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Sunday Music Musings Nov. 27. 2021

November 28, 2021

I really am pressed for time today, as we had live Madison Holiday Arts festival performances this afternoon. It was so great to hear the Daughters of Zion and the Gargoyles live and get to do our secular songs as well as to be joined by several alumni/ae as is tradition!

Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. His stately setting of our hymn of the day Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding (MERTON) is the prelude.

 The children will lead us in the Kyrie by McNeil Robinson (b. 1943). After a plainsong psalm we will introduce the Gospel with the first two verses of Veni Emmanuel.

Our offertory is a new piece (2020) by Marty Wheeler Burnett, D.Min. Associate Professor of Church Music and Director of Chapel Music at Virginia Theological Seminary, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus. You can learn more about her here.

At the beginning of communion, Henry will play a short setting of O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf (“O savior rend the heavens wide”) by the German composer Friedrich Zipp (1914-1997), who like Walcha, was active in Frankfurt.

Our School Choirs will sing Benjamin Britten’s New Year Carol (1934) to celebrate the Advent of a new liturgical Church Year. A New Year Carol is a British folk song originating in Wales, and it is also known as Levy Dew.

The song celebrates the New Year using a combination of folk stories and religious ideas.

Verse 1

“Here we bring new water from the well so clear,

For to worship God with, this happy New Year.”

This verse tells us of a Welsh custom: children would collect water from a well to sprinkle on the faces of passers-by. While singing the carol they would also beg for food or money. Washing everything at the end of the old year was a tradition many people took part in: like this they would purify the house and welcome in the new year.

The chorus:

“Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;

The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.”

“Levy” is an old English word for lady. “Levy dew” comes from the French “Levez à Dieu”, raise to God. The chorus is about Holy Communion: “the water and the wine.” “The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine” refer to the golden strings of the harp and the trumpets of heaven.

Verses 2 and 3 describe letting go of the old year and bringing in the new. “Sing reign of Fair Maid” refers to folk mythology and golden maidens who represent the rising and setting of the sun, and therefore the turning of seasons and years. 

Our Advent Hymn of the day is Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (MERTON). tell us of the text: “Although earliest manuscript copy dates from the tenth century, this text is possibly as old as the fifth century. It is based on the Latin hymn ‘Vox clara ecce intonat’ and its 1632 revision ‘En clara vox redarguit’.” The translator is Edward Caswall (1814-1878), son of a clergyman who became a priest, but then converted to Catholicism and joined the Oratory, Edgbaston. Caswall’s translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources are widely represented in modern hymnals.

The tune is by William H. Monk (1823-1889), who is best known for his music editing of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861, 1868; 1875, and 1889 editions). He became choirmaster at King’s College in London in 1847 and was organist and choirmaster at St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, from 1852 to 1889, where he was influenced by the Oxford Movement. His other most famous tune is Eventide (“Abide with Me”). This hymn has a famous pitfall for the choir, with a descant that comes in when you least expect it on verse 2!

Our postlude is an apocalyptic setting of O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf with the tune in the bass. Please read all about blind organist Helmut Walcha (1907 – 1991) and this piece here where I wrote extensively about it last year. I had the privilege of meeting this wonderful composer/organist in the 1980s in Frankfurt.

Happy New Year!

Daughters of ZIon rehearse for MACA Holiday Arts Festival

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