Wednesday, February 14, 2007

cleaning out the locker

Sunday afternoon, after choral evensong, I turned in all my music, and hung up my cassock and cotta for the last time as a member of the choir. Surely there cannot be a better choral experience than choral evensong, that severe and gentle Anglican rite that brings us to to the end of daylight with a gentle severity of music and prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

This particular evensong was spare -- instead of a particular composed preces and response, we chanted the simple setting in the Hymnal, the Psalm setting was plain chant, for the Magnificat, we chanted Buxtehude's setting in plain chant with organ interspersed, and for the Nunc Dimittis, we sang with the congregation a setting from the the hymnal.

Then we sang Gerald Finzi's festive anthem, Lo, the full, final Sacrifice. We've been working on parts of this piece for about a month, but had rarely sang through the entire work together until the last week. It is a lovely, mystical work, not easy to pick up in one or two read-throughs. But in hearing it all together, the words, (from Richard Crashaw’s translations of the Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, Adoro Te and Lauda Sion Salvatorem) really emerged in the singing -- it's that moment after the notes and phrasing are learned when the choir begins to interpret the music, including its text.

Lo, the full, final, Sacrifice
On which all figures fix’t their eyes.
The ransomed Isaac, and his ram;
The Manna, and the Paschal Lamb.

Jesu Master, just and true!
Our Food, and faithful Shepherd too!

O let that love which thus makes thee
Mix with our low Mortality,
Lift our lean Souls, and set us up
Convictors of thine own full cup,
Coheirs of Saints. That so all may
Drink the same wine; and the same way.
Nor change the Pasture, but the Place
To feed of Thee in thine own Face.

O dear Memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, Royal food! Bountiful Bread!
Whose use denies us to the dead!

Live ever Bread of loves, and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.

Help Lord, my Faith, my Hope increase;
And fill my portion in thy peace.
Give love for life; nor let my days
Grow, but in new powers to thy name and praise.

Rise, Royal Sion! rise and sing
Thy soul’s kind shepherd, thy heart’s King.
Stretch all thy powers; call if you can
Harps of heaven to hands of man.
This sovereign subject sits above
The best ambition of thy love.

Lo the Bread of Life, this day’s
Triumphant Text provokes thy praise.
The living and life-giving bread,
To the great twelve distributed
When Life, himself, at point to die
Of love, was his own Legacy.

O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps Balm for wounded man.
All this way bend thy benign flood
To’a bleeding Heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come Lord! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal’d source of thee.
When Glory’s sun faith’s shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy Face.

O soft self-wounding Pelican ... not a metaphor for Christ that I heard before.

And then we recessed down the aisle as the organist played more Buxtehude. Most of us sat down in the black pews in the rear and listed to the organ music.

Also this weekend, for the ordination on Saturday and again for the Sunday morning service, we sang essentially back-up on one of our anthems, Vaughn Williams' Love Bade Me Welcome, from his Five Mystical Songs, a setting of George Herbert's poem:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful: Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

Again, not usual images. The choir will begin preparation for the Two Choir Festival with St. Paul, for Lent and Holy Week, and for a newly commissioned setting of the Magnifcat and Nunc Dimittis by Richard Webster in memory of two choir colleagues who died much too early -- the choir commissioned the work to honor them. That will happen in May, long after I have moved. How thrilling for me to have participated with such a group of singers. Amen.


Annie in Austin said...

Don, no idea where I heard it, but isn't there some old legend about the pelican giving its blood to feed the chicks - and it's used to illustrate the life-giving aspect of the sacrifice of Christ?

It must be odd to hang up the cassock for the last time, and sad, even though you have so much to look forward to in New York.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Don said...

Annie -- yes, I think there was a myth about the Pelican as you described, perhaps based on its ability to store food and then feed its young from itself.

I've enjoyed singing with our choir -- I started reluctantly and then fell in love with making music, even though I am not very good at musicmaking.

qishaya said...
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