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Sunday Music Musings June 20, 2020

June 21, 2020

Our prelude on the Irish harp is Eleanor Plunkett, one of the most popular compositions by blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). He is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer. Sharlys is a former head chorister at Grace who now works in business and lives in Ocean Grove. As a child she played in her family band, Dugans Hooligans with her parents and her brother Connor, a champion fiddler as a youth. I am so happy to have her “here”.

Image result for o'carolan

Our hymn of the day is one of my favorite tunes, Rhosymedre, which you can probably tell is a Welsh place. The hymn tune was written by the 19th-century Welsh Anglican priest John David Edwards who named the tune after the village of Rhosymedre in the County Borough of Wrexham, Wales, where he was the vicar from 1843 until his death in 1885. So here we are again with priests writing the tunes, but a priest also wrote the text.

Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984) was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Son of a bishop, bible scholar, priest and hymn composer, he was educated at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1945, he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia. Tucker served on both the commission for the 1940 hymnal and the commission for the Hymnal 1982, for which he used his poetic skills to re-write texts that were too obsolete or sexist for late-twentieth-century use.  The Hymnal 1982 includes 17 of Tucker’s offerings including, O Gracious Light (Hymns 25-26), Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted (Hymns 302-303), and this on his original text, Our Father, by Whose Name (Hymn 587). In 1980 Fr. Tucker was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America.

The tune was used by Ralph Vaughan Williams as the basis of the second movement of his organ composition Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes. Jabez and I had it played (by Chris Hatcher) at our wedding. It was also played at the funeral of Princess Diana, and at the weddings of her two sons: Prince William (in April 2011) and Prince Harry (in May 2018).

Our wonderful recorder player (and former head chorister—I detect a secret theme) Mariam Bora plays a theme and variation on “Flow My Tears” a famous work originally by Renaissance lutenist John Dowland and then set by countless composers from the 16th century to the present. Jacob van Eyck was a blind Dutch carillonist, recorder player, and 17th century composer.

Van Eyck spent his early years in southern Holland before being appointed carillonist in Utrecht in 1625. In addition to his carillon duties, the cathedral paid Van Eyck to wander the grounds and entertain the passers-by with songs on his recorder. This Pavane Lacrymae variations is his most famous work, and is particularly unusual as the instrument used is the less popular descant (soprano) recorder rather than the more common alto. There are several more variations that Mariam may play us sometime!

I just noticed another secret theme: both the composer of the prelude and the postlude were blind musicians.

I had one more piece on my mind this week and that is the “Black National Anthem,”Lift Every Voice and Sing.” James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. He wrote the words and his brother  John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) set it to music in 1899. You can learn more about the history of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at this NAACP webpage. On Friday, (Juneteenth), the Justice Choir held a “sing” at 6 pm, all over the world, based in Minneapolis. Jabez and I serenaded our neighbors from the porch. I am glad this is a song we know in our diocese! Learn more about this in this video.

Last year, our composer/musician friend Mark Miller was involved in a Juneteenth celebration at Carnegie Hall that was re-broadcast last night. You can find two members of the Grace Church Choirs (Jabez and Crary) singing in Mark’s Juneteenth Mass Choir. Check out Mark’s powerful piece at Let Justice Roll at 40:30, our Bishop Michael Curry at 1:04:26, or watch the whole thing if you can.

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