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Sunday Music Musings February 19, 2022

February 19, 2022

Our choristers will present an Evensong next Saturday, to give our youngest choristers a first introduction to this wonderful Anglican service and a chance to be in the choir stalls! Please make a note of it and the other spring musical events above!

Sunday, our hymn of the day is LOBE DEN HERRN (“Praise to the Lord”). The old German tune from the Erneuerten Gesangbuch (1665) is paired with a text by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), teacher, poet, preacher, lover of Nature and hymn-writer; that was translated into English for the 1940 hymnal.  The prelude is a setting for organ taken from J.S. Bach‘s Cantata 137 with the tune in the pedals (originally alto solo), and the obligato violin and continuo covered my the manuals (hands). Here is a video of the Cantata version for futher listening (starts at 3:30).

The Choristers will sing another verse of Kathleen Thomerson‘s I Want to Walk as A Child as the opening Song of Praise, which I wrote about here.

The adults will keep their Anglican chant chops up with a John Goss (1800 – 1880) setting of Psalm 37.

Our offertory, sung by the adult choir is a setting of The Morning Star arranged by the great 20th century American composer Virgil Thomson (1896 – 1989). It is  a choral gem—a short yet perfect a cappella setting of a Southern folk hymn with lovely rising and falling lines and dynamics.  Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri where he often played the organ in Grace Church, as his piano teacher was the church’s organist. After World War I, he entered Harvard University where he studied Erik Satie and toured Europe with the Glee Club. He studied in Paris on fellowship for a year, and after graduating lived in Paris from 1925 until 1940, influenced by the French composers known as “Les Six” and eventually studying with Nadia Boulanger.

Later living in New York, he and his partner influenced and supported many artists including Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Ned Rorem, John Cage and more. He was friends with Gertrude Stein and collaborated with her on the operas Four Saints in Three Acts in 1934, and The Mother of Us All (1947) on the life of Susan B. Anthony. Thomson’s knowledge of folk hymns shows up in his other works as well, such as the documentary film The Plow That Broke the Plains and the Pulitzer Prize-winning for the score to the film Louisiana Story.

During communion Henry will play a Pastorale by the prolific American organ composer Wilbur Held (1914-2015). Held earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and for a time served as Leo Sowerby’s assistant at St. James Church. In 1946, Held joined the faculty at Ohio State University, where he became Professor of Organ and Church Music and head of the keyboard department. He remained in this position for more than 30 years, and was organist-choirmaster at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, during  which time he also earned a Doctor of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

The Gargoyles will sing a Peruvian round, Yo soy la luz del mundo (I am the light of the world) during communion.

We will round out the service with J.G. Walther’s (1684 – 1748) setting of Lobe den Herrn which sets the tune clearly in the pedal, as well as each phrase as the basis of the counterpoint of each section. Walther was a music theorist and organist of the Baroque era who wrote many practical chorale tune-based settings that organists still love to play.

On the personl/musical front, I returned from a really inspiring conference of choral musicians in Boston where I saw our Grace church friends Bev and John Wand, and heard LOTS of inspiring performances, even getting to sing myself under the direction of the the deep-thinking and emotionally giving Craig Hella Johnson. One of the most profound experiences I had last week was being exposed to this incredible song by Margaret Bonds on a poem by her dear friend Langston Hughes. We got to sing a moving choral version , but here is a fantastic solo rendition. If you don’t know this piece–stop everything now! Its also has got the most amazing part for the collaborative pianist, from depictions of the Euphrates to the Mississippi. Happy Black History month!

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