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Sunday Music Musings September 10, 2022

September 11, 2022
Clematis at Windsor, Choir trip 2015

Sunday September 11 our choirs are back in full, and we of course are mindful of the day, both the anniversary of 9/11 and now the queen’s passing. The Prelude is an organ transcription of Edward Elgar’s (1857 –1934) Nimrod from the Enigma Variations for orchestra. This variation has an elegiac quality and is often used for funerals or remembrance, in this case, 9/11 remembrance. It was played by the band of the Grenadier Guards at Prince Philip’s funeral service at Windsor Castle, and I am guessing we will hear it again in royal remembrance events to come.

Very often, because of how the lectionary lessons fall in the autumn, Praise My Soul (LAUDA ANIMA) is the processional on our first Sunday back. After we rehearsed it Thursday night my husband Jabez reminded me that was one of Her Majesty’s favorite hymns.

The words are by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)-born in Scotland he spent most of his childhood in an orphanage. Lyte distinguished himself at Trinity College, Dublin, by winning the English prize poem three times. He abandoned Medicine for Theology and took Holy Orders in 1815. His first curacy was in Wexford and in 1817. In 1818 he moved to Cornwall and had a spiritual conversion over the death of a fellow clergyman. Lyte says of him:—

“He died happy under the belief that though he had deeply erred, there was One whose death and sufferings would atone for his delinquencies, and be accepted for all that he had incurred;”…

“I was greatly affected by the whole matter, and brought to look at life and its issue with a different eye than before; and I began to study my Bible, and preach in another manner than I had previously done.”

Lyte was tall, handsome, eccentric, well-read and played the flute. He wrote many hymns-the other most famous one being “Abide with Me.” Both of these hymns were included Queen Elizabeth II’s royal wedding on November 20, 1947, exactly 100 years after his death.

By the way, the word “hymn” means the text—please if you are uncomfortable singing, open your hymnal and meditate on these beautiful poems of our faith. (And then come see me for a few free voice lessons and I’ll get you going!)

I often think it is interesting to look at the full stanzas and see what our hymnal has omitted. Here is the omitted verse:

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish
Our God lives unchanging on,
Praise Him, Praise Him, Hallelujah
Praise the High Eternal One!

The composer of the tune, John Goss (1800-1880) is an important Victorian Anglican musician, with lots of chants in our hymnal too. Born in Hampshire, as a boy Goss was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and later sang in the opera chorus of the Covent Garden Theater. He was a professor of music at the Royal Academy of Music (1827-1874) and organist of St. Paul Cathedral, London (1838-1872); in both positions he exerted significant influence on the reform of British cathedral music. In 1872 he was knighted by Queen Victoria, and four years later was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Cambridge University.

The Song of Praise is a brand new work by one of my favorite contemporary composers, Elizabeth Alexander, sung by our Gargoyles.

Do not leave your cares at the door.

Do not leave them there when you come into this place.

Be open to forgiveness and transformation —

Come on in; you are welcome here;

And do not leave your cares at the door.

Bring your pain and sorrow and joy,

There’s a place for them upon the altar of life.

Be open to forgiveness and transformation —

Come on in; you are welcome here;

And do not leave your cares at the door.

This is a place of grace,

Of losing and finding the way upon the winding road,

Meeting and parting,

Stumbling and starting over.

Every journey is sacred here, even yours.

Do not leave your cares at the door.

Do not leave them there when you come into this place.

Be open to forgiveness and transformation —

Come on in; you are welcome here;

And do not leave your cares at the door.

Original poem © 1997 by Norman V. Naylor, Adapted text © 2006 by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander (b.1962) grew up in the Carolinas and Appalachian Ohio, the daughter of a piano teacher and a minister/prison warden. Her love of words nearly eclipses her love of music – a passion reflected in her more than 100 songs and choral works, which have received thousands of performances worldwide. A McKnight Composition Fellow, she has received many other awards and fellowships She received her doctorate in music composition from Cornell University.

The adult choir offertory anthem is My Shepherd Will Supply My Need arranged by Virgil Thomson. As well as responding to the gospel of the 99 sheep, there is a 9/11 story for this. A few days after those terrible events, the town of Madison held a memorial on the steps of Hartley-Dodge, and we joined with the church choirs from St. Vincent’s and the Presbyterian Church to sing this. It turns out it was pouring rain, and when it can time to sing together on the steps, we just all put down our umbrellas and went for it. Of course the music itself got soaking wet. I was all ready to throw it away but one of the altos (Dorothy Hayes) took the music home and dried it and ironed it! Now when I a copy that is slightly wrinkled I remember all of that.

Virgil Thomson (1896-1989), was a many faceted American composer of great originality and a brilliant music critic. He studied at Harvard, then in Paris where he studied with Nadia Boulanger Among his most famous works are the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All (both with texts by Gertrude Stein with whom he formed a legendary artistic collaboration), and film scores to The Plow That Broke the Plains,The River, and Louisiana Story. This simple arrangement of the American folk tune RESIGNATION is a fine example of Thomson’s musical style rooted in American speech rhythms and hymnbook harmony, and influenced by Satie’s ideals of clarity, and simplicity. The text is Isaac Watts’ metric paraphrase of Psalm 23. The tune RESIGNATION is from The Sacred Harp.

Note the tune in tenor

Speaking of The Sacred Harp, some of our teen sopranos and altos, the Daughters of Zion, will sing Wondrous Love at the Fraction.

The organ piece before communion is a Charles Callahan setting of MATERNA (America the Beautiful) which I wrote more extensively about here. I always like to point out New Jersey conncections: the tune is by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) a native of Newark, who became organist/choirmaster at Grace Church in Newark.

The communion hymns is an unusual one verse by American hymnodist and Lutheran pastor Jaroslav J. Vajda (1919-2008). Born of Czechoslovakian parents, Vajda was educated at Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. You can read more about him here.

The tune NOW is by another great Lutheran church musician, Carl F. Schalk (1929-2021), who also attended Concordia Seminary as well as Eastman School of Music.

Our final hymn is Immortal, Invisible to the rousing tune ST. DENIO with words by Walter Chalmer Smith (1824-1908), (like Lyte) another Scottish hymnodist and priest.

ST. DENIO is based on “Can mlynedd i nawr” (“A Hundred Years from Now”), a traditional Welsh ballad popular in the early nineteenth century. It was first published as a hymn tune in John Roberts‘s Caniadau y Cyssegr (Hymns of the Sanctuary, 1839). The tune title refers to St. Denis, the patron saint of France.

Here is some more information from the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1988:

“ST. DENIO is a sturdy tune in rounded bar form (AABA’); its bright character in a major key should put to rest the notion that all Welsh tunes are sad and in minor key. John Roberts (b. near Aberystwyth, Wales, 1822; d. Caernarvon, Wales, 1877) is also known by his Welsh name, Ieuan Gwyllt (Wild John) to distinguish him from many other John Roberts. He began conducting choirs at the age of fourteen and was a schoolteacher at sixteen. Ordained in the (Calvinist) Methodist ministry in 1859, he served congregations in Aberdare and Llanberis. In 1859 he also founded the Welsh singing festival “Gymanfa ganu” and compiled the important Calvinist Methodist hymnal Llyfr Tonau CynulleidfaolPHH 73) hymnal, Swn y Iiwvili (1874).

Finally, I will not play the listed postlude, but will instead play a setting of THAXTED by John Ignatowski. THAXTED is the name of a beloved tune by Gustav Holst (1874 –1934) originally the theme of Jupiter from The Planets. Like many tune names, it is named for the English village where Holst lived much of his life. He adapted the theme in 1921 to fit the patriotic poem “I Vow to Thee, My Country” by Cecil Spring Rice (1859 –1918) – as a unison song with orchestra. It did not appear as a hymn-tune called “Thaxted” until his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams included it in Songs of Praise in 1926. The words sum up the life of service of the late great Queen Elizabeth II.

I vow to thee, my country
All earthly things above
Entire and whole and perfect
The service of my love

The love that asks no questions
The love that stands the test
That lays upon the altar
The dearest and the best

The love that never falters
The love that pays the price
The love that makes undaunted
The final sacrifice

And there’s another country
I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her
Most great to them that know

We may (we may not count her armies)
We may (we may not see her King)
Her fortress is a faithful heart
Her pride is suffering

And soul by soul and silently
Her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness
And all her paths are peace

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