this or that


Last night one of my choristers was quite insistent that we were singing a typo in an anthem I was introducing. Despite my clearly outlining that we would address the text in a tertiary manner after learning notes and rhythms of this piece I was just introducing.

Later, martini in hand, I checked out his complaint and was a bit vindicated in sticking to the written text.


The anthem was “The Baptism of Christ” by Micheal Bedford which I think is a charming little thing.

It combines some Gregorian chant with a sort of modern take harmonization of some English text as well. As you see above the only reference for this text given was “Medieval Text.”

My chorister assumed that the English was a bowdlerized translation of the Latin or something despite the English translation of the Latin given below the text.

Here’s the part he was talking about.

Now, Jesu, as thou art both God and Man,
And were baptised in from Jordan,
At our last end we pray thee, say then:

He was certain that “from” was a typo. I tried to tell him that sometimes texts were pasted together in ways that were practically incoherent in Medieval music.

This morning I received an email from him in which he insisted that we had a responsibility to change the text because it was a “complete violation of English grammar.”

Here’s  my reply to him:

“I too checked the OED as well as a number of other sources looking for the Medieval text.

I hesitate to change a text in a composition unless it’s clearly a mistake. In my way of thinking this is not a mistake since these words have also been set by two fairly important English composers Peter Hallock and Peter Maxwell Davies both of whom use “from” at this point in their composition.

Hallock even went so far in his treatment of this odd macaronic Medieval text to retain the usage “The Fadyr voys” as the odd sounding “The Father Voice” not the Father’s voice as Bedford and Warlock apparently chose to do.

My guess is that all three men were working from a reference book which changed the medieval text in this way.

So three composers intentionally chose to use this part of the original text they were working from as is.

My solution is not to change the composition, but to provide a note in the bulletin that it is intentional and why I have chosen to perform it as set by the composer. My purpose in writing this note is not to avoid the risk of “being a laughingstock.” People who react this way are often revealing their own ignorance (as they would be in this case, in my discernment). Instead I would be adding a bulletin note for the sake of clarity (something I value).

I would probably include in my bulletin explanation of my artistic choice to retain the word, “from,” the idea that music is not poetry. In music written in the time we live, it is often the sound of words that is more important than their literal meaning. (e.g. “Einstein on the Beach” by Phillip Glass or the random pastiches of words set by John Cage). Hallock, Warlock and Bedford are well aware of this idea. Indeed, the notion exists in early music melismas in which a single syllable of a word becomes a mini-masterpiece of music.

DIGRESSION (Jupe note: still quoting from this email)

Coincidentally, this morning I was reading William Tindall’s commentary on Dylan Thomas’s poem, “I see the boys of summer. I came across this beautiful passage which seems pertinent to me:

“(By dissonance I mean an approximate rhyme in which vowels disagree and consonants agree, e. g. goat-gate, thrash-flesh. By assonance I mean an approximate rhyme in which consonants disagree and vowels agree, e. g. rake-pain.) Yet this order of disagreements (SJ note: i.e. the way Thomas uses words in this poem), we must agree, offers an experience like nothing else—and a good experience, too. Maybe, prizing that, we should take the dazzling thing as, if ignorant of music, we take something by Bartók, without inquiry.

“But poetry, made of words, is not music, whatever these arts have in common.”

from A Reader’s Guide to Dylan Thomas by William York Tindall,

I think it’s cool that Thomas had told Tindall that Bartók was the composer for him (i.e. Thomas).

END OF DIGRESSION (and end of quoting from email)

I ended by thanking the writer and copying the whole deal to another choir member who suggested she would research this as well.


the value of distance


In his book Silence: A Christian History, Diarmaid MacCulloch points out how being a young gay man prepared him for his life as an historian.

He says “the first sort of silence I encountered in my life was primarily an absence…. that of humans failing to make public or explicit the full range of patterns around which they were thinking and leading their lives.”

This morning I failed to get the U of M radio to stream properly. I tried several things since I wanted to lay in bed for a while and rest.


But finally I was confronted with the instruction that if THIS didn’t work email us.



Ah. No.


So I thought I would try Hoopla through my local library. I noticed last night that Hoopla has audiobooks as well as videos and  music. So I logged on via my local library card.

I spotted MacCulloch’s new book and immediately checked it out and listened for an half an hour or so thus managing to lay in for that time and rest more.

Several things struck me about MacCulloch’s book. The first was the absence thing above.

I struggle with people who do not make explicit the full range of their thoughts and being. I have come to accept that doors are closed to me where many if not most are concerned. This is okay.

Moreover MacCulloch’s next point about how being a a young gay man “proved to be a great blessing for an historian,” namely “the historian’s other essential quality, a sense of distance: an observer status in the rituals required for a heterosexual society…”

As I listened to this being read I realized that my own concept of being an outsider could be enlarged into this idea of distance. It explains a lot to me about myself. I am definitely an observer in most of my walks in life. I quietly observe at church and at the college. I observe ranges of patterns of behavior and thought (in MacCulloch’s phrase). Many times I wonder how self aware others are about their range. I wonder this about myself as well.

But mostly when I think about how they see the world that we all live in, I often reflect on how differently I see it.

I have been thinking a lot about the echo chamber effect. Recently I clicked through on a Facebooger link to an article recommended as a good analysis by a conservative friend. I read the article. Looked closely at the web site and realized that the site and the article were not exactly dedicated to clarity and truth of analysis. Instead (fairly enough) they were looking to shape (literally “educate” according to their mission statement) people into being conservative.

This is at odds with my understanding of clear analysis which at least attempts some logic, coherence if not objectivity. However, I also have to factor in that the echo chamber effect means that you see the flaws in what you disagree with but at the same time when you  are reading something closer to your own understanding and/or prejudices, it only seems “fair and balanced.”

It’s a trap.

Listening to MacCulloch’s audiobook this morning I was struck when he quoted from the famous thirteenth chapter of Corinthians.

You know the one where if one doesn’t have love (agape), not much else matters, good works, offering oneself as a martyr.

MacCulloch says these ideas are the “wash behind the painting in this book.”

I like that. I know that compassion and clarity trump most things in my head. I also think the agape thing is a good critique of our ongoing lack of civilization in America and the world. As long as we fail to see each other with compassion and some accuracy as well as the distance of observing closely, we are like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.