Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Come, let us sing!

Today is the first day of Forward in Faith North America’s annual conference. The 2017 Assembly is being held 13 miles from DFW in the Texas Metroplex, in the Diocese of Ft. Worth.

We kicked off the Assembly with a sung evensong, with a 17-voice choir formed by the local music director and volunteers from St. Vincent’s Cathedral and St. Mark’s Anglican in Arlington. Their obvious talent aside, it was great to hear a medium-sized choir, which sounds so much more full and than the 4- to 10-voice choirs I’ve mainly heard the last 15 years. (One small gripe: like most volunteer choirs, there weren’t enough men’s voices with only 5 of the 17).

The service was a 1928 BCP Evening Prayer, although the text was obviously unfamiliar to many of those present. (One tip-off: saying “Holy Spirit” instead of “Holy Ghost.”) The music was picked with taste from the English repertoire, included chants and anthems by John Stainer, John Goss, Alec Rowley, and C.H.H. Parry.

However, as a member of the congregation (rather than in the choir or an organizer), I (re)learned a valuable lesson. There was literally no music to sing — unless you count the monotone chant of the creed and the Lord’s Prayer. As you might expect for a conference of Anglo-Catholic clergy (including five bishops and one bishop-elect), there was a lot of music talent in the pews — and some of us sang along anyway (particularly on the psalm, where it was practical enough to learn as we went.)

So there were at least two key lessons:
  • For most churches and most occasions, more music should be sung by the congregation than by the choir alone. That often means two really great and elaborate anthems, and then three hymns plus service music where the congregation can sing along.
  • If the congregation is asked (or expects) to sing along, don’t trick them. For example, if we sign “Amen” after the officiant for three prayers, either make the Amens all the same or write out the music.
And this points to a final lesson. Over the past few years, I learned a lot about take-for-grantedness by visiting a wide range of churches before choosing my current church, and I’ve also tried to visit unfamiliar churches while traveling. The clergy, music director and choir need to get out more so they have empathy for how those in the pews experience the liturgy.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Picking a tune for Whittier’s greatest hit

This morning’s bulletin included a copy of “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” which meant it wasn’t in the hymnal — but it was. So this warranted further investigation.

When I got home, I checked my six 20th century Anglican hymnals — it’s in all of them, but with different tunes. All seem to use the same five verses — dropping the 4th verse of Whittier’s original 6 — and it appears to have escaped bowdlerization in the later hymnals (perhaps because the only offensive word, “mankind”, appears in the first phrase). However, there are five different tunes.

In chronological order:
  • The English Hymnal (1906): #383, Hammersmith
  • Hymnal 1916: #120, 1) Newcastle; and 2) Rest
  • Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (1931): #481, 1) Repton; 2) Nicolaus (Lobt Gott)
  • Hymnal 1940: #435, 1) Hermann (same as Nicolaus); 2) Rest
  • Hymnal 1982: #652, Rest; #653, Repton
  • New English Hymnal (1986): #353, Repton

Text

The 1872 text is by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), the American poet whose work I had heard of as a kid but (it appears) I never read any of it. His name is more familiar because it was attached to a street near my elementary school (and high school), a town (where Richard Nixon grew up) and a college. The Cyber Hymnal reports that this abolitionist was known as “America’s ‘Quaker Poet’,” that he authored nearly 100 hymns and perhaps 20 are still found in hymnals. Of these texts, “Dear Lord” is the only one I recognize.

Here are the five verses, in the form that (according to Hymnal 1940 Companion) it was first adapted in 1905:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

Usage

The hymn is listed as a general hymn except in 1916, when it’s called out for Septuagesima. The Liturgical Index of Hymnal 1940 lists it for morning prayer at Trinity VII MP, and evening prayer on Lent III and St. Matthias. In the Lectionary hymn choices by Rev. Richard R. Losch on DrShirley.org, it is recommended for
  • Epiphany 3A/St. Andrew: Matthew 4:12-23
  • Epiphany 3B: Mark 1:14-20
  • Epiphany 5C: Luke 5:1-11
  • Last Epiphany B/Proper 8C: I Kings 19: 9-21
  • Proper 7B: Mark 4:35-5:20
  • Proper 14C: Hebrew 11:1-16

Tunes

These are the five tunes across the six hymnals:
  • Hammersmith, by William Henry Gladstone, M.P. (1840-1891), eldest son of the famous British prime minister.
  • Newcastle, written in 1875, it is the only surviving hymn of English organist Henry L. Morley (c. 1834).
  • Nicholaus, written in 1554 by Nicholaus Hermann (c.1500-1561), the early Lutheran hymnwriter; the tune was arranged and harmonized by J.S.  Bach (apparently for his BWV 151 cantata).
  • Hermann, the same tune, but harmonized by Winifred Douglas for his Hymnal 1940.
  • Repton, written in 1888 by Sir C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918), second director of the Royal College of Music who is buried in the Chapel of the OBE at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The New English Hymnal says it was “from a song in his oratorio Judith.
  • Rest, by English organist Federick Maker (1844-1927), written in 1887 specifically for this text.
All except the Parry have four part harmonies. If the hymnal choices reflect broader congregational popularity, today the choice seems to be between Rest and Ripton.

Rest is the one we sang as a kid, is familiar to an Episcopalian of the past century, and has four part harmonies; however, cradle Episcopalians are no longer the core audience for Anglican churches. Ripton has only a melody — the Parry harmonization is for organ and not voices — but is the one that’s on all the recordings (by English choirs, naturally).

Because the range is better for lower voices, I vote for Rest. Our music director (an Anglophile) votes for Ripton because, well, it’s Parry; my teenage daughter also votes for it, because it’s the one she’s learned on YouTube.

I get the argument about Parry, but musically I don’t give Parry, Stainer, Stanford or even Elgar the same deference as Purcell or Tallis. (I would put Holst and Vaughan Williams in the latter category). So here it seems like a matter of taste or congregation familiarity. But in the long run, if Americans don’t record their tunes they’ll be forgotten by future generations.