FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR: NEW PLAINSONG
Near the front of The Hymnal 1982 is a section of 288 musical selections with numbers prefixed by the letter “S.” Most of us know that the letter “S” stands for “Service Music,” and the items so designated are thus differentiated from the 718 strophic hymns (and two national songs) that follow in the hymnal. “Service Music,” then, is music for singing the texts of the liturgy in the words of the Book of Common Prayer. The settings prefixed by the “S” include acclamations, versicles, canticles, and the songs common to the celebration of the Eucharist, namely the Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis, Trisagion, Creed, Sanctus and Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, etc. Among these musical settings are portions of a Rite II Mass Ordinary named “New Plainsong” by David Hurd. These have been sung for the past few weeks at Saint Mary’s. Here is a little background as to how these settings came to be.
Some of the earliest Anglican service music was composed by John Merbecke and published in The Booke of Common Praier Noted, 1550. In that publication, Merbecke included musical settings for virtually all the texts of the 1549 Prayer Book appropriate to be sung in public worship. Although much of Merbecke’s liturgical music remains unknown to most Episcopalians, his settings for the Eucharist ordinary have been edited and printed in twentieth-century Episcopal hymnals. The “First Communion Service” in The Hymnal 1940 was Merbecke’s music, and this music was sung commonly for years by congregations worshiping according to the 1928 Prayer Book. The natural melodic lines and the syllabic simplicity of Merbecke’s musical settings gave them appeal and practical utility.
As the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer approached its completion, it became clear that the sung common texts of the Eucharist would be presented to the church in two forms: Rite I and Rite II. The Standing Commission on Church Music quickly agreed that the historic Merbecke settings should be retained for Rite I Eucharist, and that they should be re-edited to reflect more accurately what Merbecke had originally composed in the sixteenth century. The Commission, of course, was also eager that appropriate music be provided for the newer Rite II texts. Some thought that a Rite II version of Merbecke should be created. Others thought that such an approach would not properly respect and preserve Merbecke’s historic compositions and that it would be very confusing for the church to have two forms of the same music in use. At least one Commission member voiced the conviction that we needed to have a “new Merbecke” for Rite II. What was meant was that we needed to find a new setting that had the qualities of naturalness and simplicity which Merbecke had achieved in his 1550 setting.
So it was that the Music Commission was meeting at Virginia Seminary in 1978, and one of its members, Dr. David Farr, shared an interesting thought: if the Music Commission as a body was in agreement about what we were looking for in a simple syllabic Mass setting for Rite II, why shouldn’t we pool our talents and create the setting ourselves? He cited examples of historical Masses whose parts had been composed by different persons, and suggested that we had the resources among ourselves to do likewise. So David brought to our meeting a short melodic idea and assigned to the various composers in the room the task of using this motive to build a single Mass movement. I was assigned the Gloria in excelsis. We took a couple hours to do our work, have a siesta, and then we reconvened with our work in hand. We stood around the piano and sang our newly noted pieces, feeling that we had come a long way in identifying what we were looking for. In the end, the group decided that it would be desirable for one composer to complete the task. Largely because I had been assigned the largest text, the Gloria, which had the most words and the most notes, I was asked to “complete” the Mass setting based upon the music of that Gloria. At the following meeting of the Commission, I presented settings for the Kyrie, Trisagion, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei—in addition to the Gloria—which were sung through and approved for publication in Church Hymnal Series V—Congregational Music for Eucharist, a supplement published by The Church Hymnal Corporation in 1980. By this time, GIA Publications had released an octavo edition of “New Plainsong” that began to be used by Roman Catholic and other congregations. Now, a few decades later, “New Plainsong” continues to be printed in various liturgical music collections and to be sung by congregations ecumenically and internationally. From the composer’s perspective, there is great joy in uncovering a naturalness and simplicity that can be a vehicle for diverse communities to sing praise to God. —David Hurd
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Julie, Carolyn, Jean, Barbara, Juliana, Margaret, David, Dolly, Sandy, Walter, Sharon, Penny, Heidi, Catherine, Sally, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, deacon, Yamily, priest, Horace, priest, Paulette, priest, Gaylord, priest, Harry, priest, and Louis, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 26: 1871 William Hallenbeck; 1911 Lillian Jane Murrell; 1914 Elizabeth Dougherty; 1916 Anna Feickert; 1928 Charles William Anderson; 1946 Richard Bartlett Smith; 1962 Moyra deVesge O’Connor; 1985 Kenneth Mealy.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Wednesday, June 29, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . On Wednesdays, the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Sung Mass; on Thursdays the daily 12:10 Eucharist is a Mass with Healing Service.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Father Jay Smith will be on vacation from Monday, June 27, until Sunday, July 31. While Father Smith is away, if you need to add a name to the prayer list or if you have questions about stewardship, outreach, or hospitality, or if you would like to make a donation to the Homeless Ministry, the Flower Guild, or the hospitality ministry, please contact the Parish Office. For pastoral matters, please contact Father Gerth, Father Pace, or Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins directly, or call the Parish Office to leave a message . . . Altar Flowers are needed for the following Sundays: July 10, 17, 24, and 31; August 21 and 28; and September 4 and 18. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Parish Office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday: 154.
A GENTLE REMINDER . . . As you have read in countless church bulletins, “Our costs do not decrease during the summer months. There are still bills that must be paid.” We urge all those who have made financial pledges to the parish to do their best to stay current with their pledge payments in order to prevent cash-flow problems. We are grateful to all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.
GAY PRIDE SUNDAY . . . Sunday, June 26, New York City LGBT Pride March, on Fifth Avenue, from the lower 30s to the West Village. Religious organizations, including Episcopal parishes and groups, usually march together, often toward the end of the parade, in part so those who wish to do so can attend church in the morning. We are told that organizational details will be available on the diocesan website on Friday, June 24. If you would like to make a donation to defray the costs of the Episcopal Church’s float in the parade, please contact Father Jay Smith.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . During the summer months, the Mass ordinary is sung by the Congregation, led by the music director and a cantor. On Sunday, the Mass setting is New Plainsong by David Hurd, who plays the service this morning. The cantor is Heather Meyer. During the administration of Communion, Ms. Meyer will sing “Sing ye a joyful song,” by Antonín Dvořák (1841–1901). Dvořák composed a cycle of ten Biblical Songs in 1894. The cycle is numbered 99 in Dvořák’s oeuvre. “Sing ye a joyful song” is the last song in the cycle. The inspiration for the Biblical Songs occurred during Dvořák’s time in the United States (1892–95), an intensely emotional period in the composer’s life. The first happy years of his visit to America were followed by a personal crisis, precipitated, in part, by the death of two dear friends (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Hans von Bülow), and by the news from home that his father was terminally ill. The deeply religious composer sought refuge and comfort in his faith. For the Biblical Songs, he selected, with minor but ingenious adaptations, a number of verses from the Book of Psalms and produced some of his most beautiful and spiritual music.
The text which Dvořák used was the old Czech Bible Kralická dating back to 1579. The beauty of the poetry in this translation made it one of the most important and influential early works in the Czech language. The text of the song has been freely translated into English, using the King James Version as a template and guide. A noteworthy feature of the Biblical Songs is the apparent simplicity and economy of the musical language, both in the vocal score as well as in the piano accompaniment. At some places it might be called “minimalistic.” It is a mark of real genius to be able to express such a broad range of emotions using a minimum number of technical tools. However, here those tools are used with remarkable expertise. Modulations are frequent and daring (several of the songs begin and end in different keys). Song 10 is entirely pentatonic, and the piano part is exquisite—you would not think it was written by a composer trained as a violinist. The depth of feeling, together with the mastery of melodic invention, put the Biblical Songs at the very pinnacle of Dvořák’s work. —Vladimir Chaloupka, adapted, www.ibiblio.org. Used with permission.
VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM . . . There is a new exhibition in the Gallery in Saint Joseph’s Hall, “Underwater Emotions,” paintings by Lola de Miguel. For more information about the artist, or her work, or if you would like to purchase one of the pieces, please contact curator José Vidal.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS . . . Monday, July 4, Independence Day, Federal holiday schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM. Only the noonday services are offered. The parish offices are closed . . . Friday, July 22, Saint Mary Magdalene, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Monday, July 25, Saint James the Apostle, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Friday, August 5, Eve of the Transfiguration, Mass 6:00 PM . . . Saturday, August 6, Transfiguration, Mass 12:10 PM . . . Monday, August 15, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . In anticipation of the inevitable arrival of colder weather, we are collecting warm clothing (coats, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves). We are also collecting packets of socks and underwear, jeans and T-shirts (useful all-year round), and dress shirts (useful for job interviews). All of these will be distributed here at the parish to those in need. Please bring donations to the parish kitchen on Sunday or contact Father Jay Smith or Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B. Sister Monica and parishioners Clint Best and Grace Fernandez have been organizing the clothing in recent weeks in order to expedite distribution . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street. —Jay Smith