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Sunday Music Musings, August 22, 2020

This week I am happy to play more women composers. Nadia Boulanger (1887 –1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. Nadia entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9, studying with Faure and others. She won many prizes and championed her own works and that of her younger sister Lili, a hugely talented composer who died in 1918 at the age of 24. Nadia is known for having taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century, including Daniel Barenboim,  Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, John Eliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand, Darius Milhaud, Astor Piazzolla, Virgil Thomson.

Nadia Boulanger, 1966

Boulanger taught in the US and England, including the Juilliard School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Longy School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family’s flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92. (Wikipedia). From 1921–1935 she taught the French Music School for Americans in Fontainebleau.

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Nadia Boulanger liked to be known as “Mademoiselle” and you can watch a documentary by that name on YouTube.  She was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky, who was a good friend. She also performed occasionally as a pianist and organist. Petite Canon was shared in the publication of the AGO (American Guild of Organists).

For our service music we have left the Gloria based on the Ash Grove, for a Kyrie based on the English folksong Early One Morning, from the same English Folksong Mass by Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. Early One Morning is found in publications as far back as 1787. The well-known melody was first printed by William Chappell in his publication National English Airs c.1855-1859, but may be derived from an earlier song.

The hymn of the day goes with the gospel, when Jesus says to Peter, “who do YOU say I am?” It is officially for the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, which is January 18. The original text by William W. How (1823-1897) was “Thou art the Christ.” (From Born in Shropshire, How studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and Durham University and was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. He served various congregations and became Suffragan Bishop in east London in 1879 and Bishop of Wakefield in 1888. Called both the “poor man’s bishop” and “the children’s bishop,” How was known for his work among the destitute in the London slums and among the factory workers in west Yorkshire. He wrote a number of theological works about controversies surrounding the Oxford Movement and attempted to reconcile biblical creation with the theory of evolution. He was joint editor of Psalms and Hymns (1854) and Church Hymns (1871). While rector in Whittington, How wrote some sixty hymns, including many for children. His collected Poems and Hymns were published in 1886. His best known hymn text is probably “For All the Saints.”

William Walsham How
William How

The tune Wyngate Canon is by one of the greats of Episcopal church music, Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921-2003). Born in Freeport, Illinois, the son of an organ builder, Dirksen played the bassoon in High School and was a drum major. Awarded a scholarship, he then studied organ at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory under Virgil Fox. Many of his hymns were composed for use in Washington National Cathedral, where he served in many capacities from 1942-1992. Some of my other favorite hymns by Dirksen are Vineyard Haven (Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart) and Innisfree Farm (Christ Mighty Savior). As I’ve said every week, tune names usually reference places, and this one honors Dirksen’s eldest son, Richard, who lives with his family on Wyngate Drive in Bethesda, Maryland. The tune is an actual canon or 4 part round, but the three family members of the Pandemic Hymn ensemble had to settle for three parts.  Please add a fourth from home!

The Prelude by Fanny Hensel (which is our postlude) is grand and almost bombastic. I love it, but I almost feel like she is trying to prove she can “play with the boys.” From Wikipedia: Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 –1847), later Fanny [Cäcilie] Mendelssohn Bartholdy and, after her marriage, Fanny Hensel, was a German composer and pianist from the Romantic era. She grew up in Berlin, Germany, and received a thorough musical education from teachers including her mother, Ludwig Berger, and Carl Friedrich Zelter. Her brother Felix Mendelssohn, also a composer and pianist, shared the same education and the two developed a close relationship. Due to the reservations of her family, and to social conventions of the time about the roles of women, a number of her works were published under her brother’s name in his Opus 8 and 9 collections. In 1829, she married the artist Wilhelm Hensel and, in 1830, the two had their only child, Sebastian Hensel. In 1846, despite the continuing ambivalence of her family towards her musical ambitions, Fanny Hensel published a collection of songs as her Opus 1. The next year, she suddenly died of a stroke.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

She composed over 460 pieces of music, including a piano trio, a piano quartet, an orchestral overture, four cantatas, over 125 pieces for the piano, and over 250 lieder, most of which went unpublished in her lifetime. Since the 1990s her life and works have been the subject of more detailed research.

The music historian Angela Mace Christian has written that Fanny Mendelssohn “struggled her entire life with the conflicting impulses of authorship versus the social expectations for her high-class status[…]; her hesitation was variously a result of her dutiful attitude towards her father, her intense relationship with her brother, and her awareness of contemporary social thought on women in the public sphere.”

This week we did indeed have a hymnsing on zoom. It was so great to be together and to know that everyone was wailing from home even if we couldn’t hear each other.

Virtual hymnsing for all ages!

Sunday Music Musings August 15, 2020

Johann David Heinichen (1683 –1729) was a German Baroque composer and music theorist who brought the musical genius of Venice to the court of Augustus II the Strong in Dresden. Heinichen enrolled at Leipzig’s Thomasschule at the age of 13 where he received musical training from the cantor Johann Schelle (1648-1701) and studied organ and was mentored by the influential Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722). Heinichen took a law degree at the University in Leipzig, practiced law in his hometown of Weissenfelds. After some minor court appointments, and dabbling in opera, in 1710, he published the first edition of his major treatise on the thoroughbass . Shortly after this he made the life-altering decision to travel to Italy, to learn from Italian masters, just as Schuetz did early in his career. In 1716, Heinichen met Prince Augustus III of Poland, son of King Augustus II the Strong, in Venice, and thanks to him was appointed the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Kapellmeister in Dresden, where he flourished for many years.

Johann David Heinichen - Home | Facebook
Heinichen–not about beer!

The Love family (and friend) will play an Allegro (fast movement) from his Triosonate. Although there are four players, the basso continuo (cello and keyboard) are considered one part, hence “trio.”

Psalm 133 is short and sweet, so Grace and I have duetted on a favorite children’s choir anthem, Hine Ma Tov by Allan Naplan. It sets verse 1 of Psalm 133 in a klezmer style. It is in Hebrew and then also “translates itself” in English. Allan Naplan grew up on the North Shore near Boston, surrounded by both Jewish and classical music. Naplan composes Jewish works that are universal; songs that can be performed “all throughout the year, not just for Hanukah.” His works have sold 1.3 million copies and have been performed in such high-profile venues as the White House and Carnegie Hall – and, tragically, aboard the space shuttle Columbia, when his “An American Anthem” was the wake-up call on the first morning of its doomed 2003 voyage. Naplan is also a cantorial soloist for multiple houses of worship, and in the past has been an opera singer. He currently lives and works in Arizona as executive and producing director of the Arizona Musicfest performance series. Another piece we sing in the Grace Choirs is Al Shlosha, a real favorite.! Here is a video of us singing it in 2014, so a real trip down memory lane—and guess what? Charlie Love, who played piano in our prelude was the opening treble soloist!Al Shlosha by Naplan – when our high schoolers were in the red choir!

The hymn of the day is a Trinitarian one, “Thou Whose Almighty Word,” words by John Marriott, tune name Moscow.  This tune is also sometimes known as Italian Hymn as it is by Felice de Giardini (1716-1796). Giardini was born in Turin, Italy, studied violin, harpsichord, voice, and composition in Milan and Turin; and from 1748 to 1750 he conducted a very successful solo violin tour on the continent. He came to England in 1750 and for the next forty years lived in London, where he was a prominent violinist in several orchestras. This hymn was written the request of Selina Shirley, the famous evangelically minded Countess of Huntingdon. It was included in Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1769), published to benefit the Lock Hospital in London where Madan was chaplain. In 1784 Giardini traveled to Italy, but when he returned to London in 1790, he was no longer popular. His subsequent tour to Russia also failed, and he died in Moscow in poverty. (Condensed from A sad foornote to the tune name!

Lady Huntingdon and Her Friends
Selina Shirley, evangelical Countess of Huntingdon.

John Marriott (1780-1825) Rector of Cottesbach, in 1780, and educated at Rugby, and Christ Church, Oxford where he was the second ever to obtain honors. He was also Student of Christ Church, and for about two years a private tutor in the family of the Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke presented him to the Rectory of Church Lawford, Warwickshire. This position he retained to his death, although his wife’s health compelled him to reside in Devonshire, by the sea. He published books of sermons, but his hymns were never published with his permission. Also known as the “Missionary Hymn,” this was written “about 1813,” according to his son.

 Our postlude is the last movement of Christine Schulz’s Variations on the Ash Grove that I wrote about in this blog July 18. Next week we will do a different setting of service music, so I say goodbye to The Ash Grove with this cheerful Finale. You can hear the tune in the pedals and the choir bombarde (loud trumpet stop), and hey, we all need something cheerful! Since playing a few movements in July and sharing my blog with her, the composer and I have become kind of penpals. We have a lot in common making virtual pandemic church and having been a long time at our respective churches!

I also made a longer video, as promised for my choirs to warm-up to.

One other thing we are working on is a virtual zoom hymn-sing for next week. We realized that with Covid-19, it is going to be a really long time before we are using hymnals in church, and I have a large amount of not-so-gently used hymnals in the choir room that we are boxing up and offering for drive-thru pick-up (or drop-off). It is gratifying to actually get some response to this. Yes, people want to have a hymnal in their home. That makes me smile. Sunday I will have the hymnals out between 10 and noon. I can also drop them off for you. Hymnsing is Thurdasy August 20 in the Grace Church Zoom room!

Image may contain: outdoor
Drive thru hymnal pick-up 10-noon!

Sunday Music Musings August 8, 2020

Flor Peeters (1903-1986) was a Belgian organist and prolific composer. He became assistant organist at the Cathedral of St. Rombout in Mechelen in 1923, and served as a professor of organ at Ghent Conservatory from 1931 to 1938 and professor of organ at the Tilburg Conservatory in the Netherlands from 1935 to 1948. He wrote a huge output of organ music, especially known for short, useful, liturgical volumes on many hymn-tunes. He was a master of the variation form and a friend and admirer of the great French organist Charles Tournemire (1870-1939). He was also influenced by early music, from Gregorian chant to Renaissance polyphony.

Flor Peeters (Composer) - Short Biography

Joseph Stevenson of Allmusic explains:

“Germany attacked and occupied both Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940. Peeters refused to perform for the German occupiers. As a result, his passport was confiscated. Nevertheless, he was permitted to travel regularly across the border between Belgium and the Netherlands in order to continue his teaching at Tilburg, and, in the course of doing this, he carried secret messages between the authorities of the cathedrals of these two countries.”

Peeters became organ professor of Antwerp Conservatory in 1948, and became director of the Conservatory in 1952. He was in much demand as a teacher and gave master classes in addition to concerts throughout the world, including several teaching visits to Boys’ Town, Nebraska. In 1971, King Boudoin elevated him to the Belgian peerage as Baron Peeters, only the third Belgian musician so honored.

There are several vocal settings of “Whither Thou Goest” by many composers – often offered as wedding repertoire, or called “The Wedding Song.” I always wonder if the brides who pick this text realize it is being sung to a mother-in-law, as in Ruth to Naomi. Naomi has travelled to live in Moab because of a famine, but when her husband and both sons die she prepares to return to Bethlehem, and urges her two foreign daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to find new husbands (the only way for a woman to have security or status). While Orpah returned to her mother’s home, Ruth clung to Naomi and told her that she will stay with her and that Naomi’s God and people will be her God and people. The meaning can be extrapolated into following God’s path, the God of Jacob – Ruth ends up marrying Boaz and becoming grandmother to Jesse, father of David. I want to thank Linda for the beautiful work she did on this solo.

Our hymn of the day, Jesus Lover of My Soul has a strong pedigree, with words by Charles Wesley and a lovely minor key Welsh tune.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707-1799) was the youngest son and 18th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. One could write a dissertation rather than a blog about him. Here are the most pertinent facts from The

Charles Wesley, the son of Samuel Wesley, was born at Epworth, Dec. 18, 1707. He was educated at Westminster School and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated M.A. In 1735, he took Orders and immediately proceeded with his brother John to Georgia, both being employed as missionaries of the S.P.G. He returned to England in 1736. For many years he engaged with his brother in preaching the Gospel. He died March 29, 1788. To Charles Wesley has been justly assigned the appellation of the “Bard of Methodism.” His prominence in hymn writing may be judged from the fact that in the “Wesleyan Hymn Book,” 623 of the 770 hymns were written by him; and he published more than thirty poetical works, written either by himself alone, or in conjunction with his brother. The number of his separate hymns is at least five thousand.

The choristers know that a good guess to the question “what country is this tune from?” is always “Wales!” especially if there are this many Ys in the name!  Aberystwyth, in the historic county of Cardiganshire, literally means “at the mouth of the river Ystwyth.” We also use this tune for “Watchman, tell us of the Night.”

The Welsh composer of this tune, Joseph Parry (1841-1903), born into a poor but musical family, spent some time  in Danville, Pennsylvania in 1854, where he later started a music school. He traveled in the United States and in Wales, performing and composing , and he won several Eisteddfodau (singing competition) prizes. Parry studied at the Royal Academy of Music at Cambridge. He traveled in the United States and in Wales, performing, studying, and composing music, and he won several Eisteddfodau (singing competition) prizes. Parry went on to receive a Doctorate in Music from the University of Cambridge; the first Welshman to receive Bachelor’s and Doctor’s degrees in music from the University. He became professor of music at the Welsh University College in Aberystwyth, and established a school of music there. Later he was lecturer and professor of music at the University College of South Wales in Cardiff (1888-1903). Parry composed vocal and instrumental music, as well as over four hundred hymn tunes. (No relation to C.H.H. Parry).

The postlude is based on the Aberystwyth tune, and is a toccata (showy piece!) alternating flashy fast accompaniment patterns with clear iterations of the hymn in one hand or pedal in alternation with fantasia-like sections based on snippets of the tune. David Bednall is a choral and organ composer published by Oxford University Press. You can find this piece is their collection of music for Lent and Easter. David Bednall studied for a PhD in Composition at the University of Bristol where he combines his extensive freelance career with the post of Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral.

David bednall blackburn cathedral organ
David Bednall at Blackburn Cathedral organ

David works frequently in a duet partnership with Malcolm Archer, the arranger of our Ash Grove Gloria. They share a love of improvisation and this can be heard on their critically acclaimed Sounds Spontaneous which was recorded at Blackburn Cathedral. On this recording they took turns to improvise on themes and chants spanning the liturgical year. This seems to tie us back to our first organ composer of today’s discussion–Flor Peeters, who was inspired by hymns chants, improvising and the liturgical year.

Have a lovely Sunday!

Sunday morning update: Link to the service.

Sunday Music Musings August 1, 2020

If we are learning anything from these turbulent times, it is how history is shaped by those who “tell the story” and in classical music that has been years of dead white men (some of whom I love dearly). Just as Ginger Rogers had to do it all backwards and in heels, imagine an African American woman born in 1887 trying to get her symphonies and concertos performed! So indulge me in a very long program note about someone you may have missed in music history, especially if you are my age.

Florence Price (1887-1953) was born into a middle-class family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She attended New England Conservatory, one of the few conservatories to admit African-Americans at that time. She returned to Arkansas, married and began to raise a family, composing songs, short pieces and music for children. In 1927 she moved to Chicago, divorced her abusive husband and began to compose larger works as well.

Who is Florence Price? — Lake Forest Symphony

Price was the first black woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra when the Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony in E Minor in 1933. She sketched or finished 4 symphonies, wrote songs setting to music poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and became well-known for her arrangements of spirituals. Her orchestral music is Dvorak-like in that it is well-orchestrated late Romantic style claiming elements of the African-American heritage in references to jazz, spirituals, and chromaticism with a luminous quality uniquely her own.

Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker article of 2018:

“The reasons for the shocking neglect of Price’s legacy are not hard to find. In a 1943 letter to the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, she introduced herself thus: ‘My dear Dr. Koussevitzky, To begin with I have two handicaps—those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.’ She plainly saw these factors as obstacles to her career, because she then spoke of Koussevitzky ‘knowing the worst.’ Indeed, she had a difficult time making headway in a culture that defined composers as white, male, and dead. One prominent conductor took up her cause—Frederick Stock, the German-born music director of the Chicago Symphony—but most others ignored her, Koussevitzky included. Only in the past couple of decades have Price’s major works begun to receive recordings and performances, and these are still infrequent.”

Price’s 4th symphony is was just premiered in Arkansas in 2018, and her re-discovered violin concertos were recently recorded by Er-Gene Kahng with the Janáček Philharmonic.

Here is the 2016 East Coast premiere of her 3rd Symphony by the Yale Symphony (on a stage dear to my heart).

Here is our friend Gloria Bangiola singing Price’s setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sympathy, which receives allusion in Maya Angelou’s I know why the Caged Bird Sings. “Price’s song composition balances the extended tonality characteristic of 20th century composition with the singability of American vernacular tunes,” writes Gloria in her recital notes. “Price’s voice is crucial in any conversation about access and agency in the arts. I do not seek to speak for her by singing her composition. Instead, I strive to give Florence Price a forum to speak for herself.”

Gloria Bangiola performs Sympathy by Florence Price, poem by Dunbar

In writing this I read the New Yorker article and an oft-quoted New York Times article about how her music fell into obscurity and is now enjoying a “revival” after 2009 when, in the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois, hours of piano music, piano duets and 2 violin concertos lost for 30 years were discovered in a summer home that she once owned that was about to be renovated.

Digging a little deeper I found this quote on the Harry T. Burleigh Society page: “The (NYT) article suggests Price and her music had been forgotten, only now returning to the public eye. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Florence Price’s music was performed, published, and studied during her life and after her death. Her music was not forgotten in Black classical music or regional communities, as music scholars …discussed earlier this year. Several times she contacted colleagues, such as Marian Anderson and Harry T. Burleigh, to help her access the white-dominated music publishing world… The ‘rediscovered’ Black composer is a tired, damaging trope. It reflects an active process, where certain histories and cultural memories are not considered ‘relevant’ to the mainstream until they prove useful. Black musicians kept the name of Florence Price on their lips, in their minds, and under their fingers. She was not forgotten.” – Kori Hill Ph.D. student in musicology studying Price’s concertos

In Quiet Mood (Sunday’s Prelude) is the only available organ work I know of—if you can correct me please do! It is nice in pandemic to have time to learn new repertoire and this is another piece I was working on to increase my repertoire of women composers.

Thanks for considering the music of this composer and the telling of her story.

Lead Me, Guide Me, is our hymn of the day, from the hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing II.  Here we find another female powerhouse of a composer, Doris Mae Akers (1923 –1995). Akers was an American gospel music composer, arranger and singer. Growing up in Missouri with 9 siblings, she wrote her first song at the age of 10.  Akers moved to Los Angeles, California in 1945 and gained fame as the founder and leader of the Sky Pilot Choir and pioneer of what became known as the Doris Akers/Sky Pilot Sound, referring to her distinctive style of directing and arranging. Here she is singing “Go Down Moses” with Sky Pilot Choir. What a voice!

She was also a recording artist and songwriter in her own right, writing over 300 gospel songs and hymns. Among her best-known compositions were ‘Sweet, Sweet Spirit’, ‘How Big Is God’ and ‘Sweet Jesus’. Here she is singing “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”

In 1958, along with her friend Mahalia Jackson, Doris co-wrote the song, “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain,” which sold over a million records. Through the 80s and 90s she became director of music at Grace Temple Deliverance church in Minneapolis, before her death from cancer at the age of 72. She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. 


Lead Me, Guide Me, was recorded by many and found in many hymnals. It was even in Elvis’ last movie Change of Habit, and also became a big hit/favorite of his.  Akers wrote it in 1953 in Oakland, California. The text is an earnest plea for an intimate walk with God.

Our postlude is “His Eye is on the Sparrow” sung by Donna Ward. Although today it is a staple of African-American worship services, this was written in 1905 by two white songwriters, Canadian-American lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel.  Here it is sung by actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Mahalia Jackson’s recording of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2010. (Mahalia Jackson connects this piece with the last!) It was sung by Whitney Houston in her last movie, Sparkle, which was released posthumously.

Civilla Durfee Martin (1866 – 1948) wrote many religious hymns and gospel songs in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Like Emily Dickinson she was frail and housebound. Her husband, W. S. Martin, studied ministry at Harvard, becoming a Baptist minister, later Disciples of Christ. Together they created hymns and songs, but she used the initials “C.D.” rather than her husband’s name on these collaborations. Some of her most popular pieces include “God Will Take Care of You”, “One of God’s Days”, “Going Home”, and “Like As A Father.” “His Eye is on the Sparrow” was inspired by scripture: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye (Psalm 32:8). “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26) and “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856 – 1932) was a writer of over 7,000 gospel songs. He used several pseudonyms, including Charlotte G. Homer, H. A. Henry, and S. B. Jackson. Sometimes he wrote both words and music and sometimes just the music. Born in Iowa, and raised on a farm, he was given music opportunities with his father and his church. Eventually he served as music director at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, San Francisco, California (1890-2). He moved to Chicago, Illinois, and in 1912 he began working with Homer Rodeheaver’s publishing company. To give you an idea of how prolific he was, Gabriel edited 35 gospel song books, 8 Sunday school song books, seven books for male choruses, six books for ladies, ten children’s song books, nineteen collections of anthems, 23 choir cantatas, 41 Christmas cantatas, 10 children’s cantatas, and books on musical instruction. An index to denominational hymnals published from the 1890s to 1966 lists 37 tunes by Gabriel. One tune that Grace Church (especially Daughters of Zion) would know is “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

The singer of this postlude, Donna Ward, grew up in Madison and began singing church services for me every Christmas Day from about second grade because she was my daughter Virginia’s best friend and I would bribe them both with solos. After she did her Catholic duty finishing CCD, she joined the Grace Choir permanently, becoming head chorister with Virginia, and singing many solos both gospel (City Called Heaven) and classical (Rejoice Greatly from the Messiah during which my daughter Grace fainted—but that is a story for another day!)

Donna endured the death of both of her parents (dear friends of mine) over the space of a year in 2017 and sang at both of their funerals at Grace. Now she is an elementary music teacher at both Kings Road School and Torey J. Sabatini School in Madison, and the lead singer of local cover band, Mama D & the Vexations.   Donna earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Theater from Muhlenberg College in 2009, achieved teaching certification in Music and Theater through New Jersey City University in 2014 and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from The College of New Jersey.  Donna currently lives in Fanwood NJ with her fiancee and their two corgis Lily and Charley.

I had decided on all of this music weeks ago, while honoring Black Lives Matter and women musicians. I had no idea John Lewis’s funeral would be this week and Bill Clinton would reference this piece. (16:48) But such is the mystery.

I am really enjoying learning much more about the composers we sing, and especially YouTube education—there are so many historical recordings up there, whether it is Florence Price, Doris Akers or Elvis, it’s a blessing what we have access to! I hope you go down some fun rabbit holes this week!

I leave you with Donna singing a hopeful solo with Harmonium:

The Rain is Over and Gone – Paul Halley – Harmonium Choral Society -Donna Ward

I write these on Saturday and the services come out Sunday at 8. Here is a Sunday update: link to the service on Grace Church YouTube

Sunday Music Musings July 25, 2020

It’s hard during pandemic to make music together in real time, so it seems like a good time to work up those offerings for instruments alone, like last week’s awesome Bach cello suite. My flute student, Mia, is my neighbor, so we’ve actually been having lessons with her braving the heat in my back yard and me at the piano inside the dining room. But I also gave her my favorite flute alone offering, a very coloristic piece by Debussy. I remember playing it in church in high school—and my organist calling it “Adagio” because, yes, it is very secular—the story of a Greek mythological creature. Yet I believe that any offering of our best work to God is sacred, and this rendition of a flutist in my back yard, attracting the birds and butterflies certainly is.

The socially distant flute lesson

The actual story of Syrinx tells the myth of the invention of the flute, well, panpipes. The demi-god Pan, half god and half man was lusting after the beautiful nymph Syrinx and chasing her through the forest. When she came to the banks of a river, in her desperation to escape, she prayed to Zeus to change her into the reed grasses. When Pan came to the river and couldn’t find her, he sat down and sadly sighed. As he sighed, his breath made a lovely sound blowing across the reeds, so he cut them down and fashioned the first panpipes upon which he played melodies to soothe himself until the nymph was forgotten (not to metion cut down!) In terms of how I think about this as a church prelude, it really does remind me of last week’s reading “sighs too deep for words.”

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a very influential and ground-breaking composer, considered the first “Impressionist” although he himself rejected the term. He wrote Syrinx in 1913. It contains whole tone, chromatic, and far-eastern scales, and is the first and most important work for solo flute since the Baroque.

Our hymn of the day (Father We Thank Thee Who has Planted-#302) although a communion hymn, was taken from a post-communion prayer, and speaks to the Gospel of the sower last week and the mustard seed this week. Although we are not breaking bread now, we are still the church in our hearts, where the word of God is planted. The explains: “This hymn text is rooted in the early Christian church, all the way back to the Greek-language Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a Christian manual from the Church of Antioch, Syria, which some scholars date as early as A.D. 110.” The is text poetically translated by Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984) who I wrote about Father’s Day weekend when we sang one of his 17 offerings in the 1982 hymnal, Our Father, by Whose Name (Hymn 587). Son of a bishop, Tucker was educated at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1945, he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia. He never thought of himself as a poet until he was asked to serve on the Joint Commission for the 1940 hymnal, when he began translating and theologically working over older texts. He also worked on the commission that reviewed material leading up to The Hymnal 1982, and 1980, was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America.

The tune is RENDEZ À DIEU, originally from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561) and Guillaume Franc, and harmonized by Claude Goudimel (1505-1572). It has wonderful harmonies which this week I discovered are hard to sing alto and play at the same time! No boring alto line here! Here is more about Goudimel from the “When the complete Genevan Psalter with its unison melodies was published in 1562, Goudimel began to compose various polyphonic settings of all the Genevan tunes. He actually composed three complete harmonizations of the Genevan Psalter, usually with the tune in the tenor part: simple hymn-style settings (1564), slightly more complicated harmonizations (1565), and quite elaborate, motet-like settings (1565-1566). The various Goudimel settings became popular throughout Calvinist Europe, both for domestic singing and later for use as organ harmonizations in church. Goudimel was one of the victims of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots, which oc­curred throughout France.”

Claude Goudimel - Wikipedia
Claude Goudimel

Our postlude is a Toccata by Emma Lou Diemer. As I tell the children at the Halloween concert before playing Bach—“toccata” means “touch” but in organ music it means touch as fast as you can in a showy manner! I love this postlude because it is actually not very hard, while still being showy and exciting. I am also continuing my presentations of women composers, and Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927) is a very important composer of the last 70 years. She holds degrees from Yale University (BM,1949; MM, 1950), Eastman School of Music (Ph.D.,1960) and also studied composition in Brussels on a Fulbright Scholarship (1952-53).  Diemer has written many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, voice, chorus, and electronic media. Diemer is a keyboard performer and over the years has given concerts of her own organ works at Washington National Cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Grace Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, and others. Diemer’s compositional style over the years has varied from tonal to atonal, from traditional to experimental. (Wikipedia). If you would like to hear a truly hard keyboard work, have a listen to the Piano Toccata (1972). I also love her choral music, and her Three Shakespeare Madrigals are now a staple of High School Choral Repertoire. What versatility!

Emma Lou Diemer

Finally, I actually “attended” a virtual RSCM Camp, seeing many friends from the Kings College Course in Wilkesbarre. We had some education, a talent show, and even a fairly satisfying “hymn sing.” Although everyone was on mute, I wailed away here at home, happy that someone else was playing the hymn, and somehow seeing their faces made it better. Tomorrow I even get to chant my favorite line (“keep me as the apple of an eye”) in out divvied-up zoom Compline service. But boy, do we miss each other, singing together, and the amazing space at St. Stephen’s. Here is grand piece from a few years back, the words of which are pretty eerily appropriate right now!

For, lo, I raise up that bitter and hasty nation,
Which march through the breadth of the earth,
To possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.
They are terrible and dreadful,
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
And are more fierce than the evening wolves.
And their horsemen spread themselves,
Yea, their horsemen come from far.
They fly as an eagle that hasteth to devour,
They come all of them for violence;
Their faces are set as the east-wind,
And they gather captives as the sand.
Yea, he scoffeth at kings,
And princes are a derision unto him.
For he heapeth up dust and taketh it.
Then shall he sweep by as a wind that shall pass over,
And be guilty,
Even he, whose might is his God.
Art not thou from everlasting,
O Lord, my God, mine Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, thou hast ordained him for judgement,
And thou, O Rock, hast established him for correction.
I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower,
And look forth to see what he will say to me,
And what I shall answer concerning my complaint.
And the Lord answered me and said:
The vision is yet for the appointed time,
And it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie:
Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.
For the earth shall be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
But the Lord is in his holy temple:
Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 1.6–12, 2.1–3,14,20)

Stanford–For Lo! Richard Tanner conductor, future head chorister of mine front right!

Have a great week! “Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.”

Sunday Music Musings July 18, 2020

The organ prelude is the first two movements of “Variations on the Ash Grove” (Welsh tune we are using for our Gloria) by Minnesota composer Christine Shulz. (I played a movement as postlude last week). I love her story: “Music has always been a very important part of my life.  I began taking organ lessons at age 4 and played for my first church service at Garden City Christian Church at age 7.  My dad built special pedal extensions so that I could reach the organ pedals!  At age 10, I was hired to provide organ music while people dined at the Cat ‘n’ Fiddle Supper Club near New Ulm — a few years later, I was “promoted” to waitress. Two months after graduating from Lake Crystal High School, my alto saxophone and I toured 7 European countries with the U.S. Collegiate Wind Band.  That fall, I began my seemingly endless college career at MSU, earning B.S. (music), A.S. (secretarial), and Master of Music (organ performance) degrees.  During this time, I was the accompanist for the MSU Concert Choir, and we were invited to perform at Bethlehem.  I remember falling in love with the big, beautiful sanctuary and wanted to get my fingers on the pipe organ!  I was delighted to learn in 1990 that Bethlehem was looking for an assistant organist.  I auditioned and was offered the job– but before deciding to take it, I attended a worship service to get a “feel” for the place.  The warm welcome from strangers and the four pastors, plus hearing the uplifting music, made my decision easy!”

Christine Schulz.jpg
Christine Schulz, composer

This reminds me of exactly 30 years ago when I was called to Grace church. The air-conditioning was broken when I auditioned, it was HOT and a lovely group of choir members came out to put me through my paces on hymn playing! I left for a Cape May vacation only to find a note from Father Bob Ihloff pinned to my front door upon my return—as they were frantically trying to get hold of me! Such was life before cell phones. In August I secretly visited a service in the congregation to “get a feel” and someone told me at the peace that I should join the choir! I took it as a good sign that the congregation was paying attention!

Composer Christine Schulz worked as a medical transcriptionist and part-time organist until after 16 years, and ready for a change, she also became office assistant position at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. She considers having “Variations on The Ash Grove” for organ published by MorningStar Music in 1995 a highlight of her career. She is secretary for the Sioux Trails Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and since February of 1984, she’s been the rehearsal/performance pianist for over 130 musicals at MSU-Mankato. Everyone has their own way of crafting a life in music.

Our Hymn of the Day goes with the Old Testament lesson, of Jacob’s dream. Jacob’s Ladder is an English folk tune, set in our hymnal by Jack Noble White (of “First Song of Isaiah—Surely it is God who Saves me” fame). The words are by Harry Loper, and the only information about him in the hymnary is that he was living in Camden NJ in 1902. In the history of Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden NJ I found a bit more: “On Monday evening, November 25th, 1895, the new pipe organ was opened with a great recital by S. Tudor Strang, assisted by the Orpheus quartette. Many other improvements to the church were made…At the beginning of the year 1896, Rev. Thomas Harrison, known as the “Boy Preacher,” assisted in Revival Services, continuing for eight weeks. The singing was in charge of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Loper, the singing evangelists, who had been for some time members of Tabernacle Church. They rendered very efficient service in the Revival. The whole of North Camden was mightily stirred.”

Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden 1893

I love that there are so many talented parishoners in our church-so our postlude is Erik Donough on saxophone. When looking for wonderful solo instrument/no accompaniment music, J.S. Bach’s cello suites are a go-to. Suite No. in G is the first of 6 six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012, composed them during Bach’s Köthen period 1717–23. They were not well known until Pablo Casals began recording them 1936-1939, at which point they became extremely popular.

Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G in Anna Magdalena’s handwriting

The Prelude from the first suite with its arpeggiated figures has inspired transcriptions for almost every instrument. Here’s Yo-Yo Ma who won a grammy for his recording of the cello suites. A quick search of YouTube found transcriptions for violin, viola, guitar, marimba, electric bass, flute, “Beach clarinet” …you get the picture! Enjoy Erik’s summery saxophone version!

Sunday Music Musings July 11, 2020

This week famed Italian composer Ennio Moriconne passed away at the age of 91. You might think you don’t know this composer, yet you probably do. As the New York Times obituary headline said “His vast output included atmospheric music for spaghetti westerns in his native Italy and scores for some 500 movies by a Who’s Who of directors.” I can’t do better than the Times, so I hope you will have a look. He scored movies ranging from “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Untouchables,” “Cinema Paradiso,” (a favorite of mine—look for the scene where the priest yells at the acolyte for falling asleep and forgetting to ring the bell), to Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015). You may have heard his music on The Simpsons or The Sopranos. Here is Yo-Yo Ma playing The Ecstasy of Gold, from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Morricone at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Ennio Moriconne, Italian film composer

Gabriel’s Oboe” (condensed from Wikipedia) is the main theme for the 1986 film The MissionJesuit Father Gabriel, walks up to a waterfall and starts playing his oboe, to befriend the natives with his music so he can carry his missionary work in the New World. The Guaraní tribesmen, who have been stalking him from a distance, approach Gabriel for the first time, puzzled by the sounds of the unknown instrument. This is one of Morricone’s most famous tunes, and he arranged it for orchestras, and soprano Sarah Brightman convinced Morricone to allow her to set lyrics to the theme to create her own song, “Nella Fantasia“. In 2010, Morricone encouraged soprano Hayley Westenra to write English lyrics for “Gabriel’s Oboe” in her album Paradiso. There are choral versions by Tom Fettke and Craig Hella-Johnson.

Moriconne was born into a musical family in 1928 in Rome, under Fascist rule. His father, a professional trumpet player, taught him trumpet and other instruments. “His World War II experiences — hunger and the dangers of Rome as an “open city” under German and American armies — were reflected in some of his later work.” (NYT)

It can be a blessing and a curse to grow up in a musical family—but more of a blessing during pandemic, when you can make real time music with your family. One of our favorite musical families at Grace includes Teddy Love on oboe, and the team of Kimberly Love on violin, her friend Aaron on cello, and Charlie Love on piano who put together a tribute video of Gabriel’s Oboe that is our prelude this week.

My own family choir provides the hymns, and I have now affectionately named them “The Pandemic Hymn Ensemble.” I know everyone looks for our cat Peter, but he’s been a bit shy—he is actually behind Grace, you may catch a glimpse of his tail right at the beginning. I am really grateful for them so I don’t have to sing these alone!

can you see Peter’s tail?

This week we are doing a hymn you may not have heard before, but it is really a beautiful tune and text. Speaking of families, the tune is by Jane Marshall, and her son Peter was my organ teacher at Yale, and is Keyboardist for the Atlanta Symphony. I asked Peter about the tune name WALDEN, and he shared that it is his grandmother’s maiden name. Jane Marshall (1924-2019) is one of a very few women composers found in the Hymnal 1982, so it is about time we sing this beautiful tune that sounds like the bell-peal Queen’s Change. 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.

The text for the hymn is by John Cawood (b. Derbyshire 1775-1852). He was of humble background and studied hard to become a priest. His 17 hymns are found in many collections, but were never published by himself. The text goes particularly well with Sunday’s Gospel.

Last week I talked a bit about how hard it is to make vacation happen, or make summer feel different from spring when we are mostly still social distancing at home. I have picked a new “Gloria” setting “The Ash Grove,” a Welsh tune that although not in our hymnal, is in over a hundred others, and is quite familiar and cheerful for summer use. It is from the English Folk Song Mass by Malcolm Archer, English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. This is provided by a wonderful subscription publishing company out of North Carolina, St. James Music Press. Music Directors, consider using them, as for $139 a year you get unlimited access to wonderful compositions for all levels or choirs, bells, organ and instruments. Especially nowadays, it is great that streaming and printing licensing is included, and in the case of this mass, actual organ and choir files, giving our virtual choir process a bit of a summer rest. Please sing along, as we have provided the music right in the video!

The organ postlude is the third movement of “Variations on the Ash Grove” by Christine Shulz. You may see that I made a commitment to myself in both Harmonium Choral Society and church programming to improve the percentage of women composers and composers of diverse backgrounds that I present. In this day and age a little internet research provides a lot of information! I will talk more about this composer in the upcoming weeks as I play the rest of the movements to go with our “Ash Grove Gloria” singing.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a family to make some music with, please appreciate them! If not, sing at home, take a zoom voice lesson, join a virtual summer sing, or a virtual RSCM camp, play your flute to the birds, remember to warm-up!

And Happy Birthday to my firstborn musical child! She’s doing the essential work as a music therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and it makes me so happy she still writes songs.

Sunday Music Musings July 4, 2020

This week I might want to make this blog a bit shorter, as a nod to a “holiday” weekend. What makes a holiday in pandemic? You have to make your own. For me it was watching Hamilton with my family last night.  I remember driving home from Cape May in 2016 and listening to the whole show while my daughter Grace explained it. Last summer we finally went to the room where it happened. Last night, watching on Disney+, I especially enjoyed having closed captioning on–highly recommended!

As a nod to this 4th if July, I am playing a prelude based on “America the Beautiful,” by Katharine Lee Bates (1893), tune name Materna. Bates went to Wellesley and later became an English Professor there. The provides this information: “In the summer if 1893 when she was lecturing at Colorado College she went to the top of Pike’s Peak. Inspired by the beauty of the view she wrote all four verses of ‘America the Beautiful’ which was an instant hit when it was published. She had an intimate relationship with Katharine Coman, dean of Wellesley, who she lived with for 25 years, until Coman’s death. ‘Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance’ celebrates their love and partnership. She enjoyed traveling, the out of doors, reading and friends.”

Katharine Lee Bates

My favorite verse is the third. After 9/11, that thing about alabaster cities used to make me cry, but now the last two lines resonate more, speaking to individual rights versus the good of all.

O beautiful for patriot dream

that sees beyond the years

thine alabaster cities gleam,

undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

confirm thy soul in self-control,

thy liberty in law.

Image may contain: stripes

The tune is by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) a native of Newark, New Jersey, who became organist/choirmaster at Grace Church in Newark from 1880 until his death in 1903. The tune was originally meant for the text “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem,” but a publisher paired it with Bates’ poem in 1910, earning Bates posthumous induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

And finally, Charles Callahan is an incredibly prolific organ composer, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pa., and The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. (I feel a special affinity to Curtis, having grown up in Philadelphia, and having studied at a scholarship student at the Germantown Branch of the Settlement Music School, a place where Mary Louise Curtis’s portrait used to look down on me as I did my homework in the waiting room).

The Canticle is a Jubilate we used as a psalm a few weeks ago (Psalm 100). Trying to record Anglican chant virtually only points up how much we depend on being able to hear one another to “sing with one voice.” I still love seeing all the choir members who were willing to take a stab at this. Anglican chant is fairly unique to the Episcopal church, and strives to recreate a speaking cadence that is harmonized.

The hymn of the day, 692 in the hymnal 1982, references the Gospel “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (which of course, makes some of us think of Handel’s Messiah). The text “I heard the voice of Jesus say” is by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), whose family has had representatives among the clergy of the Church of Scotland during two centuries and more. He was a Scottish minister and hymnodist.

The tune 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.

Thomas Tallis - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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. That work is scored for an expanded string orchestra divided into three parts: orchestra I, a full-sized string orchestra; orchestra II, a single desk from each section; and a string quartet. 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.

I recently learned a new organ voluntary on this tune by Gerald Near (b. 1942), which is the postlude. 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.

So much for shorter…but I realized I am using these blogs to “talk” to my choirs who can’t gather now, and I really love what I am learning. For example, I did not realize the Newark NJ connection to America the Beautiful.

I also made my choirs a video this week so they keep their voices in shape. feel free to use and share! Happy independence Day!

Sunday Quarantine Deep-dive June 28, 2020

We have developed a system of meeting as a chorus on Sunday nights over the last two month of pandemic life. On zoom, first we have a “guest” instrumentalist or composer, then a social time, including a kahoot game about each section (tonight the tenors), and then we sing the piece of the day, plus “Where There is Light in the Soul” by Elizabeth Alexander, which we will record soon virtually. Tonight I am adding a sing-along for our final event before summer hiatus—We will play our YouTube of “Let the River Run” and sing along (muted of course L).

Tonight’s special guest is composer Lori Laitman. Her piece which I programmed on the “moon” concert is definitely the most challenging musically, so we’ve been having some “sectionals” leading up to tonight’s “sing through.” (Tenors, that’s why yours is at 7 tonight).

Lori’s setting of one of her Art Songs, Partial Lunar Eclipse, for chorus follows logically on last week’s discussion of Richard Hundley’s Moonlight’s Watermelon and Elena Bird’s lovely introduction to Art Song. Here is a recording of baritone Richard Scarlata singing it.

Described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and hundreds of songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets (including those who published in the Holocaust). Her music is widely performed, internationally, internationally and throughout the United States, and has generated substantial critical acclaim. The Journal of Singing wrote “It is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music.” Lori is also the sister of our good friend at Morris Arts, Lynn Siebert!

Lori’s most famous choral piece is Vedem, an oratorio that tells the story of the boys of Terezin and their secret journal Vedem (Czech for “In the Lead”). The Three Feathers is a one-act children’s opera commissioned by The Center for the Arts at VA Tech. Based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, given a feminist take, the opera presents a young female protagonist, Princess Dora, as its hero. The opera The Scarlet Letter was recently premiered by Opera Colorado and released by Naxos. If you explore Lori’s unofficial biography you can find the inspiring story of how she balanced a music career and raising three children, and how she came to vocal writing and Art Song fairly late in that career.

Lori provides these notes for Partial Lunar Eclipse:

Partial Lunar Eclipse Sept. 7, 2006 sets a poem by Sri Lankan poet Anne Ranasinghe. The song was composed in 2007 for solo voice with piano, the first of two songs of a short cycle entitled And Music Will Not End, commissioned by the Lyrica Society of Word Music Relations. In 2018, the Alexandria Choral Society, under the direction of Brian J. Isaac and the Virginia Choral Society, under the direction of Sarah Gallo, co-commissioned me to re-envision the song for chorus with piano accompaniment.

The poem reflects the mystery and timelessness of the universe, our place in that universe, and Anne’s realization that she was nearing the end of her life. I found the poem to be particularly well-suited to a choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and the richness of the choral adaptation, with the colors of the additional vocal lines and richness of the choral sound helping to create a sense of the vastness of the universe. The piano part proceeds along its own orbit, slightly dissonant and repetitive. Above this the voices glide with several instances of word painting: for example, a small descending motifs associated with the word “slipping”; a quickened pace as the “orb” begins to “sail its lonely journey”; and a climax with a long, loud choral chord emphasizing the idea of a “link with the universe”. As the song draws to a close, the original pacing returns, and the voices and the accompaniment drift off unresolved. Cementing the idea of “no return”.

“No return” could also be biographical of the poet’s early life. Anne Ranasinghe (1925-2016) was born Anneliese Katz in in Essen, Germany. Fearful for her after Kristallnacht, in 1938 her parents sent her away to stay with an aunt in England. Her parents and all other relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Later she left England when she married a Sri Lanken doctor, becoming a citizen in 1956. Sri Lankan blogger Uditha Devapriya  sums it up thus: “the theme she resorted to the most: the thin, fragile line between the past and present, between forgetting and remembering.”

One more thing will aid your understanding of this poem:

pe·num·bra /pəˈnəmbrə/

  1. the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. ASTRONOMY
  2. the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse. ASTRONOMY
  3. the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core.

Partial Lunar Eclipse

The eerie drama

of moon and earth and cloud:

an eclipsed orb slipping

from penumbra to umbra

to penumbra, reappearing

newly created, from earth’s shadow,

to sail its lonely journey —

golden, remote, mysterious;

a link with the infinite universe.

I too will slip

from penumbra to umbra, but

while the moon navigates the millennia

for me there will be no return.

Partial Lunar Eclipse, Sept. 7th, 2006 by Anne Ranasinghe(1925-2016).

Used by permission of the poet.

Sunday Music Musings June 27, 2020

Motto of the Royal School of Church Music:

Psallam spiritu et mente

I will sing with the spirit and the understanding also

(I Corinthians xiv 15)

Choir reocognition 2019

This Sunday we thank the acolytes, Sunday School and Choirs. Traditionally on a Sunday in June, our youngest choristers who have been in choir one year receive crosses with a black ribbon (and they will have them when we return to robing and singing), then my children’s choir assistant and I spend a long morning switching out all the crosses/ribbons to colors that reflect the years of service. Susie is making a gorgeous bulletin, so I will link to that Sunday when the service goes up on YouTube, and you can see everyone’s name, their years of service, and my awesome assistants, librarian, and head choristers. The Head choristers even made a virtual video of the head chorister badge hand-off I think you will enjoy.

The youngest of our children have still been meeting and learning sight-singing and good vocal skills on zoom, mostly one-at-a-time. Our older singers have zoomed socially and joined in some virtual choir anthems. One of the pieces the younger singers use in their lessons will become the School Choir Virtual Anthem this week. I am so proud of them, because ultimately this required them to sing by themselves (or with a sibling) and self-direct their notes, up and down, leap and step. We miss being mentored by our older peers, the teenagers, but due to the magic of video editing, we are together this week.

You may recognize the text of the Prayer of St. Patrick as the middle verse of Hymn 370, I Bind Unto Myself, that we often sing at confirmation and Trinity Sunday (not this year, 7 verses in pandemic were too daunting). It is verse 5, where we break into another tune. This ancient text is attributed to St. Patrick, the 2nd Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland (c.372-466). The English version is by Cecil Frances Humphries (1818-1895), wife of Rev. William Alexander, the Anglican bishop of Ireland. She was a poet of many hymns including a whole collection for children (think “All Things Bright and Beautiful”) She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Cecil Frances Alexander Poems > My poetic side
Cecil Francis Alexander

The treble setting is by William Shoenfeld (b.1949), member of the Choral Conductor’s Guild of California, organist, and composer of church music. Here we are singing it at a choral festival we hosted a few years ago with the American Boychoir training choir, NJYC Choristes, and the Hampshire Choral Society.

Our offertory hymn is Dr. Anne’s favorite, King of Glory, King of Peace, #382. I don’t know which I love more, the words by George Herbert, or the tune by David Charles Walker, named after General Seminary in New York City (remember, hymn means text, and tunes are usually named for places).

Walker died in 2018—here is an excerpt from his obituary: “The Rev. David Charles Walker, Class of 1973 (General Seminary), — priest, chaplain, organist and composer — died Dec. 3, 2018. He served as chaplain and director of pastoral care at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles from 1991 – 2003 and previously served congregations in San Diego, Beverly Hills, and Brooklyn New York. Walker also served General as Organist and Director of Music. He composed two hymn tunes included in Hymnal 1982: “General Seminary,” with the text “King of Glory, King of Peace” by George Herbert (Hymn 382), and “Point Loma,” with the text “Baptized in water” (Hymn 294).  After serving three years on General’s faculty, he moved to parish life, becoming rector of St. Philip’s, Dyker Heights-Brooklyn for the next four years. In 1980 he moved to San Diego to become associate rector at All Souls’ Church. Five years later, he began his ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles as associate for worship and pastoral care at All Saints, Beverly Hills. Walker became interim priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, Monrovia, in 1990 before moving to Good Samaritan Hospital, by then a century-old diocesan institution, where he served as chaplain and director of pastoral care until his retirement.”

George Herbert (1593-1633) is one of my favorite poets: a Welsh-born metaphysical poet, orator, and priest. One of my other favorite texts by George Herbert is Bob Chilcott’s setting of “Vertue” , I just love discussing these profound concepts of what is transient (day, spring, rose) and what lasts (soul) with the children.

I want to take this moment to thank what I have now dubbed “the Pandemic Hymn Ensemble” which is basically my family, recording around the piano every Wednesday. Grace, Jabez, thank you! Grace is also my tech help, aiding me with wordpress and uploading videos to google drive. Peter the cat eats my paper when he wants attention, and shows up in hymns only when it pleases him.

Image may contain: Grace Van Cleef and Anne Matlack, screen

I want to also thank my singing staff, Brandon Johnson-Douglas, who jumped in with the Gargoyles right before the Halloween concert, and Katie Hendrix as always for her work with the children and beautiful singing of any part thrown at her!

Our adults and older choristers recorded K. Lee Scott’s Chorister’s Prayer. K. (Kayron) Lee Scott is an internationally known musician and composer of sacred music from Alabama. He composed some of our favorite anthems, like “A Vineyard Grows,” “The Apple Tree,” and one we often do on Easter “The Glory of Christ.”  

The original Chorister’s Prayer text is:

Bless, O Lord, us thy servants,

who minister in thy temple.

Grant that what we sing with our lips,

we may believe in our hearts,

and what we believe in our hearts,

we may show forth in our lives.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Here is more about its origins from the RSCM website: “The Chorister’s Prayer seems to have first appeared in The Choirboy’s Pocket Book, published by the School of English Church Music (the former name of the RSCM) in 1934. Despite being so well known, the prayer is not given an author in this source (some say it was the RSCM’s founder, Sir Sydney Nicholson, while others link it to Cosmo Gordon Lang, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1929). The English version of this Prayer appears to be very close to the Latin of 1595–96

Vide, ut, quod ore cantas, corde credas, et quod core credis, operibus comprobes.

But this year, I felt sad that we were not actually “in thy temple” so when Bishop Hughes called for “Quaratine Prayers” from members of the diocese of Newark, I wrote a parody version for quarantine:

The prelude was me trying out an app called “A Cappella” with the bells on a Saturday, which is my day to be in the church building. This app allows you to layer parts over yourself. It was fun, but I would much prefer being able to have actual multiple people—but until then…

So many chins though…

The postlude is a setting of another hymn we would sing on Choir Recognition Sunday “When in Our Music God is Glorified,” tune originally by the great late Romantic Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and text by the Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)-one of the most important 20th century hymn composers. Here is the text which according to “is the only hymn text in Christendom that explains the reasons for church music while simultaneously offering “alleluias” to God. The various stanzas deal with our humility in performance (st. 1), the aesthetics of musical worship (s1. 2), and the history of church music (st. 3). The final two stanzas present a biblical model (st. 4) and quote Psalm 150 (st. 5).”

Robert Hobby’s joyful setting sets the tune clearly in the trumpet in the left hand, and later in canon between hands and feet. Hobby is a prolific composer and church musician from Indiana.

It is really hard for our choir people not to sing together—our favorite thing to do—but I am so grateful that they have been staying together as a community. We WILL sing again, and our faith will keep us strong. I am grateful that I have time to write these blogs of the stories we would be sharing in rehearsal.

Please everyone, keep singing at home, as I leave you with the collect for church musicians from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace Church 1938 Boy’s Choir