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Sunday Music musings May 6, 2023

May 5, 2023

Heads up! We are doing a hymn we have never done before! I’ve been here 33 years, but I must say, during the pandemic I delved deeper into some unfamiliar hymns and learned not to be scared. And anyway, “hymn” refers to the text, and this text is an amazingly relevant and fantastical poem by W. H. Auden (1907-1973). It follows the three-part theme from the gospel of John, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”
― W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

I am quoting GOODREADS HERE “Auden’s only explicitly religious long poem For the Time Being is a pivotal book in the career of one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. W. H. Auden had recently moved to America, fallen in love with a young man to whom he considered himself married, rethought his entire poetic and intellectual equipment, and reclaimed the Christian faith of his childhood. Then, in short order, his relationship fell apart and his mother, to whom he was very close, died. In the midst of this period of personal crisis and intellectual remaking, he decided to write a poem about Christmas and to have it set to music by his friend Benjamin Britten. Applying for a Guggenheim grant, Auden explained that he understood the difficulty of writing something vivid and distinctive about that most clichéd of subjects, but welcomed the challenge. In the end, the poem proved too long and complex to be set by Britten, but in it we have a remarkably ambitious and poetically rich attempt to see Christmas in double focus: as a moment in the history of the Roman Empire and of Judaism, and as an ever-new and always contemporary event for the believer. For the Time Being is Auden’s only explicitly religious long poem, a technical tour de force, and a revelatory window into the poet’s personal and intellectual development.”

The tune HALL is by our great living American composer, David Hurd, who I wrote about more extensively here. David Hurd explains “The tune Hall was dedicated to Dr. Barbara Hall, who was professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary from 1978-1984 and an esteemed faculty colleague and friend of mine. She later taught NT at and eventually retired from Virginia Theological Seminary. I’m glad to know you are singing this song with the wonderful Auden text.” We will sing this in the Song of Praise spot, where the kids often sing. The choir will sing the first two verses, and we ask you to join in the 3rd if you feel comfortable. The tune is not hard. This way you can also follow the words along.

Let me get on my soapbox for a minute about singing hymns. I understand that there are many adults who are not comfortable singing. I offer these thoughts—please open the hymnal and meditate on the words, they are the reason each hymn has been chosen for that day of scripture or season. And/or/even better: come see me for a one-on-one lesson in the choir room and I can show you how to reclaim you voice/make your way around a hymn. Finally, please encourage your kids to open the hymnal too! Even pre-readers feel important and teenagers may find out something useful for their English AP – like this week!

Before we sing the Song of Praise our opening hymn is basically based on a C major scale (Doh, a Deer!) which we had fun with in choir Friday doing some solfege!

The tune, GELOBT SEI GOTT is by Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1570-1615). Born into a poor family named Fuchs, Vulpius had only limited educational opportunities and did not attend the university. He Latinized his name after becoming a Latin teacher in Schleusingen, and 1596 until his death he served as a Lutheran cantor and teacher in Weimar. A distinguished composer, Vulpius wrote a St. Matthew Passion (1613), nearly two hundred motets in German and Latin, and over four hundred hymn tunes, many of which became popular in Lutheran churches, and some of which introduced the lively Italian balletto rhythms into the German hymn tunes. ( The text is by Cyril Argentine Alington (1872 –1955) English educator, scholar, cleric, and author. He was successively the headmaster of Shrewsbury School and Eton College. He also served as chaplain to King George V and as Dean of Durham.

The prelude is based on this hymn, a grand setting by our favorite Anglo-Canadian Healey Willan (1880-1968) who I wrote about here. You can hear the tune in the trumpet stop so you will ready to sing it out when we get to the hymn!

Our offertory anthem with all choirs combined is a reworking Faith of our Fathers as Faith of our Mothers. This anthem by North Carolina hymnodist Sally Ann Morris was written for a women’s conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. The text by Mary Louise Bringle refers to the role of women in the history of the church, acknowledging both difficult and joyful experiences. The tune is named BETSEY STOCKTON, after America’s first black single female missionary. Betsey’s last name comes from Robert Stockton, in whose house she was born enslaved, and then “gifted” to his daughter on her marriage to Reverend Ashbel Green, who ultimately became the president of Princeton. The Greens freed her and helped train her in theology and mission, after which she became a missionary to Hawaii, later starting schools in Canada and Philadelphia. I am so happy to learn about this amazing woman!

This anthem will also feature the mother-son team of Teddy Love, oboe, and Charlie Love, piano!

Also, while discussing the words of this hymn with our choristers, their minds were blown when I told them that when I was their age in choir (late 1960s-ouch!) there were no women priests and girls were not allowed to acolyte. Their faces were shocked, and I realize happily that these children have NEVER not had a woman priest. I also realized they need to know the history and what many of us went through (if you were in England you’d have had a hard time finding a girls’ choir too!). Here is some more about the first women in the Episcopal church, the “Philadelphia Eleven.

The presentation hymn, Thou Art the Way has a history with Grace Church, as the words are by Bishop George Washington Doane (1799-1859) who consecrated Grace Church on May 18, 1857. The tune, ST. JAMES is by Raphael Courteville (d. 1772), British organist and political writer. According to, he was the son or grandson of one of the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal who bore the same name, and who died on 28 Dec. 1675. The organ from the Chapel Royal was presented by Queen Mary in 1691 to the church of St. James’s, Westminster, and on 7 Sept. in the same year a Ralph Courtaville, who had been strongly recommended by the Earl of Burlington, and who had previously been a chorister in the Chapel Royal, was appointed the first organist.

Our communion hymn must be Come, My Way, THE CALL. We sang it on October 9 when we celebrated Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday, you can read much more about him here.

It is from his Five Mystical Songs, a choral/baritone set of poems of George Herbert (1593-1633) often used as Easter or wedding texts. Like the Song of Songs these are love poems which function allegorically as a relationship between God or Christ as Love, and the believer as the beloved. The choristers are currently working on another George Herbert text, Vertue.

Finally, a recommended hymn for Sunday (which can also serve as a nod to some little event going on in Britain this weekend) is WESTMINSTER ABBEY. I will play a short setting at communion, we will recess to it, and the postlude is a Trumpet Tune arrangement by American organist/composer K. Lee Scott (b.1950). I just realized as I searched my back blogs that we havn’t done this much since “before times” (maybe in the summer when my blog was on vacation!).

The text is translated from 7th century Latin by John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a prolific writer of prose, poetry and hymns, translator and Anglican priest. Neale was quite high church, in poor health, and enamored of the Oxford movement. Some of his most famous translations (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.

The tune is by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), adapted from then end of a 1690 anthem, O God Thou Art My God (Psalm 63). Purcell, 17th century England’s greatest composer, held many posts in the London music scene including organist at Westminster Abbey, where he is buried.  As well as restoring Anglican church music to glory after its decline in the Civil Wars, he served as an organist of the Chapel Royal (a court appointment). This hymn was just sung gloriously at the coronation of Charles III!

Here is a cool blog about the new music that will be sung this weekend at the coronation.

Saturday will be a big day for the choir as we celebrate the life of George Hayman at 11 am. as George among his many many gifts to us all was a tenor in our choir for so many years. There will definitely be some stories shared about goings-on on the tenor section.

The Harmonium Chamber Singers present their concert Saturday night at 7:30, and also Sunday at 3 pm. in Maplewood.

Keep singing, and thanks for reading!


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