The music for Sunday morning centers around the reading from Isaiah concerning the lion and lamb and the strong presence of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading. The choir anthem will be Where Once There Lay Dragons, by Kenton Coe (b. 1931), a truly unique piece that sets a paraphrase from the King James Bible that mentions dragons. Please find the first verse printed here.
“Where once there lay dragons, tall grasses shall grow;
Where once there lay wasteland, a pathway shall go;
Where once there lay desert, there shall flow a spring;
O ransomed of Zion, with joy you shall sing.”
How often do we have anthems featuring dragons? This fun text, by Carol McClure (b. 1955), coupled with a quirky and exciting musical setting, makes for a rousing piece of music that you won’t want to miss. Below, please find a biography of Kenton Coe reprinted from St. James Music Press as part of our series on living composers.
“Kenton Coe studied with Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger. He is the first American to have an opera (South, from the play by Julien Green) produced by the Paris Opera. His opera Rachel was produced in Nashville and Knoxville by the Knoxville Opera. His opera Le Grand Siècle (on a text of Ionesco) was produced by the Opera of Nantes. Coe writes in almost every format: orchestral, choral, and chamber music. He has written the scores for all the Ross Spears documentaries, including Agee, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He wrote the score for Universal's Birds In Peru starring Jean Seberg and directed by Romain Gary. His music has been performed by major symphony orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His suite for jazz trio and symphony Purcellular was commissioned by the City of London-Westminster for the Purcell Tercentenary. After living a number of years in Paris and New York, he now resides in Tennessee.”
Other music for Sunday illustrates the mission and character of John the Baptist, the voice “crying in the wilderness.” The organ prelude will be an inventive setting of Merton, the tune of our processional hymn, Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding. This piece, by David Thorne (b. 1950), sets the tune in the style of a Baroque chorale prelude. For many, this will be identifiable in that it may remind you of the music of Bach. The hymn’s melody enters after four measures of a beautiful counter melody. The easiest way to pick it out of the texture is to listen for the long notes.
The postlude also has a hymn tune as its basis. This time, it is based on the tune of our sequence hymn, Winchester New, often sung with the text, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry. In this festive setting by Christopher Tambling (b. 1964), you will hear different pieces of the melody used as structural devices throughout with the overall impression being that of a fanfare. While the postlude will be brief, it certainly packs a punch. Perhaps this is not unlike the character of John the Baptist. Both the prelude and postlude come from a series of books I purchased while at the Sewanee Church Music Conference this summer, Oxford Hymn Settings for Organists. One of my favorite things about this series is that all of its music comes from living composers. Expect to hear some familiar tunes in very new ways.
So, as we near the middle of the Advent season this Sunday, it is my hope that everyone will truly engage with the magic of this season. One important way to do that is by attending our service of Lessons and Carols. However, even beyond that, I hope you will allow all of our Advent music to speak to you this year as we strive to “make a straight path for God.”