The Guardian Angel

 

The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels (Michaelmas) is celebrated in some Western churches on September 29, and we observed it the next day at Compline. I want to share with you our orison from that service: “The Guardian Angel.”

Ina_BoyleIna Boyle (1889 – 1967) was, as noted in The Norton/Grove dictionary of women composers, was “the most prolific and significant female composer from Ireland before 1950.” She composed throughout her life in all genres, but because of her relative isolation and gender, her works have only just recently been revived and appreciated.

“The Guardian Angel” was one of a collection of 15 Gaelic Hymns, published between 1923-24, while Ina was a student of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text comes from the collection Carmina Gadelica: Gaelic Hymns and Invocations collected in the Hebrides and Western Highlands of Scotland, tr. Alexander Carmichael (1900) – See this link for the original Gaelic. Note that Ina Boyle omitted the second stanza, and changed a few other words for her setting.

To listen to this Compline Service from 30 September 2018, and other services, go to complinepodcast.org.

THOU angel of God who hast charge of me
From the dear Father of mercifulness,
The shepherding king of the fold of the saints
To make round about me this night;

Drive from me every temptation and danger,
Surround me on the sea of unrighteousness,
And in the narrows, crooks, and straits,
Keep thou my coracle, keep it always.

Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path below me,
And be a kindly shepherd behind me,
To-day, to-night, and for ever.

I am tired and I a stranger,
Lead thou me to the land of angels;
For me it is time to go home
To the court of Christ, to the peace of heaven.

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Our Royal Wedding

Tyler-Rebekah Wedding

Rebekah and Tyler with the Compline Choir, St. Mark’s Cathedral

On the eve of the latest royal wedding, and with June right around the corner, I was reminded of another wonderful occasion – the marriage of Rebekah Gilmore and Tyler Morse, celebrated at St. Mark’s Cathedral on October 7, 2017. Tyler, who sings Alto I in the Compline Choir, and Rebekah, the Associate Musician and Choir School Director at St. Mark’s, created a wonderful service, which involved four choirs and other instrumentalists.

At the time of the wedding, St. Mark’s was still undergoing renovation, so that all the walls except the west were shrouded in white plastic, which provided a festive background (it was like being inside of a wedding cake!). As you watch the video of the service you will no doubt hear the noise from the outside, since at the time all the windows had been removed, awaiting new ones (to see what a new window looks like now, see Katherine Crosier’s blog “Mysticism and the Sense of the Sacred,” from February 2018).

Here’s a link to the wonderful processional hymn, “O God beyond all praising,” sung to the tune Thaxted , which was arranged and conducted by Canon Musician Emeritus Dr. J. Melvin Butler. This hymn, to the words “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” is often sung at British royal occasions. The second stanza of Michael Perry’s text (1982) is often omitted in hymnals, but with its themes of the transitory life and resurrection, was so appropriate to have sung by the Compline Choir alone:

O God beyond all praising,
we worship you today
and sing the love amazing
that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder
at every gift you send,
at blessings without number
and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you
and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you,
our great and mighty Lord.

The flower of earthly splendor
in time must surely die,
its fragile bloom surrender
to you the Lord most high;
but hidden from all nature
the eternal seed is sown –
though small in mortal stature,
to heaven’s garden grown:
for Christ the Man from heaven
from death has set us free,
and we through him are given
the final victory!

Then hear, O gracious Savior,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.

The video on YouTube comes complete with links to other wonderful music from the wedding. It was truly a royal occasion!

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Easter Splendor

Easter Day was on the first of April this year, and with the Compline choir roster at its greatest number ever (about 23), and the acoustics at St. Mark’s Cathedral restored to new splendor, I must say that the anthems for the season have risen to new heights – so I had to share three of them with you.

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Christ the Savior

Moscow, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where Chesnokov directed the choir. destroyed by Stalin  in 1931, but rebuilt in the 1990s.

On Easter Day, the choir sang something for the first time in its 60-plus history – an anthem from the Russian repertoire in Church Slavonic – the famous “Salvation is Created” written in 1912 by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), from his Ten Communion Hymns, Op. 25. It was a successful venture for the choir into the rich four-part close harmonic texture that is the hallmark of the Russian style. And we could not have done this piece without some good “Russian” low basses – fortunately, we are blessed with some.

Spaséniye sodélal yesí posredé ziemlí, Bózhe. Allilúiya.
(translation):
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.

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melk abbey

The Benedictine Abbey of Melk, in Lower Austria

Several weeks later, the choir sang “Christus Surrexit,” by Jacob Handl (1550-1591). This is a lovely 6-part setting of the chorale whose German version is “Christ ist erstanden.” Both this chorale and “Christ lag in Totesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death) are melodic variants of the 11th-century chant Victimae paschali laudes (see the example in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline). Jacob Handl worked mainly in Austria, at places like Melk Abbey and the Viennese court chapel. He ended his life working in Prague.

Christ is risen; he has covered our evil
and those whom he loved he has carried up to heaven.
Kyrie eleison.

And if he had not risen, the whole world would have perished.
Kyrie eleison.

Alleluia! Let us praise him, chanting a hymn of joy,
Let us praise him with a song of joy.
Kyrie eleison.

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St Mark's Venice

St. Mark’s Cathedral, Venice

On April 29, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we celebrated the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist (April 25), by singing the 10-part motet “Deus, qui beatam Marcam” by Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554-1612). It was written for the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, famous for its lavish polychoral anthems and acoustical splendor. In an early draft for my book, I rhapsodized about singing at St. Mark’s, Seattle, with its many comparisons to Venice – a rich maritime life, a school of glass-blowing – even a train station tower copied after the Campanile in the Piazza – and a cathedral of the same name known for its acoustics and “school” of composers – so I was in seventh heaven to be singing this anthem. Jason Anderson coached us to sing the “Alleluias” at the end with the kind of attack that conjured up the instruments that no doubt were used when this was performed in early 17th century Venice.

O God, who graced your evangelist Mark with the gift of proclaiming the Gospel, grant, we pray, that our ears be opened to his words, and our minds transformed by his teaching, and that we may be defended by his prayer. Alleluia.

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Advent 2017

Compline Choir - Advent 2017 (photo: Kevin Johnson)

Compline Choir – Advent 2017 (photo: Kevin Johnson)

Last Sunday began a new year in the Christian calendar. At St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, the Compline Choir joined the Cathedral choirs in the “Advent Procession,” a service of readings, prayer, and music that was initiated by Peter Hallock in the 1950s.  In 1986, it took on its current structure – built on the seven “O Antiphons.”

St. Mark’s has been undergoing serious renovation on three sides – including cladding the exterior in limestone and replacement of the windows, installation of a five-floor elevator, and reconstruction of the entrance patio. The window installation and removal of the interior scaffolding was completed in the week before December 3, and the return of the acoustics was truly awesome. I’d honestly been in a funk since the windows were taken out, and we heard nothing but the relentless din of Interstate 5. With the silence restored and then some, it was like a part of me that was lost and now returned – with a realization that the SOUND was an element in my attachment to Compline over more than five decades.

Another remarkable thing this year, is that the services at St. Mark’s Cathedral are streamed live and archived, both at the cathedral’s website as well as on YouTube. Here’s a link to the beginning of the Advent Procession with the music Let my Prayer come up as the Incense, by Peter Hallock (1924-2014). The Compline Choir sings the words in Latin, and the Cathedral Choir in English:

Let my prayer come up as the incense: And let the lifting up of my hands be as an evening sacrifice.

This time of Advent comes with the invitation to take some time in quiet reflection, and this service of readings, prayer, and music is an excellent remedy for what can be a frenetic time. You can watch and listen to all or parts of the service at any time you choose, as well as download a PDF of the service booklet at the St. Mark’s streaming site. What a wonderful gift.

I also recommend “Dancing with Time: An Advent Prelude,” by Jim Friedrich.

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Midsummer

St Placid 6-24-17

St. Placid Cemetery, just before Evening Prayer on 6-24-17.

I’m writing this while on a silent retreat at St. Placid Priory, in Lacey, Washington, where I am an Oblate. The weather in the Seattle area has finally plunged fully into summer, but the Priory is surrounded by tall trees where it’s very pleasant to sit in the shade and read.

Today is June 24, celebrated by many cultures (especially Scandinavian) as Midsummer. The Christian Church, having set the time of Jesus’s birth near the Winter Solstice, placed the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this day about six months before Christmas Eve. This was done according to the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:36), in which the Angel Gabriel informed the Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was already six months with child.

The feast of St. John the Baptist brings back memories for me of a wonderful motet, Suscipe clementissime Deus, that we sang at Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral back in the early 1990s. The piece was by the great Venetian master Giovanni Gabrieli (d. 1612) for a six-part male choir, with a second choir of six trombones. I had wanted to do the piece ever since 1977, when I was living in England, and heard that the conductor Andrew Parrott was going to make a recording of Venetian choral music which included Nigel Rogers, one of my voice teachers. When we finally sang the motet at Compline, it was very gratifying for me to hear this work for male chorus designed for the sonorous acoustics of St. Mark’s Venice have its American debut in the sonorous acoustics of St. Mark’s Seattle!

The piece was not recorded, but here is a link to a recording of Suscipe done by the Gabrieli Consort and Players in 1996.

Gabrieli - Suscipe

I suppose one of the things that’s made me yearn for these sonorous acoustics is the current state of construction at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle. A long-overdue Capital Campaign and Construction Project has been underway since mid-April. The exterior walls, north-east-south will be clad in limestone, and the windows will be replaced. Currently, many of the old windows have been removed, and the noise from the I-5 freeway is all-too evident on our latest podcasts.

St Mark's construction

Construction on the north wall of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The Compline Choir hopes to return to its usual corner by mid-August. In the meantime, the half-size window on the east wall above where we sing will be dedicated to the memory of Peter R. Hallock, and the choir is actively raising money for this project. For more information, and to contribute see the choir’s Window Page.

So on the week of June 24, 2018 I say: “Bring back the trombones.”

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Stirring Settings of Simeon’s Song

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014

I always cherish the time around the first week of February — true midwinter in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Pacific Northwest, with its mild climate, little green shoots start to appear, even as snow flurries come and go. This midpoint between December 21 and March 21 has for millenia been marked by special celebrations honoring the transition from darkness to light, death to birth, or hibernation to emergence. Events to honor this transition include the pagan Imbolc, the Icelandinc Þorrablót, and the recounting of Persephone’s annual release from Hades. The Christian feast of Candlemas on February 2, which commemorates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after Christmas, incorporates many of the elements of these midwinter celebrations.

I have written previously about the Feast of the Presentation, and the Nunc Dimittis, which is the Gospel Canticle associated with Compline. In January and February, I was a participant in performances that included two  very different, but stunningly beautiful settings of this text.

rachmaninoffIn January, Choral Arts Northwest performed the All-night vigil by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). The Nunc Dimittis is contained within Great Vespers, which is the first part of the all-night vigil. About this  setting, I quote from Seattle conductor and musicologist Gary Cannon (who also participated in this performance), from his essay on the work:

“In the fifth movement the tenor gets a more extended role, and indeed it is a specific character, that of Simeon in the New Testament. He was the old man who met the infant Jesus in the temple and declared, as had been prophesied that he would, that this was the savior. In this prayer, known in the West as the ‘Nunc dimittis,’ Simeon declares his readiness for death. Surrounding the soloist’s Kievan chant, the slow, steady pace of the altos and tenors could be interpreted as either a gentle lullaby, the tolling of bells, or the gait of an old man. Liturgically, at this point children enter the church and are laid on the ground, after which the priest raises them up to their parents. The movement closes with the basses descending to an extraordinarily low bottom B-flat. When Rachmaninov first played this section for Nikolai Danilin (1878–1945), who was to conduct the premiere, the maestro’s response was: ‘Where on earth are we going to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas.’ Years later the composer confirmed: ‘I knew the voices of my countrymen.’ He had hoped that this movement would be played at his funeral, a wish which was unfortunately not realized.”

In this performance, from Choral Arts Northwest’s concert at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle on January 14, 2017, the tenor soloist is Les Green:

(Orthodox Church Slavonic)
Nyne otpushchayeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko, po glagolu Tvoyemu s mirom
yako videsta ochi moi spaseniye Tvoye,
ezhe esi ugotoval pred litsem vsekh lyudei,
svet vo otkrovenie yazykov,
i slavu lyudei Tvoikh Izrailya.

(English translation)
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

choral-arts-olympia

Choral Arts Northwest singing the Rachmaninoff All-night Vigil in the State Capitol Rotunda, Olympia WA

howellsOn February 19, 2017, the Compline Choir combined with the Senior Choristers from St Mark’s Cathedral to sing one of our rare SATB services (the intent is to sing once every two years). For the Nunc Dimitis, we sang a setting in D by the English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983), which he wrote for the Cathedral Church Of The Holy and Indivisible Trinity, Gloucester, in 1946.

In the last section at the words “As it was in the beginning,” the trebles rise to a high “A,” producing the climactic moment of the piece. In his essay “A ‘Wholly New Chapter’ in Service Music: Collegium regale and the Gloucester Service” in The Music of Herbert Howells (ed. by Cooke and Maw: Boydell Press, 2013), Phillip A. Cooke writes, “The effect of this passage is truly spell-binding, and it is one of the great moments in the Anglican musical canon. This is a representation of ‘Christ in his glory and majesty…it is Howells at his most powerful and transcendental…”

For this February 19th Office of Compline, the choirs were accompanied on the organ by Michael Kleinschmidt, Canon Musician, and directed by Jason Anderson, Compline Choir Director. The senior choristers were prepared  by Rebekah Gilmore, Associate Musician & Choir School Director, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Ring Out, Wild Bells

Compline Choir member Gregory Bloch writes the following guest post about his wonderful arrangement; make sure you scroll down to listen!

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On New Year’s Day, 2017, the hymn for the service of compline at Saint Mark’s was “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” to the tune Deus Tuorum Militum, in an arrangement for choir and bells by yours truly.

It is a combination of text and music that first appeared in my favorite hymnal, Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition published in 1931, and co-edited by certified musical giant Ralph Vaughan Williams, Martin “All things bright and beautiful” Shaw, and superstar of the early 20th-century liturgical revival Percy Dearmer. It is a hymnal with explicit ambitions to improve the moral and intellectual life of the entire British nation. “We ourselves have borne well in mind,” writes Dearmer, “the fact that our churches, both Anglican and Free Church, have alienated during the last half-century much of the strongest character and intelligence of the Nation by the use of weak verse and music.” And later: ” If the Churches are to recover during the present century the ground which was lost during the last, much will depend on the hymn-books used.” The editors thus selected hymns for Songs of Praise based on criteria of poetic quality foremost — its goal was to present to every churchgoer, week after week, “that heritage, [which] is ours by right, of the great poetry in which the English language is supreme.” Gradually, Dearmer believed, the tastes of the whole nation would be elevated until “in the future, intelligent men [sic] will be able to take up a hymn-book and read it with as much interest and appreciation as any other collection of poetry.”

songsofpraisejacket

It didn’t quite work out that way, although Songs of Praise has given us several hymns and harmonizations which have endured, and many which deserve to be better known.{1} The hymnal the co-editors produced feels like no other, containing texts far more (for lack of a better term) “sophisticated” than anything one would find in a hymnal today, including texts by Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Algernon Swinborne, Emily Brontë, Robert Browning, William Wordsworth, G.K. Chesterton, John Masefield, and a truly bizarre hymn cobbled together from lines of Walt Whitman’s “O Pioneers!”

Which brings us to “Ring out, wild bells,” with text by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The hymn is a selection of stanzas from one of Tennyson’s masterpieces, In Memoriam A.H.H., a book-length exploration of the poet’s grief at the death of his beloved college friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. It is the poem in which the phrase “nature, red in tooth and claw” appears. Here is the hymn as it appears in Songs of Praise (with notes for my bell arrangement in pencil):

ringwildhymnal

While looking through the hymnal sometime back in September, the phrases “ancient forms of party strife” “false pride in place and blood” and “the civic slander and the spite” seemed… urgently contemporary.

When I sat down to write out an arrangement, I decided to omit the “grief the saps the mind” verse, and replaced it with Tennyson’s original second stanza, which the hymnal omits:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going let [it] go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

(In both this verse and the first verse I changed Tennyson’s poetic “him” to “it,” to prevent any misunderstanding on the part of the congregation who did not have the text in front of them.) The entire long poem consists of quatrains like these, with their unusual ABBA rhyme scheme, a form which is today referred to as an “In Memoriam stanza”; in Dearmer’s words, the pattern “produces an impressive ‘circular’ movement.” The haunting opening stanzas of the poem also appear as a hymn in “Songs of Praise,” paired with Gibbons’ “Song 5”:

 

inmemoriamopening3

Astute regular listeners to the Compline Choir may have noticed our hand bells were silent for some time this summer, but have been used quite a bit in the last few months. This is because the Cathedral’s beloved and unique bells were sent out to a specialist to be restored and retuned. The bells were cast in 1965 by the Dutch foundery of Petit & Fritsen, a company founded in 1660 and still in the hands of the original family — but which no longer produces hand bells, rendering our bells now literally irreplaceable.

Since their return, it struck me that, for as much use as the bells get by all the choirs at the Cathedral, we typically only use a few bells from the middle octaves. We almost never take advantage of the fact that the set includes five complete octaves, from C3 to C8. For this bell-themed hymn, and to ring in the new year, I set out to use the full range of bells, including the lowest bell in the set, C3, here held by Compline Choir baritone James Wilcox, who rang it in the service:

james-and-the-c-bell

The refurbishment of the bells was made possible by a generous gift from a member of the Saint Mark’s community, to whom the arrangement is dedicated. After hearing the hymn sung in the New Year’s Day compline service (and despite an unfortunate missed cue before stanza 4), she wrote me to say that the hymn “made me feel hopeful for the year we are in.” I hope you enjoy it as well.

[Editor’s note – the missed cue before stanza 4 has been edited out]

alfredgarethjones

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{1} Notably, “Morning has broken,” an unlikely hit for Cat Stevens decades later, was commissioned by the editors from poet Eleanor Farjeon, to carry an old tune in an unusual poetic meter. The obscure but excellent hymn from Songs of Praise, “Ah! think not ‘the Lord delayeth’” with a text by Percy Dearmer himself, was sung by the Compline Choir in the service of December 4, 2016.

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