke Ellington, George Shirley, her late sister and Naumberg winner Joy Simpson, Hubert Laws, Denyce Graves, John Blake, Angela Brown of the Metropolitan Opera, Janice Chandler-Eteme, and David Murray have also performed her works. Her music can be found on several recordings, including her own. “Reflections” is her most recent studio recording.”

And that is just the short bio! More can be found on her website. Evelyn and I share the experience of being scholarship students at the Settlement Music School, Germantown Branch in Philadelphia, as children.

Here is a highly recommended discussion of African American organ music with Simpson-Curenton, David Hurd, Adolphus Hailstork and Mickey Thomas Terry. My favorite anecdote on this webinar is her story of listening the whole Messiah everyday when she was home sick with the chicken pox as a small child—until she drove her family crazy!

Simpson-Curenton’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a glorious setting of this ancient hymn. It starts with a fanfare-like section that to me hints at “O come All Ye Faithful.” The tune is harmonized in a bluesy way and the moving sixteenth notes and trills also give it a Baroque feel.

Tomorrow afternoon we do some final recording for the Christmas Eve service, and then we look forward to its release at 4 pm on Dec. 24. I can’t say enough about all my singers down to second graders who were brave enough to submit lonely virtual recordings which magically become a choir in the hands of video editors Eric and Paula Roper. Christmas morning is on zoom at 9:30 with my family leading carols. Bring your friends and family from around the world! Some young choristers have prepared “zoom solos” in “I Saw Three Ships” and Donna Ward will lead “Go Tell it on the Mountain” from her piano!

Sunday Music Musings December 12, 2020

For the third Sunday in Advent (pink candle!) we celebrate the “Magnificat,” the song of Mary, the canticle we often say in daily prayer, and always sing at Evensong. The prelude uses the “ninth tone” (“noni toni”– of 9 different ways to chant plainsong) also known as the “tonus peregrinus” or wandering tone, because you actually chant on 2 different chanting tones instead of one. See above, how there are repeated As, but then in the second phrase repeated Gs. (Yes, peregrine, like the falcon flying about). If you want to know much, much more about chant and this tone, here is a blog just about that!

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) was an influential early Baroque German organist and composer who studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam.  Scheidt’s works included sacred vocal music, notably Cantiones sacrae (1620) for eight voices, and four books of Geistliche Concerten (1631–40) for two to six voices and continuo. Harald Vogel, editor of Tabulatura Nova (three parts, 1624) calls the publication of this collection of organ music “the most important collection of keyboard works to be published in Germany before the 18th century…combining the advanced techniques of his teacher Sweelinck with the compositional discipline appropriate to the liturgical repertoire of the Lutheran worship service.” The collection contains fantasias, toccatas, “echo pieces,” organ responses for liturgical use, and, most important, variations on chorale melodies. This Magnificat setting is meant to be in alternatim with cantor, or choir. You can hear the chant quite clearly in all the organ verses, around which are all sorts of figurations illustrating the character of the verse.

Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum.

Et exultávit spíritus meus: in Deo salutári meo.

Quia respéxit humilitátem ancíllae suae:
Ecce enim ex hoc beátam me dicent omnes generatiónes.

Quia fécit mihi mágna qui pótens est: et sánctum nómen eius.

Et misericórdia eius in progénies et progénies timéntibus eum.

Fécit poténtiam in bráchio suo: dispérsit supérbos mente cordis sui.

Depósuit poténtes de sede: et exaltávit húmiles.

  Esuriéntes implévit bonis: et dívites dimísit inánes.

Suscépit Ísrael púerum suum: recordátus misericórdiae suae.

Sicut locútus est ad patres nostros: Ábraham, et sémini eius in saecula.

Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto,

Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
My soul doth magnify the Lord. (cantor)

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. (organ)

Because He hath regarded the humility of His slave:
For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (cantor)

Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me; and holy is His name. (organ)

And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him. (cantor)

He hath shewed might in His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. (organ)

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. (cantor)

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away. (organ)

He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy: (cantor)

As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. (organ)

Glory be the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, (cantor)

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever, Amen. (both)

In place of the psalm, you can also do a Magnificat setting, and we will do the unison C minor setting by knighted British composer Sir George Dyson KCVO (1883 – 1964) born in Halifax, Yorkshire. Dyson’s father was a blacksmith, but also organist and choirmaster at a local church, and his mother was a weaver and amateur choir singer. Needless to say they encouraged their son’s musical talent. Dyson studied at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, with Stanford and Parry, from whom he learned a traditional style which served him well.  He served in the army in the First World War, joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1914, writing a handbook about grenades. In 1916, suffering from shell-shock, he was invalided back to England, but later returned to the war as a major in the newly formed Royal Air Force, organizing RAF bands. After the war he was a schoolmaster and college lecturer at Wellington College and then Winchester. In 1938 he became director of the RCM, and saw it through the Second World War. He retired in 1962 to enjoy a fruitful compositional period, and died in Winchester in 1964.

Sir George Dyson KCVO

Our Advent Hymn of the day is Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (Merton). tell us of the text: “Although earliest manuscript copy dates from the tenth century, this text is possibly as old as the fifth century. It is based on the Latin hymn ‘Vox clara ecce intonat’ and its 1632 revision ‘En clara vox redarguit’.” The translator is Edward Caswall (1814-1878), son of a clergyman who became a priest, but then converted to Catholicism and joined the Oratory, Edgbaston. Caswall’s translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources are widely represented in modern hymnals.

The tune is by William H. Monk (1823-1889), who is best known for his music editing of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861, 1868; 1875, and 1889 editions). He became choirmaster at King’s College in London in 1847 and was organist and choirmaster at St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, from 1852 to 1889, where he was influenced by the Oxford Movement. His other most famous tune is Eventide (“Abide with Me”). This hymn has a famous pitfall for the choir, with a descant that comes in when you least expect it on verse 2!

W.H. Monk

Our offertory hymn is the gorgeous and plaintive “What is that Crying at Jordan?”- an Irish tune called St. Mark’s Berkeley, originally found in Danata De, a national Irish Catholic hymnal in Irish Gaelic. There is very little information about the poet, Carol Christopher Drake (b. 1933), although there are other poems online in poetry journals from the 50s and 60s, such as Immigrant. In any case, the combination of text and tune is completely haunting and very 2020 (“dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery”). Have a look at it #69 in the Hymnal 1982.

For the postlude we return to a stately setting of “Hark! A thrilling voice” by British composer Malcolm Archer, similar to last week’s “On Jordan’s Bank” but in a lilting 12/8 meter.

We’ve been working hard at finishing up our virtual carols, and because the diocese is shutting down all in person activities, we had our last bell rehearsals on the Grace Hall porch, with both 6 adult women, then 7 kids. We enjoyed the process, and managed to record a little after convincing the landscapers to take a coffee break from leaf blowing. The rain held off. The kids really felt proud of themselves that we made the piece sound good in 2 half-hour rehearsals. Their live energy was a blessing.

Bye for a while, pandemic bells!

Another cool thing that happened this week is Elizabeth Monkemeier, our cantor, recorded her clarinet juries for the Mason Gross School of Music at Rutgers in the gorgeous acoustic of Grace Church. They are so impressive. Have a listen, and enjoy our beautiful chancel.

I would normally be conducting a Harmonium concert right now, but tomorrow (Sunday Dec. 13) I will host a festive (free) virtual event with videos both old and virtual, live guests, games and more. Just email for the zoom link for the 7 pm event.

Sunday Music Musings December 5, 2020

Comfort Ye is the tune of the day. Our Prelude is by Paul Manz (1919-2009), the great Lutheran composer about whom I also wrote on Nov.7. He makes the theme into a perky dotted rhythm in duetting registrations (colors) and then the tune is set out clearly (I use strings for that).

The original tune is by a Renaissance Frenchman, Claude Goudimel (1514-1572), a Protestant Hugenot, composer, and publisher. He worked closely with Clement Marot, at the request of John Calvin, on four volumes of the Genevan Psalter, so that Protestants could all participate in the singing of psalms during a service, not just a few leaders. So please sing along from home loudly! The tune was originally set to Psalm 42 in the Genevan Psalter – hence its name.

At the time, it was unusual to have the tune in the upper voice (soprano)—in this way Goudimel was ahead of his time. Despite being fairly syllabic, there is dance-like syncopation. Here is a lovely near-original setting of the Renaissance hymn. Here is a very up-tempo hymn-concerto arrangement I shared in our Advent Hymn-sing on Thursday, and on Friday I played it for the kids and they played along with percussion instruments from around the house. We have been known to use finger cymbals and tamborines in the past (you can do this from home too)!

The words are by German Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) Lutheran theologian, pastor and hymnodist. They of course reference John the Baptist and the famous Isaiah text. Organists always get a little silly if you listen closely with illustrating the “crooked” and the “plain.”

The translation is by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) a British woman known for her English translations of German hymns, her piety and devotional life, and at the same time, her sympathy for the cause of women’s rights. In 1845 she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany where she learned German and German hymnody. There are 10 hymn translations by Winkworth in the Hymnal 1982, including “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Catherine Winkworth

Our offertory solo is from St. James Music Press, Prepare the Way by Carol McClure (b. 1955). McClure is an alumna of the University of Louisville, and earned the degree Master of Church Music at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with dual emphases in choral conducting and harp. Her experience ranges from choral director at Queen’s Park Baptist Church in Glasgow, Scotland, Director of Music and Arts at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia, to her current work with her children’s choirs at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville. She has developed a children’s choir curriculum for St. James Music Press called Viva Voce. This anthem has a folk-song quality and an optional violin part which I am playing on the organ.

On this second Sunday in Advent, in “before times” we would be using On Jordan’s Bank as the recessional, so I am using it as the postlude. In our hymnal it is #76, and again it seems to take may cooks to make a hymn — with words by Charles Coffin (1676- 1749), translated by Charles Winfred Douglas (1867-1944) after the first translation by John Chandler (1806-1876). Originally it was in French, as Coffin was principal of the college at Beauvais, rector of the University of Paris, and compiler of the Paris Breviary (1736). Translator John Chandler was a British priest and deacon. Charles Winfred Douglas was an American, an influential leader in Episcopalian liturgical and musical life, from Oswego to Denver to California.

As for the tune, WINCHESTER NEW, it was first published in Hamburg, Germany, in 1690 by Georg Wittwe. The melody was also used by John and Charles Wesley for their texts and was reworked by William J. Havergal as a long-meter tune in his Old Church Psalmody (1864). Yes, the tune ended up named for Winchester Cathedral, with “new” as there is also a tune called WINCHESTER OLD.

The setting is by Malcolm Archer who I wrote about in July, because we were using his “English Folksong Mass” at the time. Archer recently recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. I wonder if that made him especially want to set this tune? A stately counterpoint with constant 8th notes introduces and provides interludes to the tune set out by a trumpet stop in the left hand. I always think of trumpet stops and John the Baptists–kind of a “proclaining” thing. (I also snuck in a short setting of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus STUTTGART before the Manz Prelude because it was so short).

So now we come full circle to memories of Winchester Cathedral where we were privileged to sing as choir in residence for a week in 2015. Because of the pandemic, they are now livestreaming EVERYTHING, and I so enjoyed the Evensong from Sunday afternoon, and I just discovered the Advent service from Saturday Nov. 28, which includes the choir singing Paul Manz’s Ee’n So Lord Jesus Quicky Come. It is nice to hear the Brits sing an American composer. It is nice to be able to livestream services from Winchester and remember what the space felt like. This Advent feels like the most Advent-y Advent I have known, as we wait, and hope, and pray for deliverance. The great hymns of Advent really speak to us now.

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 (1792-1872), 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.” I was recently was reminded that a late Grace parishoner, lay reader and poet, Anna Bowring Kirby was a direct descendent.

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.