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Pentecost Music Musings May 22, 2021

May 23, 2021

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. -attr. Rabanus Mauris (776-856)

This post marks one year of weekly Saturday night blogs about Sunday’s music! It also turns out to be a record of what pandemic music making was for a church musician.

I am so, so happy that we have taken pretty major baby steps this week towards singing as choirs. I’ve been following all the science, and Morris County finally got out of red into orange. I had already decided to meet live with all my church groups at least once for closure on the year.

The first thing that happened was the Daughters of Zion (teen SSA) met on Thursday for 45 minutes. We tried singing on the Grace Hall porch, but it was like singing in a cloud—we couldn’t hear each other, especially because we are masked. Since Grace Hall has the most doors/windows ant the best HVAC, we stepped right inside the open door in a distanced, flat semi-circle of masked mostly fully vaccinated, a few mid-vaccinated singers. Nine singers had a great time, singing old and new SSA repertoire and hearing more than just themselves for the first time all year.

Friday morning 10 singers from Harmonium Choral Society, with 10 minutes of warm-up and 10 minutes of rehearsal, sang Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo at a former members memorial service. It was literal food for the soul. Here is a snippet.

In the afternoon, my younger kids had their very first live sing of the year right inside the open doors of Grace Hall. It was so much fun, maybe the kind of teaching I have missed the most, but I must say, these 10 choristers have learned a lot over zoom this year, and become independent thinkers and better sight readers. We even did a piece where they rang and sang at the same time! When I announce the hymn number (they never get it the first time), one of the boys joked “put it in the chat!”

Saturday morning finds my happy outdoor ladies bell choir on the porch or Grace Hall—we come outside so we don’t have to mask now. Then I rehearse with my cantors, and practice the organ. The afternoon was spent auditioning a new accompanist for Harmonium in the fall. All this is a very long explanation why I am posting this blog so late! It may be shorter, but for Pentecost I must say a few words!

It seems appropriate to call on the creator spirit with our first Sunday with a bit of choir (in in the gallery) and a closing hymn with congregation! There are two major chorale themes based on Gregorian chant which was set by many of the great composers. One is Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (“Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God”) by Martin Luther based on the ancient plainsong “Veni Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium.” This is the basis of the quite ornamented Prelude by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637- 1707).

Scan vom Reprint Spyer, 2008, Public Domain

The other tune is the great plainsong Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come, Creator Spirit”) at HYMNAL # 504 and pictured at the top. You can hear me play Alec Wyton’s setting during communion. Wyton (1921-2007), British born and educated spent most of his adult life in the U.S., and 30 years at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Veni Creator is what I would usually have the choir sing during communion, but since we can sing in harmony for the very first time this week, we will do the German’s harmonized chorale version Komm Gott Schöpfer found at # 501. The postlude is based on this, a short setting by Bach’s predecessor, Johann Walther (1496-1570), and then a very short setting by J. S. Bach himself from the Orgelbüchlein.

Our offertory is Listen Sweet Dove by Grayston Ives with words by my favorite metaphysical poet George Herbert (1593 –1633). Grayston (Bill) Ives (b. 1948) is a British composer, singer and choral director who until March 2009 was Organist, Choir Director, Fellow and Tutor in Music at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Listen sweet dove unto my song

And spread thy golden wings in me;

Hatching my tender heart so long

Till it get wing and flie away with thee.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow

That the earth did like a heaven appear,

The starres were coming down to know

If they might mend their wages and serve here.

The sunne which once did shine alone,

Hung down his head and wisht for night

When he beheld twelve sunnes for one

Going about the world and giving light.

Lord though we change thou art the same,

The same sweet God of love and light;

Restore this day for thy great name,

Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

Oh, and finally about that congregation hymn–first in 15 months: Hail thee Festival Day Salve festa dies, with words by Venantius Honorius Clematianus Fortunatus (b. Cenada, near Treviso, Italy, c. 530; d. Poitiers, France, 609), and a great tune by the greatest Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). There are versions for Easter and Ascension, but our tradition at Grace has been to save it for Pentecost. Yes, there are two different tunes for verses 1/3 and 2/4, but also a catchy refrain to hang onto each time, and a descant by yours truly.

Happy Pentecost!

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