Music for Remembrance. . .

All Saints’ Day is a supremely solemn festival of the church, one most often marked by the singing of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ great hymn Sine nomine (For all the saints).   As we gather in worship on this special day, we remember the saints of the church and the saints in our own lives whose presence in this world enriched us beyond measure and brought us closer to God and to each other.  We thank God for all those dear departed ones who, while leaving us with a profound sense of loss, are now with God in eternal rest.  These are bittersweet remembrances for many of us who have recently lost loved ones.   As we struggle with grief and loss, music can be a powerful balm, a profoundly healing force.

In addition to Sine nomine, there is a great deal of wonderful music to help us mark this solemn day.  One of today’s organ preludes in particular is often played on All Saints’ Day: Requiescat in Pace (Rest in Peace) by the great American organist/composer Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) was written in 1920.  Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sowerby was associated with St. James Cathedral in Chicago beginning in 1927 and remained there for a major portion of his life; prior to that time, he served at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago.  In 1962, after his retirement from St. James, Sowerby was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death (he died in Port Clinton, Ohio, while teaching at the summer choir camp with which he’d been associated for years).   In 1946 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, Canticle of the Sun.  Sowerby’s influence on American church music can hardly be overstated.  He was always deeply interested in the music of the church, was in demand for Episcopal church music conferences, and was one of the music editors of the seminal Hymnal 1940. Among his numerous organ and choral works are many hymn-based settings.  Requiescat in Pace has no hymn-tune association, but is a stirring elegy in the form of variations on an original theme.  It makes use of the organ’s full resources, ranging in dynamics from the quietest pianissimo to the grandest fortissimo. Particularly in St. James Cathedral and similarly resonant acoustic settings, this piece brings chills to the listener.

Marcel Dupré’s beautiful piece, based on an old chant, is from a collection called Le Tombeau de Titelouze, written as a formal tribute to the great French organ master of the Renaissance, Jean Titelouze. These gifted men–Dupré and Titelouze–though centuries apart, are towering figures in French organ music, their music offering us portals by which we may contemplate the great mystery of the eternal.

Moses’ Hogan’s beautiful anthem, Hear My Prayer, holds special meaning for our Chancel Choir because it was purchased in memory of our dear friend, Mickey Henriquez, who died nearly a year ago. Mickey was a warm, loving presence in our choir for many years; a friend to us all, he constantly reminded us–in large ways and small–of our greater purpose, while always modeling exuberance in the everyday joys of life.   Mickey made choir so much fun!  We think he would have loved singing this special anthem with us.  Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was a well-known African-American composer and arranger of choral music who died tragically of a brain tumor when he was only 45.  He is perhaps best loved for his very popular and accessible settings of spirituals.  Hogan’s choral works are favorites of high school, college, church, community, and professional choirs across the globe.  Today’s anthem certainly shows why this is so.

Not One Sparrow is Forgotten, the beautiful Shaker hymn arranged by New York composer William Hawley, is one of our choir’s favorite pieces. Though it is written in eight parts full of close, lush harmonies–Hawley’s signature style–which might at first seem a bit intimidating, no singer has ever complained. The piece is absolutely gorgeous and sublime in its effect.  Like Hear My Prayer, this anthem makes us think of Mickey and of all the great saints in our lives who have gone to be with God.  The gentleness of the text reminds us of God’s great love for all creatures, poetically comparing God to both a Father and a Mother, the One we can fully trust, the One who cares for us, who protects and loves us without reservation.

Perhaps you remember the Louis Marchand pieces played a few weeks ago? Well, today we hear this French organ master’s most famous organ piece as a postlude. Marchand’s Dialogue in C is a stately, exuberant tour de force that pulses with life.  As our friend Mickey might have said: Why look sad during such a lively piece? Enjoy!