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Sunday Music Musings January 22, 2022

January 23, 2022

In Epiphany we celebrate light, and our Prelude is a setting of the ancient chant Christ qui lux et es dies by Baroque composer Georg Böhm (1661 – 1733) who spent most of his life as organist in Lüneburg, and may have tutored a young Johann Sebastian Bach at one time.

Christ, who art the light and day,
You drive away the darkness of night,
You are called the light of light,
For you proclaim the blessed light.

The Trebles’ opening Song of Praise will be a verse of I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, the tune HOUSTON, by Kathleen Thomerson (b. 1934). It was written in the summer of 1966 after a visit to the Church of the Redeemer in Houston. Because an airline strike cancelled her mother’s travel plans and a heat wave was making St. Louis unbearable, Thomerson decided to drive her mother back to Houston. This hymn came to her as she anticipated visiting her “brothers and sisters in Christ at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston.” Thomerson holds degrees from the University of Texas, she also studied at Syracuse University, with Flor Peeters at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, and with Jean Langlais in Paris. She worked as the music director of University United Methodist Church in St. Louis, and taught organ at the Saint Louis Conservatory and at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and she has also worked as organist and music director at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas.

The hymn is simple but not simplistic and I always teach it to the trebles every year if not twice a year. But alas, two years have gone by and the collective memory of the younger singers is smaller than it was before pandemic, not to mention we don’t have much overlapping rehearsal with our older singers. That and being masked and standing many more feet apart than usual in a big room—it really takes a few tries before the kids are ready to sing out confidently! But we persist, and play games with the tunes until all of us are satisfied we are ready to lead worship. I’m just grateful we are still having these smaller reehearsals so we can continue to build these foundations. Last week’s Let Justice Roll which you can hear 5 minutes into the service is a testament to learning confidence in one rehearsal!

Sarah MacDonald FRCO (b. 1968) is a Canadian-born organist, conductor, and composer, living in the UK, who currently holds the positions of Fellow and Director of Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Director of the girl choristers at Ely Cathedral. She has been at Selwyn since 1999, and is the first woman to hold such a post in an Oxbridge Chapel. In 2018 MacDonald was given the honorary award of Associate of the Royal School of Church Music. She recently made available a new set of Anglican chants which she composed for various uses, one of which we will use for Psalm 19.

Sarah MacDonald

According to the hymn Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty  was written by English Roman Catholic convert and Sacred Heart sister and educator Janet Erskine Stuart, whose religious name was Sister / Mother Janet Stuart RSCJ (1857 – 1914). It is a hymn that was introduced to me many happy years of singing in the Compline choir of the RSCM Kings College Course (thank you Glenn Miller!) and our choir loves it and will present it as tomorrow’s anthem. The text is loosely based on Wisdom 6, and the tune with irregular meter is usually set to the traditional Gaelic hymn tune DOMHNACH TRIONOIDE (literally Trinity Sunday), also known as COLUMCILLE.

During communion I will play a setting of Ego flos campi (I am the Flower of the Field, referring to the Song of Songs) by a little know woman composer from the 17th century, Caterina Assandra (c. 1590-after 1618). According to editor Calvert Johnson, Assandra was one of many Italian nuns associated with convents around Milan who composed music at that time. She took her vows as a nun in 1609 at the cloister of Sant’ Agata in Lomello near Pavia. While at the cloister, Assandra studied counterpoint with Benedetto Re, or “Reggio,” one of the leading teachers at Pavia Cathedral. She published a collection of 20 motets, two of which were also used as keyboard pieces.

Continuing our celebration of women composers, the Daughters of Zion will sing Nos sumus in mundo, by contemporary composer Carlotta Ferrari (b. 1975), a setting of a text by medieval mystic and visionary Hildegard of Bingen. Ferrari is an Italian composer. She served as chair of music composition at Hebei Normal University in Shijiazhuang, China, and is currently adjunct professor of music composition at the Department of Arts and Music of ESE, Firenze, Italy. She holds degrees from the Conservatories of Milano and Firenze. Carlotta Ferrari’s current research interest lies primarily in contemporary modal music: she is working on RPS modal system, a new compositional grammar in cooperation with Harvard organist and composer Carson Cooman, who first developed it. The text says essentially, we live in the world, but we are not of it.

Our closing hymn is the short and straightforward Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies (RATISBON). The old German tune was adapted and harmonized by William Henry Havergal (1793-1870) and sets a text by the great Charles Wesley (1707-1788).

One more woman composer — for the postlude Henry will play a short and joyful Finale for Orgno Pleno (full organ) by Janet Correll (b .1942). Correll was born in Illinois and holds degress from IU. She has held numerous positions including professor of music at Cayuga Community College, Auburn, NY, and organist at First Presbyterian Church Skaneateles, NY.

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