2nd AFTER TRINITY - June 21

A blog post by the Sutton Organ Scholar, Emily Markwart, on the music after the sermon played in today's Zoom Service, Andante by Florence Price.

This past year, I undertook a project for my undergraduate thesis about American composer Florence Price (1887-1953). She was a composer during the first half of the 20th century, and she was from an mixed race African American family. Price garnered national recognition in 1933 when her First Symphony in E minor was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which made her the first African American woman to have an orchestral work played by a major city orchestra. My project focused specifically on her unrecorded Piano Quintet; however, in the process of this project I learned so much about her vast compositional output. 

David has been wonderful in bringing this project to St. John’s. We had prepared Price’s mass setting, and he and I had been working on one of Price’s smaller organ pieces, Adoration. Both of these were set to be a part of the March 15th service, but alas, that was the first week of online services. 

The piece in the service this week is titled, Andante, and is one of her character piano pieces. She wrote many of these pieces throughout her lifetime, some of them are dated from the early 1920s and others were penned in the late 1940s. This particular piece is not dated, but I am grateful that it has been recovered and published. 

As a musician, it is hard to know how to respond to the recent events that are protesting police brutality and civil rights. It is the same climate that Price found herself composing in during the height of Jim Crow laws and colour segregation. It can seem trivial to focus on arts and music; I have been questioning what the impact could possibly be in simply sharing a piece of music. It is important to lift up the voices of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) artists, composers, and musicians. The music of these composers, like Price, offer different perspectives to instrumental music. This has been a call across classical music, and other genres of course, for a number of years to diversify concert programming. Many people are surprised to learn that women and people of colour composed classical music. I encourage you, if you enjoyed this piece, to search out more of Price’s music, and the music of other BIPOC composers and artists. Lara Downes has some brilliant recordings of Price’s music that can be found on Spotify and other platforms, alongside a couple of different recordings of Price’s symphonies. 

In this time of deep self-reflection of our systems and privileges, I feel it is important to listen to the voices of those that have been oppressed and marginalized in all areas of artistic creation: authors, musicians, visual artists to name a few. This is supplemental to the wider community work we are being called to do, but there are stories and experiences in these pieces that are important to listen to and reflect on.


Evensong For Trinity Sunday can be found on the Evensong page


This Easter season has been, of course, a strange one for everyone. We started out on Easter day singing 'All shall be well', a hymn which references Julian of Norwich, a hymn of reassurance and of resurrection, but a much more subdued, ambivalent hymn than would normally be used on Easter day itself. Now, on Pentecost Sunday, we are all aware of the events unfolding in the country to our south, and holding our American friends close in our hearts. Here is an old American hymn, written at the end of the 19th century, by someone who knew more than a little loss in their life, which once again draws on the words of Julian. May all be well, somehow, sooner than later. 


Here, on the Sunday celebrating the third person of the Trinity, and the birth of the Church, is Herbert Howells' setting for Timothy Rees's text 'Holy Spirit ever dwelling'. Howells's tune, SALISBURY, is perhaps a bit complex for congregational singing, but makes a lovely anthem and perfect vehicle for the words. MacRae Choral Scholar Kyla Fradette is the soloist.


'Alleluia! sing to Jesus', to the great tune HYFRYDOL, is one of those hymns that are referred to as 'grand old hymns of the church', and not without good reason. This is one of a handful of quintessential Anglican favourites; notwithstanding arguments within the Anglican church over things essential and nonessential--points of theology, and styles of worship, and things related to neither of those--you can guarantee everyone will stop their bickering and burst into song instead by striking up the introduction to this hymn. Though rightly considered a Eucharistic hymn, the most appropriate time to sing it is now in Ascensiontide: the references include being left 'not as orphans' and 'though the cloud from sight received him, when the forty days were over'. Here is Soile singing it, alone with the relatively gently-registered Casavant organ. I look forward to raising the roof with a full congregation belting this out to the full organ sometime in the future!


The fortieth day of Easter, Ascension, marks the exaltation of the risen Christ. As the liturgical culmination of the Easter season, it's an opportunity for some wonderful choral and organ music. The past few years, St John's and the Cathedral have held a joint service in the evening; this year would have been St Johns's turn to host that service. Instead, we will be offering a simpler online service of prayer today (available from 12.15pm). The Cathedral's organist will be offering the entire organ suite L'Ascension, by Olivier Messiaen, available as an online stream, from 5pm.

Here is a recording of the first movement of l'Ascension, recorded by myself for the St John's prayer service today, on our Casavant organ. The full title of this movement, in English, is "The majesty of Christ asking for the Father to glorify him"; and Messiaen has added a further quotation from the opening of what is referred to as the Priestly Prayer of Christ, the 17th chapter of John: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you."



EASTER VI - May 17

This is the Sunday on which we would have sung Tallis's simple, yet gorgeous anthem, the text of which is the first two verses of the Gospel of the day, John 14.15-21:

If ye love Me, keep My commandments.
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another
Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever, even
the Spirit of Truth. Amen

Here is a link to a performance by the choir of St John's, Cambridge.

In trying to find something that is in line with the same sentiment to use in the morning's Zoom service, but not having a recording of the Tallis, I decided upon Walford Davies's lovely 'God be in my head', which we hastily recorded in early March before the lockdown. The words are from the Sarum Primer of 1558:

God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

It's not a perfect recording, but heartfelt. Every choir in every corner of the world longs to be able to sing together again - that perfect, mystical mix of spirit and understanding.


For thoughts on Palm Sunday through Easter V, please visit David's blog posts.


Music for Sunday, March 29 - Lent V

Ezekiel 37.1-14 The valley of dry bones
Psalm 130 de profundis
Romans 8.6-11 You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit
John 11.1-45 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
Here are some thoughts on music, as it 'might have been', along with some links to performances of the pieces on youtube (unfortunately, if you listen to these, you'll probably have to endure a secular intrusion in the form of an advert before each one). The lectionary for this day--the beginning of Passiontide--brings us readings with themes of despair, fear, hope for light out of darkness, and for life out of death--very appropriate for the strange and disturbing world we find ourselves in now.


This week the appointed psalm is 130 (De profundis, or Out of the Depths).
1 OUT of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD; * Lord, hear my voice.
2 O let thine ears consider well * the voice of my complaint.
3 If thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, * O Lord, who may abide it?
4 For there is mercy with thee; * therefore shalt thou be feared.
5 I look for the LORD; my soul doth wait for him; * in his word is my trust.

6 My soul fleeth unto the Lord before the morning watch; * I say, before the morning watch.
7 O Israel, trust in the LORD; for with the LORD there is mercy, * and with him is plenteous redemption.
8 And he shall redeem Israel * from all his sins.
This morning we would have sung this psalm, as often we do, in plainsong; there aren't many recordings of psalms being performed in this ancient way on youtube that I could find, but here is one from Trinity Church in New Orleans (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wiCcnScswM)
Many composers have been inspired by this text, however, so there is also a multitude of elaborate settings. Here is one by the mystical minimalist Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (1980), beginning with a remarkable musical depiction of crying from the depths. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IKGy1yji1s)


The story today is that of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead: here are themes of mortality, of fear of death, of despair, of the deep human connection we have in recognising others' sorrow, and of eternal life. George Herbert's poem 'The Call', as set by Vaughan Williams, is perhaps a fitting response to these, and would have been the Offertory today. The hymn version is in Common Praise at 569. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9nel9LeeQg)

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast;
Such a feast as mends in length;
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move;
Such a love as none can part;
Such a heart as joys in love.

AN ANTHEM - with regard to tears:

One unique feature of the Gospel reading today are the references to tears: Mary weeps at Jesus's feet over the death of her brother; but even more remarkably, Jesus, 'greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved' at the sight of Mary weeping, does so too. In other words, the man who in Christian thought is considered to be God, also weeps: here is an image of God weeping at, or with, human sorrow. For more thought about this, check out Fr Bill Tarter's meditation on the SJD Facebook page
So, picking up on this remarkable image of God weeping, music this morning might have included a setting of Phineas Fletcher's poem, 'Drop, drop slow tears', even though it is more specifically relevant to the text in Luke 7:38, where the 'sinful' woman bathes Jesus's feet with her tears, and dries them with her hair.
Today we would probably have sung the hymn-like setting to Gibbons's perfect tune
But the choir also has Walton's magnificent setting of this text in its repertoire, which we might have sung in better times. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw_ccYmnl3Q)

Drop, drop, slow tears,
and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from heaven
the news and Prince of Peace.

Cease not, wet eyes,
his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance
sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods
drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye
see sin, but through my tears.