You can now purchase a PDF of the Cecilia’s List advance music recommendations for December 2018. It costs £3.50 and includes all four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Eve/Day, and the First Sunday of Christmas.
Featured composers include Bonnie Duckworth, Thea Musgrave, Gwyneth Walker, Melissa Dunphy, Patricia Van Ness, Helen Williams, Rhian Samuel, Rosephanye Powell, and more.
There are anthems for resources from SSAATTBB a cappella to SAB and organ, and a fair amount of SSA. There are also two hymn tunes, which could work as unison anthems for a smaller choir. Where I could find them, I’ve linked to recordings of the works, as well as to appropriate places to purchase or download the scores.
We should, of course, be including music by women in as many services as possible: it’s out there, we just have to sing it. But at Christmas it’s especially important to sing it and to ensure it’s credited properly in the order of service or pew slip, because people come to church then who don’t at other times of year. How will a young woman feel, exploring faith for the first time since childhood, to go along to a carol service and hear beautiful music, only to look it up later online and find that all of it is composed by men?
If you’re involved in planning music for worship, please use this resource. If you’re not involved in planning music for worship, please tell someone who is. Thank you.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13: Samuel anoints David, son of Jesse, at God’s instruction.
Psalm 20: A prayer for victory. Some take pride in horses and chariots, but we trust in the Lord.
Ezekiel 17:22-24: The Lord will plant a shoot on top of a high mountain and all the birds and winged creatures will shelter in it. All the other trees will know that the Lord is God.
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15: A song of thanksgiving for the longevity of the righteous.
2 Corinthians 5:6-17: Christ died for all, so that those who live might live for him; if anyone lives in Christ there is a new creation.
Mark 4:26-34: The Kingdom of God is like the sower, who sows seed, doesn’t really understand how it turns into grain, and eventually goes in with the sickle when it’s time for harvest. Also the Kingdom of God is like the tiny mustard seed that grows into the greatest of all shrubs.
As it is in heaven by Dale Trumbore sets text from Leo Tolstoy’s meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, excerpted from his essay “On Reason, Faith and Prayer.”
1 Samuel: Saul is getting pretty jealous of David’s military victories and the resulting praise from the Israelites.
Psalm 138: a song of thanksgiving and praise to God, for preservation from and victory over one’s enemies.
Genesis 3:8-15: The man and the woman (that’s Adam and Eve), having eaten of the tree God told them not to, know that they are naked, and hide from God when he calls them. The man blames “the woman who you gave to me” for tricking him into eating the fruit; the woman blames the snek serpent. God curses the serpent.
Psalm 130: a song of waiting for divine redemption, waiting on God’s word in hope.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1: waiting in faith for the glory of resurrection — the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.
Mark 3:20-35: Pharisees saying that Jesus has demons in him and that’s why he can cast them out; Jesus’s denouncement of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; relationship to Jesus through doing the will of God: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
The connection is a bit tenous, but Cecilia McDowell’s De Profundis (Night Raid) does draw on Psalm 130. It’s really a commemoration of WWI, though, so probably only suitable if you happen to be looking at that this Sunday.
Also using the Related set of readings, you could go with a Salve Regina — particularly for the reference to humankind as “poor banished children of Eve”, and the sense of waiting for redemption. Here’s one by Jocelyn Hagen.
(You can use the related readings or the continuous ones, but not both, and it’s best not to mix and match from week to week either but stick with one or the other.)
1 Samuel is the story of Samuel’s calling and prophetic activity, where he hears the Lord calling in the night but mistakes it for Eli — until old Eli wakes up sufficiently to realise what must be going on.
Psalm 139 is about the ubiquity and inescapability of God.
Deuteronomy is about remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, on account of the Lord having brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
Psalm 81 is singing a song in praise of God — who brought the people out of slavery in Egypt.
2 Corinthians is about being the light of Christ, but also about being imperfect, “treasure in clay jars”, that it might be obvious that the light we have comes from God, not from ourselves.
In Mark 2:23-3:6, the disciples pluck heads of grain from a field while they are walking, and the Pharisees take issue with it because it’s the Sabbath; then Jesus heals a man in the synagogue and the Pharisees are pretty scandalised about it.
Christ Be Our Light by Bernadette Farrell springs to mind as appropriate, given the combination of the emphasis on light in the epistle, and healing in the Gospel. I have a soft spot for this rendition by the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, which seems to me to be rather like some of the West Gallery choirs and bands Thomas Hardy wrote about; but it’s in a few hymnals, too, and perfectly acceptable accompanied by organ alone.
The reading from Zephaniah is a song of joy over God’s salvation and victory.
Psalm 113 is a song of praise to God, particularly noting God’s role as helper of the poor and needy.
Romans 12:9-16 is an instruction on how Christians should behave, including but not limited to loving one another, rejoicing in hope, being patient in suffering, extending hospitality to strangers, and blessing those who persecute us. (I get tired just thinking about it but the good news is I don’t have to do it all on my own strength…)
The reading from Luke is about Mary visiting her sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth immediately recognises that something amazing is happening from the way her own child leaps within her womb. Mary’s reply is well-known to Evensong lovers everywhere, being the text of the Magnificat.
The Magnificat, then, is the obvious music to sing; so I’m going to delve into some lesser-known Magnificats in this post.
Tawnie Olson has a version for Bulgarian Girls Choir and SATB chorus which was commissioned by Karen Clute in honor of strong teenage girls everywhere. The text also includes the Ave Maria, which makes it particularly appropriate. It’s rather long, at 8:30, but I do like it. Listen to an excerpt on Soundcloud.
Sarah Rimkus wrote a Magnificat to go with Arvo Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis as part of a competition, and it’s absolutely stunning: I was in the audience of the concert at which the four finalists had their pieces sung. The recording doesn’t seem to be online yet, but do contact Sarah for a score.
In Genesis, King Melchizedek of Salem brings out bread and wine, and blesses Abram, who gives him one tenth of everything.
The portion from Psalm 116 is about how to repay the Lord for his bounty and goodness: the psalmist commits to lifting up the cup of salvation, paying vows to the Lord in the presence of his people, serving God and offering a thanksgiving sacrifice.
1 Corinthians is about the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
John 6:51-58 is Jesus saying he is the Bread of Life, but he doesn’t mean ordinary life but eternal life: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
This feast is about the Body of Christ as present in the sacrament of Holy Communion, in the bread and the wine; or about thanksgiving for said sacrament, if the Real Presence makes you theologically uncomfortable — but it’s also about the Church as the Body of Christ.
Isaiah is the writer seeing the Lord, and angels worshipping him, and being purified by having a live coal pressed to his lips by an angel. THen the Lord says “Who shall go for us? Who shall I send?” and the writer says “Here am I; send me.”
Psalm 29 is about God’s greatness and power and glory, with particular reference to earthquakes, storms and floods; and it ends with a prayer for strength and peace.
Romans 8:12-17 is about how being led by the Spirit of God means we are children of God, and therefore joint heirs with Christ.
John 3:1-17 is Nicodemus visiting Jesus for a nocturnal conversation about being born of flesh and also of water and the Spirit, which Nicodemus doesn’t quite follow despite being a teacher himself. The conversation ends with the assurance that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life; this is not to condemn the world but to save it.
Some administrivia: later today I’ll be making a few changes to the site because of the EU GDPR laws. I aim not to keep any personal information about composers or other people who communicate with me, with the exception of e-mail addresses; what goes on the site and into my database is either information that’s already public (who wrote which piece and so on) or my own opinion, so this shouldn’t be onerous, but in the interests of simplicity I’ll be removing the music submission form and asking people to e-mail me with submissions instead.
…you still have to use Acts as the first or second reading.
The reading from Ezekiel is one of my favourites: the valley of dry bones, put back together when Ezekiel prophesies to them as instructed by God, and brought back to life when Ezekiel prophesies to the breath, the wind, to go into them. The bones are, of course, a metaphor for the people of Israel — and some would say for the church today, waiting for God’s spirit to bring us back to life too.
Acts is a description of the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when the followers of Jesus began speaking in many different languages. Some of the onlookers are amazed, others scoff that they’re obviously drunk. Peter sets them right, explaining that this is part of the prophecy from Joel about the last days.
The portion from Psalm 104 is about how great God is, and particularly the way in which living things depend on God’s spirit or breath for life.
Romans 8:22-27 is about waiting for the redemption of our physical bodies, about not knowing how to pray but the Spirit praying within us in “sighs too deep for words”.
The reading from John is Jesus promising to send the Advocate (that is, the Spirit of truth), who will speak truth and tell the disciples the rest of what he has to tell them.
It’s still Easter, gotta use the reading from Acts, you know the deal by now if you’ve been reading along…
Daniel 7:9-14 is a vivid, awesome vision of God, and of the “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” being given all dominion and kingship.
Acts 1:1-11 is a description of Jesus promising the disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then being taken up to heaven.
Psalm 47 is about praising God, and about God’s kingship; and of course there is the verse “God has gone up with a shout”, or, as the Coverdale version has and Common Worship has retained, with a “merry noise”.
Psalm 93 is about the kingship and mightiness of God.
Ephesians 1:15-23 is the letter writer praying that the Ephesians might receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they can know the hope they are called to, the inheritance of the saints, and the kingship and power of Christ.
Luke 24:44-53 is another description of the Ascension of Jesus.
The traditional text for Ascension Day is Psallite Domino, and in 2010 Cecilia McDowall wrote a setting of it for SSATB. I haven’t found it available to purchase online so the best thing to do would be to contact the composer via her website.
It’s still Easter, so you still need the reading from Acts as the first or second reading.
Isaiah 55:1-11 is an invitation to everyone thirsty to drink, to everyone hungry to eat: of that source of all being which is God.
In the reading from Acts, some Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, much to the surprise of the existing (Jewish) believers. Peter takes this as a reason that the Gentiles should be baptized, too.
Psalm 98 is an excited instruction to sing and praise the victorious God who will come to judge the earth.
1 John is still emphasizing that God is love — and “The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments”. He also makes a point that faith in God is what conquers the world. Then he identifies Jesus Christ as having come by water and blood, not just water, and asserts that the Spirit is the truth.
The Gospel reading has Jesus continue his speech to the disciples, telling them to keep his commandment to love one another, and calling them friends rather than servants, and referring back to the vine imagery with “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last”.
There is a Cantate Domino by Williametta Spencer, but it appears to be out of print; the best bet if you haven’t got it in a music library somewhere is probably to contact her via her website.