Sunday, May 2, 2010

Music old and new

"Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
You ministers who do his will."

This week at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 306 N. Division St. in Ann Arbor, I think there was more music than at any of the other services I have attended as part of the Itinerant Chorister project, so here are the numbers. There were anthems by the adult choir, the junior choir, and a male quartet, five hymns out of the hymnal, and six major musical items as part of the liturgy, including Psalm 148 done in Anglican chant (chant with harmony) and the Eucharistic Prayer chanted by Rector Alan Gibson. There was also a song previewing their production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, showing next weekend, and an organ prelude and postlude. Seventeen things, besides many additional snippets as part of the liturgy.

The item of newest vintage was the main anthem by the adult choir, "Bless the Lord, All You His Hosts" by Iain Quinn, copyright 2010. The oldest seems to be "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis, from the 16th century. One other thing that I especially liked was one of my favorite hymn tunes, although with different words than I am used to. The tune is actually called Sine Nomine (meaning "without a name"); the words I am most familiar with are "For all the saints who from their labors rest," but today it started with the words "God's Paschal Lamb is sacrificed for us," as a piece of liturgy. Since it is graduation season, I will point out that one of the reasons why I like this hymn so much is that I marched in to this song for my bachelor's degree; I much prefer Sine Nomine to that dirge I won't name that people always associate with a graduation procession.

The choir rehearses in a rather unusual space. I am told that the eastern end of the church building used to be a smaller chapel, but it has since been reconfigured and partitioned in the vertical, with offices on the lower level and a space upstairs that somewhat resembles an attic, but one with a high vaulted ceiling, nice tile floor, and individual closet/lockers for each choir member's robe, plus rather large cubbies for storing their music.

Choir director Deborah Friauff is someone who does a lot of her leading by demonstrating what the singers should be doing--forming the vowels properly, making sure that the 'sts' in the word 'hosts' has all of the consonants pronounced in the proper order and at the right time, or the 'ndm' consonant cluster in the word 'commandments'. The Quinn piece was a perfect opportunity to talk about and demonstrate tapering phrases up and down again, as opposed to hitting the beginning of a phrase hard, which may be appropriate in some other music. Overhearing her working with the junior choir, while they were singing the line "O sing to the Lord with a jubilant voice," she demonstrated how to sing with a non-jubilant voice and asked them whether that worked well for that song. Organist and accompanist Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra also joined in instructing the singers regarding the hymns, and sang heartily from the organ bench.

A continuing situation in the Itinerant Chorister project is doing things that are routinely done and are second nature to those I am visiting. At St. Andrew's, the protocol for the choir processing into the sanctuary surprised me a bit. The singers enter from a side door in the front of the church, walk single file through a narrow side aisle to the back, then across the narthex and two by two down the slightly wider center aisle to the front again. In the narthex, the person alongside whom I was supposed to walk started waving frantically for me to catch up, and nearly knocked my hymnal on the floor. Another thing about singing in the narthex: At my home church, Zion Lutheran, I call the narthex the time warp, because you can't hear the organ very well there, and when people start singing there, they discover upon entering the sanctuary and hearing the organ that they are out of time with it. Therefore I stay silent in the narthex. However, at St. Andrew's, it seems different, perhaps because of a higher ceiling in the narthex or the organ being closer.

The sermon by Father Charles Witke followed the theme of the Gospel lesson, John 13:31-35, in which Jesus commands his disciples to love each other. He pointed out that this is the way that others know who are followers of Jesus. In illuminating Jesus' command to love your neighbor as yourself, Fr. Witke explained that this put forward love of oneself as the "gold standard of love." And so it seems to be for many people. He ended the sermon with "I love the face of Christ that I see."

There were some interesting features of the "Prayers of the People." Church is a place where we refer to people by their first names, even though this can sometimes seem a bit jarring. So when we were praying for government leaders, we especially held up "Barack our President, Jennifer our Governor, and John our Mayor." Later, they recited what I understood to be the names of all U.S. service members nationwide who were killed in war zones during the past week. This is something I haven't encountered at another place of worship, and illustrates a conscientious community of believers.

The bell tower of St. Andrew's is visible by sighting directly along Miller and Catherine Streets from as far down the hill as the railroad underpass.


  1. Thanks for this, Brent -- a lovely job, and we enjoyed singing with you. Also, as the person who nearly knocked your hymn book on the floor, I apologize. I've frequently had the experience of waiting for what seemed like hours for my procession partner to get into place and thought a hand signal might help. Much to my chagrin, you were right there!

  2. Unable to give you a heart. so have a reply to push up your post. ........................................