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Sunday Music Musings July 11, 2020

July 11, 2020

This week famed Italian composer Ennio Moriconne passed away at the age of 91. You might think you don’t know this composer, yet you probably do. As the New York Times obituary headline said “His vast output included atmospheric music for spaghetti westerns in his native Italy and scores for some 500 movies by a Who’s Who of directors.” I can’t do better than the Times, so I hope you will have a look. He scored movies ranging from “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Untouchables,” “Cinema Paradiso,” (a favorite of mine—look for the scene where the priest yells at the acolyte for falling asleep and forgetting to ring the bell), to Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015). You may have heard his music on The Simpsons or The Sopranos. Here is Yo-Yo Ma playing The Ecstasy of Gold, from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Morricone at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Ennio Moriconne, Italian film composer

Gabriel’s Oboe” (condensed from Wikipedia) is the main theme for the 1986 film The MissionJesuit Father Gabriel, walks up to a waterfall and starts playing his oboe, to befriend the natives with his music so he can carry his missionary work in the New World. The Guaraní tribesmen, who have been stalking him from a distance, approach Gabriel for the first time, puzzled by the sounds of the unknown instrument. This is one of Morricone’s most famous tunes, and he arranged it for orchestras, and soprano Sarah Brightman convinced Morricone to allow her to set lyrics to the theme to create her own song, “Nella Fantasia“. In 2010, Morricone encouraged soprano Hayley Westenra to write English lyrics for “Gabriel’s Oboe” in her album Paradiso. There are choral versions by Tom Fettke and Craig Hella-Johnson.

Moriconne was born into a musical family in 1928 in Rome, under Fascist rule. His father, a professional trumpet player, taught him trumpet and other instruments. “His World War II experiences — hunger and the dangers of Rome as an “open city” under German and American armies — were reflected in some of his later work.” (NYT)

It can be a blessing and a curse to grow up in a musical family—but more of a blessing during pandemic, when you can make real time music with your family. One of our favorite musical families at Grace includes Teddy Love on oboe, and the team of Kimberly Love on violin, her friend Aaron on cello, and Charlie Love on piano who put together a tribute video of Gabriel’s Oboe that is our prelude this week.

My own family choir provides the hymns, and I have now affectionately named them “The Pandemic Hymn Ensemble.” I know everyone looks for our cat Peter, but he’s been a bit shy—he is actually behind Grace, you may catch a glimpse of his tail right at the beginning. I am really grateful for them so I don’t have to sing these alone!

can you see Peter’s tail?

This week we are doing a hymn you may not have heard before, but it is really a beautiful tune and text. Speaking of families, the tune is by Jane Marshall, and her son Peter was my organ teacher at Yale, and is Keyboardist for the Atlanta Symphony. I asked Peter about the tune name WALDEN, and he shared that it is his grandmother’s maiden name. Jane Marshall (1924-2019) is one of a very few women composers found in the Hymnal 1982, so it is about time we sing this beautiful tune that sounds like the bell-peal Queen’s Change. Here is a short bio from the hymnary.org: “Jane Marshall was born Jane Anne Manton in Dallas in 1924. She became a pianist and organist and composed music as a teenager. She earned a music degree in 1945 from SMU. She married Elbert Marshall. She went on to write more than 200 hymns and other sacred music works. She later earned a Master’s degree in 1968 from SMU in choral conducting and composition. She taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and tis Church Music Summer School from 1975-2010. She attended Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas for many years, collaborated often with other hymn writers, and encouraged many students.” Marshall’s most famous anthem is “My Eternal King,” but those of us at Grace know her best for her antiphonal children’s song “Keep Me, Keep Me” that we always sing at Compline for Kids.

The text for the hymn is by John Cawood (b. Derbyshire 1775-1852). He was of humble background and studied hard to become a priest. His 17 hymns are found in many collections, but were never published by himself. The text goes particularly well with Sunday’s Gospel.

Last week I talked a bit about how hard it is to make vacation happen, or make summer feel different from spring when we are mostly still social distancing at home. I have picked a new “Gloria” setting “The Ash Grove,” a Welsh tune that although not in our hymnal, is in over a hundred others, and is quite familiar and cheerful for summer use. It is from the English Folk Song Mass by Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. This is provided by a wonderful subscription publishing company out of North Carolina, St. James Music Press. Music Directors, consider using them, as for $139 a year you get unlimited access to wonderful compositions for all levels or choirs, bells, organ and instruments. Especially nowadays, it is great that streaming and printing licensing is included, and in the case of this mass, actual organ and choir files, giving our virtual choir process a bit of a summer rest. Please sing along, as we have provided the music right in the video!

The organ postlude is the third movement of “Variations on the Ash Grove” by Christine Shulz. You may see that I made a commitment to myself in both Harmonium Choral Society and church programming to improve the percentage of women composers and composers of diverse backgrounds that I present. In this day and age a little internet research provides a lot of information! I will talk more about this composer in the upcoming weeks as I play the rest of the movements to go with our “Ash Grove Gloria” singing.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a family to make some music with, please appreciate them! If not, sing at home, take a zoom voice lesson, join a virtual summer sing, or a virtual RSCM camp, play your flute to the birds, remember to warm-up!

And Happy Birthday to my firstborn musical child! She’s doing the essential work as a music therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and it makes me so happy she still writes songs.

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