Vespers, 26 Aug 17

Vespers psalm settings by Victoria, Lassus and Rachmaninov have been mentioned several times on this blog – see for example Psalms 103, 104, 112, 116 and 127. Canberra area readers will be interested in an opportunity to hear some of the wonderful Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil (‘Vespers’) this Saturday.

Extracts from the Vespers will be performed in the extraordinary acoustic of the Fitters’ Workshop at 3 pm on Saturday 26 April 2017.

The Oriana Chorale presents haunting music of darkness and light in a program of music composers of northern European descent, curated by Music Director Peter Young. The woman with the alabaster box is one of two works by Arvo Pärt, famous for his shimmering and hypnotic choral effects.

Also included are works by three of the most interesting choral composers of today, Ola Gjeilo, Erik Esenvalds and Paul Mealor (the composer of a new piece for Prince William’s wedding).  Jazz fans will also be interested to hear evocative saxophone improvisations by prominent local musician and teacher John Mackey.

While several of the vespers psalms are omitted on this occasion, the wonderful first psalm will open the Rachmaninov sector. The concert will provide an excellent and enjoyable idea of the sonority of the Orthodox tradition, ranging from meditative moments to the explosive last movement:

South Wodens may remember that some time ago a male-voice trio presented a much-trimmed version of Rachmaninov’s Psalm 103:

The crystal ball

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

Christmas and New Year celebrations seem ancient history already!

Thanks to Dal, Jo, Bette and Brian for Psalm 112, Light rises in darkness last Sunday. The week before, we sang a blessing (in lovely harmony of course) upon our young people as they launch forth upon a new academic year.

Relishing those aural memories and a fantastic men’s chorus the previous Sunday singing the African-American chorus I’m gonna live so God can use me, we draw our eyes from the past to look into the crystal ball.

Those involved in music planning will know that the forward plan for psalm music selection is on the Dropbox folder ‘SWUC Music’ (ask for access if you consider that you can contribute). Subject to new inspirations and planning considerations for each week’s gathering, here’s a snapshot of ideas for the coming weeks:

The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett; Church Publishing .org


16 and 23: We use an antiphonal response from The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett, same tune both days with a different verse.

  • Male voices will host the last Sunday, but ALL SINGERS WELCOME – men, women and children – especially for 16 Feb. (Post on 16 Feb is imminent.)


Psalm 2, together with its companion Psalm 1 forming in some ways an introduction to the whole book of Psalms, opens the batting on 2 March, a communion Sunday. We plan to sing Happy are those who take refuge in God, from New Century Hymnal with piano accompaniment. [Your cantor/blogmaster will be away this week.]

Ash Wednesday on 5 March (no service at Pearce) marks the beginning of Lent. (Interested in the ‘vibe’ for Lent? Please turn to an article salted away on the Styles page regarding our approach in previous years.) This year we again take communion each week and will use the same Amen as the blessing on the children last week.

Then we are looking a little more into that Pre-Raphaelite Crystal Ball, but my guess is that the psalm scene will look like this:

  • 9th, Psalm 32. We shall sing Show me the way to go, another lilting response from Isaac Everett. Perhaps the women might lead this in acknowledgement of International Women’s Day.
  • 16th, Psalm 121. We turn to TiS 77, a typically singable song by John Bell. Soloists sing the first two lines and the congregation answers with the last two lines in each stanza. We invite the children to join us in leading this psalm. Their voices will form an echo choir at the end of lines 1 and 3. (Or, as has been suggested previously, the Beatles Help! works well; any starters?)
  • 23rd, Psalm 95. The crystal ball gets milky – perhaps Everett’s Come let us sing?
  • 30th, Psalm 23. The psalm is so well-known it might form the basis of a harmonised chant by the men’s group, rostered for the last Sunday, as well as a congregational song.


As usual, there are many opportunities for you to contribute. Please:

  • make suggestions to one of the music team (Rachel, Helen S, Joan or Brendan)
  • send feedback to the cantor/blogmaster (see below)
  • or just come and sing

  • There’s no user ID or password in the Psalm Team

Update on style

For those interested, this is to advise there is some new material on the Styles pageclick here> or at left.

Psalms Yr C_html_mfdc521d

1. It now includes a review of the pattern of activity in Year C, December 2012 to November 2013, based on about 40 weeks of singing the psalms (your cantor was away for a while swanning around in Europe and seeing beloved relatives in those parts)

Why draw this to your attention? Purely to elicit any comments on how you would like the balance – more of this style, less of that, something new? Let me know. I can put a poll up on the page if there is enough interest. (No comment = steady as she goes.)

2. We are pretty used to hearing from John Bell – but have you heard of Canadian Steve Bell? Do scroll right down on the Styles page to listen to something different.

3. Thanks to Trish for her unfailing enthusiasm and support; and blessings for a quick recovery.

Psalm 27, 26 Jan 14

Hang on, what happened to this coming Sunday 19 Jan? A slightly different but interesting worship will be led by Gwenda with some of her typically thoughtful ideas yet to be revealed – that do not include singing a psalm.

I take the opportunity to sketch out the next few weeks, Plan B or C or whatever we are up to – the joys of going with the flow and seeing what inspiration evolves. The evidence is that good things happen at South Woden!

Psalm 27 next week

Many will be familiar with the opening verse:

God is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

God is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid.

As usual, there are many ways to approach this poem from the musical perspective. Lectionary Singer in her blog suggests over 20 songs relevant for this week’s psalm on the third Sunday after Epiphany. Verse 1 is clearly suitable as the antiphonal response, and many of our sources use some variation of this idea.

The Taizé round The Lord is my light would work well.

A different approach, using as response a verse from Isaiah, may be found in Together in Song no 16. In a beautiful paraphrase by Christopher Willcock, enchantment arises in part from his imaginative and unusual harmony changes supporting a lilting tune. Let’s do it.

Coming up Continue reading

Psalms – a summary <140

The title reference to less than 140 is nothing to do with psalm numbering: it’s short tweets.

Thanks to Rachel for this fantastic RT from Ben Myers, who is summarising the books of the bible in a few words on Twitter. His take on the psalms:

The invention of antiphony: when my heart broke in two, l taught both parts to sing.


[PS: at scroll well down.]

Modernised chant

In a previous post I noted that this week we use a John Bell tune to sing Canticle 9 from Isaiah with the children. (The canticles sometimes replace or appear with the psalm set in the lectionary.)

Anyone at all is welcome to join us to help us lead the Hallelujah for evermore response.

This is certainly an example of a modernised chant – an old song to a new setting, in this case accompanied by ukulele: but it was not the primary motivation for this post.

Just for interest…

Take himIn fact the author had not intended to post this week, let alone  refer to the next concert, this Sunday afternoon with The Oriana Chorale, 5 pm at Wesley, to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

The program notes, however, are notable for frequent commentary on how this contemporary reflective music draws heavily on the chant tradition, including Gregorian themes, style and literature.

Just for those who might be interested in this thread in a broader musical context, therefore, the notes are appended.

Conductor David MacKay writes:

This is a concert of reflective and philosophical music. Despite the common theme of each of the works on the program, each composer represents some of the best of three quite different musical traditions. And so, although it may not seem so on the surface, it is as much a concert of contrasts as it is a concert on a unifying theme. Underpinning it all is each composer’s engagement with melody and rhythm and, in particular, the centuries-old tradition of chant singing.

We begin with Morten Lauridsen’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ for choir and organ. Originally written for the 120-voice Los Angeles Master Chorale, its long and demanding vocal lines can present a challenge for a much smaller ensemble! The work’s texts are taken from several Latin sources (including the Requiem mass), each referring to Light, which Lauridsen describes as a “universal symbol of hope, reassurance, goodness, and illumination at all levels”.

Lauridsen’s musical language is highly accessible, based as it is in the strong foundations of Western tonality. But it is deceptively simple, and rewards close study for both performers and audience. In reviewing Oriana’s 2010 performance of Lauridsen’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’, Jennifer Gall wrote in the ‘Canberra Times’ of having been “ambushed by the composer’s skill”. I have enormous regard for composers who are able to write so skilfully in this way, and there are several moments of potential emotional ambush waiting for you in the ‘Lux Aeterna’.

Paul Salamunovich, the conductor of the LA Master Chorale, considers Lux Aeterna to be one long chant. Lauridsen says “[this] did not happen by accident—I was writing for one of the world’s foremost experts not only on Gregorian chant but of Renaissance music in general—and while I do not incorporate an overt reference to the single-line chant anywhere in the piece, the conjunct and flowing melodic lines contributing to the work’s overall lyricism … certainly have their underpinnings in the chant literature.”


Herbert Howells’ ‘Rhapsody for Organ No. 3’, written one night in March, 1918, is a testament to the profound impact that the events of World War I had on the young composer. Of this work the organist Gillian Weir (a student of Howells’) writes: “Howells … wrote the Rhapsody No 3 during an air raid, which has given it great dramatic tension and force. Every note of it means something; it has beautiful lines, and an inevitability about it.”


In 1935, Herbert Howells’s nine-year-old son Michael contracted polio during a family holiday. Three days later, in London, he died. It was an event that coloured Howells’ musical output for the rest of his life. At the suggestion of his daughter, Ursula, he expressed some of his grief at Michael’s death through music, writing at that time much of what eventually became his ‘Hymnus Paradisi’. Twenty-eight years later, commissioned to write a work for the memorial service for President John F Kennedy, Howells returned to the text that he had used as an epigraph on the ‘Hymnus Paradisi’ — Helen Waddell’s extraordinary translation of Prudentius’ fourth-century ‘Hymnus circa Exsequias Defuncti’. The resulting work, ‘Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing’ is both a public statement of grief at the death of a statesman, and a deeply felt personal response to the death of Howells’s son.

Howells’s writing, although again not directly referencing Gregorian chant, and steeped though it is in his distinctive, plangent harmonic language, still demonstrates remarkable fluidity and flexibility, and in this way reflects the same focus on melody as the later work by Lauridsen, and Duruflé’s earlier ‘Requiem’.


On the subject of Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’ Mass, who better to hear from than the composer himself? Duruflé wrote of this work:

“The Requiem is composed entirely on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. Sometimes the musical text has been respected in full, the orchestra intervening only to sustain or comment on it; sometimes I was simply inspired by it or sometimes removed myself from it altogether. … Generally speaking, I tried to get the particular style of the Gregorian themes firmly set in my mind.

“I also endeavoured to reconcile as much as possible the Gregorian rhythm, as has been established by the Benedictines of Solesmes, with the demands of modern metrical notation. The rigidness of the latter, with its strong beats and weak beats recurring at regular intervals, is hardly compatible with the variety and fluidity of the Gregorian line, which is only a succession of rises and falls.

“The strong beats had to lose their dominant character in order to take on the same intensity as the weak beats in such a way that the rhythmic Gregorian accent or the tonic Latin accent could be placed freely on any beat of our modern tempo.

“This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries. It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end. It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope or terror; just as the words of the Scripture themselves….. It tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable, or consoling destiny.”

Duruflé’s writing gives the impression to the listener of effortless sinuousness, as if a single line of chant has been extended and developed into four-part harmony almost without external intervention. It is, however, delicately and intricately constructed, with immense thought having gone into each note of melody and each syllable of the text. It traces a wide emotional arc, before ending with one of the most ineffable depictions of eternity in the choral repertoire. Unlike the optimistic certainty of Fauré’s ‘In Paradisum’, or the final redemption of the ‘Lux Aeterna’ of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’, Duruflé ends on an unresolved chord of great complexity, leaving an aural canvas onto which each listener must project their own conclusions and beliefs.