Music in Worship
Tom Berryman, Mass ACDA R&S Chair for Music in Worship
We often rely on publishers to provide dependable reference points in our search for appropriate repertoire for our singers. The best publishers serve as arbiters of taste and quality, making our discovery work easier.
Our sifting task, however, is more difficult with self-published composers. There is no editorial judgement from a publisher, only the chance invitation to “look at this” from the writer directly. Perhaps with the following reviews of self-published works by two current composers, you will be encouraged to look further at their writing for your own repertoire discovery. Paul Ayres and Robert Edward Smith are active, performing musicians and conductors. Both write more than church choral music. Both choose texts carefully and both write with the singer in mind. It’s well worth a look at their websites as you search for new music for your choirs.
Paul Ayres is an English composer, arranger, conductor and performer, now living in London. Please go to www.paulayres.co.uk for more information and to view his commercially published and self-published works. I heard Paul Ayre’s a cappella mixed voice arrangement of “Winter Wonderland” at a Christmas concert: fresh, charming, challenging, well-crafted and completely voice-friendly writing.
SAB choir, cantor, congregation, optional melody instrument, organ/piano
Text: Magnificat, Revised Grail Psalter, Luke 1:46-55
Finding worthwhile liturgical music for congregational singing can be tricky: the accessible needs to be musically satisfying. Paul Ayres meets this standard in his Responsorial Magnificat. His congregational refrain is both memorable and offers some challenges. The rhythmic syncopation, mixolydian mode and melodic skips provide memorable qualities, but demand instruction for successful congregational participation. The SAB choir and cantor help to fill in the verses. The organ/piano part sparkles harmonically and the optional melodic instrument offers an opportunity for a solo player to join in the performance. We don’t do Evening Prayer at my parish, but Responsorial Magnificat would work well during Advent and for occasions honoring Mary.
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
Seven part, equal voices
Music from Piae Cantiones 16th Century, altered by the composer to create a canon
Text: Prudentius 5th Century, translated by Neale and Baker
Paul Ayres has taken the metric version of the chant, set it up as a canon at the phrase and offered some practical performance suggestions. The text works well with the opening chapters of Genesis and John. Ostinato handbells could add a colorful effect.
When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
SATB, a cappella
Text: Howard Thurman, from The Work of Christmas
What truly stunning poetry to set to music! Paul Ayres’ “When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled” requires skilled, secure singers to realize the beauty of the part writing and the harmonic challenges. This could be successfully sung with one-on-a part. The individual lines are completely singable, but deserve solid intonation and care for the inflection of the text. The words shine through all of the independent writing. Please consider “When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled” in your Christmas repertoire search.
Robert Edward Smith is a New England composer and performer, now living in Boston. He serves as the Composer in Residence at Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, CT. Please go to http://www.robertedwardsmith.com/ for more information and to view his commercially published as well as his self-published works. I have heard numbers of Robert Edward Smith’s orchestral and chamber works. It was especially satisfying for me to attend the Boston premiere of his chamber opera A Place of Beauty, based on the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Unto Us a Boy Is Born
SAB, a cappella
Text: Latin Carol, 15th Century, translated by Percy Dearmer
Robert Edward Smith provides a fresh, simply-conceived setting of a well-known English carol text. SAB voicings often feel musically compromised, but “Unto Us a Boy Is Born” gives the singers graceful and pleasing part writing. The alto and bass parts are rhythmically independent, and Smith offers satisfying changes in texture: homophony, unison writing and a bit of imitation. A welcome addition to SAB compositions for the Christmas season.
The Great Creator of the Worlds
SATB, a cappella
Text: Epistle to Diognetus, 2nd Century, translated by F. Bland Tucker
The Epistle to Diognetus dates from the second century by an anonymous Christian apologist and (perhaps) a student of St. Paul. Robert Smith sets F. Bland Tucker’s translation of the original Greek text in a straightforward, syllabic, homo-rhythmic style. Occasional out-of-key chords bring harmonic interest to the overall C major tonality. The simplicity of the setting allows the singers to deliver this beautiful text in a clear and effective way. “The Great Creator of the Worlds” could be selected for performance during Advent.
O Sacrum Convivium
SSATB, a cappella
Text: Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century
Robert Smith’s Renaissance style “O Sacrum Convivium” recalls the exuberance of the figures of the Gregorian chant setting of this text. The five independent voices are sometimes imitative but often join together in a more homophonic texture to emphasize the text. Solidly in A flat major, the harmony sometimes surprises the listener (and the singer, perhaps) moving to out-of-key chords. An “Alleluia” section brings the work to a close. Composed for the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, the “O Sacred Feast” text honors the Eucharist and is especially appropriate for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Skilled, independent singers would find this work satisfying to perform.
Blessed Be the Lord
SATB, with organ
Text: Psalm 31: 21-24
“Blessed Be the Lord” is a song of thanksgiving to the Lord for support. Interesting play between voices and organ, variety of texture, change in mode and satisfying writing for the singers combine to make “Blessed Be the Lord” an effective, pleasing work to perform and hear. The organ provides bell-like interpolations between the Anglican chant style phrases and harmonic support for the unison and more polyphonic choral phrases. The challenge to the singers in “Blessed Be the Lord” is to observe the natural text accents that Robert Smith has provided so effectively in his writing.