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Sunday Music Musings July 3, 2021

July 4, 2021

Our hymn of the day is How Firm a Foundation using the American tune from The Sacred Harp tunebook (1884). Sacred harp singing originated in New England and there are still societies dedicated to singing this music. This type of singing employs “shape notes”: fa is a triangle, sol an oval, la a rectangle, and mi a diamond, and so forth–this helps with sight singing.

The anonymous tune FOUNDATION first appeared in Joseph Funk‘s A Compilation of Genuine Church Music (1832) and also appeared in Southern Harmony (another shape-note collection) as well as in the Sacred Harp. Joseph Funk (1778- 1862) was an itinerant singing-school teacher and music publisher, of German Mennonite heritage. Alice Parker wrote an opera, Singers Glen (1978), about Funk’s life. Below is a really good short video about shapte-note singing.

(You can see that they sing in a very bright and robust fashion, and take turns leading.)

In John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns (1787) the text is attributed simply to “K—”. For more information and a list of possible authors from hymnary.org you can follow this link.

I chose a Sacred Harp setting of the psalm as well. This kind of music is so uniquely American, I thought it was so appropriate for the Fourth of July. The text is an Isaac Watts (1674 –1748) paraphrase of psalm 48. The tune is called Aylesbury.

The God we worship now,   Isaac Watts
Will guide us till we die,
Will be our God while here below,
And ours above the sky.

How decent and how wise!
How glorious to behold,
Beyond the pomp that charms the eye,
And rites adorned with gold.

Far as Thy name is known,
The world declares Thy praise;
Thy saints, Oh Lord, before Thy throne
Their songs of honor raise.

Our prelude and postlude (from Partita on ‘How Firm a Foundation‘) are by the prolific (over 300 organ and choral works in print) composer Alfred Fedak (b.1953). Sometimes I grumble to myself when I am finishing my blog on Saturday night, but I have learned such amazing things myself, that it has totally been worth it! First, here is another strong New Jersey connection: born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Fedak attended the Pingry School and graduated from Hope College in 1975 with degrees in Organ Performance and Music History. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in Organ Performance from Montclair State University with additional study at Westminster Choir College (church music). He also did additional studies at Eastman School of Music (harpsichord continuo), the Institute for European Studies in Vienna, Austria (music history), and in England at the first Cambridge Choral Studies Seminar at Clare College, Cambridge. Fedak is an examiner for the AGO, having received the highest ever score on the 7-hour Fellowship exam (95%). He is currently Minister of Music and Arts at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Capitol Hill in Albany, New York. And finally, I just found out, his birthday is July 4th!

Happy Birthday Alfred Fedak – (photo by Nicole Villamora)

The movements I will play in the prelude are:

Prelude: a canon in the pedals and the right hand with a trio countermelody in the left hand

Canon: At first in 5/8, a round between tenor and treble voices, it switches to ¾ in the middle when the pedals join the canon.

Diversion: A whimsical flourish on a 4 foot flute

Chorale: a grander statement for our procession, ending with a loud quote of the tune in the pedal

The movements I will play for the postlude are

Trumpet Tune: this minor key hornpipe has a nautical feel—okay a pirate song for Jesus!

Finale: a toccata with the tune still very clear, its does quickly wander through a few keys before returning for the grand ending

During communion Elizabeth and Grace will sing a cool arrangement by Minnesota composer J. David Moore (b. 1962), who has created a “mash-up” of Bach’s famous Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier and America the Beautiful. Please read all about poet Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), who penned “America” on Pike’s Peak, and composer Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) a native of Newark, New Jersey, who became organist/choirmaster at Grace Church in Newark from 1880 until his death in 1903, in my blog from last July 4th weekend.

I played the funeral of a dear friend, Steve Fulda on Friday.

Reger’s autograph (in pencil)

Since he was such a music lover, which he shared with his late wife Sandra, the music choices were very important to him and included Gibbons, Sweelinck, Brahms, Bach, and Reger. When Steve moved from his home in Madison to Fellowship Village, he had offered me a look through his music collection and gifted me and some Reger Chamber music signed by the composer (in pencil!) (His grandparents were friends of Reger’s.) When he served as an usher he would hang out for the postlude and chat. I had three of his grandchildren in choir (back in the day) and it was great to see them all grown up. Two other grandchildren sang at the service, a touching and simple a cappella harmony of the Irish “The Parting Glass.” It was stunning, and a way to see the direct line from his love of music through the generations of his family. A small choir valiantly led the hymn singing from the gallery (Brother James Air and Jerusalem). It was a fitting send-off.

So good night, and joy be with you all.

This week’s service can be watched on YouTube here.

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