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Another Year of Grace 2022-2023

December 31, 2022

Thanks to everyone for such wonderful Christmas singing! Here is my treble side from 10 am Christmas morning! (Photo Matt Palmer). So proud of you all!

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist;
Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ,
Dass du uns in so groß Gefahr
Bewahrt hast lange Zeit und Jahr.
The old year now hath passed away;
We thank Thee, O our God, today
That Thou hast kept us through the year
When danger and distress were near.

I will be playing Das alte Jahr vergangen ist BWV 614 from the Orgelbuchlein (Little Organ Book) which is one of the saddest, slowest and most beautiful in the collection (Schumann called it “strange.”). Organist Raymond Nagem has written extensively about it in his blog if you would like to do a deep-dive here

It is still Christmastide so we will sing a carol we have not covered yet this year: Good Christian Friends Rejoice. (Too bad there won’t be too many choristers there for the obligatory giggle at “ox and ass”). This is based on a 14th century German carol well-known and oft-set in the Renaissance, with text by 19th century priest John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Neale is best known as a hymn writer and for translating many ancient and medieval hymns from Latin and Greek, and for O Come Emmanuel and Good King Wencelas. In 1853 Neale published this free paraphrase of the Macaronic (combined Latin and vernacular) “In Dulci Jubilo,” which was said to be a tune of angelic singing and dancing. Neale was a very opinionated, passionate, music-loving, high Anglican follower of the Oxford movement, and he sure picked some good old tunes for his texts!

Our Offertory anthem is one I pull out when New Year’s Day falls on Sunday, because who at a church named Grace can resist the title Another Year of Grace? The text is by the prolific Czech-American hymnodist Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008), a translation of 16th century Slovak hymn from Tranoscius. The composer was a giant of church music whose anthems and writings have sustained me throughout my career. Austin C. Lovelace (1919-2010) was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina in 1919. He received his A.B. from High Point College in 1939 and his M.S.M. and D.S.M. from the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1941 and 1950, respectively. Dr. Lovelace was Minister of Music Emeritus at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado. He worked at a number of Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska and North Carolina, and at three seminaries: Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and Iliff School of Theology in Denver. Dr. Lovelace also worked as a consultant and lecturer, and appeared as a Director of Music for general conferences. More than eight hundred of his compositions for church have been published. Dr. Lovelace was also well known as a writer, having produced books and many articles on church hymnody.

His obituary in the Denver Post in 2010 includes some more anecdotes: “Lovelace, known for his sense of humor, wrote five books, including ‘Hymns That Jesus Would Not Have Liked.’ His daughter especially remembers one, ‘When the Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-Ling for You and Not for Me,’ which was actually a hymn title.”  Said Mark Alan Filbert, dean of the Denver chapter of the American Guild of Organists “He believed in cradle-to-grave music programs at churches…he was a demanding but nurturing teacher.” Something I aspire to!

The offertory hymn is the tune VON HIMMEL HOCH (From Heaven Above – HYMNAL 80-Martin Luther (1483-1546). This tune has been set by zillions of composers, especially in the Baroque and I played one of Johann Pachelbel’s (1653 –1706) as the postlude at the pageant service on Christmas Eve.

During communion we will sing another Christmas hymn which cannot be skipped, In the Bleak Midwinter. The poem is by the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894), and the tune CRANHAM by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) written for the English Hymnal 1906. The poem was published, under the title “A Christmas Carol” in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly, and was first collected in book form in Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1875). An anthem setting by Harold Darke composed in 1909 is also a favorite of our choir; we even did a virtual version (24:17) during the pandemic. According to Wikipedia, Darke’s anthem was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.

More on Christina Georgina Rossetti: she was an English writer of romantic, devotional and children’s poems, including “Goblin Market” and “Remember”. She was a sister of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and features in several of his paintings. Rosetti also wrote the words to Love Came Down at Christmas which we sang at our St. Nicolas service. My other favorite poem of hers (also a children’s choir piece by Bob Chilcott) is My Heart is Like Singing Bird.

The official feast of New Year’s Day is the Feast of the Holy Name, the eighth day after the birth of Jesus, when he was named and circumcised. He was “called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21). Under the Law of Moses, all male infants were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Lv 12:3). It was also customary at this time for family and friends to witness the naming of the child. Here is more about this feast from The Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Therefore our closing hymn will be At the Name of Jesus. This also gives me a chance to say goodbye to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday year of 2022! KINGS WESTON is an original tune by Vaughan Williams. The text is by Caroline Maria Noel (1817-1877) the daughter of an Anglican clergyman who wrote poetry in her teens, but stopped due to frequent bouts of illness and eventually became an invalid. To encourage both herself and others who were ill or incapacitated, Noel returned devotional verse in her 40s. Her poems were collected in The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861, enlarged in 1870). (I wonder what Austin Lovelace would think of that title?).

The postlude by my late colleague and friend Thaddeus Cavuoti (1955-2021) I also reserve for Sundays that are actually New Year’s, as it is a clever fugato on Auld lang syne, entitled Reminiscere. Following graduation from Williams College in Massachusetts, Tad spent 38 years as a Music Teacher at the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. He served as the Organist and Music Director at Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville MD for 24 years and then Colesville Presbyterian Church since ‘18, while playing and singing throughout the DC area and around the world.

Here is a fun and interesting video I found about Auld lang syne.

Happy New Year!

If you are reading this Saturday and looking for something fun, reasonably priced and arts-supporting, come to First Night Morris! Harmonium is singing at St. Peter’s Morristown at 7:15 and 8:15.


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