St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church

Music Notes from St. Mary Magdalene

Read more about the music shared each week at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, Florida.

Trinity Sunday

image

Music Notes

Trinity Sunday is unique in the Church Year in that it is the only Sunday devoted to a theological concept. The rest of the year narrates the stories of Jesus’ coming and birth, death and exaltation, or his ministry of healing and teaching. Both the Epistle and Gospel readings speak of the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.

Today’s hymns likewise reflect on the idea of God expressed in the persons of the Trinity:

·       “Holy, holy, holy!”(H-362 Nicaea): Probably the best known hymn associated with this day, and a classic example of Victorian hymnody, this tune is named for the city in Asia Minor (and near the capital of the Roman Empire in Constantinople, now Istanbul) where the famous Council of Nicaea met in ce 325 to define the doctrine of the Trinity in the form we know as the Nicene Creed.

·       “Holy God, we praise thy Name” (H-366 Grosser Gott): This German hymn is a metrical version (i.e., in the form of hymn) of the canticle Te Deum laudamus, itself another expression of the nature of God coming from the early Church. See p. 95 in the BCP.

·       “I bind unto myself today” (H-370 St. Patrick’s Breastplate): The text has been attributed to St. Patrick since the year ce 690. It is an example of a “lorica” or breastplate prayer, chanted while dressing oneself and calling on God for protection in the face of danger.

                        Twice this morning we will hear music by the mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Her feast day in the Episcopal Church is celebrated on September 17. Hildegard’s music has become very popular in recent years, even including arrangements I heard back in the 1990’s on popular radio stations and the dance floor of the disco. She is one of the most interesting women in history: abbess, theologian, preacher, musician, poet, doctor and pharmacist. She is the first woman composer for which we have her actual music. As a mystic and visionary her ecological and holistic spirituality speaks prophetically to our time. Again, far ahead of her time, she uses feminine language for God as “creatrix omnium” (as an English translation says, “Mother Great Creator of all things living”)  

Today’s prelude, O viridissima virga: And from then on there was food for human beings, is an arrangement from Hildegard’s chants. This chant to the Blessed Virgin Mary compares her to a green branch, sweet with the smell of a balsam fir, from whose womb came eternal spiritual food (the body of Christ) for all the world. So this music weaves a connection between the creation story of Genesis and our sharing at the Holy Table of the Eucharist. If you would like to hear more of Hildegard’s O viridissima virga you can go on YouTube for a solo voice version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2Og0uasO7o, or a version with female voices accompanied by medieval instruments at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz60gG4wEL8.

During communion the choir will sing a motet using another chant by Hildegard of Bingen, Laus Trinitati. A simple version of this can be heard, again on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KUICvzM6DQ.  For an even more interesting version listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQLLghurcdE. This one is highly mystical, with an amazing accompaniment.

           In this chant Hildegard reflects on the image of the Trinity through principal theme of life—vita—first within the Trinity and then in God’s creation. Three times the chant repeats the word life with a cascade of descending notes. She uses a trinity of images—sound, life, and creatrix (feminine version of the noun for creator)—yet doesn’t explain how this relates to the theological description of God as Trinity.

The Rev. Dr. David Kerr Park, Director of Music

June 11th 2017

Pentecost

image

Music Notes

Pentecost is one of the great festivals of the church year, its importance coming only after Easter and Christmas. During the prelude we will hear Invention on Veni Creator, something of an improvisation on the 9th century plainsong tune Veni Creator Spiritus (found at H-504 in the Hymnal 1982). “Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” has a long and close association with services of ordination, being sung right at the point where the Bishop is about to lay hands on the ordinand (BCP p. 533). It has also been used in English coronation rites since the accession of Edward II in 1307. This setting is by Flor Peeters (1903-1986), the prolific Belgian composer, organist, and teacher. The version we are singing for our processional hymn, “Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” (H-503), was written to be sung in alternation between the bishop and congregation by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. It was first sung by his father at the consecration of a missionary bishop in 1865.

The second piece in today’s prelude, Komm, Gott schöpfer, Heiliger Geist  (Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire) is taken from a German adaption of the Latin tune Veni Creator Spiritus. It appeared in 1524 with Luther’s translation of the Latin text. This setting is by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), one of the most important German composers in the generation before J. S. Bach. Most of his music was written for organ, and everyone knows his famous Canon in D.  His style is described as having great sincerity and sweetness. As was common in his era, he served in both churches and the courts in Germany and Austria. His music was highly admired by Bach, and at one point he was Johann’s older brother’s music teacher. Interestingly, Pachelbel’s name is commonly mis-pronounced in the USA. In Germany and the rest of Europe, the emphasis is on the second syllable (pac-HEL-bel), with the last syllable clipped to sound almost like the English word “bull.” The postlude, Ricercar pro Tempore Festis Pentecostalibus, by the German Baroque composer Johann K. F. Fisher (1656-1746) is based on the same melody.

                        Our sequence hymn, “Come down, O Love divine,” H-516, is closely linked with our Gospel reading, and Jesus’ promise to send the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to abide with us forever. The original 15th c. Italian text, “Discendi, amor santo,” was by Bianco da Siena, and was translated in the 19th c. by Richard Littledale reflecting the idea that the time of the “Golden Age” of the faith was in the Middle Ages. A close comparison of the themes and images of this text can be found in the Charles Wesley hymn, “O thou who camest from above the fire celestial to impart, kindle a flame of sacred love upon the altar of my heart.” (H-704) The tune that is sung around the English-speaking world to H-516, Down Ampney, is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ true masterpieces. The tune name was given because the village of Down Ampney (near Gloucestershire) was where Vaughan Williams was born in the Vicarage where his father was priest. During WWII the local airfield saw a lot of action. The church has a stained glass window commemorating the planes that flew from the airfield for the Battle of Arnhem in 1944.
           During Communion the choir will sing O Holy Spirit, Flowing Light, arranged by Mary Bringle from the music of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Hildegard’s music has become very popular in recent years, even including arrangements heard on popular radio stations and the dance floor of the disco. She is one of the most interesting women in history: abbess, theologian, preacher, musician, poet, doctor and pharmacist. She is the first woman composer for whom we have her actual music. As a mystic and visionary her ecological and holistic spirituality speaks prophetically to our time.

As we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit, reflect on these other words of Hildegard:

“A musical performance also softens hard hearts, leads in the humor of reconciliation, and summons the Holy Spirit.”

“So remember:  just as the body of Jesus Christ was born by the Holy Spirit from the spotless Virgin Mary, so too the singing in the Church of God’s praise, which is an echo of the harmony of heaven, has its roots in that same Holy Spirit.”

“Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.”

The Rev. Dr. David Kerr Park, Director of Music

June 4th 2017
UA-43818613-1