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Sunday Music Musings September 19, 2020

September 20, 2020

This week I tried to continue #choirnotchoirbutstillimportant.  The adults and teens met on Thursday, and the younger kids had their first zoom choir of the year, supplemented by some choir supplies dropped off at their houses.

I had ordered these really cute tote bags,

but they were back ordered I had to settle for Trader Joes paper bags including:


CROSS – wear it to choir!

Teeny straws for singing through, blowing bubbles in water warm-up

Index cards and marker for making things we will hold up in the screen for listening games (we’ll make these together)

Staff paper and 10 pennies we can use for notes

Pinwheel for breathing exercise

MACA Arts magnet

Two rounds and a Gospel acclamation (everyone)

Two anthems

My cat did “help” with one of the choir rehearsals by walking up and down the keyboard loudly.

This week 6 out of 8 of the Daughters of Zion managed to record for our prelude, a Shaker “Vision Song” called “All is Summer.” It is so hard and lonely to make these virtual choir recordings at home, finding a quiet time and space and all alone. But the final result brought tears of joy, and I hope you like it too! It is appropriate that this is just trebles, as in Shaker communities, men and women never mixed. The Shakers were millennians (they believed in Christ’s imminent second coming — as a woman). They practiced confession of sins, communal ownership, celibacy and withdrawal from the world. They were known for praying themselves into a frenzied dance, shaking their bodies wildly to get rid of evil spirits.

Shaker | Protestant sect | Britannica
Shaker Dance: women on one side, men on the other

This version was harmonized with second verse added for St. James Music Press by Susan Matsui. Susan Matsui is the organist and music director at the Second Congregational Church of Williamstown, MA, and a public school music teacher. She is an expert in Medieval music and Japanese music, and has published numerous children’s books.

We have replaced our Gloria or Kyrie this week with a Jubilate (psalm 100) – the well-known Henry Aldrich (1647-1710) setting S-13 in the hymnal. Anglican chant is a way of singing unmetered chant in speech rhythm and harmonized. When we recorded this last spring we realized that it is very hard to keep together in speech rhythm as a virtual choir without hearing each other, so be kind!

The hymn of the day (#9) often comes up in the fall, and it reminds me of fall with its minor key and poetry referencing “the royal robes of autumn moors” (make sure to roll you Rs!). The text of “Not here for high and holy things” is by Geoffrey Anketel Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929). According to Wikipedia, he was an English Anglican priest and poet. He was nicknamed Woodbine Willie during World War I for giving Woodbine cigarettes along with spiritual aid to injured and dying soldiers. After serving as chaplain and initially supporting the British war effort with enthusiasm (and rousing speeches), he became a pacifist and Christian Socialist. After the war, Studdert Kennedy led a church Lombard Street, London. His books Lies (1919), Democracy and the Dog-Collar (1921), Food for the Fed Up (1921), The Wicket Gate (1923), and The Word and the Work (1925) reflected his change of heart. He toured the country speaking on behalf of the working classes, and died in Liverpool, exhausted at the age of 45. The poor working people flocked to pay their respects at his funeral, but The Dean of Westminster refused burial at Westminster Abbey, because he said Studdert Kennedy was a “socialist,” even though he had distrusted most politicians and had refused to join any political party.

My favorite line to discuss with choir children is

“the purple pageantry of dawning and of dying days…”

and discuss it we did, even over zoom on Friday (sunrises and sunsets).

The hymn has six quite poetic verses, and you really can’t cut any, not just because of the gorgeous imagery, but because it is basically a giant run-on sentence!

I don’t know how such a distinctly British poet came to be paired with such an American tune. Perhaps because MORNING SONG is a folk tune that has some resemblance to the traditional English tune for “Old King Cole,” a tune which appeared anonymously in Part II of John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music (1813). Morning Song is attributed to Elkanah Kelsey Dare (1782-1826), a Methodist minister who was born in New Jersey (a lot of these!) and moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania sometime before 1818. Dare was probably the music editor for John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (1813), a shaped-note collection that includes more than a dozen of his own tunes. The tune is also known as CONSOLATION, its title in Kentucky Harmony (1816), where it was set to Isaac Watts’ morning song, “Once More, My Soul, the Rising Day.” Other texts that use this tune include “The King shall Come when Morning Dawns,” and “O Holy City, Seen of John.”

The postlude on this tune, by Gardner Read, actually references the title “Once More My Soul the Rising Day,” which explains the upward-leaping toccata figures in the hands, over the tune in the pedals, not to mention the morphing of the whole piece from minor up to major! Read (1913 – 2005) was born in Illinois. According to his obituary, he was a prolific composer of orchestral, choral, and chamber works and pieces for piano, organ, and solo voice. In addition, he authored a number of texts on musical notation and composition. Between 1941 to 1948, Read headed the composition departments at the St. Louis Institute of Music, the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1948, he was appointed composer-in-residence and professor of composition at the School of Music, Boston University, retiring in 1978. In addition, Read served as principal conductor with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra in 1943 and 1944, and put in guest conducting appearances over the years with the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, and various university orchestras in performances of his own works.

tune mostly in the feet…

It seems appropriate to start with a Shaker Song and end with American composers setting Shape-note tunes, with some good Anglican history in between. I hope you sing loudly from home!

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