The winter’s wait

Red_rose_in_snow_AB2013I have become a text-driven sacred musician. I still love to perform and listen to great music, which has not changed since I used to sit on the chancel floor as a preschooler watching the organist play the postlude with her feet. I remember my choir-member father (who always had an after-church tee-time) picking me up by the armpits and saying, “Come on… we’ve got to go.”

To this day one of my mentors will tell you that I entered graduate school as a recital organist and emerged as a sacred musician; I think he has me pegged pretty accurately.

We are entering a church season of great texts, all of which point toward the recognition and arrival of the Christ child. Many of these texts easily translate to some basic terminology: wait, watch, keep the lights on, be ready, don’t miss this.

Last Sunday morning (Nov. 29), the First Sunday of Advent, the anthem text was a beloved favorite, albeit with a slightly different translation from the original German:

A rose there is a-springing from tender roots on earth;
as ancient men were singing, from Jesse came it birth.
And now this little flower appears in coldest winter at this midnight hour.
Es ist ein Ros, tr. Donald Cashmore, b. 1926

This Sunday morning (Dec. 6) the anthem text is a contemporary setting of a text by an 18th-century professor of Greek at Cambridge and canon priest of Ely Cathedral. This text was first published in the first companion hymnal to the Book of Common Prayer, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861):

Zion, at thy shining gates, lo, the King of glory waits!
Haste thy monarch’s pomp to greet, strew thy palms before his feet.
Christ, for thee their triple light, faith and hope and love unite;
this the beacon we display to proclaim thine Advent day.
Benjamin Hall Kennedy (1804-1889)

For our Festival of Advent Lessons and Carols this Sunday evening (Dec. 6), a number of significant, rich, engaging texts will be sung:

When this old world drew on toward night, you came, but not in splendor bright,
not as a monarch, but as a child of Mary, blameless mother mild.
Latin, 9th cent., tr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866)

Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore,
never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more
than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my trouble breast.
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)

Canite tuba in Sion,
quia prope est dies Domini.
Ecce venit ad salvandum nos,
erunt prava in directa
et aspecra in vivas planas,
veni Domine et noli tardare.
Blow ye the trumpet in Sion,
for the day of God now is near at hand.
See, he cometh and will save us.
He will make the crooked ways straight
and the rough places he will make plain.
Come, O Lord, and do not tarry.
(Joel 2:1 and Isaiah 11:4)

So, wait, watch, keep the lights on, be ready, and don’t miss this.


Veni, Veni: Music for Advent


Richard Proulx is a name that is quite familiar to Episcopal parish musicians. Choirs have sung his anthems for decades, and our hymnal The Hymnal 1982 contains some 18 hymns and service music pieces written by him.

Truth be told, the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics have claimed Richard Proulx as their own, and we have had to share his wealth throughout the years. At his last church post, Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, he established a music program that was the model for cathedrals across the country.

Growing up and formerly living in the Eastern Time Zone, after arriving at home at 1:00ish in the morning, having played my own Christmas Eve “midnight masses” and being too wound-up to sleep, I would turn on WGN-TV Channel 9 in Chicago, where it was actually midnight, and watch Richard’s midnight mass from Holy Name Cathedral.

Experiencing the Christmas Eve liturgies he musically planned was like attending a survey of choral literature class in grad school. One year, in the same service, in addition to grand organ music and all the traditional congregational carols, I heard two movements from Handel’s Messiah with full orchestra, the Sanctus from a Schubert mass, the Spanish carol “Riu Riu Chiu” with multiple percussion instruments and one of Richard’s own Psalm settings with handbells and drum.

Some years ago when I happened upon Richard’s Missa Emmanuel, I was immediately intrigued but not a bit surprised at its ingenuity. Using the beloved, traditional Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” Richard takes and adapts snippets of the chant tune for all the parts of the mass: Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen and Agnus Dei. For the Kyrie he adapts a Plainsong chant that is very close to the Veni Emmanuel tune.

This mass setting, which we will sing for Advent season (Sundays, Nov. 29, and Dec. 6, 13, and 20) is immediately accessible to worshippers: a Cantor sings (even lines-out) the exact melody to which the congregation responds. The choral textures sung by the choir are based upon these chant melodies, all adding up to gorgeous choral sonorities. We have used this setting in years past, and I hope it will be captivating and meaningful again for our Advent liturgies this season.

YouTube credits:

Sanctus from the Richard Proulx Missa Emmanuel
Women of the Gallery Choir
Mark Husey, organist/choirmaster
St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Columbia, S.C.

Raise the song of harvest home

IMAG0967I have told this story many times during my 14-plus years at Holy Communion, and I might as well document it here for posterity’s sake. Seeing it in print might happily relieve our choristers and parishioners from hearing me tell it again.

I grew up in a small South Carolina town, and each year we attended an ecumenical community Thanksgiving worship service on Thanksgiving Eve. On Thanksgiving Day we would then travel one-hour’s drive to either my grandmother’s house in Greenwood or to the very large antebellum home of one of my great aunts in Waterloo (population 202).

When I learned that Holy Communion’s longtime parish tradition includes a Thanksgiving Day 10 a.m. service complete with choir and Thanksgiving hymns and big organ music, I was, shall we say, not exactly pleased. However…

Once I experienced our Thanksgiving Day liturgy, which begins with the Thanksgiving hymn “Come, ye thankful people, come” in procession and with a glorious soprano descant on the final stanza, I was captivated, convinced and permanently hooked.

Indeed, there is something very significant about singing these Thanksgiving Day hymns actually on the day. Moreover, our Book of Common Prayer includes proper readings and collect for the feast day along with a beautiful Litany of Thanksgiving that we use each year.

But no one told me about the resplendent harvest adornments that are dutifully placed at the high altar and in the chancel each year by our festival decorations committee. If you think our Georgian Colonial church is beautiful, it is no more exquisite than it is when decorated for Thanksgiving. Wheat, fruit, gourds, vegetables are artistically placed all around, setting the stage for one of the most meaningful liturgies of the year.

And speaking of “Come, ye thankful people, come,” there is no more genuinely Anglican hymn than this one. Hymnist and poet Dr. Henry Alford (1810-1871) was a fifth-generation Anglican priest, a graduate of Trinity College Cambridge, and Dean of Canterbury Cathedral.

Written in 1844, Alford originally titled this text “After Harvest,” and it was first published in Hymns and Psalms (1844). Alford’s opening stanza is a celebration of the harvest and a call to give thanks to God for it, while the last stanzas are inspired by the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30).

So, take my word for it: Thanksgiving Day Eucharist is worth the effort. Set the dinner table on Wednesday, put the turkey in the oven and set the timer, prepare most of the side dishes early, and come to church for an hour on Thanksgiving morning. You’ll be as enthralled as I am!

Happy New Year! (Liturgically speaking.)

Melkite-Christ-the-KingFor all intents and purposes, this Sunday (Nov. 22) is “Liturgical New Year’s Eve” for the Christian year. The Feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday feast day of the Christian calendar for those faith traditions that follow the three-year cycle of lectionary readings.

The Roman Catholic and many Protestant denominations – Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists – celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King is also a popular name for parish churches. In Memphis, Christ the King Lutheran Church is located on Park Avenue, and Christ the King Catholic Church is located in Southaven.

The Feast of Christ the King is known by a number of titles: Christ Our Sovereign, The Reign of Christ. The official Roman Catholic title is The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Pope Pius XI established the feast in 1925. It was originally celebrated on the Sunday before All Saints’ but was moved in 1970 to the last Sunday of the Christian year.

In the aftermath of World War I, Pope Pius noted that, while hostilities had ceased, true peace had not been restored to the world and the different classes of society. His first encyclical after the war was Ubi arcane Dei consillo (“On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ”) in December 1922. He deplored class divisions and overt nationalism, and he maintained that true peace may only be found under the Kingship of Christ as the “Prince of Peace.”

In 1925 the Pope formally introduced and established the Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical Quas primas (“In the First”): “When we pay honor to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power.”

In the service music for this Sunday’s 10:30 liturgy, look for images that point up the kingship of Christ on earth. The anthem text addresses “King of kings, yet born of Mary… Lord of lord, in human vesture.” The congregational hymns are also favorites for Christ the King: All hail the power of Jesus’ Name, The head that once was crown with thorns (is crowned with glory now), Crown him with many crowns. The opening voluntary is also a nod to all things royal.

While the Feast of Christ the King may conjure up images of nationalism, imperialism, lordship and reign over the people, its foundations from Pope Pius XI are actually rooted in his understanding of peace on earth – the peace of Christ.

Canticles, canticles, canticles


Printed church directories (One of the first true examples of Facebook perhaps?) have been a not-so-blessed necessity in my experience. Of printed church directories, in the church business we often say, “It’s out of date the moment you print it,” which is actually a true statement.

Some will say the same thing about our principal worship resources, The Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982.There are those on one side of the Episcopal Church via media fence who will say, “There is no need to ever revise the prayer book and hymnal,” while others will say that in contemporary times we are always in need of supplemental worship texts in order to stay current.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979) was ratified in 1979 and published in 1982, while The Hymnal 1982 was ratified in 1982 and published in 1985. In the long history of our prayer books, the canticles (hymns or songs of praise with texts from scriptures other than the Psalms) are fundamentals of our Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies.

In the 1979 book Morning Prayer (Rite One) begins with the standard Venite, Jubilate or Pascha nostrum. The liturgy then continues with optional usage of seven canticles beginning with Canticle 1 (A Song of Creation, Benedicite omnia) and ending with Canticle 7 (We Praise Thee, the Te Deum laudamus). In Rite Two, in addition to contemporary translations of all of the above canticles, there are 14 canticles beginning with Canticle 8 (The Song of Moses, Cantemus Domino) and ending with Canticle 21 (a contemporary version of the Te Deum).

In 1989 the Episcopal Church published Supplemental Liturgical Texts and included two new canticles, Canticle 22 (A Song of Wisdom) and Canticle 23 (A Song of Pilgrimage). And in 1998 again the Church published a supplemental liturgical volume, Enriching Our Worship, which contained many new canticles that were assigned letter names rather than numbers: The Song of Hannah, A Song of the Wilderness, A Song of Jerusalem Our Mother, A Song of Hosea, A Song of Jonah, A Song of Judith and numerous others.

The canticle Gloria in excelsis, also contained in the Morning Prayer canticles, is one of the liturgical components of the Eucharistic rite. We most often use the Gloria in the Eucharist, but this fall we have been using Canticle 13 (A Song of Praise, Benedictus es Domine), of which John Rutter’s musical setting is a particular favorite to sing in this parish. Using another canticle in place of the Gloria in excelsis is allowed by rubric in our Eucharistic rite: “the Gloria in excelsis or some other song of praise is sung or said.”

Canticles sometimes appear in the Revised Common Lectionary in place of an appointed psalm, which often occurs during the Advent season. This year Canticle 16 (The Song of Zechariah) appears in the lectionary on Advent II, and Canticle 9 (The First Song of Isaiah) is appointed for Advent III. This past Trinity Sunday (May 31), Canticle 13 was appointed in place of the psalm.

This Sunday (Nov. 15) Canticle C (The Song of Hannah), one of the letter-named canticles, is called for in place of the psalm, and we will sing the canticle in the 10:30 service. The text of this beautiful canticle from 1 Samuel 2:1-8 is a natural response following the appointed lectionary First Reading, 1 Samuel 1:4-20. The first few lines of The Song of Hannah are:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.

Artist: Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Requiem: Death is not the end of the story

FaureRequiemLR2015FINALFor years I have said that all 20th-century organ composers worth their salt have to write their “token” aria patterned after significant organ piece “Aria” by Belgian organist/composer Flor Peeters (1903-1986). Indeed, many have, and we now have lovely organ arias by numerous contemporary composers. Likewise, choral composers worth their salt have to also write their “token” requiem choral mass, and thank God they have throughout history.

Many will argue that Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) Requiem (1887) is one of the requiem measuring sticks, and I will fully agree with them. Fauré’s Requiem is not the most difficult to sing, is not the longest, nor does it require the largest choral forces or largest orchestra. It does, however, exhibit some of the most gorgeous, lyric, transcendent melodies ever written for voices and instruments. From the grave but beautiful opening strains (“Grant unto them rest, O Lord”) to the peaceful, heavenward-looking closing movement (“Into paradise may angels lead them”), the word-painting of these texts is unsurpassed.

Scholars do not know specifically why Fauré wrote his Requiem. Some suggest that he wrote it at the death of his father in 1885 or his mother’s death on New Year’s Eve 1887, but we know that he began the work before his mother’s death. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “My Requiem was not written for anything – for pleasure, if one can say that.” His first version in 1887 was entitled “Un Petit Requiem,” and he revised the work in 1889, 1890 and 1899, the latter being the version for full orchestra that we know today.

While this work is a popular concert piece for choruses and orchestras, it is a great privilege to be able to offer this oratorio in the context of a Eucharistic liturgy. The offering of this work by our Parish Choir, organ, and orchestra this Sunday morning (Remembrance Sunday, Nov. 8) is in memory of all the faithful departed of Church of the Holy Communion since All Saints’ Day 2014. We hope that all worshipers will let this sublime music wash over them in prayers and blessings and remembrances of loved ones.

Of his work Fauré also wrote, “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” In the past few weeks during choir rehearsals we have often quipped how we wish that we could all depart this earth hearing this heavenly music. Indeed, “faith in eternal rest” is at the central core of the Christian message. Death does not win, nor is it the end of the story, and Fauré reminds us of this fact in a glorious way.

Source: Michael Steinberg, “Gabriel Fauré: Requiem, Op. 48,” in Choral Masterworks: A Listener’s Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2005), pp. 131-137.