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Sunday Music Musings Feb. 18, 2023

February 19, 2023

Sunday is the last Sunday in Epiphany, the gospel is the Transfiguration, and it is the day the kids will be once again counting “alleluias.” It strikes me as odd that the great Transfiguration hymn O Wondrous Type does not have a single alleluia in it, although it tells the story well! The text is from the 15th century Latin, after J. M. Neale. John Mason Neale (1818-1866) was a prolific writer of prose, poetry and hymns, translator and Anglican priest, high church, in poor health, and enamored of the Oxford movement. Some of his most famous translations (there are 45 in our hymnal) include: All Glory, Laud and Honor; O come, O come, Emmanuel; Of the Father’s Heart Begotten; Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle; Ye Sons and Daughters; Good Christian Men, Rejoice; and Good King Wenceslas. Oddly enough, he died on 6 August 1866, the Feast of the Transfiguration, so he is commemorated by the Anglican churches on the following day, 7 August, sharing this feast with Catherine Winkworth, who also translated hymns into English.

The tune is WAREHAM, named for the birthplace (in Dorsetshire, England) of composer William Knapp (1698 – 1768). A glover by trade, known in his time as the “country psalm-singer,” Knapp served as the parish clerk at St. James’s Church in Poole (1729-1768) and was organist in both Wareham and Poole. (

The composer of the Prelude on Wareham is Healey Willan (1880-1968), the Anglican/Canadian that I play very often! Read more here, or watch this fascinating early TV interview.

The Chorister’s Song of Praise is a partner song Alleluia by John Coates, Jr. (1938-1917). Coates was born in Trenton and attended Mannes on a full scholarship while a teen. His career started as a jazz pianist. During the 60s and 70s he was an arranger and composer for Fred Waring. Later he attended Rutgers University and graduated with a degree in romance languages in 1962, after which had settled in the Poconos where he edited and arranged for Shawnee Press. Coates also played regularly at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap from the 1960s to 2010. Did you count all those alleluias?

Go Up to the Mountain of God is another telling of the transfiguration story in a folk-song like e minor anthem by Michael Helman (b. 1956), Director of Music/Organist at Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral, Florida, who is especially known for his handbell pieces. Band director/baritone of all instruments Erik Donough will play the flute part. Erik has his own podcast, Take a Cue, which you might want to check out!

I am reminded how lucky we are to be fully singing when I realize that this time last year we only sang ONE hymn—therefore we have not sung Christ Upon the Mountain Peak since “before times.” It is another telling of the Transfiguration gospel by the great hymnodist-poet Brian Wren (b. 1936), a major British figure in the revival of contemporary hymn writing. He studied French literature at New College and theology at Mansfield College in Oxford, England and was ordained pastor in the Congregational Church. He worked for the British Council of Churches and several other organizations involved in fighting poverty and promoting peace and justice. Later he moved to the United States where he is active as a freelance lecturer, preacher, and full-time hymn writer. His hymn texts are published in all major Christian hymnals.

In an interview in Reformed Workship in 1990 Wren explained “So what started me writing hymns was a conviction that we need to speak the truth about ourselves and the world we live in and that we need to speak of God and to God in ‘our’ language. From my interest in the language of prayer, it was a natural step to look at the hymnal and ask, ‘Do we need some new hymns?’ I sent my first hymn to Erik Routley, who sent it back with a lovely letter that demolished it line by line—but he encouraged me to go further. He had the gift of being honest and critical without being damaging. ‘The great glory of God and the contemporary needs of humanity need to be made to collide in modern verse,’ he told me.” (We had a hymn by Erik Routley last week!)

Christ Upon the Mountain Peak was one of his earliest successful hymns. He has several other in the HYMNAL 1982 including I Come With Joy to Meet My Lord and Christ is Alive.

The tune MOWSLEY is by priest and musician Cyril V. Taylor (1907 – 1992). He began as a chorister at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and Westcott House, Cambridge. His positions included being a producer in the religious broadcasting department of the BBC (1939­-1953), chaplain of the Royal School of Church Music (1953-1958), vicar of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire (1958-1969), and precentor of Salisbury Cathedral (1969-1975). Taylor was chairman of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland from 1975 to 1980.

I know the tune may seem unfamiliar at this point, but give it your best—it will now return every year for Transfiguration, and the lovely opening leap of a 6th allows us to play the “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” game in choir! (not for people in need of knee replacement!)

The 11th century chant URBS BEATA JERUSALEM, Alleluia Song of Gladness. is also (like WAREHAM) a J.M. Neale translation. I call it the sad happy song, since it actually sounds very melancholy, but is a good way to get out some more alleluias before Lent. Also, the choristers get to play bells!

The last hymn and postlude are the tune LASST UNS ERFEUEN, a 17th century German tune that we use for both “All Creatures of our God and King” and “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.” Hal Hopson (b. 1933) is an incredibly prolific a full-time composer and church musician residing in Cedar Park, Texas. He has over 3000 published works, which comprise almost every musical form in church music.

I’m heading off to Cincinnati, place of my graduate study for the American Choral Director’s Association Convention, but Lent will begin in the capable hands of Camille, Paul and Chris Hatcher, organ. The Ash Wed. service will include choirs at 7, and for First Lent the will sing a Jean Ritchie song about the garden of Eden, Now is the Cool of the Day. Friday organ recitals (12:15) and Thursday Chanted Compline start the week I get back, which is also a Harmonium concert!

Please consider coming to the Harmonium concert which includes many Grace Choir singers! Here are the program notes to whet you appetite!


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