Archive for October, 2011

Phos Hilaron – Part Two

Kevin Siegfried

Kevin Siegfried

After a hiatus filled with many things — the death and memorial service of a good friend and mentor, a trip to the mountains to enjoy the fall color, much activity in both my day job and getting a book proposal ready — I’m back to add the promised second part to my blog on Phos Hilaron.

In my previous posting I talked about the history of this evening hymn from the fourth century, one of the oldest musical texts that we have that are not in the bible, and posted a link to the Compline Choir singing Kevin Siegfried’s setting of Phos Hilaron.  Kevin, who sang with the Compline Choir while he was in Seattle in the late 1990s, wrote us quite a few compositions, including the Compline hymn Te lucis ante terminum (Before the ending of the day), and a setting of the Nunc dimittis (Lord, now let your servant depart in peace).  In his setting of Phos Hilaron he re-used some of the words to form a fourth stanza, then alternated a chantlike setting of stanzas one and three with a slow-moving setting with block-chordal, minimal harmonies for stanzas two and four.  If you missed hearing it from the previous post, or want to hear it again, click here and press the “Play” button (>):

O gracious Light
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
O gracious Light!

Juli Morgan

Juli Morgan

Juli Morgan is a guitarist and composer of sacred song whose home base is Tacoma; once when she was attending the Compline Service in Seattle she heard Kevin’s setting of Phos Hilaron, and felt like she “was floating.”  [I too feel like I’m in a special meditative state when I’m singing it.]  Juli went on to record Phos using her own voice for all the parts, laying down 37 tracks — listen to her story about the process and play her recording here.  And see how she combined it with her own song, Salvation is Yours.

Juli stopped by after a Compline service in September to give me a copy of her new CD, My Universe.  In her song Center of my Universe, she refers to another ancient chant that has been part of Compline for over a thousand years, known in Latin as the “In manus tuas”:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

In the Office of Compline that we sing, this is a response after the short bible reading.  The next line of the response is “For you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.”  These are several verses from Psalm 31, which was one of the four psalms designated for Compline in the Middle Ages.  There it is, in one short verse — it really speaks to many things: about Compline, and our response to our own life and death; about who Jesus was, and our response to his saving act (is not what Jesus said on the cross accompanied by the verse about what he did on the cross?); and about our response to being in the universe.

As I listened to Center of my Universe, I kept thinking of something I had heard before, some Déjà vu moment.  Was it a Hildegard of Bingen chant?  No, it was something purely instrumental.  And then it came to me — a recording called A Meeting by the River, by Ry Cooder on bottleneck guitar and V. M. Bhatt, on his own instrument, the mohan vina.  Both Juli’s song and the improvisation in Indian style by Cooder/Bhatt were in the key of D – I had made some connection similar to “perfect pitch” between the two; and also a connection in feeling — meditative, joyful, prayerful, expansive…

My thoughts went back to Kevin Siegfried also, because he spent some time in India.  It’s all about bliss.