This Sunday: Music for a Texanglophile

An·glo·phile /ˈaNGɡləˌfīl/ noun (1) a person who is fond of or greatly admires England or Britain, adjective (1) fond of admiring England or Britain.

Yes, it is no secret that I am an Anglophile. With Queen Elizabeth II recently becoming the longest-reigning British monarch in history, coupled with the season 6 premiere of “Downton Abbey” in the U.K. this past Sunday evening, keeping Anglophile pride in check has been difficult in recent days.

And this Sunday evening’s Choral Evensong literature, which will be sung by the Motet Choir, does not help the humility cause either. The evening canticles Magnificat and Nunc dimittis that will be sung are examples of the most sublime, beloved, well-known English cathedral music of all time. Famous 20th-century English composer Herbert Howells (1882-1983) was invited to serve as acting organist of St. John’s College, Cambridge, during World War II; the war was a prolific time for Howells and established a close association for him with Cambridge.

The dean of King’s College, Cambridge (St. John’s and King’s have enjoyed a happy choir rivalry for centuries) invited Howells to write a set of canticles for King’s; he wrote Jubilate, Te Deum, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis settings, along with a complete Communion set, and named them Collegium Regale (Latin for “King’s College.”) These compositions are among the grandest, most significant choral settings of choral literature.

Dr. Jane Gamble, Holy Communion’s new assistant minister of music, is a Howells scholar and will expertly accompany these pieces. Indeed, these canticles, as they say, “are not to be missed.”

Texan /ˈtɛksən/ noun (1) a native or inhabitant of Texas, adjective (1) of or relating to Texas or its inhabitants.

Yes, I lived in Houston, Texas, for six very happy years of my life in the early 1990s, and as you can imagine, I made a pretty good transplanted Texan. The larger-than-life Texas pride can also be difficult to keep in check, but I found being a Texan attractive and captivating. If southerners are “colorful characters,” Texans are their own “color” alone.

Composer Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992) was also a transplanted Texan by way of Illinois, Massachusetts and West Virginia. While some church musicians dismiss Natalie’s music as simplistic, I find beauty and craft in its simplicity, especially her anthems for children. Long story short: Natalie was the music secretary of Highland Park United Methodist Church, which sits on the front corner of the Southern Methodist University campus. She had written some children’s anthems, setting her own texts to music, which is a bit unusual for composers. She shared her work with her church music director, who called up the composition faculty at SMU; Natalie was quickly enrolled in composition classes, and the rest is history.

Our children’s choir, expertly directed by Mrs. Ellen Koziel, also new assistant minister of music, will sing Natalie’s simple, sublime anthem, “Feed my lambs,” during Communion this Sunday morning. These children have had only three rehearsals with Mrs. Koziel this choir season, and our congregation will be touched with the sweet sounds of this beautiful anthem and the sweet voices singing it.

From the complex grandeur of Howells to the simplicity of Natalie Sleeth, from ancient texts to contemporary prose, from Anglophile to Texan, from pride to humility, God will be praised and worshipped this Sunday. Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone the glory.

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