Saintly Music

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In the Episcopal Church we frequently speak of “the prayer book” and “the hymnal.” Churches in the Anglican tradition have had only one standard approved Book of Common Prayer at any one time in history. However, various hymnals and psalters abounded until 1861 when the first standard Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern, was published, a direct outcome of the explosion of hymn texts written during the Oxford Movement in the Church of England in the 1830s.

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“For all the saints,” William Walsham How’s great All Saints’ text, first appeared in Hymns for Saints’ Days and Other Hymns by a Layman (London, 1864). The imagery of this grand text is beautiful and legendary. Indeed, it was published numerous times in various late-19th-century collections. Most hymnals since have limited the text to only eight of the original 11 stanzas. The omitted stanzas are rich as well:

3. For the Apostles’ glorious company
who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to thee
Alleluia!

4. For the Evangelists, by whose pure word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord
is fair and fruitful, be thy name adored:
Alleluia!

5. For Martyrs who, with rapture-kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky
and, seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify:
Alleluia!

Moving toward the 20th century, as the Oxford Movement evolved into Anglo-Catholicism (“high church”), Hymns Ancient and Modern was deemed too “low church” because it did not include enough plainsong chant. In 1906 The English Hymnal was published with Ralph Vaughan Williams serving as one of the two editors. For this hymnal Vaughan Williams wrote the tune Sine Nomine for the “For all the saints” text, and his tune has been associated with the text ever since.

Prior to Sine Nomine the text had been sung to a number of various hymn tunes. Some believe that Vaughan Williams named his tune Sine Nomine (Latin for “without a name”) as a reference to many of the saints whose names are known only to God.

The principal feasts of the Episcopal Church are Christmas Day, The Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ may be celebrated on the Sunday following (supplanting the regular Sunday propers). This year All Saints’ actually falls on a Sunday (Sunday, Nov. 1), and as usual our 10:30 liturgy will begin with this great hymn in procession.


Second photo: All Saints Episcopal Church, Jensen Beach, Fla.
YouTube: 5,000-plus people in London’s Royal Albert Hall singing “For all the saints” for the BBC TV series “Songs of Praise” on 24 October 2004

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A Liturgical Confession

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Is the singing of one of the great anthems by English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983), a setting of the British poet laureate Robert Bridges’ (1844-1930) text “My eyes for beauty pine,” a cheap liturgical ploy for lectionary readings about sight and blindness?

Perhaps. But I happily confess that, upon reading this Sunday’s (Oct. 25) lections, my mind gravitated quickly toward this glorious anthem.

In the First Reading (Job 42), Job answers the Lord with a number of human senses: “Hear and I will speak. I have heard you… but now my eyes see you.” Even the Psalmist calls upon the senses: “I sought the Lord and he answered me. Look upon him and be radiant. I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me.” (Psalm 34)

Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:46ff) also caught my attention. Somewhere between my grandmother reading me Bible stories when I was a preschooler and singing children’s musicals at summer camp during my elementary school years, I have known the story of “Blind Bartimaeus” for a very long time.

Even as a child I remember being struck by the easy with which it all happened. (“That’s it?”) Bartimaeus sets his sights on Jesus with only blind faith, and Jesus heals his blindness based simply upon his faith alone. How many times Jesus heals the afflicted thusly: “Go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”

With eyes and sight on the brain, I delved again into Bridges’ text:

My eyes for beauty pine, my soul for God’s grace:
No other care nor hope is mine, to heaven I turn my face.  

One splendour thence is shed from all the stars above:
‘Tis named when God’s name is said, ’tis Love, ’tis heavenly Love.

 And every gentle heart that burns with true desire
Is lit from eyes that mirror part of that celestial fire.  

Whether for voices or organ or orchestra, Howells could most certainly write grand, sweeping musical phrases. As the Parish Choir sings the Offertory anthem this Sunday, note the crest of the phrase on the word “eyes” from the outset. The highest note of the first section occurs on the word “heaven” not by accident, indeed.

In the middle section, not only does he write another high passage for “heavenly Love,” he even slows down the tempo and harmonic rhythm to make sure we pay close attention to the use of “Love” (capitalized) as an equivalent name for God. He then uses similar tempo and rhythm techniques with the words “celestial fire” at the end with similar sublime effectiveness.

This Sunday is Celebration Sunday in our parish, the day on which we, like Bartimaeus, set our sights on the ministry of this parish for the next year. It is my hope that this significant text will help us all focus our attention upon God, Jesus, and all things heavenward.

A Canticle with Tambourine and Triangle

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As a liturgist, I live my life, or at least the professional part of it, by rubrics. In the free worship tradition, we “just let the Lord lead” (a quote from a favorite past voice professor) with few directions. However, in the liturgical worship tradition, we follow guidelines called rubrics that are based upon Anglican traditions. I try to not always die in the rubrics ditches, but I do believe getting the liturgy correct is important. As I frequently say to our choirs, “God is paying attention and will notice.”

A hymn, Psalm, or anthem may follow. This rubric is one of the most common in the entire Book of Common Prayer for sure, especially in the Holy Eucharist (p. 323 or 355), the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (p. 423), and in the Burial of the Dead (p. 469 or 491). In this usage, an anthem implies any sung piece of music by choir or ensemble or soloist.

One of the following Canticles is sung or said after each Reading. This rubric is found in Morning Prayer (p. 37 or 75) and Evening Prayer (p. 61 or 115) and refers to that great collection of canticles rarely used these days on Sunday mornings: Venite, Jubilate, Benedictus es Domine, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, Te Deum laudamus, etc.

At this point many will want to have the argument that the Church “threw the baby out with the bathwater” when it decided that the principal liturgical act on Sundays should be the Holy Eucharist. Gone are the days of Morning Prayer regularly held on Sunday mornings. The other offices are now called Daily Morning Prayer or Daily Evening Prayer and are intended for weekday worship. I am happy to say that we sing Evening Prayer (a.k.a. Evensong) here five to six times a year, during which we sing gorgeous settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.

So, what is a canticle? Derived from the Latin word for “song,” a canticle is “a hymn or song of praise taken from scripture other than the Psalms.” The Magnificat is the song of praise that Mary exclaimed when she visited her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). The Nunc dimittis is the song of praise that Simeon proclaimed upon seeing the infant Jesus in the Temple some 40 days after his birth (Luke 2:29-32).

The anthem this Sunday (Oct. 18) is a setting of a portion of the Benedicite omnia opera Domine (A Song of Creation) canticle from Morning Prayer. It’s a musical setting by the Reverend Dr. William Bradley Roberts, professor of church music of Virginia Theological Seminary who was with us for our Alleluia Be Our Measure festival in May 2015 and who also composed our parish hymn tune Walnut Grove. The anthem text is a paraphrase of the Benedicite by the Reverend Dr. Carl P. Daw, Jr., an Episcopal priest, former executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and presently adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Theology.

This setting is a lively tune full of syncopations, accents and great word-painting. Bill provides choral textures that even emulate bells in the opening section (“heav’n with praise is ringing”). Along with the running accompaniment notes, he calls for triangle and tambourine for the texts, “Sing, wind and rain! Sing, snow and sleet!” And for the “living things upon the earth” and the “green fertile hills and mountains,” he gives the anthem over to a soloist, which is an effective compositional technique.

A new anthem to our parish music library, we considered including this piece in the sacred arts festival this past spring; alas, time did not allow for it. With its crashing and banging on the organ, supplemented by tambourine and triangle, our Parish Choir’s choral offering this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. might be great fun.

Keeping Up with the Tunes

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After the unsettling times in the 1960s and the 1970s, church denominations experienced in the late 1970s and through the 1980s a virtual explosion of new music and liturgical resources. The Lutheran Book of Worship (both prayer book and hymnal) was published in 1978, and the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer was ratified in 1979 and published three years later.

Every major denomination in this country published a new hymnal during these times: Baptist Hymnal (1975), Worship II (Roman Catholic, 1975), Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal, ratified 1982, published 1985), United Methodist Hymnal (1989), Presbyterian Hymnal (1990), and the New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ, 1995).

Included in these hymnals were representative works of 20th-century contemporary composers from every denomination and from countries worldwide. And, as they say about parish membership directories, “It’s out of date the moment you publish it.”

At this point I should probably say that the Episcopal Church’s previous hymnal, The Hymnal 1940, is one of the longest-lasting hymnals in church music history. As liturgy and music tastes and styles change over time, hymnologists will tell us that the average life of any denominational hymnal is 20 to 25 years. The Hymnal 1940 stood the test of time and was the official hymnal of the Episcopal Church for some 45 years. Yes, there were hymn and service supplements along the way, but the actual hymnal served well.

Once The Hymnal 1982 rolled off of the presses in 1985, the comments and questions (and complaints) came: “Why don’t we have ‘Here I am, Lord’ in our hymnal?” “The type in the new hymnal is too small and too light.” (The Hymnal 1940 had been printed with bookplates and not by a computer typesetting program.)

Moreover, to keep up with the times and the ever-evolving Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer was published in French, Spanish and Latin, and portions have been published in Lakota, Cherokee, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Japanese and Tagalog. And a version of The Hymnal 1982, entitled El Hymnario, was published for Spanish-speaking Episcopal parishes.

Since 1985, to help The Hymnal 1982 and the hymnody of the Episcopal Church keep up with the times, the Church has published a number of hymnal supplements, one of which we have in our pews, Wonder, Love, and Praise (1997). In actuality, this hymnal contains both the old and new: new hymn tunes with old words, old hymn tunes with new words, and much newly composed service music and hymnody. There are two other hymnal supplements as well, but with the Book of Common Prayer, The Hymnal 1982 and Wonder, Love, and Praise all, there are only so many books we can fit into our pew racks in the nave.

For convenience, I confess to often planning hymns from Wonder, Love, and Praise (WLP) as Communion hymns, when worshippers have time to switch books and find the new hymn. However, in recent months we have “branched out” by using WLP hymns as processional hymns, Sequence hymns (at the Gospel), and now a departing procession hymn.

This Sunday (Oct. 11) we will sing “Gracious Spirit, give your servants” (new text, familiar tune Abbot’s Leigh) as the closing hymn. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says that the “first will be last, and the last will be first.” In his hymn text, the Reverend Carl Daw transcribes Jesus’ words with, “Word made flesh, who gave up glory… taking on our human nature to redeem the last and least.”

Musical Mayonnaise

MayonnaiseThis past week, a devoted Parish Choir gave me her “Brahms testimonial,” based upon the Brahms chorale movement the Parish Choir offered at the Offertory this past Sunday. She described the lush intricacies of the various moving vocal lines and how hearing the tenor and bass parts behind her so pleasingly comingled with the alto part that she was singing. Brahms is one of my favorites – organ, choral, symphonic works all – and I happily stopped Parish Choir rehearsal for just a moment while we all reveled and relished in the music of Brahms.

After the Brahms testimonial, on my way home I did a quick mental listing of all the composers represented in our Parish and Motet choirs’ anthems in the past few weeks: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Walford Davies, Giuseppe Pitoni, Ed Beebe, Herbert Howells, Robert Whyte, and even “When the saints” and “I’ll fly away” from the recent Parish Picnic. Then I called to mind the composers coming up: Thomas Walmisley, Felix Mendelssohn, Bill Roberts (Virginia Theological Seminary professor who wrote our parish hymn), Grayston Ives, Gabriel Fauré, Harold Friedell, Charles Gounod, Stephen Cleobury (from King’s College Cambridge, who has conducted Evensong in our own nave) and Maurice Greene.

These lists cover much musicological ground between 16th-centuty England (Whyte) to 17th-century Italy (Pitoni) to 19th-century Germany (Mendelssohn and Brahms) and France (Gounod) to even 20th-century England (Ives) and Pennsylvania (Beebe) and Virginia (Roberts). And I thought, “What a Duke’s mixture of composers and styles!”

Growing up in upstate South Carolina, anyone within a 23-county radius knows precisely where the Duke’s Mayonnaise plant is located (Greenville, S.C.). Whenever a list of entities seemed to not go together necessarily smoothly, the local colloquialism “Duke’s mixture” was applied. Better terms applied to such lists might be collection, combination or potpourri (in the positive) or hodgepodge, jumble, mishmash or mixed bag (in the negative).

I try to keep the musical styles wide and varied in Episcopal liturgy, knowing that the Episcopal Church attracts people from all backgrounds and experiences and with all tastes and desires for music and worship. Reading our rich lectionary readings and then dreaming up anthems, hymns and organ voluntaries to enhance our worship of God and the liturgy stretches my brain and abilities in the best possible ways.

Worship in ancient forms and with ancient music, coupled with contemporary prayers and 20th/21st-century music, is a privilege and challenge, one that I hope stretches all our hearts and minds as we encounter God each week.