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Sunday Music Musings May 8, 2021

May 9, 2021

In the end of Eastertide it is fun to get in all the Easter tunes I can. The prelude is based on the French Carol Noel Nouvelet which is the tune for “Now the Green Blade Riseth from the Buried Grain,” particularly appropriate for this Rogation week as well, as it compares resurrection to budding seeds that have seemed dead through the winter. You can find the full text by Anglican theologian and poet John McCleod Campbell Crumm (1872-1958) at hymn 204, or here. The composer of this exciting organ prelude is Mark Sedio who teaches at Augsburg University.

Our cantors will chant the Dignes es, Canticle 18, as they did last week, to the Anglican chant by E. Stanley Roper (1878-1953). I am trying to remind the littlest choristers of the ways of Anglican chant in our Friday zoom rehearsals which still bring me a lot of joy (practice to “my dog has fleas, my dog has lots of fleas!”) The joyful Psalm 98 is set to a simple Anglican chant based on the tune Duke Street, and my two cantors find a way to give it some expressive variety.

The lessons today are focused on love, and it is hard to pick one hymn, but O Love of God How Strong and True to the tune de Tar by Calvin Hampton won out, and gave us a chance to let vaccinated Elizabeth play the obligato on her clarinet. The text is by Scottish pastor and author Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), who wrote many hymns texts including “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”

The tune is by one of the greats of our 20th century Anglican composers and organists, Calvin Hampton (1938-1984). He received his musical training at Oberlin Conservatory and Syracuse University. For many years (1963 – 1983), he was organist at Calvary Episcopal Church NYC. He was a fantastic organist, and also loved to improvise and transcribe such things as Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and César Franck’s Symphony in D minor for organ. His wildly popular “Fridays at Midnight” organ recital series ran from 1974-83. The late Eric Routley, an authority on church music, called Hampton as “the greatest living composer of hymn tunes.” Hampton also wrote important works for orchestral and chamber forces, consulted on organ building and recorded and concertized extensively. He composed through the last year before his death from AIDS at the age of 45.

There are usually stories behind tune names, and although I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing that this is named for another great NYC organist Vernon de Tar (1905-1999), a predecessor at Calvary who went on to serve the church of the Ascension. The tune is also found in our hymnal at #659 with the words “O Master Let me Walk with Thee.”

Our offertory duet is from the choral files going way back! It is a lovely K.K. Davis 2-part setting of the Dutch carol Vreuchten, which you can find in the hymnal #192 as “This Joyful Eastertide” but the words of this anthem are “Awake Thou Wintry Earth.” I’m always going on and on about needing more women composers represented in my files, but for my whole life as a chorister K.K.Davis (how you usually see her name published on the music—non-gendered) has been there. Here is her bio from hymnary.org:

Katherine Kennicott Davis (b. St. Joseph, MO, 1892; d. Concord, MA, 1980) studied at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she was also a teaching assistant in music. From 1921 to 1929 she taught singing and piano in private schools in Concord, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After 1929 she devoted herself largely to music composition. She wrote some eight hundred pieces, most of which were choral (often writing under several pseudonyms). One of her most popular songs is “The Little Drummer Boy,” originally called “Carol of the Drum” (1941). Her other publications include the folk operetta Cinderella (1933) and Songs of Freedom (1948).”

One or her arrangements I particularly remember from childhood is the Welsh thanksgiving song “Let all Things Now Living.”

The postlude is the last movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata No. 1 Finale – Allegro assai vivace, commissioned by the English music publishers Coventry and Hollier in 1844. It is the fourth movement, and very cheerful! I wanted to play it during Eastertide, and I feel cheerful because we have congregation back (still following covid protocols). I love Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847) because he is a 19th century composer with a huge range of gorgeous music, but he was actually a pretty normal guy. He married, had children, didn’t lose his mind like Berlioz and Schumann, and he loved J.S. Bach and is probably the reason we have Bach, and especially the St. Matthew Passion today. Yes it is more complex than that, but he also is an influence on many 19th century Anglican composers, from his visits to Britain and his revival of Handel.

I am also happy because my bell choir was able to meet again today for the first time since November. All vaccinated, we even ventured right inside the open doors instead of cancelling for the drizzle. Here is a snippet.

Happy Rogation Days–get outside and bless a garden!

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