One of my graduate school teachers always said, “We must perform the music of contemporary American composers often; otherwise, how will they be encouraged to write new good music for us?” When a patron or institution has the rare, significant opportunity to commission a new musical work, new relationships are formed: between patron and composer, between composer and choir, between composer and congregation (either as singers or listeners), between God and cosmos. If the new work is then recorded, historical relationships are also forged worldwide.
This weekend Church of the Holy Communion is the host of a signal event. When over a year ago we brainstormed the idea of hosting a sacred arts festival, which would be the intersection for sacred artists, writers/poets and musicians, we set aside resources to commission a new musical work. As our parish is experiencing a period of rejuvenation and growth, we also had the idea of commissioning a parish hymn to identify ourselves and our ministry. Only a few months later, the hymn tune Walnut Grove was born as a musical identifier for our parish.
The process of selecting the text “Come, new heav’n, new earth descending” was a God-filled moment as well. As William Bradley Roberts, the composer of Walnut Grove, says, “A good text will write its own tune,” and this hymn is a prime example. With the festival taking place in Eastertide, “Alleluia” was already a major punch word. When we happened upon Susan Palo Cherwien’s fifth stanza, “Alleluia be our measure,” we knew this phrase defined our Resurrection mission and identity. Bill Roberts’ soaring musical phrases and lofty Alleluia descant define this moment in time and ministry for our parish. May “Alleluia be our measure” and a perpetual call to ministry to us from this time forth!
Photos – Above: Susan Palo Cherwien’s text to the new hymn; composer Bill Roberts.
Photos – Below: Susan Palo Cherwien, visual artist Mel Ahlborn, who has created an illuminated manuscript based on Cherwien’s words.