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Saturday and Sunday Music Musings, early edition in honor of EVENSONG (yay)! Feb. 10, 2023

February 11, 2023

So, Saturday our kids will lead an Evensong, joined by some choristers from Grace Church, Newark and their director, Daniel Romero. We have really prepared for this, as we have sung the prayer responses and the Magnificat in Advent, the Nunc dimittis in January, and the anthem is a real favorite, El cielo cant’ alegria, which we will also sing Sunday. The choristers lead a responsive Phos Hilaron (“O Gracious Light,” anthem at the candle-lighting by great American church musician Richard Proulx (1937-2010), and use Jack Noble White’s (1938-2019) setting of Psalm 95 which is found at Hymnal S-35 as our psalm.

I feel like after 30 years of leading children, and 2 years of pandemic black hole, they are singing better than ever, because we have really put in the time, rather than counted on certain strong singers to lead everyone. I mean, the leaders are awesome, but the younger singers have become true leaders from constantly having to pivot and sing no matter who is out sick, and on livestream! Also, now that post-pandemic we spread out more in the choir stalls, and the choristers are in the row in front of the congregation, when they get to be up front, leading the service themselves, they really fell excited and important!

I also just heard back from Wells Cathedral that Grace Church has been accepted for a cathedral residency in the summer of 2024. I hope some of these kids will go—and you can look forward to a lot of Evensongs next year was we prepare! You will be hearing a lot more about this soon! Anyone potentially interested please reach out to me any time.

The composer of our “Mag and Nunc” is by George Dyson (1883 –1964). Sir George Dyson was an English musician and composer who studied at the Royal College of Music and became its director in 1938. Dyson’s father was a blacksmith, but also organist and choirmaster at a local Yorkshire church, and his mother was a weaver and amateur choir singer. Dyson studied at the RCM in London, with Stanford and Parry, from whom he learned a traditional style which served him well.  He served in the army in the First World War, suffered from shell-shock but later returned to the war as a major in the newly formed Royal Air Force, organizing RAF bands. After the war he was a schoolmaster and college lecturer at Wellington College and then Winchester. In 1938 he became director of the RCM, and saw it through the Second World War. He retired in 1962 to enjoy a fruitful compositional period, and died in Winchester in 1964.

The prayers are sung in Evensong, first the opening sentences, or Preces, then after the creed, the Responses. Our setting is by Richard Ayleward (1626–1669) who served as organist at Norwich Cathedral. This was one of the settings we took on our trip to Winchester, and will go to Wells for sure. Usually it is SATB, but sounds lovely as treble accompanied by organ.

Our anthem for both Evensong and Sunday is a treble arrangement of El cielo canta allegria by Pablo Sosa (b. 1933). Argentine church musician Pablo Sosa lives in Buenos Aires, where he teaches liturgy and hymnology, and is a choral conductor at the National Conservatory of Music. El Cielo Canta Alegría, written in 1958 in the carnavalito style, is a pioneer work in the use of indigenous music within the context of Christian worship in Latin America. This song is sometimes used for Easter, but we use it towards the end of Epiphany to get in as many “Alleluias” as possible before Lent!

El cielo canta alegría, ¡Aleluya! / Heaven is singing for joy, Alleluia!

Porque en tu vida y la mía / Because in your life and mine

brilla la gloria de Dios. / shines the glory of God.

¡Aleluya! Alleluia!

El cielo canta alegría, ¡Aleluya! / Heaven is singing for joy, Alleluia!

Porque a tu vida y la mía / Because your life and mine

las une el amor de Dios. / are united in the love of God.

El cielo canta alegría, ¡Aleluya! / Heaven is singing for joy, Alleluia!

Porque en tu vida y la mía / Because in your life and mine

proclamarán al Señor. / will proclaim to the Lord. ¡Aleluya! Alleluia!

Our hymn for Evensong will be I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, the tune HOUSTON (and words) by Kathleen Thomerson (b. 1934). It was written in the summer of 1966 after a visit to the Church of the Redeemer in Houston. Because an airline strike cancelled her mother’s travel plans and a heat wave was making St. Louis unbearable, Thomerson decided to drive her mother back to Houston. This hymn came to her as she anticipated visiting her “brothers and sisters in Christ at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston.” Thomerson holds degrees from the University of Texas, she also studied at Syracuse University, with Flor Peeters at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, and with Jean Langlais in Paris. She worked as the music director of University United Methodist Church in St. Louis, and taught organ at the Saint Louis Conservatory and at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and she has also worked as organist and music director at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas.

It is humbling to think of the years of music and choristers who have lead services in these choir stalls!

Sunday morning will be bookended by the German Chorale by Georg Neumark (1621-1681) Wer nur den lieben Gott (If Thou but Trust in God). The prelude is by the blind 20th century organist Helmut Walcha who I wrote about extensively here. We sing this as presentation hymn in a translation by the great Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) a British woman known for her English translations of German hymns, her piety and devotional life, and at the same time, her sympathy for the cause of women’s rights. In 1845 she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany where she learned German and German hymnody. There are 10 hymn translations by Winkworth in the Hymnal 1982, including “Now Thank We All Our God” and this one.

The first hymn, LAUDES DOMINE, When Morning gilds the skies is a tune by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) a popular British choral director who was knighted by Queen Victoria. The originally German words were translated and paraphrased by English poet Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930).

The adult choir’s offertory anthem is a real favorite (I know I always say that at least once-but really!), Thou Wilt keep Him in Perfect Peace by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born in London, the illegitimate son of composer Samuel Wesley and his maid, Sarah Suter, and the grandson of Charles Wesley. After singing in the choir of the Chapel Royal (he was said by William Hawes, Master of the Children, to have been ‘the best boy he had ever had’), he embarked on a career as a musician, becoming organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1832. He moved to Exeter Cathedral three years later, and later held conflict-laden appointments at Leeds Parish Church, Winchester Cathedral and Gloucester Cathedral. Famous as an organist in his day, he composed almost exclusively for the Church of England. Wesley strove to improve the standards of church music in a period when they were rather lacking; his ideas were published as A Few Words on Cathedral Music and the Music System of the Church (1849). This little anthem is a true gem with a gorgeous final cadence. Below is a memorial plaque in Winchester Cathedral.

Before communion, the Daughters of Zion will sing a piece by John Dowland (1563-1626) arranged into a sacred piece by my predecessor Helen E. J. Thomas (1917-2006).me

Our communion hymn is LIEBSTER JESU, preceded by J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Orgelbüchlein setting.

Hymn tunes are often named for places, but in the case of LITTON it is for a person, the wonderful American choral conductor James Litton (1934-2022) who directed the American Boychoir from 1985 to 2001. I’ll never forget how kind he was to me as young conductor letting come spend a day in Princeton observing his rehearsals. Litton was a co-founder in 1966 and former president of the Association of Anglican Musicians of which I am a member. He passed quite recently on Nov. 1, 2022, you can read his obituary here. The composer of the tune is the great hymn-writer and teacher Erik Routley (1917-1982). Routley was an English Congregational churchman, theologian and musician and arguably the most significant hymnologist of the 20th century. In 1975 he came to Princeton as a lecturer and Director of Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary. In September of that year, Routley became a Professor of Church Music and Director of Chapel at Westminster Choir College.

Jim Litton

Bach’s Orgelbüchlein setting of Wer nur den lieben Gott closes the service.


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