• Hymns

    A hymn for Septuagesima

    The weather is preventing our singing together in the parking lot this Sunday. But the choir has recorded a hymn for you to sing (or at least hum along with) at home on this first Sunday of the pre-Lenten season. “Awake my soul stretch every nerve” (Hymn #577 in our Hymnal, downloadable here if you don’t have a copy at home) was originally entitled “Pressing on in the Christian Race,” and is based on Philippians 3:12–14, a passage in which St. Paul — as he does in today’s Epistle reading from I Corinthians — compares the disciplined pilgrimage of the Christian life to the running of a race. Written by…

  • Interviews

    St. Polycarp’s suffering,
    in poetry and music

    In 2004, a large-scale musical work based on the martyrdom of St. Polycarp was premiered in South Carolina. The composer was J.A.C. Redford (who has visited our parish and even sung with our choir), and the libretto was written by poet Scott Cairns. I had the privilege of talking with both of them before the work was first performed for the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. An edited feature from that  interview is presented here.

  • Repertoire

    A confident Advent hymn

    One of the most dynamic Advent hymns in our Hymnal is “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” The choir had already begun recording this hymn to accompany our parking lot singing this weekend before we learned that the services were to be cancelled. I hope that you have a chance to sing it sometime during Advent. Toward that end, here is the recording that the choir made: This page provides some background to the hymn’s text, and some examples of a few of J. S. Bach’s settings of the tune, known as WACHET AUF (which translates as “Wake up”). Last year I did some research on other treatments of this…

  • Interviews,  Repertoire

    St. Cecilia’s Day 2020

    As she is the patron saint of music and musicians, St. Cecilia has not surprisingly been the subject of many musical compositions. In this feature I produced this weekend for Mars Hill Audio, I introduce several of the pieces. Also included is part of an interview with Brian Dean Sousa, who has been gracing us with his work at our organ console in recent months. Brian talks about recording a piece inspired by St. Cecilia with his ensemble, Musica Sacra Virginia. Make sure to listen on YouTube to the recording he and his singers have made for this special day.

  • Hymns

    Our new (yet very old) Evensong hymn

    Last week we sang (for many of us, for the first time) hymn #176 in our Hymnal. The opening words are “O gladsome light, O grace.” Those words come from an ancient Greek hymn best known by the first two words in the text, Phos hilaron. (Attentive readers will recognize light and gladness in those words; our English word “phosphorescent” is based on the Greek word “phos,” meaning “light,” And “hilarious” is from the Greek “hilaros,” meaning “cheerful.”) Phos hilaron dates to the late 3rd or early 4th century and is sometimes referred to as the “Candlelighting Hymn,” or the “Lamplighting Hymn.” This nickname is a tribute to the place…

  • Repertoire,  Service music

    Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

    Today’s feast day is also known as Michaelmas, traditionally celebrated in Great Britain and elsewhere as the last day of the autumn harvest. The Book of Revelation (12:7-9) describes a war in heaven in which the Archangel Michael leads an angelic host to defeat Satan. That description accounts for the Church’s confident belief that God protects us each day by the watchful agency of angels, a protection recognized in the Collect for today: “O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may…

  • Hymns

    “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me”

    This week, we’ll sing together — weather permitting — a hymn first published in 1863. The caption that appeared above the hymn is the title I’ve used for this post. The hymn — “In heav’nly love abiding” — is one of many hymns inspired by Psalm 23, a text with great reassuring power especially treasured in times of uncertainty. The text is by Anna Laetitia Waring (1823-1910), a Welsh poet who was raised in the Society of Friends but converted to the Church of England because of her eagerness to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. She is also known to have learned to read Hebrew so she…

  • Hymns

    A hopeful hymn for anxious times

    This week, our parish welcomes a new hymn to our repertoire. “If thou but suffer God to guide thee” is not in our Hymnal, though it is familiar to many of us who have worshiped in churches that rely on other hymnals. The hymn has inspired many composers to incorporate it in their own work. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Schumann used the tune very straightforwardly, and Brahms may have allusions to it in his Requiem. The hymn also made an appearance in the 1987 film Babette’s Feast. Near the end of the movie, one of the two pious sisters at the center of the narrative sits at the piano and sings…

  • Hymns

    Hymn for Trinity VIII

    We continue our outdoor singing after the services this week with a hymn that stresses God’s power and might: “Give praise and glory unto God” (#287). Throughout the hymn, divine power is portrayed as merciful and protective: God’s might is not a display of sheer unlimited will, but the agency of righteousness and justice. The hymn’s Lutheran author, Johann Jacob Schütz (1640-1690), practiced law in Frankfurt and is noted for his friendship with Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), a central figure in the Pietist movement which transformed Lutheranism and later influenced John Wesley. The tune ELBING is named for the birthplace of its composer Peter Sohren (d. c. 1693), a Lutheran…

  • Hymns

    Hymn for Trinity III

    Next Saturday and Sunday, our after-service hymn-sing will feature a favorite hymn in our parish, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” By letting everyone know in advance what hymn we‘ll be singing together, families who wish to do so may teach the hymn to their children. If you don’t have a hymnal at home, you may download a page with the music here. I’ve also prepared some audio files that will help those of you interested in learning to sing the harmonies to this hymn, instead of just the melody. Here is the entire hymn as recorded by our choir several weeks ago, as part of our Choir-in-Quarantine project.…