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Sunday Music Musings August 14, 2021

August 14, 2021

August 15 is a Holy Day around the world in many churches. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodoxy, Church of the East, and some Lutheran and Anglo-Catholic Churches, among others, the bodily taking up of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. In the Episcopal Church, the Sunday readings take precedent, but since most of you won’t be coming to church on Monday, I felt like I could sneak in some musical “Ave Maria”s!

Harry Rowe Shelley

The prelude is a part of Grace Church History. Born in New Haven in 1858, Harry Rowe Shelley studied with Gustave J. Stoeckel at Yale College, Dudley Buck, Max Vogrich, and Antonín Dvořák in New York, and completed his musical education in London and Paris. According to his New York Times obituary, Shelley “penned church music that won him wide popularity. For sixty years a host of English-speaking peoples throughout the world sang his hymns.” Shelley attended Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, Connecticut and at fourteen played the organ at Center Church on the Green in New Haven. Although he entered Yale, he did not complete his freshman year. Shelley was organist at the Church of the Pilgrims during the ministry of Henry Ward Beecher and played at his funeral. He received an honorary Doctor of Music degree as part of Dickinson’s 1905 Commencement exercises. He arrived at Grace around 1936, which was probably a kind of “retirement” position for him from the New York City scene. This was about the same time as Melville “Bucky” Coursen, Jr. was appointed choirmaster and began revitalizing the boychoir.  Shelley died at age 89 in Short Beach, Connecticut. (When Harry Shelley died in 1947, Helen Thomas was appointed interim organist, until Durwood Reese was hired.)

1878–1881 — Organist, Church of the Pilgrims, Brooklyn

1881–1887 — Organist, Plymouth Church (same)

1887–1899 — Organist, Church of the Pilgrims

1899–1914 — Organist, Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, New York, which later became Park Avenue Baptist and eventually Riverside Church

1915–1936 — Organist, Central Congregational Church, Brooklyn

1936?-1947?—Organist, Grace Church. Madison

The Ave Maria (1909) is a tuneful, late Romantic setting in G-flat, dedicated to a Mr. F.S. Hastings. His The King of Love My Shepherd is, remains in the repertoire of church choirs (probably since 1910). . He was also famous for arrangements of other composers for organ, and cantatas and orchestra pieces including The Santa Claus Overture.

Simon Lindley’s Ave Maria has been a favorite of our School Choirs for years. Kaitlin and Grace re-live their head chorister days in this beautiful duet. Simon Lindley (b. 1948) is an English organist, choirmaster, conductor and composer. He was Leeds City Organist from 1976 to 2017. Before Leeds he was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and Royal College of Music in London then served as Assistant Master of Music at St Albans Cathedral to the legendary Peter Hurford and Director of Music at St. Albans School. Here is an SATB version of Ave Maria with the composer conducting at a rousing clip! 

Be Thou My Vision, our congregational hymn of the day, with its tune SLANE, is of the most beloved hymns of many denominations. It is an old Irish hymn, Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile; composer and author both unknown. These words were translated into English by linguist Mary Elizabeth Byrne (1880 – 1931) for in Ériu (the journal of the School of Irish Learning) in 1905, and versified by Eleanor Henrietta Hull (1860 –1935) a writer and scholar of Old Irish. The tune name “Slane” is named for an area in Ireland where St. Patrick repeatedly challenged local Druids with the gospel.

As we continue with readings about bread, I reach for the wonderful hymn, a paraphrase of Psalm 34, in a gospel, style Taste and See by American Black Catholic composer James E. Moore Jr. (b. 1951). Moore currently resides in Vienna, Austria, where he serves as a professional coach and teaches voice and conducting. A native of LaCrosse, Va., he holds undergraduate degrees in both piano and vocal music education and graduate degrees in piano and choral conducting.

Hal Hopson (b. 1933) is an incredibly prolific a full-time composer and church musician residing in Cedar Park, Texas. He has over 3000 published works, which comprise almost every musical form in church music. His setting of Slane in 3 parts, and ends softly.

This service can be seen on YouTube.

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