Sunday's service begins with a prelude for violin and piano, Berceuse, by Amy Beach (1867-1944). Regarded as the first significant woman composer in the United States, Beach was widely performed throughout the 20th century. Original publications of her work list her as Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, the initials of her husband. Thankfully, most publications today are printed with her actual name. It is easy to forget how difficult it was for women composers to be taken seriously in what was long considered a "man's profession." This difficulty persists even today.
The service continues with hymns reflecting the main theme of the day, Jesus' forty day fast in the wilderness while being tested by Satan. We begin with A mighty fortress is our God, the venerable Lutheran chorale about the eventual triumph of good over evil. We continue with Forty days and forty nights, a hymn that directly correlates our Lenten journey with Christ's temptation and fast. The communion hymns reflect on the "bigger picture" Lenten themes - the wondrous love of the Divine sacrifice and our own striving after the Divine Presence. Finally, we process out singing Lift high the cross, a hymn that points to the salvation that comes from our wilderness journey.
At the offertory, the choir will sing an anthem by Gerald Near (b. 1942), Christ Hath a Garden. The English folk tune, O Waly Waly, used by Near for this anthem, may be familiar to you as it is very popular for hymns and secular arrangements throughout the English-speaking world. However, this anthem was primarily chosen for its text. Read the lyrics below and compare Christ's garden with the wilderness of Lent. Does this garden mirror Eden? Does it refer to the garden surrounding the tomb on Easter morning? Is it a garden of the soul? See what it means for you.
"Christ hath a garden walled around,
A Paradise of fruitful ground,
Chosen by love and fenced by grace
From out the world's wide wilderness.
Like trees of spice his servants stand,
There planted by his mighty hand;
By Eden's gracious streams, that flow
To feed their beauty where they grow.
Awake, O wind of heav'n and bear
Their sweetest perfume through the air:
Stir up, O south, the boughs that bloom,
Till the beloved Master come:
That he may come, and linger yet
Among the trees that he hath set;
That he may evermore be seen
To walk amid the springing green."
- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Gerald Near's biography is reprinted below from morningstarmusic.com as part of our series on living composers.
"Gerald Near, born 1942, is considered one of the finest composers of church music writing today. He first studied theory and composition at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago with Leo Sowerby, and continued those studies with Leslie Bassett at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. While at the University of Michigan, he also studied organ with Robert Glasgow, published organ and choral music, and completed his Master's degree in orchestral conducting while studying under Gustav Meier.
In 1982, he was one of the first recipients of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. That year also saw two commissioned works for the American Guild of Organists (AGO) National Convention in Washington, D.C. The following year he moved to Dallas, where he was appointed organist/choirmaster of St. Matthew's Cathedral, later becoming Canon Precentor.
In 1989, Gloriae Dei Cantores commissioned Mr. Near to compose a work for the choir, Resurrexi, based on Gregorian chant motifs. The choir premiered the work, performed it in concerts, and recorded it. It has been broadcast by the BBC and sung in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall and in Leningrad's Capella Hall.
At the 1998 Denver AGO National Convention, Mary Preston premiered his organ concerto. Pamela Decker premiered his Sonata Breve (Second Sonata), written for her, at the Tucson Chapter's (AGO) Mid Winter Conclave in January of 2008. His works have been heard on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion, and his Magnificat & Nunc dimittis has been performed at the prestigious Southern Cathedrals Festival in England. The St. John's College Choir sang his St. John's Service at Sydney's Opera House. The Tucson Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI) designated him a National Arts Associate in May of 2008."