Joys of a new season

I went to Wegmans the other day, and lo, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Have you seen the plastic bags of Halloween candy stacked up like sandbags? Thanksgiving decorations spilling out of displays?  Really?  So soon? 

Please, press the pause button.

Autumn.  So bittersweet!  I’ve been digging in filing cabinets and poring over notebooks in preparation for fall at the small Episcopal Church where I serve as music director.  Choir practices start up the first week of September, and I love picking the hymns and anthems for the coming months and imagining how music can magnify the spiritual ideas explored in the Anglican liturgy.

First, I study the readings for each Sunday. Often there are themes such as the importance of faith, humility, and gratitude.  All of the music must underline the texts from week to week as there’s no more powerful way to internalize poetry than to sing it.

Second, I think about the people and resources in my parish. We support a small, dynamic choir with an especially strong tenor section (the only such choir in America, I believe!) For the most part, the volunteers read music well and appreciate challenging pieces in a variety of styles.  They are not so keen on contemporary anthems, they love Anglican chant, and like me, appreciate the darker, more contemplative hymns in our tradition: tunes by J.S. Bach, Vaughan Williams, and Neumark. (Fluffy folk tunes, not so much.  We have a soprano who refuses to sing “Taste and See.”  We call her Mother Superior.)

Choices are also shaped by what I can do well as an accompanist. My keyboard skills are limited, and practice time is precious. So I try to avoid picking pieces that require more than a few hours of rehearsal.

Third, I allow room for inspiration. Watching the London Olympics sparked my interest in the great English composers, so this fall, I’ve pulled out several Anglican anthems.  Here’s the list so far:

September 23                                

“Teach me, O Lord” by Thomas Atwood

September 30                    

“Lord, teach us how to pray” by Gordon Young

October 7                                        

“Rejoice is the Lord always” (The Bell Anthem) by Henry Purcell

October 14                                     

“Sanctus and Benedictus” from St. Cecilia Mass, Charles Gounod

October 21                                     

“I sat down under his shadow” by Edward Bairstow

October 28                                     


November 4                                   

“Blessed are the dead” by William Beckstrand

November 11                                 


November 18                                 

“Great Day” (traditional gospel song)

November 25                                             

“To thee we turn our eyes” by Heinrich Schutz

Learning this music will be a great joy and challenge.  We may have to jettison some of the more ambitious choices on this list. (The Beckstrand anthem for All Saints Day requires more basses than we have.) 

And there’s one more consideration  . . .

Here’s more.