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Sunday Music Musings January 29, 2022

January 29, 2022

The wonderful German Chorale WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET DER MORGENSTERN (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star”) is attributed to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608). As puts it Nicolai “lived an eventful life–he fled from the Spanish army, sparred with Roman Catholic and Calvinist opponents, and ministered to plague-stricken congregations.” Both “Wake Awake” and “How Brightly Shines” were written during a time of plague, while he was Lutheran pastor in Unna, Westphalia. Sunday we have three (of countless) German Baroque settings: the prelude by Johann Pachelbel (1653 –1706); the postlude by Andreas Armsdorff 1670 – 1699) and the communion offering by Georg Philip Telemann (1721–1767).

The Trebles’ opening piece is a setting of the famous 1 Corinthians: 13 reading paraphrased and set to the folk tune “The Water is Wide” – The Gift of Love by prolific church musician/composer Hal Hopson (b. 1933). We learn to sing long phrases (and conduct) by making looonnngg rainbow gestures as we sing each phrase.

The adults sing a favorite Epiphany anthem with bells, “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright” by American composer David Bridges. The text is by Ambrose of Milan (d. 397); translated by English poet laureate Robert Bridges (1844 – 1930):

O splendor of God’s glory bright,

O thou that bringest light from light;

O Light of light, light’s living spring,

O day, all days illumining.

Because it is the Sunday closest to Candlemas (Feb. 2) the trebles will sing a setting of the Nunc dimittis during communion. On Wednesday (actual Candlemas), and we will meet on zoom for our “Compline for Kids” service. They can tell you that this service of light celebrates the Song of Simeon, that is, the epiphany that the old priest Simeon had when he saw the infant Jesus, whom God had promised to show him before he died.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Traditionally candles are blessed and lit in celebration of Jesus being the light of the world. In AD 638, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, proclaimed the importance of the celebration in his sermon to the church, stating: “Our bright shining candles are a sign of divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.” 

The timing for Candlemas is also in accordance with the Mosaic Law, which required that a woman should purify herself for forty days after giving birth, and, at the end of her purification, should present herself to the priest at the temple and offer a sacrifice (Leviticus 12:6-7). In the Roman Catholic Church this is known as the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, while in English Anglican Churches women gather with feasting and socializing known as The Wives’ Feast. Also traditionally, many including Dr. Anne and  Father Asa leave Christmas lights up until Candlemass!

The presentaion in the temple

The setting we are singing this year is by Erik Meyer (b. 1980), especially for young treble voices. (The Daughters of Zion sang the Magnificat during the 5 pm service on Christmas Eve 11:25) We will sing his whole Evensong service on Saturday February 26 at 5 pm—please come! This will give me a chance to get the youngest of our singers experiencing Evensong again. Meyer was raised in Collingswood, NJ, where he began his organ studies at thirteen with the Rev. J. Bert Carlson. He earned a BM and an MM in organ performance from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore, where he studied with Donald Sutherland, and he is currently Director of Music at Abingdon Presbyterian Church in PA.

I just had the pleasure of watching this Choral Evensong from Winchester Cathedral today, and I recommend it to you. (Happy memories for many of us from our week in residence in 2015). Get a hanky for the ceremonial laying down of the Bishop’s staff as he retires at the end. Beautiful singing by the girls.

Finally, our last hymn is the wonderful tune MIT FREUDEN ZART, originally a French melody, found in Psaumes de David (1547) and Bohemian Brethren’s Kirchengesänge (1566), harmonized in our hymnal by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The text “Lord Christ When First Thou Cam’st to Earth” is by Harvard-educated Walter Russell Bowie (1882– 1969),  priest, author, editor, educator, hymn writer, and professor. He was born, began and ended his career in Virginia, and mid-career served at Grace Church in New York City and taught at Union Theological Seminary. The hymn speaks to our sinful rejection of the love of Christ, and prays for us to recognize it.

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