Category Archives: Music Notes

Musical Musings: Lent

It’s been a long time since you’ve heard much from me, but I just have to let a few musings out before the season concludes. It’s worth it, really: read on..

Lent, if you ask me, is all about good ol’ J.S. Bach, the baroque pioneer.  I always try to throw one selection in every week (did anyone notice that we had two this past Sunday, thanks to Zach and Valery both lending a musical hand?) to keep the service appropriately moody, tumultuous, tense. Composers in this period were hesitant to combine emotions within one movement of a piece, unlike their classical period friends – that’s you, Mozart – who humorously toyed with tonality. Perfect for Easter, not Lent.

Bravo to the many parishioners and guests who have correctly identified some Bach in the service. The second most discussed music bit during our Lenten season has been the fabulous setting of When From Bondage We Are Summoned we borrowed from Wonder Love and Praise. Go ahead, click on the link and sing it for your neighbors – that’ll keep them from stepping on your flower beds. No, it’s not jolly but how exciting to sing (you all sound excellent!) and moving to hear. The haunting tune, Grid, and accompaniment is by a living composer (gasp!) named Thomas Pavlechko at a hymn writing conference. The name of this Dorian tune came from a member of the audience at its premiere who exclaimed: “That tune has grit!” Tom though the said it contained “grid,” whatever that means, and thats how we know and love it today.

I wish there was a video of a choir or parish performing When From Bondage.. but it is noticeably absent from YouTube. You’re lucky we’re not singing it this Sunday or else I would record you all! Nevertheless, I always dust off my recordings of Handel’s Messiah during Lent. “You mean that Christmas song?” Yes yes.. It is most frequently performed at Christmas, but that’s only one-third of the story. Literally. Handel’s magnificent work is written in three dramatically titled sections – The Annunciation (should be called: The One Everyone Performs), The Passion (aka: Overlooked Due Programming Competition), and The Aftermath (Warning: For Messiah Dorks Only!) Locking it away until Advent is surely a sin! Of course, if you bring your whole block to the Easter Vigil, they will all be saved when they hear I Know That My Redeemer Liveth from the final section.

Looking ahead, the great 40 days are right around the corner. So, comment here with the hymns or songs you love to sing during the Easter season. I’ll be listening!

Be Thou My Vision

I have recently learned that Be Thou My Vision is a favorite of many who gather at St. David’s (or at least those who filled out the hymn survey – thanks and I’m still accepting suggestions!). I discovered that the components of this hymn all have very unusual stories, captured here in an article by Sarah McCabe:

In 433 AD St. Patrick came to the Hill of Slane in County Meath. It was the night before Easter, and concurrently the beginning of the Druidic festival of Bealtine, as well as the beginning of the Spring Equinox. High King Leoghaire (pronounced “Leary”) mac Neill had issued a decree that no fires were to be lit until the lighting of the blaze atop nearby Tara Hill that would usher in the Spring Equinox. The first fire, however, was not that of King Leoghaire. Rather, it was a flame lit by St. Patrick to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Instead of executing him, King Leoghaire was so impressed by St. Patrick’s courage that he allowed him to continue with his missionary work throughout Ireland.

Considered Ireland’s chief poet during his time, Dallan Forgaill, who was killed by pirates in 598, was known as a studious and scholarly man. It was said that he spent so much time reading, writing, and studying that he became blind. Inspired by the events on the Hill of Slane about 100 years earlier, Dallan Forgaill wrote the original words to “Be Thou My Vision” in old Irish, as a poem entitled “Rop tu mo baile.” The poem was not translated into English until 1905 when Mary E. Byrne (1880-1931) wrote a literal translation of the words in English prose. The words were made into verse and published by Eleanor H. Hull (1860-1935) in her 1913 work entitled Poem Book of the Gael.

The tune to “Be Thou My Vision” is called SLANE, an old Irish folk melody, named for the Hill of Slane. Though centuries old, the melody was first published by Patrick W. Joyce (1827-1914) in his 1909 collection, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, under the title “By the Banks of the Bann.” The melody was first coupled with Hull’s versified words to “Be Thou My Vision” in 1919 by Leopold Dix (1861-1935) in the Irish Church Hymnal.

Saint David of Wales Choir’s Special Gig

So long, St. David’s and hello, St. Matthew’s! Well, not quite.. but the choir and I are very excited to make some noise this Sunday, July 11th, with our neighbors. It has been a real treat coordinating this opportunity with their dedicated volunteers and enthusiastic parishioners for the past few weeks – their gratitude for our presence is already evident.

Without keyboard, organ, or musical guests, you are called to fill the air with your beautiful voices!

I wish I could be both places at once to hear it! Stay tuned for a full update on the growing St. Matthew’s community next week.

A More Multicultural Service

You won’t hear even a minute of God Bless America at St. David’s this Sunday (I hope the cheesy video will do the trick). Instead, we’re celebrating the entire world this Independence Day with music from Brazil to Russia and back again:

France – Arabesque No. 1 Claude Debussy

South Africa – Siyahamba

Russia – Psalm 30

Japan – Here, O Lord, your servants gather

Gaelic – Nicene Creed

Finland – Finlandia (the hymn is based on this is the full, orchestral tone poem)

Scotland – O Waly Waly Doxlogy

Africa – Sanctus by Betty Pulkingham

Brazil – Cantad al Señor (in a handbell arrangement!)

United States – Lift every voice and sing (recorded here by the PS-22 Chorus.. Do you know who they are? Please read about them!)

Norway – Patriotic Song from Lyric Pieces by Edvard Grieg

See you then!

Encore!

What a treat, huh?! I can’t thank the Minnesota Boychoir enough for coming to share their beautiful music with us and I hope they do come back again someday. Until then, here are a few YouTube videos of other choirs singing the wonderful music we heard this morning.

Sunday, June 20th, 10 am – Minnesota Boychoir

While every service at St. Davids is a “you don’t wanna miss it” occasion, this Sunday, June 20th is a “you DEFINITELY don’t wanna miss it” occasion as the Minnesota Boychoir joins us to fill our Eucharist Service and Coffee Hour with gorgeous music. The video below proves that they aren’t just any boychoir – they’re fantastic! Plus, they were selected to sing at the Pacific International Children’s Choir Festival in Eugene a few days after their performance at St. Davids. Not too shabby! Can’t wait to see you all on Sunday!

Sanctus

Our Sanctus of the moment is part of the Freedom Mass by Betty Carr Pulkingham, a founding member of the Anglican-based Community of Celebration. It is a result of extensive travel, community development, and musical experiences in South Africa. She writes: “One of the worst by-products of the apartheid was the suppression of indigenous singing.” This mass setting

is, therefore, embedded with African folk tunes as a means to preserve, restore, and spread their rich musical culture. The Sanctus, for example, is based on the protest song Asikhatali:

It doesn’t matter if you should jail us

We are free and kept alive by hope.

Our struggle’s hard, but vict’ry will

Restore our lands to our hands.