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.


Music Notes

Today could be described as “all things 23rd Psalm Sunday.” Each year the lectionary theme for the fourth Sunday in the Easter season is about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The psalm for all three years is Psalm 23. Today’s music follows these themes.

As an opening voluntary today we will hear a Prelude on Brother James’ Air, arranged by David Lasky. The tune now known as Brother James’ Air was originally set to a paraphrase of the 23rd psalm and used in a popular hymn anthem from the 1930s. From there it was used in Quaker and Lutheran hymnals before coming to our hymnal. The tune was by James Leith Macbeth Bain, better known as Brother James. Bain was born in Scotland in 1840. In addition to writing hymns and tunes he was a mystic and spiritual healer. This tune was written as an expression of peace during WWI. He organized a Brotherhood of Healers to treat both spiritual and physical infirmities. During his healing sessions, he would often sing to his patients as part of their treatment. His later years were spent in Liverpool working at a children’s home. This tune appears in our hymnal as a metrical (hymn) version of Psalm 84 at H-517 “How lovely is thy dwelling place.” At this afternoon’s Solemn Choral Evensong we will be singing a metrical version of Psalm 23, set to Brother James’ Air, “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.”

Elsewhere in the service we will sing Psalm 23 in simplified Anglican chant. At the Sequence Hymn we sing the popular metrical setting “The King of love my shepherd is” (H-645) to the tune St. Columba. During the offering we will hear music from Handel’s Messiah. The “duet” He Shall Feed His Flock and Come unto Him draws on a text from Isaiah, with the promise that the Messiah would shepherd God’s people and hold them safely in his bosom, and from Matthew, as Jesus invites all who carry heavy burdens to find rest for their souls in him. At communion we will sing the hymns “Shepherd of souls” (H-343 St. Agnes) and “My Shepherd will supply my need” (H-664 Resignation). Our recessional is the children’s hymn “Savior, like a shepherd lead us” (H-708 Sicilian Mariners). Finally, at the postlude we hear The Lord’s My Shepherd, a setting of the tune Crimond (H-663).

Countless composers and poets have written words and music inspired by this beloved Psalm. It is used with great frequency at funerals and memorial services. It is so familiar, when it is used we almost don’t hear it. In the 1960s  Japanese woman named Taki Miyashina wrote a very different version, reflecting our modern world so full of busyness, as well as aspects of her own Buddhist culture. See if this doesn’t speak these words of comfort with new meaning…

Psalm 23 from a Japanese Translation

The Lord is my Pace-setter, I shall not rush,

He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals.

He provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.

He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind,

And His guidance is peace.

Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,

I will not fret for His presence is here.

His timelessness, His all importance will keep me in balance.

He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity.

By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility;

My cup of joyous energy overflows.

Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours.

For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord and dwell in His house forever.

Dr. David Kerr Park,

Director of Music

May 7th 2017

The Three Lilies

Music Notes

Today’s brass prelude will conclude with a choral introit. The Three Lilies is an old Breton Easter carol arranged by Harvey B. Gaul (1881-1945). This uses three lilies as an image for the three Marys at Jesus’ tomb: “Three lilies blossomed from the ground, where blood-drops fell from Jesus’ wound. One for each Mary burst into bloom, when they sought Jesus at the tomb.” Each phrase concludes with the exclamation, “Christus resurrexit!” The music builds until the final phrase leads us directly into that most famous of Easter hymns, “Jesus Christ is risen today.”

Although a life-long friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is not particularly known for writing sacred music. Holst was a true musical eclectic. He drew his inspiration from sources as diverse as astrology, English folk song, Sanskrit poetry, and Algerian melodies. He was a natural teacher with the ability to inspire both adults and children. Holst studied at the Royal College of Music, and his primary instrument was trombone. He became director of music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, and did most of his composing during school holidays. His colorful blend of traditional tonality with inventive combinations of chords and spare, open intervals gave his music a distinctive voice.

Holst wrote ballet music, operas, choral music, and song cycles. He is the composer of the tune Cranham, used in the beloved Christmas carol “In the bleak midwinter” (H-112). His festival arrangement of “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” has been a perennial favorite of choirs. He is best known for his orchestral music, particularly The Planets, an orchestral suite with a separate movement for each of the known planets (at that time only seven). It is from the movement titled “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” that the tune for today’s opening hymn comes, Thaxted. This movement depicts the majesty of the heavenly giant, with the orchestra emphasizing Jupiter’s jovial spirit. The central, broad sweep of the melody Thaxted was later used for the popular English hymn “I vow to thee, my country.” Today the choir is singing it to the text O God Beyond All Praising. Thaxted is named for the English village where Holst lived much of his life. It was his friend Vaughan Williams who included it in a hymnal he edited in 1926, and it was this setting that was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

During Communion the choir and brass together will present music by the most illustrious composer of the Spanish Renaissance. The original text, and perhaps the plainsong tune, is by Wipo of Burgundy (d. 1050?). A version is found in the hymnal at H-183. In today’s setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1540-1611) Victimae Paschali Laudes begins with the first verse sung in plainsong, followed by antiphonal phrases in which the choir and brass echo one another. This was a common device used in Italy, where Victoria studied. He wrote only sacred music, and was highly innovative for the deeply moving expression of the text with a very Spanish mystical intensity. You may recall on Christmas Eve the brass played his most famous masterpiece, O Magnum Mysterium. Victoria was the most famous composer of 16th century Spain, as well as an accomplished organist and Roman Catholic priest. After his early years at the cathedral in Ávila he moved to Rome and may have studied with Palestrina.  

May your Easter be filled with joy and hope,

Dr. David Kerr Park, Director of Music

April 15th 2017