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Sunday Music Musings Oct. 2, 2022

October 2, 2022

I always want to play Folktune, by British composer Percy Whitlock (1903 – 1946) in the autumn, and this gorgeous minor key piece captures the damp gray beauty of this weekend. Whitlock studied at the Royal College of music with one of my very favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose 150th birthday we a getting ready to celebrate. (Next Sunday, ALL the music will be Vaughan Williams). From 1921-1930, Whitlock was assistant organist at Rochester Cathedral in Kent. After that he worked as an organist in Bournemouth both at St. Stephen’s Church, and as the town’s borough organist, playing at the local Pavilion Theatre. He was also a great railway enthusiast, writing under the pseudonym “Kenneth Lark.” Whitlock was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1928. Near the end of his life, he lost his sight altogether, and he died in Bournemouth a few weeks before his 43rd birthday. He has a substantial number of works for organ, chorus and orchestra, although he was somewhat neglected for a while (except for the organists).

New Jersey connection alert! Rise up Ye Men of God is a hymn by William Pierson Merrill (1867–1954), an American Presbyterian clergyman, pacifist, author, and hymn writer born in Orange NJ! He moved to Massachusetts as a youth, and then back to New Brunswick, New Jersey where he earned his B.A. (1887), A.M. (1890), and D.D. (1904) from Rutgers. He also earned a B.D. (1890) from the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. After ordination in 1890, Merrill became pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up (attending the one of the Episcopal churches, St. Paul’s–but I think I went to Bible School at the Presbyterian church!). From 1895 until 1911, he served as pastor of the Sixth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. His final position was at Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, where he served as pastor until 1938, when the merger with the Park Avenue Church took place and he resigned to become pastor emeritus.

Its short but strong text is set to the tune FESTAL SONG by another New Jerseyan, William Henry Walter (b. Newark, New Jersey, 1825; d. New York, 1893).  Walter taught music in public schools, and was organist associated with Trinity Church, Manhattan, and its chapels.  He composed at least 43 hymn tunes, of which FESTAL SONG (1872) is still widely used.

This is the kind of thing that makes me glad I started blogging about the music, because I am still learning something and making connections! By the way, if you have read this far, you’ve probably taken longer than it will take to sing this 8 measure hymn, and you may see the choir trotting briskly down the aisle!

The choristers will be singing in the afternoon for our St. Francis service, so the congregation and adults will be singing a usual Gloria (and Sanctus and Agnus Dei)—in this case by John  Rutter CBE (b.1945).

Our anthem is O Lord Increase My Faith which was historically attributed to Orlando Gibbons (1583 –1625), but more recently has been attributed to Henry Loosemore (1600-1670), organist and son of an organ builder. The Interregnum was a tough time to be a church musician, as the Puritans disapproved of most organ music, and Loosemore left Kings College to be resident organist and teacher of music at Kirtling, Cambridgeshire, under the patronage of Dudley North, 4th Baron North.

Our communion hymn is O Jesus I have Promised by English scholar and hymn-writer John Ernest Bode (1816-1874) to the beautiful Finnish tune NYLAND.

Our final hymn is one of my favorites, Come Labor On, which goes with the gospel lesson. The words are by Scottish poet/translator Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813-1897), daughter of an insurance manager. Her other most famous hymn is Be Still My Soul. The famous tune written for this text is ORA LABORA by Thomas Tertius Noble (1867-1953).  Born in Bath, England, educated at the Royal College of Music, he was a noted composer and organist at such esteemed positions as Ely Cathedral and York Min­ster. In 1913 T.Tertius Noble moved to St. Thomas Church in New York City, and established its boy choir school. He composed and was involved in the 1940 hymnal committee. Organists still use his re-harmonizations today (as I will on the last verse).

This afternoon the choristers will sing some of our favorite pieces for the St. Francis pet-blessing service. O Ye Badger and Hedgehogs Bless Ye the Lord is from a larger work, Benedicite, by Andrew Carter (b. 1939). The following biography is from Oxford University Press:

“Andrew Carter was born in 1939 into a family of tower and handbell ringers. His earliest musical experiences are as much to do with ringing as with singing. At a state grammar school in the English midlands, Terence Dwyer, an outstanding music master, introduced Andrew to orchestral concerts and cathedral music in Leicester, and to solo singing in Bach cantatas and Mozart opera at school. “For seven years, following a music degree at the northern University of Leeds, Andrew Carter combined schoolmastering in the mornings with singing bass in the daily evensongs at York Minster, under the inspiring leadership of Francis Jackson. At this time Andrew founded a mixed voice concert choir at the Minster, called the Chapter House Choir, which gained considerable national fame during his 17-year conductorship. In 1984, relinquishing both teaching and choir positions, Andrew spent a happy year of conducting and adjudicating in New Zealand before settling again in York as a freelance composer. Andrew Carter’s compositions and arrangements have been published over a period of 25 years. His carol, ‘A maiden most gentle,’ the first of several to be sung at the Christmas Eve service at King’s College, Cambridge, has remained popular since its publication in 1978. In more recent years, Oxford University Press has published three larger-scale works for choir and orchestra including Benedicite, which has been very widely performed on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Antipodes.”

According to the composer, Benedicite was inspired by the new carvings in the restored south transept of York Minster. The text comprises a selection of verses from the Benedicite Canticle in The Book of Common Prayer, freely arranged and added to. It was commissioned by the British Federation of Young Choirs for the 1989 Edinburgh Singing Day. It was first performed on 5 November 1989 in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, conducted by Philip Ledger. The composer provides colorful notes on each movement: “Benedicite is simply the Latin title for ‘All the world, praise the Lord’. The English Prayer Book takes thirty-three verses to say so; I chose a few of the old verses and added a sprinkling of new verses to make the eleven movements.

4. Badgers and Hedgehogs: In the first of three sections for the younger singers, some of the animals that Noah forgot to mention have a rumbustious time.”

O ye badgers and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

O ye badgers and squirrels and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

O ye badgers and squirrels and ferrets and foxes and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

O ye parakeets and pelicans and porcupines and penguins,

guillemots and guinea pigs and gallinules and godwits

and badgers and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

O ye weasels and warthogs and wallabies and wombats,

chipmunks and chuckawallas and kookaburras and caterpillars

and badgers and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

O ye dromedaries and ye dragonflies and diddy little daddy long legs,

budgerigars and bumblebees and bandicoots and bullfrogs

and badgers and hedgehogs, bless the Lord,

bless the Lord!

St. Francis services of yore. We may be in the church if it is too wet tomorrow!

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  1. Sunday Music Musings October 22, 2022 | maestrasmusings

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