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Evensong for All Saints Nov. 1, 2021

November 1, 2021

Evensong is a uniquely Anglican liturgy, a musical presentation of the office of Evening Prayer. I am so happy that members of the adult choir and a few Gargoyles (teen boys) can make this happen Monday Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. It will also be livestreamed and available on the Grace Church YouTube Channel. In Choral Evensong the choir sings on “behalf of” the congregation. The settings of the Canticles of Mary (Magnificat) and Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) are always sung by the choir alone. The Suffrages or Preces (prayers) and the Responses between the Officiant and People are also sung between the Officiant and Choir on behalf of the people.  This allows the congregation time to meditate and enter into deeper prayer through words and music. Thus Evensong is the perfect pandemic service. It is short, and the small, distanced choir does a lot of the singing.

The choir will process during the prelude, two settings of plainsong by Gerald Near. Maybe the most familiar Gregorian chants still in our cultural ear are the Requiem chants, including the In paradisum (and the Dies irae) because they were quoted by so many composers from the Renaissance to the Romantic era and the 20-21st century (Duruflé is a particularly good example.) It makes so much sense that composers would want to quote the ancient chant when setting a work of remembrance, connecting us through shared melody to the many generations who have gone before.

Gerald Near (b. 1942) is a Catholic composer who has a whole set of Gregorian Chant preludes. His organ setting of the Requiem aeternam chant is clear and harmonized. The In Paradisum (as we imagine the departed already enjoying heaven, near the end of the Requiem service) has the tune in the pedals, but on a 2 foot stop, which means you are hearing it in a very high (heavenly) octave. You can read more about Near in my blog from Oct.31 2020 here.

The Introit will be sung by tenor and basses with a solo quartet of Gargoyles and former Gargoyles: PJ Livesey, Charlie Love, Luke Deane, and Henry Marinovic. It is gorgeous work by the German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847), Beati mortui. It is one of two men’s choir pieces, Op. 115, commissioned in 1837 by Johann Christian August Clarus (1774-1854), physician in Leipzig and since 1836 rector of the University of Leipzig. The premiere took place on February 12, 1837, with the participation of 12 Thomaner (men of St. Thomas Choir).

Photo by Erik Donough

Next follow the opening sentences, or Preces, this setting by Richard Ayleward (1626–1669) who served as organist at Norwich Ctahedral. This was one of the settings we took on our trip to Winchester.

Find the Green Man photo from Winchester Cathedral

Then, following the prayer book a Phos Hilaron (O Gracious Light) is sung, and we will use the one set to the ancient chant Conditor Alme, Greek words paraphrased by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) American Bible scholar, priest and hymn writer.

A psalm follows, usually Anglican chant, but we are using a two-part setting of Psalm 150 by John Harper (b. 1947) leader of the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) since 1998. He has had a life-long career in church and choral music, starting as a chorister at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge under the direction of Boris Ord and Sir David Willcocks. Harper was Organist at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the 1980s, and has held academic lectureships in musicology at the universities of Birmingham and Oxford, and the Chair in Music at the University of Wales, Bangor. This setting uses the trumpet stop on the organ as an integral part of illustrating the psalm (“praise him with the sound of the trumpet…praise him with strings and pipe”).

Tonight’s service (i.e. Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) is Vaughan Williams in C. Everyone who knows me knows that Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 –1958) is one of my favorite composers, bridging the romantic era into the twentieth century, and is arguably the greatest composer Britain had seen since the days of Henry Purcell. Vaughan Williams is beloved for his anthems, hymns and carols, and his editing of The English Hymnal (1906). “His command of choral writing is wide and natural, seeming to come to him in much the same way that English and Scottish sailors get their sense of the sea”(Marion Scott, Christian Science Monitor, 1920s). This service setting is metered in the rhythm of the words, and in a good range for a parish choir, hence its nickname “The Village Service.” The Magnificat is in C, and the Nunc dimittis is actually in E-flat.

When we read the necrology, the choir will quietly sing the very meditative Funeral Ikos by English composer John Tavener (1944-2013). Tavener shifted from composing twelve-tone music towards a “holy minimalism” after converting to Russian Orthodox Christianity in 1977. He began traveling frequently to Greece and began to refer to his music as “icons in sound.” He is famous for the exotic Eastern Orthodox mysticism that infused his many choral works; his Song for Athene was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana. Composer John Rutter described Tavener as having the “very rare gift” of being able to “bring an audience to a deep silence.”

Our anthem is by singer, songwriter, fiddler and guitarist Rani Arbo (b.1968). As well as her work with the bands Salamander Crossing and Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem, she is founding director of the Middletown Connecticut Community Chorus and a teacher of harmony singing and choral workshops. This piece, like the more familiar version by Parry, sets this poem by Tennyson (1809 –1892) in a homophonic and clear style, but with very subtle changes each verse.

Crossing the Bar


Sunset and evening star,

      And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

      Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,

      And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

      When I embark;

   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

      The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

      When I have crost the bar.

Below is the folk version by the composer.

The choral arrangement was made especially by Rani Arbo for the new publication Multitude of Voyces: Sacred Music by Women Composers (2019). Here is more about it from the composer:

“This setting of Tennyson’s beautiful and moving poem was inspired by my husband’s grandmother, Elizabeth May. Its first words were the last words she spoke, at age 97, in her beloved home overlooking the Potomac River Valley in Maryland. The melody and arrangement echo the Episcopalian hymns I sang daily as a chorister at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where I grew up. I am overjoyed that this song has found a home in the hospice choir movement in the US, and that it has travelled across the pond to singers in the UK and beyond.”

Our congregational hymn is By All Your Saints Still Striving with words by the Horatio Bolton Nelson (1823-1913) British hymnodist, and relative of England’s most famous naval hero. It is set to the wonderful tune KINGS LYNN, an English folk melody adapted and arranged as hymn by Vaughan Williams. As I often say, tunes are usually named for places, and King’s Lynn is a seaport and market town in Norfolk, England, 98 miles north of London. Vaughan Williams collected folksongs beginning in 1903, many of which tunes found their way into the Hymnal (1906) and his chamber and orchestral compositions. In January 1905 he went to stay at a small commercial hotel in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. In the week that he was there he collected some seventy-six songs and four tunes, and a further ten songs in September 1906. Many of these came from farmhands and sailors

I will celebrate another wonderful hymn tune DARWALL’s 148th, associated with the words “Ye Holy Angels’ Bright for the postlude. This setting is by the Anglo-Canadian great Healey Willan, I urge you to meditate on verses 2 & 3 of Hymn 625:

Ye blessed souls at rest,
Who ran this earthly race
And now, from sin released,
Behold your Savior’s face,
His praises sound,
As in his sight
With sweet delight
Ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
Adore your heavenly King,
And onward as ye go
Some joyful anthem sing;
Take what he gives
And praise him still,
Through good or ill,
Who ever lives!

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