This 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.