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Richmond, VA 23225

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

May 24, 2015

Today’s Music: The Offertory music this morning is an instrumental piece, Abraham’s Walk, written last year but after a long germination. The intense drama of God’s call to Abraham to demonstrate his fidelity by sacrificing his precious long-awaited son has always beckoned me, but I struggled with trying to do a suitable vocal treatment; the story was almost too intense. Then it occurred to me that instruments, which are more abstract, would allow me the focus I wanted on mood and emotion. Though there are no words, there is a story. You’ll hear a peaceful morning interrupted by God calling to Abraham three times, his incredulous and then distressed reaction, then the slow, brutal trudge up the hill toward the agonizing event, halted only at the climactic moment. The three calls that stay his knife hand also reflect the pain of Abraham’s triumph of faith. David Boelzner

May 17, 2015

Today’s Music: The anthem this morning is for men only, a composition by Vernon Perdue Davis (1919-95), a native Virginian who, in addition to composing, served as the historiographer for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia for 30 years. He authored a book on pointing Anglican chant and co-wrote books on historic churches. He studied music at Princeton with American choral composer Randall Thompson (the choir sang his wonderful Alleluia for Easter a few years ago) and the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. The anthem, set to Whittier’s fine text, Once to every man and nation, was written for the Woodberry Forest private boys’ school near Orange, where Davis taught in the 1940s. (The school has been around since 1889. Songwriter and lyricist Johnny Mercer is an alumnus.) David Boelzner

May 10, 2015

Today’s Music: Do you find music in minor keys sad and music in major keys happy? This is a common stereotype, and like most, it is rooted in some valid experience but is not universally accurate. I recently heard it repeated at an otherwise enlightened discussion of music and neuroscience, during which, ironically, the speakers mentioned one of the best refutations of the stereotype, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which most people would agree is wrenchingly sad but is predominantly in major mode. Our recessional, 610, Lord, whose love through humble service, is another example, I think: in minor mode but not really sad or in any way a “downer” – to me it sounds serious and resolute. How does it strike you? David Boelzner

May 3, 2015

Today’s Music: The communion hymn (#487, “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life”) tune is “The Call” by the great 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He liked to use English folk tunes in his symphonic writing, and this original tune, part of a five-song set, has a folk quality about it, chiefly because it is in Mixolydian rather than major mode. The scale sounds like a major scale but the leading tone (ti in the do-re-mi scheme) is lowered a half-step – noticeable on the word “such” on the second line. The melodic extension, called a melisma, on the penultimate word is reminiscent of troubadour song. — David Boelzner

Apr. 26, 2015

Today’s Music: Most often the genesis of a vocal or choral work begins with words, for which music is composed to fit. It is not unusual, of course, for a vocal tune to be adapted to another lyric; i.e. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy setting in the Ninth Symphony (“Freude, freude, Gotterfunken”) is used for our hymn “Joyful, joyful we adore thee.” Sometimes, though, a tune intended for instruments is irresistible for singing. So it is with this morning’s anthem tune. It was originally composed as part of the fourth movement, “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” of English composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Our music director has adapted it to the text of the 23rd Psalm for Good Shepherd Sunday, but she is not the first to see the vocal potential. Holst himself extracted the tune for use with a patriotic text, “I vow to thee, my country,” which is popularly sung in the U.K. (It was a favorite of Princess Diana, sung at both her wedding and her funeral.)  David Boelzner

Apr. 19, 2015

Today’s Music: The tune name for our communion hymn, is Sursum corda, the Latin phrase we translate as “Lift up your hearts” (literally “lifted [our] hearts”), part of the opening formula of the Eucharistic prayer used in many liturgies, which dates at least as far back as the third century. Though our tune was written in 1941 by Alfred Morton Smith (d. 1971), an Episcopal priest active in Philadelphia, the style is consciously reminiscent of ancient chant. Today’s music illustrates the quality and richness of our musical tradition: music from one of the greatest 18th century English composers (Wm. Boyce–anthem), the greatest composer of the Counter-reformation (Palestrina – recessional) and one of the great Romantics (Schubert – fraction anthem). DB

Apr. 12, 2015

Today’s Music: This morning we premiere David’s newest composition, a duet set to the text, “This is the Hour.” There is an undercurrent of triplets in the accompaniment that propels most of the piece, except for the mid-section that begins a cappella: The voices “go their separate ways.” Much of the piece is quiet, but the volume grows at the references to Christ as our Shield and Sun, and to the Lamb’s High Feast. Ann Boelzner

Apr. 5, 2015

Our Easter anthem is a premiere for Good Shepherd (discovered among the treasures of our music library), Now Glad of Heart, by American composer K[ayron] Lee Scott (b. 1950). He was educated at the University of Alabama, and was director of choral music at the University’s Birmingham campus.  The piece begins with a persistent 5/8 rhythm in the piano, which is picked up by the voices when they enter. The 5/8 rhythmic pattern dominates the piece, but at times passages sound like Renaissance music with a predominantly trochaic meter interrupted by the occasional iamb. The piece winds down gently in the men’s voices after being predominantly vigorous throughout. David Boelzner

Mar. 29, 2015

The anthem for Palm Sunday is a lovely contemporary setting of For God so loved the world, by Bob Chilcott, British composer and former tenor with the King’s Singers, a splendid a cappella vocal group. When the main theme repeats, listen for the haunting solo soprano voice that weaves in and out over the texture of the choir singing softly. David Boelzner