Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ecumenical funeral music

Over the weekend, I went to the funeral of an old friend of my father’s. He was both younger than my dad (by 13 years) and died at an older age (81 vs. 90), so I went to represent my father’s gratitude to someone who’d been very good to him.

The title of the church didn’t make it obvious, but in the pews the hymnals were embossed “First Assembly of God” which made this the first time I’d ever attended an Assembly of God service. (The local AoG church had rented its space in the past to the ACNA, and I’ve seen AoG televangelists on TV, but never actually attended a worship service). The preaching and use of the Bible matched my expectations (and I mean that in positive way).

The hymnal (Sing His Praise,  Gospel Publishing House, 1991), was little used by those attendees (two of us pulled it out), as the church had long since converted to praise band and projection screens. The drums were at the center of the stage, behind a plexiglass shield, for the next day’s performance worship music.

There was no choir, only a pianist. Other than her prelude and postlude, the music consisted of

  • “That Will be Glory,” solo by one of the pastors
  • “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” instrumental trio
  • “It is Well with my Soul” (#112, verses 1,3,4), sung by the congregation. It had the familiar harmony so in the refrain, I was able to do the men’s part in response to the upper (and unison) voices.
  • “How Great Thou Art” (#9, verses 1,3,4), sung by the congregation but interrupted by the pastor to make a point prior to the final verse
The pianist knew what she was doing. The pastor seemed to think changes in tempo made his singing more dramatic, which worked for the solo but not when he was leading 150 voices in singing. This approach to singing the music is undoubtably a local practice that would have been familiar to the many parishioners in attendance; I found it unfamiliar if not slightly confusing. 

It made me think that if you have a service with a large number of visitors — given how rarely non-Christians attend baptisms nowadays, that would mean a wedding or funeral — it's not just the choice of hymns (including tunes and words) that will make a difference on congregational participation. It’s also the style of performance.

Finally, it reinforced my prior prejudices: if you are going to have Christians in the room who are used to singing hymns, three hymns is the minimum and four is better. Those in attendance sang with gusto, and I think would have welcomed more verses if not more hymns.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Singing ancient Easter testimonies

Theologically, Easter is the greatest Christian feast, the culmination of the Christian year. It is also a great opportunity for mission, since it's one of the two Sundays where C&E Anglicans (or Catholics or Lutherans) will darken the church doors.

Thus it's not surprising that most churches schedule good hymns for Easter, as our Anglo-Catholic church did this morning, and at the blended service at daughter's college parish. And of course -- next to Christmas — there is the embarrassment of riches: 18 hymns (some with multiple tunes) in The English Hymnal, 17 hymns (three with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1940, and 33 hymns (7 with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1982.

Still, today I was struck that all four of the hymns sung at our Anglo-Catholic church were derived from Latin and Greek texts that trace back to  the pre-Reformation undivided church. I was also struck — not surprisingly given the original sources — the debt we owe to John Mason Neale for being able to sing them today.

Procession: Hail thee festival day! (H40: 86; H82: 175)

We sang all nine verses, alternating (as written) between women and men. It is based on the 6th century Latin text, “Salve festa dies,” by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (b. 530-600/609), making it one of the oldest hymns in Anglican hymnody.

The texts have been translated multiple times since the 16th century. This version begins with Hymn 624 of The English Hymnal (1906) with the now-familiar tune Salva festa dies by music editor Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Hymnal 1940 Companion credits the H40 version to Hymn 389 of Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (1931). While SOPEE alternates between the two tunes, the idea of alternating verses between women and men seems to have originated with H40.

Gradual: The Day of Resurrection (H40: 96.1; H82: 210)

We sang three verses to the first tune, the middle verse in harmony; Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant. The 8th century Greek text is by St. John of Damascus.. Our hymnals use the translation by John Mason Neale from his Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862), a text that entered the ECUSA hymnary with its Hymnal 1874. The tune Ellacombe is from an 18th century German Catholic hymnal.

Communion: At the Lamb's high feast we sing (H40: 89; H82: 174)

Although I've sung this before, somehow I never really appreciated it. The Latin text is from the Roman Breviary created for Urban VIII (pope 1623-1644), but can be traced back to the 6th century text “Ad cenam Agni providi.” The 1850 translation is by Robert Campbell.

It is uniquely suited as the Easter communion hymn, and as the first of the four verses explain:
At the Lamb's high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;
praise we him, whose love divine
gives his sacred Blood for wine,
gives his Body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.
Even better, is the 17th century tune Salzburg (best known for “Songs of thankfulness and praise” H40: 53). I enjoyed singing the middle two verses of the four-part harmony by J. S. Bach, a harmonization that in my book is hard to beat.

Recessional: Jesus Christ is Risen today (H40: 85; H82: 207)

As I texted our daughter this morning, the 1st commandment of Anglican hymn selection is to end on an upbeat tune. At Easter time, this seems eminently well suited.

For the recessional, we sang all four verses: 2nd and 3rd in harmony, 4th unison with descant. Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant from the 1950 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern.

The 14th century text, Surrexit Christus hodie, has been translated multiple times since 1708. The H40 hymnal companion attributes the current version of the tune to a compilation by John Wesley and the final addition to the text to Charles Wesley.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Exemplary Passion anthem

Hymns for Palm Sunday and the Passion narrative tend to focus on Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem. However, in choir we are rehearsing “Ihr Töchter Zions”:
Ihr Töchter Zions, weint über euch selbst und über eure Kinder.
Denn siehe, es wird die Zeit kommen,
da werdet ihr sagen zu den Bergen: fallt über uns!
Und zu den Hügeln: deckt uns!
It is from Felix Mendelssohn’s sacred oratorio, Christus, Op. 97. The anthem is in triple meter and it feels like one of Mendelssohn’s dances or songs, with the lyric passages plaintive in Christ’s warning to the citizens of Jerusalem.

On Thursday, we are singing it in English translation:
Daughters of Zion, weep for yourselves and your children,
For surely the days are coming,
when they shall exclaim to the mountains: “Fall down on us!”
and to the hills: “hide us!”
The text is adapted from Luke 23:26-28 (KJV):
26. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
27. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
28. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
This is the passage (only in Luke) of the passion, after Jesus has been condemned by Pilate but before he arrives at Calvary.

The phrase “Daughters of Zion” does not appear in Luke, but does appear earlier in the passion narrative upon Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem — in Matthew (21:5) and John (12:15) — both quoting Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11.

The reading shows up in the lectionary differently among Anglican prayer books. In the 1928 BCP, it’s the gospel for the Maundy Thursday mass, as it was in the 1662 BCP.

From 1979 onward, ECUSA (and the ACNA) have read Luke 23 the same way in their parallel three year lectionaries: the 1979 prayer book, RCL, and ACNA trial use. In all three, Luke 23 appears in the Sunday lectionary on Palm Sunday Year C (2016 and 2019).

Whenever this gospel is read, this Mendelssohn piece seems like a great anthem to support that reading.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The world’s favorite Annunciation hymn

Today’s date, March 25, is nine months before Christmas, and thus the traditional date the Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is controversy (between the most Catholic and Reformed extremes) over the role of Mary in the church, nonetheless creedal Christians acknowledge the saviour who “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.” Our knowledge of the Annunciation comes from the Gospel of St. Luke, as one of the events Mary pondered in her heart and later recounted to Luke.

Issues Etc. on Friday presented the Luther perspective on the Annunciation, in an interview with the LCMS Director of Worship, Pastor Will Weedon. In honor of the day, the LCMS radio station (Lutheran Public Radio) is playing Christmas music all day today.

As Pastor Weedon points out, it’s hard for the church to celebrate a joyous feast when it falls in the middle of Lent or especially — as in 2016 — when it falls on Good Friday. As he also notes, this is a case when it’s fortunate if a church’s midweek service lands on this feast, since (under both Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars) no feasts are transferred to the Sundays of Lent.

The Annunciation is called out in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as one of 25 major feasts of the CoE, and remains on the shorter list in the current CoE liturgical calendar. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer retains the same list of 25 fixed Holy Days. The new ACNA liturgical calendar seems clearer than the 1662 in that it distinguishes between seven principal feasts (Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, All Saints’, Christmas) that take precedence over 16 Holy Days (including the Annunciation).

Today’s collect in the 1662 (and 1928) BCP links the Annunciation to the incarnation, passion and resurrection of our Lord:
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymns for The Annunciation

Hymnal 1940 lists two hymns for this date and recommends three others
  • 117 “Sing of Mary, pure and lowly”
  • 118 “Praise we the Lord this day”
  • 317 “A message came to a maiden young”
  • 418 “Blest are the pure in heart”
  • 599 “Ye watchers and you holy ones”
Hymnal 1982 has a longer list
  • 263, 264 “The Word whom earth and sea and sky adore” (from Hymns Ancient & Modern)
  • 265 “The angel Gabriel from heaven came,” the famous Basque carol that was also featured in the Issues Etc broadcast (and is #356 in the current Lutheran Service Book)
  • 266 “Gabriel of high degree,” a new hymn translation by Carl Daw
  • 267 “Praise we the Lord this day, from an 1846 CoE hymnal
  • 268, 269 “Ye who claim the faith of Jesus,” an early 20th century text; the first with a new tune by David Hurd
  • 270 “Gabriel's message does away,” a translation of a Latin text from J.M. Neale’s 1853 Carols for Christmastide
Despite my frequent criticisms of Hymnal 1982, it has consistently done a better job of making available hymns for these Holy Days. In this case, it corrects the omission by Hymnal 1940 of the world’s best known Annunciation/Christmas carol.

The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came

The text is a paraphrase of a Basque text by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), a Cambridge grad, choral director and later Anglican churchman. His best known hymn is “Onward, Christian soldiers.”

Because it has only recently (late 20th century) entered into the standard repertory and hymnals, I have not been able to find mention of the hymn in a reliable hymnal companion such as Ian Bradley’s Book of Hymns or those for the Lutheran Book of Worship or Lutheran Worship. (The explanation in the 1990s Presbyterian Hymnal companion is characteristically sketchy).

Wikipedia — that source of eternal truth — credits the Basque original to Charles Bordes (but doesn’t list an original publication date). It also says the current arrangement was first published “by Edgar Pettman in his 1892 book Modern Christmas Carols.” However, there is no mention of this carol in the version of the book archived by Google Scholar. CPDL has various Basque and English versions, appearing to rely on the Wikipedia explanation. The wonderful YouTube performance of the carol by King’s College Cambridge credits Pettman (1866-1943) as the arranger. 

I finally found it explained in The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), an indispensable resource alongside the original The Oxford Book of Carols (1928). I quote from the former (pp. 641-642):
One of the best-known Basque carols in England. It was collected by Charles Bordes and appeared at the beginning of his volume Douze Noëls populaires in the series Archives de la traditional basque (1895), to which he also contributed the volume Dix Cantiques populaires basques.

…His publication stands head and shoulder above similar collections, and remains a primary source. The melodies are unharmonized, and the texts are edited by J.F. Larrien, who also provided French prose translations.

Whatever the provenance of ‘Birjina gaztettobat zegoen’ and ‘Oi Betleem!’, the texts are sophisticated literary productions, presumably by a Basque cleric. Perhaps they are from a publication (of the eighteenth century?) which caught the public imagination, and came to be sung to folk tunes; or, as in the usual French tradition, perhaps the texts were written to fit existing folk-song melodies. …

… R.R Terry set a number of items (including the present one and ‘Oi Betleem’), and George Oldroyd set the entire volume, both composers using English translations. But it was Pettman’s settings of ‘Birjina’ and ‘Oi Betleem!’ that caught the public’s fancy, and they have remained extremely popular.

The other great merits of Pettman’s settings of this carol and ‘Oi Betleem’ is their texts, which do not attempt to mirror the Basque, a spacious language which has English translators searching for words to fill up the long lines. In this case, Baring-Gold conveys the gist of the original eight stanzas in four of great refinement.”
While Pettman presumably finished the work before his death in 1943, the original publication date and title are still unclear. Clearly texts published by Bordes in 1895 would not appear in a Pettman book of 1892. The oldest reference I find in Google Books is from a 1961 list of new publications at the Library of Congress, listing sheet music they received in June 1961. In general, a Google search of the web produces pages that replicate the (seemingly inaccurate) Wikipedia provenance.

Whatever the source, I am grateful that this most suitable Annunciation carol entered the repertoire in the latter half of the 20th century.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Planning a funeral

My father-in-law died suddenly a month ago, and last weekend was his memorial service. I ended up planning the service — as I had for my father back in 1995 — and learned a little more about funeral liturgy and service planning. In particular, 22 years ago I was one of the two decision makers while this time I was a consultant to my mother-in-law and her five adult children.

Both men had their services conducted by the longtime rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Parish in San Diego. While my dad’s service was held at the same site they’d had since 1921, the rector and 95% of his congregation walked away from the site ten years after losing their court case with ECUSA. Our service was held in the LCMS church they have called home since then.

Know the Decedent

I had asked my father-in-law for his hymn list in 2007, and reconfirmed in the summer of 2015. So we had four hymns that he wanted — Battle Hymn of the Republic, Faith of our Fathers, O God Our Help in Ages Past and Eternal Father.. To this, his widow added Amazing Grace. Both Faith of our Fathers and Amazing Grace were part of his sister’s 2006 memorial mass. I asked the rector to find a place in the service to sing all five hymns.

As at my father’s funeral, the multi-service version of the Navy Hymn (H40: 513) was a non-brainer for an Army vet. (WW II for my dad, Korea for my father-in-law). The only downside is that (to distinguish the two hymns), the hymnal begins “Almighty Father” rather than the more familiar “Eternal Father.”

My father-in-law had grown up in the most high church Episcopal parish in San Diego — now the cathedral — and was married at that church with an organ his parents helped fund. His boys had been in their chorister program (one overlapping with me), so we had an organist and I recruited a four-voice choir from among my friends. (It didn’t hurt that the bass is a member of the church choir, and all of the choir were Anglicans who’d worshipped at Holy Trinity).

Finally, I was told quite firmly that the service would begin on time. I guess this should not have been a surprise: my father-in-law was quite punctual, a source of tension during that phase when my wife and I were constantly late coming to family gatherings.

Know the Family

As at their aunt’s service, the children wanted a bagpiper. As at that service, we did it with Amazing Grace: in this case, the bagpiper played a stanza, and then we modulated into new key for five verses of organ, choir and congregation. (The bagpiper explained apologetically that he doesn’t get much choice of key on his instrument).

However, in preparing the order of service, I recommended that we end the service with Amazing Grace rather than begin it. If we started with the bagpipe, I feared there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house — or at least in the family pews. It turns out those fears were misplaced. The loved ones are going to cry during the service, but that’s a normal and healthy thing, and it’s something to be encouraged (as long as they don’t happen to be doing a reading at the podium).

Know the Audience

Who will be in the congregation is more predictable if the departed is an active member of the congregation. But that was not the case.

Still, we more than 150 packed into the service, which my own pastor says is unusual for someone in his 80s. He was active in 3 clubs, and had about 20 members of his boating safety association present. From various parts of the liturgy — the creed, the responsive sentences — it was clear that many in the audience (his generation, not mine) were current or former active church members.

It appeared that not all the congregation were regular singers, and some hymns clearly were more popular than others. Both are a topic for another time.

Planning the Service

The first choice that had to be made was the liturgical rite. Holy Trinity is a longtime Anglo-Catholic parish that is switching from Rite I to the ACNA liturgy. However, all their funerals have been Rite I, so we used that. (My father in law worshipped the greatest portion of his life using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but Rite I from the 1979 prayer book is what he'd used most recently).

I did some comparisons of the texts later on. The 1928 and the 1979 Rite I are very different liturgies, even though the wording of some prayers are the same. Meanwhile, portions of the February 2017 ACNA liturgy are identical to Rite II, including the Apostle’s Creed and many of the prayers. (Rite I and II seem to have the same structure but different language).

We then had to decide whether to include the Mass; in the end we did not. We weren’t sure how many would take Communion: however, we had a big crowd and I think we would have had more participants than at my aunt’s service — probably a majority. Without including Communion, 3 of the 5 hymns were before/between/after the Gospel and homily.

As with most American funeral or memorial services, we used the Authorized Version of Psalm 23 (said responsively this month; sung at my father’s service). To include all five hymns, the second psalm of the 1979 prayer book was replaced with a sequence hymn. The final reading was from John 14, which begins with the “many mansions” passage and concludes with the great statement of faith: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

The family discussed who would do the three readings: OT, psalm, Epistle. As in a Sunday Rite I service, we elected to have a fourth lay reader (rather than the priest) read the intercessory prayers. Some of the likely nominees (e.g. people who did readings at our wedding) declined out of concern that they might break into tears.

For a service that primarily serves Anglican churchgoers, a simple leaflet (with pointers to the prayer book and hymnal) would have sufficed. We elected to go with a service booklet — full prayers, readings and hymn text — with nine 8.5" x 5.5" pages printed on letter paper (plus a cover and other material). Three of the hymns were in the hymnal, but I don’t know if any hymnals were opened by anyone other than the choir or me.

I found one gotcha on booklet preparation. If I had to do over again, I would have typed the hymn text straight from the hymnal (and proofread it three times) rather than copy and paste from Hymnary.org or Oremus.org. Those sites have the text from one particular hymnal, and that text is unlikely to exactly match that of H40 (or whatever the preferred hymnal is). If I were in the habit of running church services, I would make a database of the exact text of all the hymns from my hymnal, no matter how many hours that would take.

Final Thoughts

In my current lay ministry class, one of my classmates is a part-time volunteer wedding planner at our church. After this, my family joked I had a future as a funeral planner.

Planning a funeral — like a wedding or a baptism — is not something that we do often in our lives. Absent written instructions from the grave, it is also made more complex by having one (or more) family members trying to discern the decedent’s wishes so that they can be honored, while at the same time sensitive to those of the survivors.

To allow for out-of-town travel, we had four weeks to plan this memorial service, while another recent funeral (elsewhere in the family) was scheduled in nine days. From the standpoint of logistics (not bereavement), two weeks is a reasonable interval. Anything less than that requires an immediate meeting with all the relevant family members to understand their wishes (rather than waiting for the next weekend as we did). It might also require someone taking a day off of work to pull together a complete service in a day or two, rather than over a week or two. (I don’t know how much work it was to plan the reception because I merely showed up).

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I value tradition, order and doing things properly — as did my father-in-law. Even without that, it really helped to have a prayer book and rector who (with clear pastoral sensibilities) set clear limits on what was and was not acceptable. With all the planning and other activities of that day, it was tempting at times to forget the real purpose of the service, as captured by the penultimate prayer of the service:
Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant B. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.