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Sunday Music Musings June 27, 2020

June 28, 2020

Motto of the Royal School of Church Music:

Psallam spiritu et mente

I will sing with the spirit and the understanding also

(I Corinthians xiv 15)

Choir reocognition 2019

This Sunday we thank the acolytes, Sunday School and Choirs. Traditionally on a Sunday in June, our youngest choristers who have been in choir one year receive crosses with a black ribbon (and they will have them when we return to robing and singing), then my children’s choir assistant and I spend a long morning switching out all the crosses/ribbons to colors that reflect the years of service. Susie is making a gorgeous bulletin, so I will link to that Sunday when the service goes up on YouTube, and you can see everyone’s name, their years of service, and my awesome assistants, librarian, and head choristers. The Head choristers even made a virtual video of the head chorister badge hand-off I think you will enjoy.

The youngest of our children have still been meeting and learning sight-singing and good vocal skills on zoom, mostly one-at-a-time. Our older singers have zoomed socially and joined in some virtual choir anthems. One of the pieces the younger singers use in their lessons will become the School Choir Virtual Anthem this week. I am so proud of them, because ultimately this required them to sing by themselves (or with a sibling) and self-direct their notes, up and down, leap and step. We miss being mentored by our older peers, the teenagers, but due to the magic of video editing, we are together this week.

You may recognize the text of the Prayer of St. Patrick as the middle verse of Hymn 370, I Bind Unto Myself, that we often sing at confirmation and Trinity Sunday (not this year, 7 verses in pandemic were too daunting). It is verse 5, where we break into another tune. This ancient text is attributed to St. Patrick, the 2nd Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland (c.372-466). The English version 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 (think “All Things Bright and Beautiful”) She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Cecil Frances Alexander Poems > My poetic side
Cecil Francis Alexander

The treble setting is by William Shoenfeld (b.1949), member of the Choral Conductor’s Guild of California, organist, and composer of church music. Here we are singing it at a choral festival we hosted a few years ago with the American Boychoir training choir, NJYC Choristes, and the Hampshire Choral Society.

Our offertory hymn is Dr. Anne’s favorite, King of Glory, King of Peace, #382. I don’t know which I love more, the words by George Herbert, or the tune by David Charles Walker, named after General Seminary in New York City (remember, hymn means text, and tunes are usually named for places).

Walker died in 2018—here is an excerpt from his obituary: “The Rev. David Charles Walker, Class of 1973 (General Seminary), — priest, chaplain, organist and composer — died Dec. 3, 2018. He served as chaplain and director of pastoral care at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles from 1991 – 2003 and previously served congregations in San Diego, Beverly Hills, and Brooklyn New York. Walker also served General as Organist and Director of Music. He composed two hymn tunes included in Hymnal 1982: “General Seminary,” with the text “King of Glory, King of Peace” by George Herbert (Hymn 382), and “Point Loma,” with the text “Baptized in water” (Hymn 294).  After serving three years on General’s faculty, he moved to parish life, becoming rector of St. Philip’s, Dyker Heights-Brooklyn for the next four years. In 1980 he moved to San Diego to become associate rector at All Souls’ Church. Five years later, he began his ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles as associate for worship and pastoral care at All Saints, Beverly Hills. Walker became interim priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, Monrovia, in 1990 before moving to Good Samaritan Hospital, by then a century-old diocesan institution, where he served as chaplain and director of pastoral care until his retirement.”

George Herbert (1593-1633) is one of my favorite poets: a Welsh-born metaphysical poet, orator, and priest. One of my other favorite texts by George Herbert is Bob Chilcott’s setting of “Vertue” , I just love discussing these profound concepts of what is transient (day, spring, rose) and what lasts (soul) with the children.

I want to take this moment to thank what I have now dubbed “the Pandemic Hymn Ensemble” which is basically my family, recording around the piano every Wednesday. Grace, Jabez, thank you! Grace is also my tech help, aiding me with wordpress and uploading videos to google drive. Peter the cat eats my paper when he wants attention, and shows up in hymns only when it pleases him.

Image may contain: Grace Van Cleef and Anne Matlack, screen

I want to also thank my singing staff, Brandon Johnson-Douglas, who jumped in with the Gargoyles right before the Halloween concert, and Katie Hendrix as always for her work with the children and beautiful singing of any part thrown at her!

Our adults and older choristers recorded K. Lee Scott’s Chorister’s Prayer. K. (Kayron) Lee Scott is an internationally known musician and composer of sacred music from Alabama. He composed some of our favorite anthems, like “A Vineyard Grows,” “The Apple Tree,” and one we often do on Easter “The Glory of Christ.”  

The original Chorister’s Prayer text is:

Bless, O Lord, us thy servants,

who minister in thy temple.

Grant that what we sing with our lips,

we may believe in our hearts,

and what we believe in our hearts,

we may show forth in our lives.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Here is more about its origins from the RSCM website: “The Chorister’s Prayer seems to have first appeared in The Choirboy’s Pocket Book, published by the School of English Church Music (the former name of the RSCM) in 1934. Despite being so well known, the prayer is not given an author in this source (some say it was the RSCM’s founder, Sir Sydney Nicholson, while others link it to Cosmo Gordon Lang, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1929). The English version of this Prayer appears to be very close to the Latin of 1595–96

Vide, ut, quod ore cantas, corde credas, et quod core credis, operibus comprobes.

But this year, I felt sad that we were not actually “in thy temple” so when Bishop Hughes called for “Quaratine Prayers” from members of the diocese of Newark, I wrote a parody version for quarantine:

The prelude was me trying out an app called “A Cappella” with the bells on a Saturday, which is my day to be in the church building. This app allows you to layer parts over yourself. It was fun, but I would much prefer being able to have actual multiple people—but until then…

So many chins though…

The postlude is a setting of another hymn we would sing on Choir Recognition Sunday “When in Our Music God is Glorified,” tune originally by the great late Romantic Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and text by the Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)-one of the most important 20th century hymn composers. Here is the text which according to “is the only hymn text in Christendom that explains the reasons for church music while simultaneously offering “alleluias” to God. The various stanzas deal with our humility in performance (st. 1), the aesthetics of musical worship (s1. 2), and the history of church music (st. 3). The final two stanzas present a biblical model (st. 4) and quote Psalm 150 (st. 5).”

Robert Hobby’s joyful setting sets the tune clearly in the trumpet in the left hand, and later in canon between hands and feet. Hobby is a prolific composer and church musician from Indiana.

It is really hard for our choir people not to sing together—our favorite thing to do—but I am so grateful that they have been staying together as a community. We WILL sing again, and our faith will keep us strong. I am grateful that I have time to write these blogs of the stories we would be sharing in rehearsal.

Please everyone, keep singing at home, as I leave you with the collect for church musicians from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace Church 1938 Boy’s Choir

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