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Good Shepherd Sunday Music Musings April 24, 2021

April 25, 2021

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and Psalm 23 is always featured. There are so many wonderful tunes and composers for this psalm from Bobby McFerrin’s tribute to his mother in female pronouns (a favorite of the choir), to today’s solo by Dvorak. There are 4 wonderful tunes in our hymnal:

Hymn 645, the Irish tune St. Columba with the paraphrase by Henry William Baker (1821-1877) The King of Love My Shepherd is.

Hymn 646, a John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876) tune, Dominus regit me to the same text as 645.

Hymn 663, Crimmond, with versified text paraphrase The Lord My God My Shepherd Is by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984).  I played an organ setting by Barbara Harbach in our March Lenten recital.

Hymn 664, to the American folk hymn tune Resignation, and the fantastically poetic and well scanning text that allows you to see the genius of the great Isaac Watts (1674-1748). This is the setting our cantor will sing today as the psalm. The hymnal accompniment is by David Hurd (b.1950).

One more tune bears mention and is the basis of our Prelude: Brother James’ Air. The rather awkwardly rhyming text by Francis Rous (1579-1659) from Scottish Psalter; The Psalms of David in Meeter, Edinburgh, 1650, nonetheless remains a favorite of many of us somehow. In the 1982 hymnal this tune is used for another 1650 psalm paraphrase, that of Psalm 84, How Lovely is thy Dwelling Place. But generations of choristers dating back to Mrs. Thomas have learned this anthem to Brother James’ Air:

1 The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.

He makes me down to lie

in pastures green; he leadeth me

the quiet waters by.

2 My soul he doth restore again,

and me to walk doth make

within the paths of righteousness,

e’en for his own name’s sake.

3 Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,

yet will I fear none ill,

for thou art with me and thy rod

and staff me comfort still.

4 My table thou hast furnished

in presence of my foes.

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

and my cup overflows.

5 Goodness and mercy all my life

shall surely follow me,

and in God’s house forevermore

my dwelling place shall be. …

Today as I was practicing the Prelude: Meditation on Brother James’ Air by Harold Darke (1888 –1976) (yes, composer of the best setting of In the Bleak Midwinter – fight me!) I had the words attached to the tune running over and over through my head until I felt like I was really worshipping and being spiritually nourished by the organ setting. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to work. Remember all of those great Lutheran Chorales that Buxtehude, Bach and company set, would have been so well known by the listeners that they would be meditating on the texts automatically.

Thinking about Psalm 23 also took me down the path of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms – the incredible second movement which sets Psalm 23 in Hebrew serenely for treble soloist, then sopranos and altos, over a frenzied, war-like setting of Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage?” sung by tenors and basses. For extensive notes on this piece visit here.

Meanwhile, I am so touched by the passage of time, as our treble soloists in Harmonium Choral Society’s 2016 performance are both still teenage leaders in the Grace Church Choirs.

Happy 16th birthday to this once little guy!
Bernstein only wanted boys to sing this, but Claudia and I beg to differ.

Now a word about the Offertory The Lord is My Shepherd by Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904). It is #4 from the Cycle Biblical Songs, written in March of 1894, while Dvořák was living in New York City. The original piano version was published in Czech in 1895, with English and German translations of the text. (He later orchestrated the first 5 songs). Dvořák took particular care that the translations were appropriate to the vocal line—so for example there are more notes in the Czech version then the English requires. It is a simple and lovely setting evoking a lone shepherd on a mountain, with shepherd’s pipe-like figurations in the accompaniment.

Finally the postlude is a setting of a triumphant tune from the G. F. Handel (1685-1750) opera Judas Maccabeus. The Easter text, Thine is the Glory is not in Hymnal 1982 but in many others—find it here.

However we at Grace know it better for its Advent text “Daughter of Zion”—the theme song for our teen SSA group. The composer is Emily Maxton Porter (b.1942) pupil of the great Paul Manz, former organist at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Fridley, Minnesota, following positions as Organist and Children’s Choir Director at several churches in the Milwaukee area, in Toledo, and in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. She was also Professor of Theory and Organ at Lynchburg College, in Virginia, and Asst. Professor of Organ and Theory at Concordia College in St. Paul.

Why not make Psalm 23 your playlist for the weekend?

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  1. Sunday Music Musings July 17, 2021 | maestrasmusings

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