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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Oct. 23, 2016: “Jesus, the very thought of thee”

Today’s Music: The anthem is a chant-like setting of “Jesus, the very thought of thee” by Arlen Clarke, an American composer and choral director currently serving St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, SC. The vocal lines are simply repetitions of the melody, with the variety supplied by the changing sonorities in the piano accompaniment. Clarke studied with Lloyd Pfautsch at SMU, and this piece is very reminiscent of some of Pfautsch’s work. DB  

Oct. 2, 2016: Descants

Today’s Music: Three of our four hymns today feature descants, counterpoint written above the melody and sung by the choir. Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote some of the earliest hymn tune descants. John Athelstan Riley (see hymn 618) wrote, “The effect (of the descant) is thrilling; it gives the curious impression of an ethereal choir joining in the worship below; and those who hear it for the first time often turn and look up at the roof!” A. Boelzner

Sept. 25, 2016: Repetition

Today’s Music: Music achieves much of its effect by continually setting up expectations and then either fulfilling them, providing a reassuring sense of “rightness,” or thwarting them, creating a spark of novelty. Key to this is repetition, which sets up a pattern that generates the expectation. Simple repetition is evident in our recessional, 429, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,” where the 5th phrase is an exact repetition of the 4th. But a more sophisticated device, the sequence, is used in the processional, 609, “Where cross the crowded ways of life.” The second half of the hymn, beginning at “above,” comprises three repetitions of the same gesture (melodic and rhythmic shape) but each time reaching higher. Bach loved this device and raised it to an art. David Boelzner

Sept. 18, 2016: Descants by Craig Sellar Lang

Music Notes: In our recessional hymn, 368, the high voices in the choir – soprano and tenor – will sing a descant on the last verse. Descants are as fun to sing as I hope they are thrilling to hear. This melody was composed by Craig Sellar Lang, a New Zealand-born British organist, choral teacher, and composer, who died in 1971. He wrote several descants that we use – for example, for hymns 94, 390, and 410. He also wrote the tune for hymn 326. David Boelzner

Sept. 11, 2016: Robert Powell

Today’s Music: Both the Gloria and Sanctus (Holy, holy holy) settings we are currently using were composed by Robert Powell. Powell, a native of Mississippi, was born in 1932 and is an Episcopal organist and composer. He studied organ in New York and served for a time as assistant organist at the giant cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan (where Ann and I worshiped last year while visiting Rebecca). He has said that he targets his compositions at practical use, writing in a conservative style that suits most congregations. David Boelzner

Sept. 4, 2016: “Meditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs

Music Notes: The Offertory is the “Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera, Thaïs (1894). Originally scored for violin and orchestra, the piece is an entr’acte, falling between Act II, Scene 1, when a monk tries to convince the hedonistic devotee of Venus, Thaïs, to find salvation through God, and Scene 2, when she tells the monk she will follow him to the desert. Massenet marks the tempo “Andante religioso,” and he may have written the piece with religious intentions. It is a particular favorite of mine, in part because my father loved it. David Boelzner

Aug. 21, 2016: Tune of “New every morning is the love”

Music Notes: The opening hymn tune is by Elkanah K. Dare (d. 1826), a noted American contributor to early hymnody collections, especially shape-note music. The modal tune, with the notable iambic rhythm in the fifth measure, sounds rather eastern, and the tune name also sounds Hebrew, but I have been unable to pin down the connection between name and tune. The best possibility may be that Kedron was the name of an early patriarch of the Orthodox Church at Alexandria. David Boelzner

Aug. 14, 2016: Francis Poulenc’s movements from Sonata for Flute and Piano

Today’s Music: As prelude and offertory, Francile and Ann will play movements from the wonderful Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc (1988-1963). Twentieth-century French composers loved the flute, and Poulenc is no exception. His music has been noted for elegance, clarity, and droll wit, all of which are present in this work. The opening melody of the first movement (Prelude) illustrates all three, with its fluttering beginning and long flowing lines. The second theme is one of my favorite melodies ever, so simple yet novel. The Cantilena (Offertory) consists of a flowing, rather wistful melody, interrupted only occasionally by small flourishes. D. Boelzner  

Aug. 7, 2016: The King of love my shepherd is

Music Notes: Today’s Offertory music is a semi-improvised reworking of Hymn 645, arranged for solo piano. The text and title of this famous hymn -which paraphrases parts of the 23rd Psalm – was written by Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). Sir Henry (who assumed a baronetcy following the passing of his father) studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, became a vicar, and was well-known as the editor of the best-selling hymnal of its time, the important Hymns Ancient and Modern. It was revealed by a close friend that Sir Henry’s final words upon his death were the third stanza of this hymn. Incidentally, the sixth and final stanza serves as a de facto anthem for Good Shepherd Episcopal School with its final line: “Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house forever.”   For music to set his text, Sir Henry chose the beautiful Irish melody St. Columba. Saint Columba was famous for helping to introduce Christianity to Scotland, but additionally renowned for banishing a “water-beast” to the depths of the River Ness in the year 565. Because the River Ness flows out of the celebrated Loch Ness, it would seem that our melody’s namesake was perhaps the first person to spar with the Loch Ness Monster! Pete Mathis