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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.