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Sunday Music Musings September 17, 2022

September 17, 2022
Frelinghusen Arboretum – just because

The tortured reading from Jeremiah :

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

is answered with hope and faith by the spiritual There Is A Balm in Gilead, a traditional African-American spiritual dating back at least to the 19th century. According to Wikipedia, a version of the refrain can be found in Washington Glass’s 1854 hymn “The Sinner’s Cure”. There is an allusion to the song in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven (1845). The spiritual longs for healing, both physical, and spiritual. Sunday’s prelude is a setting by Richard Billingham (b. 1934), who worked for many years as Associate Professor of Music at the University of Illinois and Organist at the First Methodist Church, Chicago. It is a straightforward if jazz-chordy setting. The adult choir will sing a simple setting at the fraction.

What hymn could be more Welsh than the tune CWM RHONDDA by John Hughes (1873-1932), with words by William Williams (1717-1791) the “Watts of Wales,” translated by Peter Williams (1722-1796)? So let’s emulate the Welsh and sing LOUDLY on our processional hymn! You can read LOTS more about these three Welshmen in my blog from July 2021.

Our school choirs are back and will lead us in the Song of Praise, appropriately Song for Beginnings by Kevin Riehle. It uses the same text as our Compline Song “Keep Me, Keep Me” so we are using the same sign language we know for that: “Keep me as the apple of the eye” (which is a gesture meaning keep me cherished) and “Hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” Riehle is the director of the Parish Choir of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston Texas.

When I wrote to Dr. Adolphus Hailstork to ask for permission to sing Look to This Day, now out of print (which was kindly granted) last year with Harmonium, I asked him if he wanted to say anything about it. He responded simply, “Why not check out the text?” This text above is meant to be invoked every morning – and what wisdom! “Look to this day” is set as a theme of four rising pick-up notes, until the very penultimate statement, when the composer accents “Look to THIS day” to emphasize the meaning.

Look to this day!

For it is life,

the very life of life.

The bliss of growth,

The glory of action,

The splendor of beauty.

For yesterday is but a dream

And tomorrow is only a vision;

But today, well-lived,

Makes ev’ry yesterday a dream of happiness

And ev’ry tomorrow a vision of hope.   – Kālidāsa, 4th century

Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, having previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger, and at Howard University with Mark Fax. Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and opera, which have been performed by major ensembles around the country. In a wonderful recent video, Dr. Hailstork admitted that setting music for choirs is something he does often. He also credited the excellent opportunities given him growing up in the New York State public school system, having opportunities as a chorister, and having a teacher who performed his compositions for chorus and orchestra. He also explains how although his music is influenced by African-American culture, he is steeped in classical and liturgical traditions. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A KNEE ON A NECK (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra. Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Dr. Adolphus Hailstork

Text author Kālidāsa (4th century) was a Classical Sanskrit author who is often considered ancient India’s greatest playwright and dramatist. His surviving works consist of three plays, two epic poems, and two shorter poems.

Since not everyone is in church on Good Friday, and Herzlich tut mich verlangen (the “Passion Chorale”) is such a gorgeous and important tune, by the great German Baroque composer Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) which is found so many times in Bach Passions and cantatas, I am glad we can sing it to these comforting words “Commit Thou All that Grieves Thee.” The words were originally German by Paul Gerhardt (b. 1607-1676), famous author of Lutheran evangelical hymns, and theologian. Living through the era of the Thirty Years’ War, he certainly knew about grief: four of his five children died young, followed by his wife.  John Wesley,  Catherine Winkworth and in this case Arthur Farlander (1898-1952) and Charles Winfred Douglas (1867-1944) made famous English translations of Gerhardt’s texts. With the choristers we discussed how the PASSION story is the story of Jesus’ death, in case you wonder why they came home with purple PASSION buttons left over from Harmonium’s 2019 performance (I hope it will help them remember!)

Our last hymn LOBE DEN HERRN (“Praise to the Lord”) is an old German tune from the Erneuerten Gesangbuch (1665), 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 postlude by J.G. Walther (1684 – 1748) sets the tune clearly in the pedal, as well as using 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.

Thanks to Erik Donough for capturing the baritone’s eye view of choirs being back last week!

For my music-loving friends, Erik has a new podcast called Take A Cue, discussing life as a junior high band director. Check it out!

SEE YOU IN CHURCH for LOUD in person singing! We have a Ministry Fair and picnic afterwards with lots of free stuff at the music table, and flyers for our upcoming Grace Community Music Season, including Vaughan William’s Birthday Hymnsing (Oct. 12), and the Halloween Concert (Oct. 29). Meet our head choristers and Camille and Paul! Hand in your emergency forms! I’m so happy to have all this singing back!

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