Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings, First Advent, November 27, 2022

November 27, 2022

I took a moment this weekend to watch our Advent worship from last year: the kids choirs were JUST back, the congregation sang one and a half hymns only, and we were masked and processing single file! This year all of my favorite Advent hymns are back and we are singing the Great Litany in procession!

The Great Litany puts the prayers at the beginning of the service, with responses by the congregation. It dates as far back as the fifth century in Rome. The Litany was the first English language rite prepared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, published in 1544. Some churches have one leader for the petitions, but our tradition at Grace is to share it among choir singers, lay readers and priests, form oldest to youngest, in procession around the congregation. The last time we did this was First Lent, March 2020, right before lockdown.

The Prelude, Wachet Auf by J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and the Gradual hymn, I wrote about extensively here.

The psalm, O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem which will be presented by the older trebles and adults is verses 6-9 of Psalm 126 by Baroque English composer and organist John Blow (1649 – 1708).

The Offertory is by Anglican/Canadian composer Healey Willan (1880-1968) who I do often, and wrote about more extensively during the pandemic here. It references both the collect of the day and the reading from Romans “Let us then cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

We are bringing back a presentation of gifts at the offering, and for this we will sing 2 verses of O Come Emmanuel each week.  During the pandemic, we also sang a few verses a week of VENI EMMANUEL virtually. This  is appropriate because these Great “O” Antiphons originated in the Middle Ages as antiphons (refrains) to the Magnificat on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. Each is meant for a different day. Each verse is a title for the Messiah, and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah. They are called “O” antiphons because they all start with the word “O.”

Here is our 2020 virtual version: a kind of virtual Advent calendar:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom) Avery Benjamin 

18 December: O Adonai (O Lord) Anne Bolt

19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) Mia Melchior

20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David) Claire Waskow

21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring) Elisabeth Wielandy

22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) Claire Siebert

23 December: O Emmanuel (O God with Us) Niamh Kane

The children are sitting a setting of Prepare! by Vernon Williams who is the music director at Trinity, Moorestown, NJ (outside Philadelphia). Mary will play the flute, and even the Chapel Choir have learned how to put the “Duh” on “Lord”!

Our communion hymn and Postlude are settings of Savior of the Nations, Come. It is 4 verses in the Hymnal 1982, but in Lutheran hymnals, it has many more verses. There are so many Baroque settings of this, and on into the 20th century. I will play the Bach version Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland from the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) BWV 599, with its symbolic gentle descending lines and yearning dissonances as the postlude.

The last hymn, Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending, we have not sung since 2019! Like For All the Saints, it need a full choir and congregation to do it justice!. The tune is HELMSLEY. The text is another great by Charles Wesley (1707-1788). First Advent does not really contain “gentle” music! Here is my favorite verse:

Ev’ry eye shall now behold him,

robed in dreadful majesty;

those who set at naught and sold him,

pierced, and nailed him to the tree,

deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

shall the true Messiah see.

The great tune HELMSLEY cannot be discussed without mentioning at least four composers. Our hymnal credits Thomas Arne (1710-1778) with Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for the harmonies. I will let the great Paul Westermeyer explain it:

“John Wesley attributed the tune HELMSLEY to Thomas Olivers in Wesley’s 1765 Sacred Melodies with his brother’s text of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending.” However, Olivers is said to have heard the tune on the street somewhere. Since the first line resembles a tune by violinist and composer Thomas Augustine Arne composed for Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return in 1761, it is speculated the tune was composed by Arne. Most likely, the tune comes from a 1763 edition Martin Madan‘s Collection of Psalms and Hymn Tunes Sung at the Chapel of Lock Hospital. Madan (1726-1790) was the chaplain at Lock Hospital.

(From Let the people sing: hymn tunes in perspective by Paul Westermeyer, 2005, GIA Publications, Inc.)

We had a wonderful concert/reunion today with the Daughters of Zion, Gargoyles and some alums singing together!

Coming up, I have an amazing Harmonium Choral Society Concert coming e=Dec, 10 and 11th, please consider it, and bring the kids!


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: