Season after Pentecost, 2023
This is, by my count, the sixth year in a row that the choir of St. Thomas, New York has sung Kenneth Leighton's Missa Christi at the Festal Eucharist on the Last Sunday after Pentecost (called "Christ the King" Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary"). It is a splendid piece of music, and I am very glad that it has entered the repertoire there.
The Missa Christi, Kenneth Leighton's last choral work, was commissioned in 1988 by my mentor at Christ Church, Indianapolis, Frederick Burgomaster. I vividly remember learning the accompaniment to the Gloria for my first concert at Christ Church (I was the Assistant Organist there 2006-2010). It was a daunting, but very fruitful task. Other than the stately Solus ad victimam, I had never before accompanied any Leighton, so this was a real baptism by fire. But it led me to value this work and many others by Leighton. His compositions are marked by beautifully craftmanship, oozing with his own modern and stunningly lyrical counterpoint.
The brief organ conclusion to the Gloria reveals at the last second an untold harmonic dimension -- another world lurking beneath the surface, like the earth dropping out from beneath your feet. It makes you re-evaluate everything you've just heard and makes you wonder about what is to come.
But this year, I'm thinking especially of the bass solo that begins the Benedictus. This kinky descending line was written with special intention for a bass in the choir of Christ Church: Tom Woody. Tom died this fall.
Tom was a integral to the music at Christ Church for decades, first as a choirboy and later as a bass in the choir. And I love knowing that this little piece of the Missa Christi inspired by him, crafted by Leighton, lives on in the service of the church and in the praise of almighty God.
Father of all, we pray to you for Tom, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
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