Easter 2024

31 October 2010
Souls - Carnival of

"As Mary continues to coax her malevolent tune from the organ, she moves more deeply into trance, beginning to experience an extended impressionistic vision of a throng of ghouls emerging from the water to waltz to her music in the pavilions ruined ballroom. As the Man moves towards her and then reaches out for her while she watches in numb horror, her fingers spasm on the keyboards, signaling the approach of a not-too-metaphorical climax. But just before it occurs, the minister appears suddenly and wrenches her hands from the organ, furiously calling her music sacrilege. He "asks her to resign" because of her lack of reverence and awareness of things significant to the church and concisely laments her "lack of soul". Before she leaves he softens his attitude a bit and tells her that the church can offer her help. She departs in totally wordless dejection. From here on her appeals for help to her acquaintances become more desperate."

I play like this all the time, and without meaning too. And then I stare at my hands. There are creepy montages, and the room starts to spin.

Fortunately I haven't been asked to resign, yet.

Happy Halloween.

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30 October 2010

Gramaphone highlights a new weekly webcast of Evensong from New College, Oxford.

This is great news for Evensong webcast fans. Thus far, I have listened fairly regularly to St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue; St. John's, Cambridge; and wherever the BBC records.

Logging on for E-vensong in Gramaphone by Andrew Mellor.

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25 October 2010
13 - Level

If you view this blog in a newsreader, or find yourself coming to directly you may miss the Halloween-themed video that now graces our professional front page ( proper).

A short organ-centered film called "What comes next on Level 13". Be sure to click through for the full HD experience.

Enjoy, if you dare.

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21 October 2010
Ives, Grayston - revelations on the incarnational nature of church music

Grayston Ives's Edington service makes an appearance on two Evensong webcasts this week: St. George's Chapel, Windsor (as webcast by the BBC -- hurry! You have three days left to listen), and St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue.

Neither performance is perfect.

This should go without saying. Music after all is a very human endeavor, and though Ives in his position as composer can theoretically approach perfection, the performance side of music often leaves something to be desired.

But, there are also those times where a performance is successfully, even inexplicably so. Great performances move us beyond the printed score. In some cases, such performers probably meet or exceed the composer's expectation of how his or her work should be performed. In others, truly great performances move members of the holy triangle of composer-performer-performer beyond the realm of their common experience and expectation.

"Perfection" is undesirable in church music. An overly-accurate, but lifeless rendering is not faithful to the composer and does a disservice to the listener.

A good rehearsal process can leave the listener out of the triangle. Sometimes the piece goes swimmingly in rehearsal only to have something go awry in the service. A certain understanding of what the discipline of church music is might recognize God as the listener and acknowledge that God was in fact present in the rehearsal and was indeed worshipped. But I suspect this is more a "monastic" or "isolationist" understanding of the discipline of music that doesn't take contemporary Anglican realities into account.

So where does this leave us?

Music is incarnational, and things that become incarnate are frighteningly specific. Jesus didn't become all of humankind, but he did become fully human. When we perform music, we don't become the piece of music (this is a comforting thought!) but we do our best to fulfill the sacred duty of offering an "incarnation" of that piece.

No two things brought into being are the same. And with respect to Grayston Ives's rather difficult organ accompaniment to the Edington service, this means that different approaches to the organ part will be employed by different organists. And different mistakes will be made.

This kind of unintentional specificity is terrifying for the organist. Believe me; I've been there. Your blood turns cold, and the whole idea of getting on with your life, let alone the rest of the piece, seems utterly pointless.

And yet, there's something beautiful about this kind of specificity. I'm not saying that the mistakes are inherently beautiful or that they are to be condoned. I think everyone (organists included) would prefer that the mistakes not be made. And in a perfect world they wouldn't be, but that's not the world we live in.

The beauty is that life does go on. No matter how much horror the assistant organist experiences, the lector proceeds to read the second lesson after the Magnificat.

And of course, there's our frame of reference to consider. The Ives Edington service hasn't been around for very long; I think anything composed in the last 50 years can be considered relatively new. And Stanford in C hasn't really been around for much longer than that. And the Anglican choral tradition hasn't really been around for too much longer than that. And then, if you wander back just a bit further, you find that we're already at that ultimate moment of incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ.

These particular ways of singing our prayer are just as specific as Jesus' birth. Even the name of Ives's service belies a certain incarnation at a certain time that cannot be accessed again (this service was the commissioned work for the 1975 Edington Festival of Music in the Liturgy). But part of the reward and risk of being a composer is releasing one's work to all different times and places. Though we cannot hear the original performance at the Edington festival, we will continue to hear echoes of this event and of Grayston Ives creativity for many years to come.

Though we cannot be present in that stable in Bethlehem, we will continue to hear echoes of those incarnational cries.

And as we do, in life and in music, we will strive for perfection and ask forgiveness when we fail.

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17 October 2010
Christi - Anima

How is it that I've never heard this hymn?


16 October 2010
Holy - and Grace, Richmond

The choir of "Grace & Holy", Richmond.

On the rear gallery of the church is mounted this trumpet en chamade of the 1979 Austin organ.

And to the right of this trumpet, in the tower of the church, is a small antiphonal division.


15 October 2010
Rollings, Freda - gift of

On Tuesday evening I performed on this 1979 Austin console at Grace and Holy Trinity, Richmond.

You'll notice there are four manuals (keyboards), but on top of the fourth the Austin organ building company has placed all of the stop tabs which control the sounds of the organ.

So last, but not least, comes the music rack where the organist must place his music and then look up to read it. Personally, I did not find this to be a very ergonomic arrangement. I would have much preferred stop knobs on the sides of this console. This would have lowered the music rack considerably and would place less strain on the organists necks.

None of this, however, is to diminish a very fine and movable console. The console has wheels and can be brought out front.

I enjoy the sense of humor of the donor in this instance.


14 October 2010
Richmond, Virginia - Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

On Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of performing in an organ recital sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The recital was on the four-manual Austin of Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond (affectionately called "Grace & Holy" by locals).

Looking at the chancel, you can see the organ console to the right. The organ chamber is to the left. The choir stalls seat about 40 or so persons, but there were, at one time, 65 people in the choir here.

Here's a detail of the organ chamber. The Positiv is exposed.

The church website has detailed information on the history of the organ.


13 October 2010
Vogler, Georg Joseph Abbé - Benedictus from Requiem

This is one of the greatest videos on YouTube so far.

Watch it.

Vogler was kind of a random guy, so this video actually makes perfect sense if you think about it.

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12 October 2010
lectors - organist's handbook for

Having been around the block a few times, I have some advice for those reading the Word of God. Specifically these words:

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11 October 2010
Catholicism - Rowan

We had a bit of fun with the musical selections at Westminster Cathedral last week, but the pope's visit to London, and specifically to Westminster Abbey was a big deal.

Highlights, from the Abbey's YouTube channel. The Dean points out the 20th century martyrs over the west door of the Abbey. These 10 minutes are recommended ecumenical viewing:

The choir sings some great rep for the service, solidly Anglican, of course. Beati Quorum Via of Stanford as dignitaries arrive, "Prevent us, O Lord" of Byrd as men in red smocks run around looking for something to do, and a new work by Gabriel Jackson that is really really conservative.

For me, Henry G. Ley's chant in D Major is the icing on the cake. This was the first Anglican chant I ever accompanied (to Psalm 29), and it holds a special place in my heart.

Prevent us, O Lord

Beati Quorum Via

New work by Gabriel Jackson

Sounds a bit dated, doesn't it?

Let's try again, shall we?

Fun! Sounds like he may have been eavesdropping in Westminster Cathedral at the MacMillan rehearsals.

Psalm 138 (Ley)

Stanford in A, Magnificat

I have to admire the work of Philip Stopford in getting so many of these videos online. If you haven't heard of him, you just have.

That is all.

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10 October 2010
10 - 10

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to point out that it is 10:10 on 10/10/10.

You can catch it again tonight.


Johns, John - laying of the cornerstone, St. Paul's, Richmond

On this date, October 10, 1843, the cornerstone of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia was laid by the Rt. Rev. John Johns, who was at that time the Assistant Bishop of Virginia.

The completed St. Paul's church would be consecrated in November 1845 when Bishop Johns returned with his boss the Rt. Rev. William Meade, Bishop of Virginia.

Johns became the fourth Bishop of Virginia in 1862.


09 October 2010
MacMillan, James - another composition for papal visit

Context is everything, dear readers, and if you haven't already found it, there's a related video for the menacing Gospel procession I posted on Wednesday.

It makes much more sense if heard, as it would have been, after the Papal entrance anthem.

Here's "Tu es Petrus":

Comes across mostly as serious and grand in this context. Seeing the procession helps. (Here's another copy that's not interrupted by the commentator. Sound quality isn't as good, though.)

What's next?That sustained organ pedal G isn't explained by either clip. It would be interesting to know what happens to that -- if it's simply held and dies out, or if the organist is transitioning into something else. There's more to the story here, and we just aren't getting it from these YouTube clips. I guess liturgy really is the work of the people and not the internet.

Heard after this, the Gospel procession isn't as shocking. In fact, it's a little boring. We've already heard this stuff.

All told, I like MacMillan's music a lot, and his tweaking of the anthem to create this fanfare works well. I like the animated bit at the end (it is a bit John Williamsy, isn't it?), but I think I would like it more if the organist wasn't rushing.

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08 October 2010
Bowie, Walter Russell - in pursuit of the original text of

This post serves as a correction to our previous post today. See below for the Hymnal 1982 version of "Lord Christ when first thou cam'st to earth":

The original (I believe) text is printed in the Hymnal 1940:

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Bowie, Walter Russell - birth of, 1882

On this date, October 8, 1882 priest, author, editor, educator, hymn writer, and lecturer in the Episcopal Church, Walter Russell Bowie was born.

Bowie would be baptized at St. Paul's Church, Richmond. Watch this space; we'll tell you when. Check back this spring. Like in May.

His birth led to his baptism which led to his ordination to the priesthood.

Later, Bowie would be the rector of St. Paul's from 1911-1923.

CORRECTION: In my haste to find a version of this text that I could copy and paste here, I found this modern "update" that violates the rhyme scheme and the sense of the text (as pointed out in the comments below). My apologies. See this post for the printed versions in the Episcopal Hymnals 1940 and 1982.

Lord Christ, when first You came to earth,
Upon a cross they bound You,
And mocked Your saving kingship then
By thorn with which they crowned You;
And still our wrongs may weave You now
New thorns to pierce that steady brow,
And robe of sorrow round You.

O wondrous love, which found no room
In life, where sin denied You,
And, doomed to death, must bring to doom
The power which crucified You,
Till not a stone was left on stone,
And all a nation's pride, o'erthrown,
Went down to dust beside You.

New advent of the love of Christ,
Shall we again refuse You,
Till in the night of hate and war
We perish as we lose You?
From old unfaith our souls release
To seek the kingdom of Your peace
By which alone we choose You.

O wounded hands of Jesus, build
In us Your new creation;
Our pride is dust, our vaunt is stilled,
We wait Your revelation.
O Love that triumphs over loss,
We bring our hearts before Your cross;
Come, finish Your salvation.

Words by Bowie, Hymn 598 in the Hymnal 1982

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07 October 2010
pew - the prince's, 105

One hundred and fifty years ago today, the man who would become King Edward VII of the United Kingdom sat in pew 105 at St. Paul's Church, Richmond. He was a guest in that pew for the Sunday service.

The famous (dare I say, "Edwardian") anthem, "I was glad", written in 1902 by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry would be sung at his coronation.

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06 October 2010
MacMillan, James - composition for papal visit

Apparently James MacMillan believes that Pope Benedict is Emperor Palpatine.

This is one creepy Gospel fanfare.

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05 October 2010
Episcopal Church - General Conventions of, 1859, 1907

On this date, October 5, 1859, the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was held in Richmond, Virginia. The convention was held through Oct 22.

At St. Paul's Church in Richmond, convention delegates would have seen and heard a three manual Henry Erben organ in the rear gallery. This was one of the larger instruments in the country at that time.

It was the last meeting of that august (October?) body in the South, and they wouldn't venture there again until 1907 (Richmond, again).

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02 October 2010
kills - climate change

If you don't do something to combat global climate change it's going to kill you.

Well, actually it's going to kill all of us . . .

. . . but specifically you.

See what I mean.

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01 October 2010
Starbucks - liturgy of

It's long been apparent that Starbucks observes a certain kind of secular liturgy with it's storefronts and beverage selection. They invite parishioners of earth into a syrupy celebration of fall with their Pumpkin Spice Latté. They frost their windows and offer Peppermint Mochas way ahead of Advent, heralding the arrival of the secular seasonal shopping melee. When the weather warms, blended iced beverages are promoted.

The "common cup" has been co-opted by the coffee shop, but it is cleverly customizable.

And now that we're familiar with their seasonal offerings, Starbucks wants to become a regular part of all of these seasons, and in fact has ways of naming them. Seasons are not identified by name, but by drinks.

The "common cup" has been co-opted by the coffee shop, but it is cleverly customizable.

This year the slogan for the fall beverages (the stalwart Pumpkin Spice Latté and the newly devised Rite II Toffee Mocha) is "take comfort in rituals". The message is clear: Starbucks has a liturgical option for you to mark the season; if you don't like Pumpkin Spice, try the new one.

The Toffee Mocha is their "seeker service". There's room for all in the holy huddle at the end of the barista counter.

Aidan Kavanagh wrote that the liturgy must be "festive, ordered, aesthetic, canonical, eschatological and, above all, normal." Other than the eschatological part, I think Starbucks has it down.

Online evidence: Take comfort in rituals

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