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Sunday Music Musings December 11, 2021

December 11, 2021

We have been singing a few verses a week of Veni Emmanuel, which is appropriate for these Great “O” Antiphons which originated in the Middle Ages as antiphons (refrains) to the Magnificat on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. Each verse is a title for the Messiah, and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah. They are called “O” antiphons because they all start with the word “O.”

Last year when we were virtual we released a virtual verse on each day and you can re-visit that next week if you like as a kind of virtual Advent calendar:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom) Avery Benjamin 

18 December: O Adonai (O Lord) Anne Bolt

19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) Mia Melchior

20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David) Claire Waskow

21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring) Elisabeth Wielandy

22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) Claire  Siebert

23 December: O Emmanuel (O God with Us ) Niamh Kane

The Prelude is a grand setting of Veni Emmanuel by a wonderful African-American composer, Evelyn Simpson Curenton. Her bio says she “earned many titles including composer, arranger, pianist, organist, vocalist, artistic director, lecturer, producer, and clinician. Her versatile skills make her one of the most sought after muvsicians in the area. Her talents have led her around the globe with performances in China, France, England, Italy, Austria, and a European tour with Bernice Reagon Johnson, founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Ms. Curenton has worked with some of the music industry’s best. She was commissioned to do arrangements for the Carnegie Hall concert featuring Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and the Chorus and Orchestra of New York’s acclaimed Metropolitan Opera. Several orchestras and ensembles have performed her works such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, The National Symphony, The Baltimore Symphony, The Minnesota Orchestra, and The U.S. Marine Band. Distinguished musicians like the late Duke Ellington, George Shirley, her late sister and Naumberg winner Joy Simpson, Hubert Laws, Denyce Graves, John Blake, Angela Brown of the Metropolitan Opera, Janice Chandler-Eteme, and David Murray have also performed her works. Her music can be found on several recordings, including her own. “Reflections” is her most recent studio recording.”

Simpson-Curenton’s O Come, O Come Emmanuel is a glorious setting of this ancient hymn. It starts with a fanfare-like section that to me hints at “O come All Ye Faithful.” The tune is harmonized in a bluesy way and the moving sixteenth notes and trills also give it a Baroque feel.

Evelyn Simpson Curenton

The School Choirs will open with Daughter of Zion words by J.J. Eschenberg (1743-1820), to the G. F. Handel (1685 – 1759) tune JUDAS MACCABEUS. I arranged this for SSA several years ago for our High School Sopranos and Altos, The Daughters of Zion! The younger kids join us this year, as it goes with the beginning of the Old Testament reading.

The adult choir anthem is the sprightly sixteenth century anonymous motet Rejoice in the Lord Alway – a favorite which goes with the Philippians reading.

Our communion hymn is the gorgeous and plaintive What is that Crying at Jordan?– an Irish tune called St. Mark’s Berkeley, originally found in Danata De, a national Irish Catholic hymnal in Irish Gaelic. There is very little information about the poet, Carol Christopher Drake (b. 1933), although there are other poems online in poetry journals from the 50s and 60s, such as Immigrant. In any case, the combination of text and tune is completely haunting (“dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery”).

The hymn of the day is Savior of the Nations, Come is 4 verses the Hymnal 1982, but in Lutheran hymnals, it has many more verses. There are so many Baroque settings of this, and on into the 20th century. Henry will play the Bach version Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland from the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) BWV 599, with its symbolic gentle descending lines and yearning dissonances. I had him learn the hymn so he could hear how it fits together. He will debut playing a congregational hymn with feet with this (a big day for a new organist) and since he is a talented improviser, you may will hear his own re-harmonization of the last verse with a jazz inflection.

The postlude is one of J.S.Bach’s three “Nun Komm” settings of the Leipzig Chorales. It is dark and brooding and contrapuntal, with the tune unmistakably set out in the pedal. A fine young organist I know, Katelyn Emerson, recently wrote in her recital notes “I’ll never forget a friend who, upon hearing it, remarked: “Well, that says to me ‘God’s coming and he’s *angry*’ more than anything else!” The disjunct fugal subject (presented rectus and inversus) might be imagined to represent the uncomfortable angularity that worldly living imposes upon us – but the subject, perhaps the arrival of the Savior, pierces these hard angles with its inherently clear, stepwise motion. We are granted moments of reprieve in sequences ornamented by the predictability of scales – but are led without ceasing to the frenzied conclusion, which causes the subject to reach to its highest peak before all finally relaxes (with relief!) into a Picardy third.” Thank you for this great description, Katelyn!

Ninety-four singers in Harmonium Choral Society will sing a full concert tonight and tomorrow for the first time since March 1 2020. You can see the full program notes or buy tickets here (Covid restirctions are masked and vaccinated for all singers and audience). We are in the lovely large space of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown.

dress rehearsal view photo by Paula Roper

Rejoice, sing Handel!

And light the pink candle!

May be an image of candle and indoor

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