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Sunday Music Musings March 11, 2023

March 11, 2023

The prelude for Sunday is a musical telling of Sunday’s Gospel story by James Biery (born 1956) is an American organist, composer and conductor who is Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (Presbyterian) in Michigan. Before that he served as music director for Cathedrals in St. Paul, Minnesota and Hartford, Connecticut. Each one of James Biery’s Three Gospel Scenes  tell a story using a hymn tune. He explains: “In The Woman at the Well, Jesus meets a Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well.  A modal and somewhat aimless tune represents the woman.  When Jesus first speaks to her he uses hymn I heard the voice of Jesus say –but she does not understand, and continues her aimlessly wandering tune.  Little by little, as her understanding deepens, the hymn-tune begins to merge with the modal theme, and by the end of the piece they are intertwined.” The tune quoted as I heard the voice of Jesus say is actually KINGSFOLD which is used for that text in other hymnals.

The psalm for Sunday is Psalm 95 and our choristers will sing the first 7 verses (which are known as the Venite) in a setting by Jack Noble White (1938-2019), former Organist of the First United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, and long-time Director of the Texas Boys Choir. He is known best at Grace for his setting of The First Song of Isaiah; Surely it is God Who Saves Me.

The adults will finish out the more Lenten verses 8-11 with plainchant.

The offertory is a late Renaissance/early baroque motet, Exultate Justi by Italian composer, teacher, choirmaster and Franciscan friar Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (1560-1627). Sung in Latin, it is a setting of the first 3 verses of Psalm 32.

Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just; praise befits the upright.
Give praise to the Lord on the harp; sing to him with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings.
Sing to him a new canticle, sing well unto him with a loud noise.
Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just; praise befits the upright.

Jumping a few centuries, the presentation hymn is Rock of Ages. The tune is TOPLADY named for the text author, Augustus Toplady (1740-1778). The tune composer is the American Thomas Hastings (1784-1872), born in Lichfield Connecticut, raised in the frontier of Colorado, who then returned to New York State. Although this is an oldie-but-goodie, the way the kids always take to this hymn shows me it deserves the love!

I always try to do music by women composers, but with International Women’s Day this past week, I wanted to make sure to, and it seems like a good time for this short piece at the Fraction, Nurture or “Heal the Broken” by Jane Marshall (1924-2019). She is one of a very few women composers found in the Hymnal 1982. Here is a short bio from the “Jane Marshall was born Jane Anne Manton in Dallas in 1924. She became a pianist and organist and composed music as a teenager. She earned a music degree in 1945 from SMU. She married Elbert Marshall. She went on to write more than 200 hymns and other sacred music works. She later earned a Master’s degree in 1968 from SMU in choral conducting and composition. She taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and tis Church Music Summer School from 1975-2010. She attended Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas for many years, collaborated often with other hymn writers, and encouraged many students.” Marshall’s most famous anthem is “My Eternal King,” but those of us at Grace know her best for her antiphonal children’s song “Keep Me, Keep Me” that we always sing at Compline for Kids.

This first setting in Words from Two Women sets a text by mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294), (the other is by Mother Teresa). Mechtild’s conception of the hereafter is believed by many scholars to be the basis of the Hell depicted in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The texts of this short motets is laid out homophonically in diatonic, yet surprising, chord progressions.

Heal the broken with comforting words of God.

Cheer them gently with earthly joys.

Be merry: laugh with the broken

and carry their secret needs

in the deepest silence of your heart.

The communion hymn 692 text I heard the voice of Jesus say is by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), a Scottish minister and hymnodist. The tune in our hymnal is by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585). It is truly a mark of genius that Tallis could so excel in the grand and the simple that two of his most famous works – Spem in Alium (40 separate parts, in Latin-here is Harmonium singing it in 2016) and If Ye Love Me (simple, beautiful SATB motet in English, sung by my friends at my wedding!) – are both so perfect. Tallis, also an entrepreneur, was granted an exclusive patent in 1521 with William Byrd to print and publish music. This tune, known as his THIRD TUNE is one of my favorite things ever, mostly because of Ralph Vaughan Williams gorgeous setting for string orchestra, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis composed in 1910 for an expanded string orchestra divided into three parts. Tallis’s original tune is in the Phrygian mode and was one of the nine he contributed to the Psalter of 1567 for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Vaughan Williams included it in his edition of the English Hymnal of 1906.

The postlude is a setting of this tune by Gerald Near (b. 1942), which I learned during the pandemic. Near, one of the finest composers of church music writing today, first studied theory and composition with Leslie Bassett, organ with Robert Glasgow, later returned for graduate study in orchestral conducting with Dominick Argento and conducting with Thomas Lancaster at the University of Minnesota. In 1982 Near was one of the first recipients of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. He has been commissioned by the AGO and Gloria Dei Cantores and was for many years organist/choirmaster, and subsequently, Canon Precentor of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. Many of his works explore Gregorian chant themes. He is Director of Aureole Editions and presently resides in New Mexico.

The closing hymn is Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah. What hymn could be more Welsh than the tune CWM RHONDDA by John Hughes (1873-1932), with words by William Williams (1717-1791) the “Watts of Wales,” translated by Peter Williams (1722-1796)?  

William Williams, called the “Watts of Wales,” was ordained Deacon in the Church of England, but was refused Priest’s Orders, and subsequently attached himself to the Calvinistic Methodists. He travelled in Wales, preaching the Gospel and composed his hymns chiefly in the Welsh language.

Peter Williams had a similar trajectory: converted to Christianity by the preaching of George Whitefield he was ordained in the Church of England in 1744 but left to join the Calvinist Methodists in 1746. He also served as an itinerant preacher and was a primary figure in the Welsh revival of the eighteenth century including publishing a Welsh hymnal, Rhai Hymnau ac Odlau Ysbrydol (1759), as well as Hymns on Various Subjects (1771).

John Hughes received little formal education; at age twelve he was already working as a doorboy at a local mining company in Llantwit Fardre. He eventually became an official in the traffic department of the Great Western Railway. Much of his energy was devoted to the Salem Baptist Church in Pontypridd, where he served as both deacon and precentor. The great tune CWM RHONDDA was composed in 1905 Baptist Cymanfa Ganu (song festival) in Capel Rhondda, Pontypridd, Wales. It must have sounded amazing!

Plus there is this charming version reminding you to change your clocks (although now our phones do it for us!)


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