church music shop talk on a rare day off

Hooray! Today and tomorrow Hope has Fall Recess so no ballet classes. I’m mostly glad about today. My present schedule gives me little time for an entire day off so I look forward to one today.

I’m still basking in satisfaction about “Bach Sunday” at my church yesterday.

Okay it wasn’t really “Bach Sunday.” The readings for the day included the difficult sayings of Jesus about divorce (he forbade it).

My boss did an excellent job of breaking this open for contemporary Episcopalians and then connecting it to the second part of the gospel which included the story of Jesus pointing out that one must be as a child to inherit the kingdom.

Briefly she talked about how most of us are touched by divorce. That when Jesus made his comments about divorce only the man could initiate it. When he did so the woman became ostracized. This is what Jesus was forbidding. Then she said that he had deliberately moved from forbidding throwing people away to reaching out to children who were themselves as much property as women. Good stuff.

It was the latter part of gospel that led me to choose anthems and recommend hymns for the day. It’s harder to find happy divorce hymns.

Bach’s Cantata 139, movement one begins “Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott Recht kindlich kann verlassen!” which can be translated “Happy is the man, who to his God can abandon himself just like a child!”

As I continually point out, the index I use to find hymns usually connects the Sunday readings to a Bach cantata.

The words certainly connected this time.

The Kids Choir sang along on Bach and also had a little anthem of their own whose words also connected to the gospel: “We All Are God’s Children” by Johannes Brahms, arr. by Harriet Ilse Ziegenhals which begins “We all are God’s children you made us every one.
You guard and watch o’er us from morn ‘til setting sun.”

Our closing hymn  was “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The hymnal arrangement has some nice jazz chords in it.

Our sequence hymn was the Swedish hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Interestingly this text is only found in Lift Every Voice and Sing II, our African American hymnal in the Episcopal church.

Although it might be counter intuitive to think of the African American hymn practice as including a hymn like this, Africans brought here as slaves appropriated the music of the white church from the very beginning. Actually this use is earlier than the creation of Spirituals and Sorrow Songs by this community.

I have been reading Horace Clarence Boyer’s excellent essay, “Cultural Diversity,” in the Hymnal 1982 Companion.

Horace Clarence Boyer (1935 - 2009)

He briefly chronicles the praying practices of the first American slaves and finds them using metrical psalms and hymns in their Christian prayer. It is only when they pray in private groups away from the watchful (and disapproving) eyes of their masters that they continue to combine the music and prayer practices of Africa with the practices of their white owners.

Eventually Sorrow Songs develop like folk music from the community. This would be mid 18th century. Once the Fisk Jubilee Singers begin using this music as their repertoire right after the US Civil War, the corpus of music moves into white circles and indeed is accepted around the world as a significant contribution.

Ironically, African Americans do not use the spirituals in their evolving prayer practices. Instead Boyer dates the emergence of a distinctive American black prayer practice in the early roots of what becomes “gospel music.” These roots are Pentecostal and begin what is called the Second Awakening in 1900.

African Americans return to using spirituals more in their communal prayer with the advent of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

I’m trying not to blather on too much about this, but I have to close with Boyer’s wonderful description of piano gospel music style (a style I regularly attempt at the keyboard at church).

“A new style of piano playing was created: chordal, rather melodic, percussive rather than legato; and, unlike the organ accompaniment for traditional hymns that double the voice parts, gospel piano provided an additional ‘response’ to the singer’s ‘call.’ Gospel piano sets up the beat and serves, even during sustained passages, as the time keeper throughout the song. Attacks and releases are explosive in this style; divisions and subdivisions of the beat are characteristic.”

Boyer, Horace Clarence, “Cultural Diversity,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion Volume One, p. 29 – 39

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