Music for Sunday, 27th May: Trinity Sunday, Year B

This week’s readings are:

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

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.

Hilary Campbell has a setting of O Lux Beata Trinitas in the composition list at her website. I haven’t been able to find a publisher so it’s probably best to contact her for the score.

There’s also a two part setting by Carlotta Ferrari of the same text on CPDL.

If you prefer something in English, I have a two-part accompanied setting of Herbert’s poem “Trinitie Sunday”.

No recordings for any of these I’m afraid!

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.

Music for Sunday, 20th May: Pentecost (Whitsunday)

The readings for this Sunday are:

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

…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.

A good hymn for Pentecost would be “O Breath of Life” by Bessie Porter Head, to the tune SPIRITUS VITAE by Mary Jane Hammond:

1 O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power.
O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us;
and fit your church to meet this hour.

2 O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need.
Then in your tenderness remake us;
revive, restore, for this we plead.

3 O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart.
Come, love of Christ, afresh to win us;
Revive your church in every part.

There are a bunch of anthems that would be suitable, too. Carol Barnett’s SATB (with divisi) setting of Veni, Sancte Spiritus is fairly long at seven and a half minutes, but would work in a setting where you expect a large number of people coming up for Communion, or perhaps if you’re allowing extra time for healing prayer.

Andrea Ramsey also has a setting of Veni Sancte Spiritus, for SSAA + djembe or TTBB + djembe, which might suit better if you’re looking for something shorter (four minutes) and more energetic. Here it is on YouTube.

If you want something in English, and quieter, my own SATB setting of verses from Herrick’s Litany to the Holy Spirit, Sweet Spirit, Comfort Me is available to download from CPDL, and there’s a demo recording on YouTube. I tend to think of it as suitable for Evensong rather than a main service.

And finally, Libby Larsen has an organ prelude on Veni Creator Spiritus which looks from the sample page as if it would be worth playing.

Music for Thursday, 10th May: Ascension Day

The readings for Ascension Day are:

Daniel 7:9-14
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

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.

Alternately, there is also this German hymn for SAB by Sigrid Schultz-Kokerbeck.

When I asked about German translations I got a number of them back, but the one by Rosemary Riepma stands head and shoulders above the rest, because it fits the metre of the original:

Let every child of God rejoice
The Lord ascends triumphantly
So sing his praise with hearty voice

The Lord himself prepares a place
To keep us in eternal grace
So sing his praise with hearty voice

Now may he send the Holy Ghost
To bathe sore hearts that need it most
And comfort us with his own word
And guard us from the Devil’s sword

Although we’re living in this world
Our actions do not satisfy
The world, but we obey God’s word
And live as he has told us to

So let’s give thanks to our dear Lord
And offer him our heartfelt praise
Sing praises with the angels’ choir
Sing praises for the heavens to hear

In the German, the final line of the first two verses is repeated, and it would make sense to do this in English too.

Music for Sunday, 6th May: Easter 6, Year B

The readings for this week are:

Isaiah 55:1-11
Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

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.

There’s also the SSA piece CONTEMPLATIONS 21, 22 by Hilary Tann, using parts of Psalm 98 and a poem by Anne Bradstreet, an American Puritan poet. Available to order from Brichtmark Music (scroll or search the page to find it). Here’s an excerpt:

Music for Sunday, 29th April: Easter 5, Year B

The readings for this week are:


Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 or Genesis 22:1-18
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

It’s still Easter, so you still need that reading from Acts as the first or second reading; but now there’s an option on the first reading, so it could be either Baruch or Genesis.

The reading from Baruch is a sort of hymn in praise of wisdom, and associating wisdom with the commandments of God.

Genesis is the command to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham’s obedience until God calls the whole thing off and sends a ram instead. To say that this is one of the more difficult texts in the Hebrew Scriptures is something of an understatement: the expectation that Abraham, in his faithfulness, should be willing to sacrifice his son; the idea that God would ask such a thing, even if it was only a test; and there isn’t much in there about how poor Isaac feels about the whole thing, or his obedience to his father. One Christian interpretation is that the ram is an allegory for Christ — the Lamb of God — who dies so that we don’t have to.

That Lamb is central to the reading from Acts, too, in which Phillip meets an Ethiopian eunuch (don’t let anyone tell you gender was binary in the ancient world) who asks him about a passage from Isaiah: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.” The eunuch asks to be baptized, and Phillip is happy to oblige.

Psalm 22 is appropriate to a set of readings where we are hearing about sacrifice — this is the psalm that Jesus was quoting when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from the cross. The portion of it for today is rather more cheerful than that, though, detailing that all who seek him shall praise the Lord, all the ends of the earth, all the families of the nations, even the dead.

1 John is still exploring the idea that God is love, and what that means for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” This idea of abiding in love, dwelling in love, is very beautiful.

The Gospel reading is Jesus talking about being the True Vine. He talks about pruning: pruning of dead, fruitless branches, but also of the live ones to make them bear more fruit. And then this language of abiding returns: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

What music, then? The Lord as sheep rather than shepherd is worth exploring, and the Agnus Dei is an obvious text, so have a look at Mass settings. Ramona Luengen has a lovely Missa Brevis for SSAA a cappella, which you can purchase and listen to on Soundcloud; the Agnus Dei begins at about 3:43:

Jocelyn Hagen has a setting of Blake’s The Divine Image which I think might also be suitable, particularly for the last couplet:
“Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.”

The language, being Blake, is simple and straightforward, if slightly antiquated — but the idea that “all must love the human form, In heathen, Turk, or Jew” is certainly relevant to the idea that we should love our brothers and sisters, and is also a good mirror to the psalm’s proclamation that all the nations of the earth will worship God. I’m not really doing Blake’s text justice, here, but this is not a poetry blog! The work is for treble choir, SSATB, piano and oboe, and you can see a perusal score and order a download or hardcopy at Jocelyn Hagen’s website; I couldn’t find a recording online.

Of course, when talking about God as love, Ubi caritas is always appropriate. I mentioned two settings in my post for Maundy Thursday but I’m sure there are many more by women! For example, there’s a lively SATB+divisi version by Emily Feld which you can listen to and purchase via MusicSpoke, or listen to on Soundcloud:

Music for Sunday, 22nd April: Easter 4, Year B

The readings for this week are:

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:9-13
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

(Still Eastertide, so you’re still meant to use Acts as the first or second reading — omitting either the Old Testament reading or the Epistle.)

Genesis is the story of the Flood, including the rainbow afterward, the sign of God’s covenant with every living thing, never again to destroy all the earth by flood.

Acts is another scene where Peter is telling people that healing has happened because of Jesus Christ, and quoting to them the scripture about the stone that has been rejected becoming the cornerstone.

Psalm 23 is a psalm of thanksgiving for all the care and safety and blessings bestowed on the psalmist by the Lord, as a shepherd.

1 John talks about recognising Jesus’s love for us by the fact that he laid down his life for us, and reminding the readers of the letter (and us) that we should, in turn, love one another.

The Gospel reading is Jesus saying “I am the Good Shepherd” and all that follows from that.

With all the sheep/shepherd imagery, there really is no excuse for not having music by a woman this week, given that the tune CRIMOND, usually used for “The Lord’s My Shepherd,” was written by Jessie Seymour Irvine. It’s certainly well-known, and in many different hymnals.

There’s also a setting of the same psalm by Sungji Hong, which you can listen to on Youtube:

It’s a challenging piece for choir and congregation alike, needing a certain amount of concentration, but also very beautiful. I couldn’t find a score available for purchase online, but contacting her via her website would be a good option; there’s a good selection of choral music in her catalog of works, much of it with recordings available.

Music for Sunday, 15th April: Easter 3, Year B

The readings for this week are:
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

(The deal in Eastertide is that the reading from Acts is mandatory. So you could go Zephaniah, Psalm, Acts, Luke, or you could go Acts, Psalm, 1 John, Luke, or if you’re doing a service with just two readings it would be Acts and Luke.)

The section heading in the NRSV for the reading from Zephaniah is “A Song of Joy” and that seems to sum things up pretty well.

The reading from Acts starts in a slightly awkward place; Peter and John have just healed a man who couldn’t walk and he’s very happy about it, and as this happened at the Temple it’s causing a bit of a stir. Peter points out that it’s God’s power, not his own or John’s, that is behind this healing.

He also points out to this Temple crowd that they rejected Jesus; I’m always wary of anti-Semitic interpretations of this text and others like it. Given the location and timing it seems likely that he does mean them personally, that the Israelites he was addressing in the Temple that day were the same ones who had cried to Pilate to release Barrabas and crucify Jesus. Then he’s back to being a witness and to faith in the name of Jesus, and then he calls them “friends” and assures them that he knows they were acting in ignorance, and this is how the Scriptures were fulfilled; and he calls them to repent… and the reading ends, mid-sentence, much to the frustration of grammar pedants compiling pew slips (ask me how I know). But this call to repentance, pre-empted by a level of understanding of human frailty that suggests forgiveness is, at least, possible, brings to my own mind last week’s Gospel reading, in which the disciples are told “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It seems to me that the forgiveness and the faith and the healing are tangled up somehow, all intertwined in a redemption that we don’t always understand.

Psalm 4 is one I know well from Compline; a plea for deliverance that ends with an assurance of safety.

The reading from 1 John is a bit difficult: out of context it almost seems to be contradicting the idea that sins can be forgiven. But it begins by talking about the love of God for us, and looking beyond the point at which this week’s reading ends, it goes on to talk about how obeying the commandments of God means loving God and one another, not only in our words and thoughts but in our actions.

The Gospel reading is the one where Jesus comes to the disciples goes through the “yes it’s really me” rigamarole, and asks for something to eat and is given some fish. And then he explains things that seem to mirror the events in the reading from Acts: he explains that this is how the Scriptures have been fulfilled, and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations”, and that they are witnesses of these things.

If you wanted a paraphrase of Psalm 4, I wrote a hymn tune to the one by Isaac Watts: the PDF is available online. But it’s very much an evening sort of hymn, and so might not fit well into a morning service.

A piece that is certainly suitable for Easter given the number of Alleluias, and seems to connect gratitude, the work of healing, and joy, is “May this be a working Alleluia” by Elizabeth Alexander. It’s for children’s choir with SATB and piano — and optional flute and two trumpets.

And, traditional for Easter 3 in particular, and at least relevant to the reading from Zephaniah, is the Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100). Here’s a Soundcloud recording of one in English by Caroline Lesemann-Elliott. I’m not sure where best to contact Caroline but she has been Musical Director of Voces Inauditae and their contact form is certainly one way to get in touch if you’d like a score.

Signal Boost: Aurora Nova choir at St Paul’s Cathedral, London

I mentioned on Thursday that the Aurora Nova choir would be singing d’Este’s O salutaris sostia on Sunday at St Paul’s. Well, that’s not all they’re singing. From a tweet by Sarah MacDonald, it looks like the music list is as follows:

11:30am Sung Eucharist:

Mass Setting — Missa Mariae, Cecilia McDowall
Anthem — O salutaris hostia, d’Este
Voluntary — Carillon, Kerensa Briggs
Hymns: 351, 342 (452), R&S 244 (Part II), 114 (I recognise some of these from the New English Hymnal and I don’t think they have music by women, but the ones that aren’t from NEH might; and I don’t know about the words, off the top of my head.)

3.15pm Evensong (Eve of the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary):

Responses — Sarah MacDonald
Canticles — Magnificat and Nunc dimittis Regina caeli, Katherine Dienes
Anthem — Ave Maria, Roxanna Panufnik
Voluntary — The Tree of Peace, Judith Weir
Hymns: 181 (ii), 187, 186 (Again, from memory, I don’t think music for any of these hymns is by women, though I’m uncertain about the words.)

This is a pretty good lineup, and a strong challenge to the idea that music by women, or sung by women, isn’t suitable for “serious” cathedral services (scare quotes because ordinary parish services can be serious, too). It would be great to see more hymns by women, but perhaps for that we need to look more to the compilers of hymnals, as (especially in a cathedral context with a visiting choir) there is a strong tendency to want to stick to the book when it comes to congregational hymnody. I understand that the Revised English Hymnal, the successor to the New English Hymnal, will be published sometime this year; I hope that it offers a better gender balance than previous editions.

In any case, for my part I’m planning to go along to St Paul’s on Sunday; perhaps I’ll see you there.

Music for Sunday, 8th April 2018: Easter 2, Year B

This week’s readings are:

Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

The deal in Eastertide is that the reading from Acts is mandatory. So you could go Exodus, Psalm, Acts, John, or you could go Acts, Psalm, 1 John, John, or if you’re doing a service with just two readings it would be Acts and John.

Exodus is the story of the parting of the Red Sea, and the drowning of the Egyptian pursuers.

Acts is the early Christian believers sharing their possessions in common, having no private ownership and ensuring anyone who needs anything receives it according to their need; this is not a new idea, as it’s also mentioned in Acts 2. When anyone tells you they try to model their religious life after what we know of the early church, it’s worth asking them how they carry out this part of the pattern.

Psalm 133 is about the wondrousness of dwelling together in unity (also the foundation of the generous sharing mentioned in Acts), likening it to abundant oil running down the head and beard and overflowing onto the collar, a very sacramental image. I love the idea of unity as blessing, as sacrament.

1 John is… complicated. The letter opens with a heartfelt description of what is being declared: “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands,” and goes on to say that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all — and then to talk about what that means for our conduct, and especially about our honesty about our own sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But if we confess our sins we have Jesus Christ as an advocate.

John’s Gospel is the familiar tale of Jesus appearing to the disciples, or some of them at any rate, and breathing his Spirit into them, and with it the ability to forgive or retain sins. But Thomas isn’t there, and doesn’t believe it when they tell him about it; so a week later Jesus appears again, and Thomas recognises him by his wounds.

Easter 2 is also known as “Low Sunday”, though, mostly because after the exertions of Holy Week and Easter Day, exhaustion can set in. Clergy probably spent half the week in slump mode, and “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, But now the organist is toast,” has been known to be uttered. Servers and vergers and so on are feeling the same. And in countries where the school holidays line up with the liturgical ones, you might find that the choir is all on holiday.

Nevertheless, if you do have a choir it’s well worth singing Melissa Dunphy’s a cappella, SATB setting of Acts 2:44-46: “And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart.” You can listen on Soundcloud and the music is available from Melissa Dunphy’s website, included with a download from Bandcamp:

If you’re after something much simpler, I have a piece called The Doubter based on St Thomas. It’s for unison and organ, though it could be divided up between upper and lower voices easily enough.

The other piece that would work might be a setting of O Salutaris Hostia: the text is really for Corpus Christi, but it works: Corpus Christi is about Christ’s body, which is a big deal in this week’s readings (both in the wounds shown to the disciples and Thomas, and in the unity of the church — the Body of Christ). And the plea for help (“bella premunt hostilia: da robur, fer auxilium” — “hostile wars press on us: give strength, bring aid.”) along with the idea of the Saving Victim being the Gate of Heaven, could serve as a reference to Christ as our advocate, but also as an allusion to the Exodus, in which the Israelites pass through the sea on dry land: they were surrounded by enemies and the parting of the sea acted as a sort of gate. There’s a setting attributed to Leonora d’Este as part of a set of 23 motets, Musica quinque vocum. More information on d’Este and the attribution given here is available from Musica Secreta on Youtube.

I’ll admit I cheated on this last one, though: it’s being sung on Sunday morning at St Paul’s Cathedral by the Aurora Nova choir. More on that later in the week!