Service music

Sunday next before Advent (November 24, 2019)

The Epistle reading for this last Sunday in the Church year is not from an epistle but from the prophet Jeremiah. Even though we’re not officially in Advent, the reading anticipates the anticipation present in Advent. (Christian experience includes many layers of anticipation). The first verse of that reading announces: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”

That righteous Branch is referenced in our Processional hymn, “How bright appears the Morning Star.” The text to this hymn is credited to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), but — as you can read here — the text we sing is significantly altered from the original, which was a love song from the heart of a believer to Christ the Bridegroom.

Our Sermon hymn is by the great poet/priest George Herbert. “Teach me, my God and King” was originally called “The Elixir,” published in the large collection of work by Herbert known as The Temple (1633). (This hymn’s page includes an embedded performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs, a setting of other poems by Herbert.)

At the Offertory, the choir sings a piece written in 2010 by Sir James MacMillan, one of the greatest living composers of choral music (demonstrating that our choir is not unfamiliar with contemporary Christian music). The text of Benedicimus Deum caeli is taken from the book of Tobit: “Blessed be God the Father, and the only-begotten Son of God, and likewise the Holy Spirit: for he hath shewed his mercy upon us.” This text is traditionally sung as the Offertory on Trinity Sunday. Our choir chanted the text on that Sunday; as the Trinity season comes to a close we sing it again in a more magnificent setting. The work is one of MacMillan’s Strathclyde Motets, a collection of liturgical pieces gifted to the chaplaincy at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Many of these works were first sung in the Roman Catholic parish in Glasgow where MacMillan was choir director.

Here is a performance of this work by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

During Communion, the choir sings sections of a work by Felix Mendelssohn, based on a hymn by Martin Luther. Aus tiefer noth is Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 130. The opening words of this psalm — “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord” — are also chanted in today’s service in the Alleluia and the Offertory proper.

Our Communion hymns are “Bread of heav’n” and “The King of love my shepherd is.” The first of these is a short text by Josiah Conder (1789-1855), whose father was a map engraver and bookseller. From the age of 13, he worked as his father’s assistant in the bookstore, in which he exploited many opportunities for self-education. The author of numerous prose works and dozens of hymns, he also edited a number of reviews and newspapers.

Our closing hymn is “Lead on, O King eternal.” It was originally written as a graduation hymn for the class of 1887 at Andover Theological Seminary by Ernest Warburton Shurtleff (1862-1917), one of the graduating students. The tune LANCASHIRE was composed in 1836 by Henry Smart (1813-1879), an active church musician, editor, and composer. This tune was written for use with the text of the missionary hymn, “From Greenland’s icy mountains” (Hymnal #254). Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.