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 And, as they say about parish membership directories, “It’s out of date the moment you publish it.”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.”

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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.

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.

From China to Ohio: Singing music by a little-known composer

Beebe-Psalm-1BSome church organists and choir directors throughout the ages have been famous composers as well. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) comes to my mind first. As kantor (choirmaster) of the Thomasschule (St. Thomas Choir School) in Leipzig, Germany, Bach actually served four congregations at once: Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), Neue Kirche (The New Church) and Peterskirche (St. Peter Church). He trained the choirboys and also wrote a 20-minute cantata each week to be sung in the Sunday morning services.

On the Anglican side of the English Channel, Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was a boy chorister of the Chapel Royal and later served as organist and master of the choristers of both Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. He composed in every genre from English opera (Dido and Aeneas) to theater music (The Fairy Queen) to verse anthems often sung by our own parish choirs.

Throughout the years, even I have attempted to compose a few sacred tunes. My patience always seemed to get the best of me – I’ve always wanted to play or sing music rather than take the time to actually write it – but our modern notation software programs Sibelius and Finale have made the composition process easier and quicker. Indeed, the opus werke of David Perry Ouzts (b. 1962) consists mostly of a few children’s songs from my late teens and, in these later years, a few hymn descants and Psalm tones when the needs arose.

For all the famous church musician composers in history, there are legions of church music composers who perhaps had only a few anthems published along the way. To my best knowledge, the composer of our anthem at the Offertory this Sunday (Sept. 20) is such a composer. Edward J. Beebe’s setting of “Psalm 1” has been in our parish music library for decades, but we don’t know much about Beebe as a composer or a church musician.

Born in 1925 in Yunnan, Kuilungkiang, Edward “Ted” Beebe’s parents Lyle and Mary were Presbyterian missionaries in China. When Ted was two years old, his ordained father returned to Canton, Ohio, and took a church post. Ted graduated from high school in 1943 and was the organist of a United Methodist Church in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, during his high school years. (I was the organist of a United Methodist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, during my high school years myself.)

Beebe was called up for military service in 1944 and was a prisoner in a German Nazi camp in 1944 and 1945, the end of World War II. He returned to the states, went to college, and eventually graduated from the University of Michigan in 1956 with a master of music degree, all the while serving as an organist and choir director in various congregations. He died in his hometown of Canton in 2004 at age 79.

In his life, he published about 10 anthems through two local publishing houses in Ohio. We are singing his setting of Psalm 1 this Sunday because it is the actual Psalm appointed in our Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday. Beebe’s setting is of the King James translation of the Psalm, while in the readings of our own liturgy of the word we will chant the Book of Common Prayer (1979) translation. Both the KJV and the BCP versions are printed in the 10:30 service leaflet this Sunday and are interesting to read and compare.

Was Beebe a prolific composer? Probably not. But his anthem setting that we will sing is a worthy one, I think. His text painting and dramatic choral textures run the gamut from grand to chant-like, loud to soft, complex to simple, and the organ accompaniment is interesting with full organ ensemble sounds echoed by quiet organ solo melodies.

I wish I knew more about Edward Beebe, his life, his career, and his compositions, but I am happy to have the one example of his opus werke to use this Sunday.

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Alternative Liturgies, Without a Hitch

Choir, lightened“Alternative liturgies” and “alternative worship” have been hot-button punch words for decades now. Last Sunday and this coming Sunday, our parish is experiencing a couple of alternative liturgies, one quite wonderfully intentional and one not-so-quite intentional.

This past Sunday (Sept. 6), thanks to some elderly air conditioning equipment in the nave (main church), we had to move the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service into our beautifully recently-renovated Cheney Parish Hall, which was finished only a couple of weeks ago and unveiled on Rally Day (Aug. 23). With some quick thinking, some dedicated helpers and lots of Episcopal Church General Convention worship and liturgy experience, our rector Fr. Sandy transformed our parish hall into a beautiful, functional liturgical space. Indeed, the 10:30 service went off without a hitch.

Conveniently, the Parish Choir’s anthem that was already planned for this past Sunday was a cappella (without accompaniment). A God-thing perhaps? I’d like to think so! With a little preparation and some specific, thought-out instructions, our Parish Choir marched into the parish hall to vocally lead the service, again without a hitch. I was and am very proud of them.

My college choir’s motto is “Discipline – Excellence – Beauty” — except for each spring, when two busloads of college singers went on spring tour together for an entire week. For tour week, the motto changes into “Adjust – Adapt – Accept.” That tour motto helped me this past Sunday: put on your vestments, grab your piano (not your organ) music, warm up the choir, line up and go do church.

The “elderly” air conditioning equipment breakdown was not a complete surprise for us, as this equipment is about the oldest unit we have in the building. Our mechanical systems contract people are on top of the situation, but we actually do not need the nave air conditioning this coming Sunday morning, at least at the 10:30 service, because…

Our annual Parish Picnic is already scheduled for this Sunday morning, and the 10:30 service will be held outside on the lawn by our Memorial Garden and beneath some large, beautiful shade trees. As it is each year, Picnic Church is held on the lawn and accompanied by a very fine local Dixieland band. After the liturgy, the band leads us up the driveway to the front portico of the church where the parish picnic spread is laid out. The jazz musicians will continue to play during the dinner on the grounds, which is always a real treat, musically and culinary-wise.

Returning to the failed air conditioning, we have another God-moment: the A/C failed only in the nave but not in our beautiful, intimate Quilling Memorial Chapel, which is where the 8:00 Sunday morning service is regularly held. It is no secret that Qulling Chapel is about my favorite space of our physical plant, and the 8:00 service was not affected at all. Church again — without a hitch.

After the 10:30 “alternate location” decision, we then had to make the decision about where to hold the 5:30 Sunday evening liturgy. We decided to move it into the chapel, which is actually where that Taize-styled liturgy began in 2001 before moving it into the nave only a couple of years later. Again, after a few quick decisions, we moved into this simple, elegant space: musicians, cantor, clergy, lay ministers, candles, bread and wine all, and the service again went without a hitch.

Sitting in Qulling Chapel, singing the Taize chants, and occasionally glancing at the gently blowing trees through the huge clear-glass Colonial palladium windows, or glancing upward at the clouds through the Colonial porthole window over the chapel altar, I found myself remembering and then feeling quite nostalgic. After arriving at Church of the Holy Communion in 2002, among my first memories are sitting in the chapel and singing those Taize chants. In the midst of quick adaptations and failed A/C, I found myself being transported, which is actually what worship of God should do anyway.

When we began the 5:30 Sunday service in 2001, we thought of it as an “alternative liturgy,” but it has become quite regular for us. In fact, all of our Sunday services are in themselves distinctive and different, and each is beautiful and important to the liturgical life of our parish.

With or without A/C, I can confidently say that church will go on without a hitch. Indoors, outdoors, in the nave, in the chapel, in the parish hall — God will be praised and worshiped on Walnut Grove at Perkins.

Photo Sep 06, 9 52 50 AMPhoto Sep 06, 10 29 41 AM

Singing in Latin: Why We Do It

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If English is our native language, why do church choirs often sing anthems in Latin? We know that all pre-Reformation worship, liturgy and music was conducted in Latin; indeed, the Protestant Reformation brought liturgy to the people in their native tongues. And though it took the Roman Catholic Church a few more years (about 413 years, actually), the Second Vatican Council brought the Mass to the people in their native tongues as well.

The publishing of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 Book of Common Prayer in English was huge… huge! For the first time, the top had been taken off of the liturgical cookie jar. Rather than the faithful simply sitting in the nave and listening to the celebrant rattle off the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin, which was not understood by the illiterate, the words of the blessing (consecration) of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ could then be completely understood by all. I have often wondered what that must have felt like… huge!

Leading up to this era, all the beautiful choral music – 15th-  and 16th-century masses, motets, chants, songs, anthems – had obviously been written with Latin texts. As composers do, the syntax of the texts, the rise and fall of the musical lines, and the emphases of compositional techniques with respect to these texts were carefully crafted using the Latin texts. English vocal music for the most part was secular.

We also know that translating from one language to another is not a perfect science. A prime example of this is our local parish custom of reading the Acts lesson on the Day of Pentecost, the portion that describes the apostles “speaking in their own tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability.” When we read this Acts lesson in the various languages simultaneously, no two languages finish at the exact same time. Some translations are longer, and some are shorter.

The same goes for choral music composed in an original language. If the piece “sings” better in its original language, detriment can be done to the beauty of the music by an attempt to “wedge” a translation into the originally crafted notes. Moreover, linguists teach us that all the Romance languages share Latin as their root, even English – another point to not forget.

Yes, some translations are, indeed, successful and work well. One of my favorite pieces comes to mind: from the Brahms Requiem, the fourth movement “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” also sings beautifully with the English translation “How lovely is thy dwelling place.” Brahms’ rise and fall of the initial choral phrase crests on the word “Wohnungen” and “dwelling place” equally successfully. Such is not always the case; I would maintain that it is somewhat rare.

I love the Gospel stories of Jesus’ healing miracles. In this Sunday’s (Sept. 6) gospel, Jesus heals the woman’s little daughter by simply telling her mother to go home, where she found her daughter delivered from the demon and lying on the bed. He next heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Though Jesus told the disciples to not tell anyone, “the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” (Mark 24:36)

This “zealous proclamation” led me to a great Psalm of rejoicing and thanksgiving for this Sunday’s anthem, the Giuseppe Pitoni (1657-1743) setting of Psalm 149, “Cantate Domino.” This brief but delightful anthem is a favorite of choirs worldwide. (And it “sings” better in Latin!)

Cantate Domino canticum novum;
laus ejus in ecclesia sanctorum.
Laetetur Israël in eo qui fecit eum,
et filii Sion exsultent in rege suo.

Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle:
let his praise be in the church of the saints.
Let Israel rejoice in him that made him:
and let the children of Sion be joyful in their king.

-Psalm 149:1-2

Click here to read an article on The Book of Common Prayer (1549), with texts and facsimiles of the original old English.

New Musicians on Staff at Holy C!

Following an extensive search for highly qualified candidates, Church of the Holy Communion is pleased to announce that two well-respected Memphis musicians have joined our staff. I have known both of these excellent musicians as friends and colleagues for 14 years, and I am supremely fortunate to now be able to work with them as colleagues at Holy Communion. I first met Ellen Koziel at the Royal School of Church Music course in St. Louis in 1999 when she was assistant choirmaster of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, even before I moved to Memphis. And when I arrived in Memphis, cathedral musician Jane Gamble was the first Episcopal musician to welcome me and take me to lunch. I am overjoyed to know that these very fine sacred musicians will serve our parish, and I am personally elated to be able to share music duties with them.

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Dr. Jane C. Gamble, FAGO, serves as Assistant Minister of Music (organ/choral). A native Memphian, she is on the adjunct music faculty of Rhodes College, is a professional certification coach with the American Guild of Organists and maintains a private teaching studio. For the past eight years she has been organist and music associate at Christ United Methodist Church and was canon organist and choirmaster of St. Mary’s Cathedral from 2000 until 2008. She also served as organist and choirmaster of Grace-St. Luke’s Church and as interim professor of organ at the University of Memphis. A graduate of Lambuth College, Dr. Gamble holds the M.M. and D.M.A. degrees from the University of Memphis. She also holds the Fellowship certificate of the American Guild of Organists and is a past dean of the Memphis chapter of the AGO. For the past number of years, Dr. Gamble has given summer organ recital tours in England and Scotland as well as on the continent in German, Switzerland, Italy and France, including a recent recital at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. At CHC, Dr. Gamble accompanies and assists with the Parish Choir, as well as sharing all the organ playing duties for the parish and for St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

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Ellen Koziel, M.M. serves as Assistant Minister of Music (children’s music). She recently retired following a 32-year career as an Orff music specialist in the Memphis City Schools, teaching at Cordova Elementary and previously at Shady Grove Elementary. She was assistant choirmaster of St. Mary’s Cathedral and is formerly the music teacher of Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School and assistant organist of Grace-St. Luke’s Church. Mrs. Koziel is a graduate of Radford University and holds the master of music with Orff-Schulwerk certification from the University of Memphis. She holds national board certification and endorsed trainer certification with the American Orff-Schulwerk Association and is presently finishing a Ph.D. in music education at the University of Memphis. She regularly teaches Orff-Schulwerk recertification classes in the summers also at the University of Memphis. At CHC, Mrs. Koziel directs our children’s choir, using the Royal School of Church Music Voice for Life training scheme.

Walnut Grove: The History of a Hymn (or, “Coming Clean”)

20150423_104552_resized CROPPED EDITED HIGH BRIGHT LOW CONTRASTThis Sunday (Aug. 23) is “that great Episcopal feast day” in our parish known as Rally Day. Indeed, Rally Day is an old term that has probably past its prime; however, we all love Rally Day and its significance to the start-up of our program year. In Episcopal decades of yore, Rally Day was often the first Sunday after Labor Day, when all Episcopalians closed up their beach houses, mountain houses or lake houses and returned home to school and work and church. In this day of school terms beginning earlier in August, our Rally Day has also moved to an earlier date.

Rally Day 2015 at Church of the Holy Communion is a special one, as it is the Sunday when our Bishop of West Tennessee will be with us to formally seat Fr. Sandy Webb as our 6th Rector. The liturgical music for this Sunday will be quite festive, and we will use our newly-composed parish hymn “Come, new heav’n, new earth descending” as the processional hymn. The birth of this beautiful hymn is a great story in itself.

As I do each summer, in June 2014 I attended the Association of Anglican Musicians conference, which was held in Washington, D.C. During the week, the conference attended an Evensong at the historic Christ Church, Alexandria (Va.), the parish church in which George Washington rented a box pew for his family and where Robert E. Lee attended church from age three through adulthood.

For the Evensong, I was seated in a pew at the rear of the nave and beneath the wrap-around balcony; seated behind me happened to be two very good personal friends, Dr. William Bradley Roberts (professor of church music, Virginia Theological Seminary, a.k.a. my longtime friend “Bill”) and the wife of the Bishop of Virginia, also a longtime friend and church music colleague. We rose to sing a glorious new hymn, tune name Christ Church Alexandria and composed by Bill, who is a prolific composer and widely published. When the hymn ended, I turned around and said, “Bill, I want you to write us a parish hymn!” In reply, Bill made fun of my Southern accent (he’s a native Mississippian and has little room to talk), the bishop’s wife snickered at us both, and we quickly sat down as the liturgy continued.

After I returned to Memphis, Fr. Sandy and I began to assemble a committee to plan and design this past spring’s Alleluia Be Our Measure sacred arts festival. We originally had in mind the commissioning of a new choral anthem for this festival. However, when I related the story about how touched I had been by the Christ Church parish hymn, we decided that a hymn was most appropriate for Holy Communion parish in this season of new energy, new growth and new direction.

At this point I should probably mention that Bill was also Fr. Sandy’s liturgy and church music professor in seminary. (Yes, the Episcopal Church world is very, very small.) When Fr. Sandy and I contacted Bill about the hymn project, he suggested to us the writings of Susan Palo Cherwien.  After assembling a list of some 10 hymn texts as finalists, Susan’s text “Come, new heav’n, new earth descending” was the unanimous choice by our committee, in a true God-moment I believe. This text speaks of all things new, has numerous references to visions found in the Revelation to John, and ends with the stanza that begins “Alleluia be our measure,” from which we titled our sacred arts festival. In her presentation at our festival, Susan also pointed out that the first words of each of the five stanzas of her text comprise a sentence: “Come be here now. Alleluia.”

In the end, Bill wrote for us far more than for which we could have asked. He not only wrote the new hymn tune Walnut Grove, but he also wrote a choral stanza for our choir and a hymn concertato setting (organ, brass, timpani) for the festival. Bill also graciously allowed me to suggest the name Walnut Grove, after the beautiful street where our parish is located. We have used the hymn in various occasions in our services, but this Rally Day will be the first time that we have sung the hymn in procession as the entrance rite. I look forward to these verses and voices soaring in praise to God as we enter for worship on this special Sunday.

Above: the illuminated manuscript created by Mel Ahlborn, our third resident artist for Alleluia Be Our Measure, based on Susan Cherwien’s text.

“B” is for Bread

Pan_asturianoAfter the story in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which we read on the last Sunday in July, the Gospel lessons continue a discourse for some five Sundays in which Jesus calls himself “the Bread of life” in various connotations. As we are presently in the middle of Lectionary Year B of the three-year ABC cycle, this is how liturgists and musicians have coined the phrase “B is for Bread.”

Bread and water (or wine) are significant, life-giving symbols from the Old Testament, only to be picked up in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospels. These images culminate in the Eucharistic acts of Jesus at table with the apostles on Maundy Thursday evening.

John 6 seems to be the most thorough record of Jesus’ teachings about his divine identity by using these bread images: “I am the bread of life” (vs. 35), “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (vs. 41), “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (vs. 51), “My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed” (vs. 55), “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them” (vs. 56), “The one who eats this bread will live forever” (vs. 58).

Fortunately, in the Anglican tradition we have a wealth of Eucharistic texts for anthems and hymnody, from the ancient text “Father, we thank thee who has planted” (Greek, ca. 110) to “Humbly I adore thee” (St. Thomas Aquinas, 13th cent.) and to the plethora of Eucharistic hymns written in the late 20th century.

This Sunday (Aug. 16) we are using two contemporary hymn texts from our hymnal supplement Wonder, Love, and Praise, both set to traditional, familiar tunes. “All who hunger gather gladly” was written by Sylvia Dunstan (1955-1993), a minister in the United Church of Canada whose hymn texts were shepherded and influenced by Sr. Miriam Therese Winter, the spiritualist and liturgist and pioneer of introducing the folk music style into the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition. Dunstan served as a minister, prison chaplain and liturgical resource editor. Sadly, she died with liver cancer, but left behind a thriving ministry that combines the needy and distraught with a love for liturgical worship.

Our closing hymn is one that is near and dear to my heart, as it is a text from one of the many published hymn and poetry collections of my liturgical mentor and thesis advisor at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Before being consecrated the Suffragan Bishop of Connecticut in 1987, and later serving as Bishop of the American Episcopal Convocation in Europe with the American Cathedral in Paris as the see city, Jeffrey Rowthorn (b. 1934) was professor and chapel minister of the Yale Divinity School and the Berkeley Divinity School, its Episcopal affiliate seminary.

This carefully constructed text sets up its format as a dialogue in each stanza between a statement (“Lord, you make the common holy”) and an actual quotation of Jesus (“This my body, this my blood”), each stanza finishing with the grand refrain, “With the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.” While this text is found in The Hymnal 1982 set to another tune with other optional tunes, this printing in Wonder, Love, and Praise to the tune Abbot’s Leigh is the “correct” tune, at least in Bishop Rowthorn’s mind; he grew up in Wales hearing this grand tune on weekly BBC Evensong broadcasts. As you sing these words, which build each time to the refrain, you will hear how the words fit Abbot’s Leigh like a glove.

Photo credit: “Pan asturiano” by Tamorlan – Photo taken by Tamorlan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons 

Summer Inspirations: Singing in St. Louis

RSCM St Louis FPC Kirkwood

In addition to spending some time doing the things that fall by the wayside during the regular choir season, the summer months also afford church musicians time to attend continuing education conferences and workshops, opportunities to explore new music literature, gather new ideas, and greet friends old and new from whom we also glean new ideas. Last week I returned from my second continuing education opportunity this summer, the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) Course in St. Louis, Missouri. The RSCM was founded in England in 1927 to operate a training college for church musicians and an association of affiliated churches who were “committed to maintaining high standards of church music.” The college operated until 1939, when most of its students were called up for military service. However, in 1945 the RSCM was reconstituted by command of HM King George VI. In its first 10 years, RSCM membership rose to 1,300 affiliates worldwide, and by 1952 more than 3,000 churches were affiliated.

In the 1980s, RSCM America formed as a separate organization, with its parent organization remaining the RSCM in England. RSCM America has more than 400 affiliated churches of many denominations and is represented in most states. Like its parent organization, RSCM America sponsors a number of training courses for children and adult singers each summer. This summer, RSCM America sponsored 10 training week-long courses, the St. Louis course being one. Memphis was well-represented in St. Louis this summer, with Kristin Lensch (organist/choirmaster of Calvary Church) serving as Treble Housemaster and Debbie Smith (assistant organist/choirmaster of Grace-St. Luke’s) serving as Adult Housemaster. Having served on the staff for a number of previous years, I was privileged to serve this time as the Adult Proctor (coordinator) in charge of afternoon workshops and adult social gatherings.

For those of us who love church music and love to sing, an RSCM course is a week-long feast of anthems, rehearsals and daily Choral Evensong, culminating in larger services at the end of the week. We arrive on Monday and spend the week perfecting glorious music; the week culminates with a Saturday evening Service of Lessons and Music for the Liturgical Year at First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood, followed by singing the Sunday morning High Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The RSCM Choir has sung at the Basilica for many years, and we were heartily welcomed during the liturgy a number times. One of the Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese, our Celebrant for Mass that morning, even led the round of applause for the choir before the final blessing and recessional hymn.

One of the most important offerings to RSCM affiliates is the ability to use the Voice for Life choir training scheme. This scheme begins with training for young child singers and continues through adulthood, outlining the various aspects of service to the local church through its parish choirs. The training highlights music theory, music reading skills, good singing practices, and spiritual aspects of learning the worship traditions of the church and practicing personal discipleship through choir membership. We are reestablishing the Voice for Life training in our children’s music program at Church of the Holy Communion this fall with the hope of some of our own treble choristers attending the RSCM St. Louis Course in an upcoming summer. The benefits for children attending this course are tremendous, and I look forward to making this possible for our own children in the future.

Basilica