The service music, also known as the Mass setting, refers to the sung portions of the service that are always the same except for minor modifications, namely, the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), Gloria (Glory to God), Credo (Creed), Sanctus (Holy), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Here at Christ Church we only sing some of these on a regular basis, and during Lent some things are omitted and others included. All of these pieces together, whether sung or spoken, form part of what is known as the Ordinary. The Ordinary refers to that which basically stays the same each week, and the Propers (discussed in previous articles) refer to antiphons, psalms, and other things that do change every week. During Lent, the Kyrie will replace the Gloria, and the Agnus Dei will be included. There are many service settings available, but we will use the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena by Healey Willan (1880-1968).
Born in England but moving to Canada to accepting a professorship at the University of Toronto in 1913, Willan was soon to become the brightest star among the church musicians of Canada. Composing roughly 700 pieces of church music and 150 secular works, Willan devoted his life to his work, and in doing so, influenced the compositional styles of church music composers all over the world. He was appointed as organist/choirmaster of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Toronto in 1921 and would retain this position until his death in 1968. Upon his arrival, nothing much was happening at the church – they didn’t even have a real choir! Undaunted, Willan industriously began recruiting choir members and charging them a recurring 10 cent fee (this was apparently possible way back when). By doing this, he created a self-sufficient music budget and was able to buy music and hire professional singers to bolster his choir. If you would like to watch an interview with Willan at the age of 86, you can view it HERE. When visiting the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York city, I was surprised to discover a plaque bearing the following inscription on the door of the organ gallery staircase. I remarked to a friend how amazing it is that one person’s industry and simple, quiet devotion to their craft can have such far-reaching influence.
Canada’s gift to the voice which Christians have lifted to their God.
For me, Willan’s music has a beautifully solemn mood with joy and enthusiasm at its heart. It is a perfect fit for Rite One because its musical language and the words of the rite place us back into a world of devotion that often disappears today. We may view this solemn piety differently than our forebears, but that is part of the beauty of the experience.
The choir will present My eyes for beauty pine by Herbert Howells (1892-1983). Music like the music of Healey Willan, Howells’ piece has long musical phrases imbued with a sense of quiet majesty. The text of this anthem, by Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930), is mystical and inspiring and deserves to be quoted here.
My eyes for beauty pine,
My soul for Goddes grace:
No other care nor hope is mine,
To heaven I turn my face.
One splendour thence is shed
From all the stars above:
'Tis named when God's name is said,
'Tis Love, 'tis heavenly Love.
And every gentle heart,
That burns with true desire,
Is lit from eyes that mirror part
Of that celestial fire.
In closing, please consider attending one of our Lenten Noonday Concerts this year. Every Wednesday from February 25 through March 25, there will be a concert at noon with lunch to follow. This week (February 25) we host Dr. Lynne A. Lauderdale, pianist, and Charles W. York, baritone. Together, they will present music ranging from German art songs to The trumpet shall sound from The Messiah. We hope to see you there!