Singing with the Choir

When I sit down to plan the music for Sunday mornings, I’m considering a number of things. I start with the lessons for the week. Sometimes it’s ridiculously obvious what the hymns should be. If we read from the second chapter of Philippians, we pretty much have to sing “At the name of Jesus.” When the August 16 Gospel lesson was the John passage that includes all the lyrics to “I am the Bread of Life,” guess what the communion hymn was?

But I also have to consider the mood at each point in the service. Quiet, contemplative communion hymns are far different from rousing closingprocessional hymns – what we in the choir call walking music. And then there’s the most important criterion: Do we know it?

So I did not choose an unfamiliar hymn lightly for the September 6 service. It’s “What does the Lord require?” (#605), which Albert Bayly wrote in 1949 to the Micah text, “Do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God.” We’re not doing that lesson that day, but the epistle hits the same basic points. Erik Routley composed the hymn tune, Sharpthorne, in 1968 specifically for the text, and it’s really interesting. I put it in at communion, even though it’s a tad too vigorous for that spot, and I hope you’ll at least let the music and lyrics sink into you, even if you think it’s too hard to sing.

Choir is a little short-handed in early fall, but fortunately our music library is chockfull of two- and three-part anthems. I spent a large portion of the summer just trying to figure out what we had in there, and we sang through a lot of them at the choir workshop in early August. There are some anthems that are just classics of liturgical-church repertoires, and we’re doing one of them in late September: Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether, by Harold Friedell. When I started poking around the internet for information on this anthem, I discovered that it’s traditional for Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran choirs to sing this every September. Who knew? But you can’t deny the aptness of the lyrics by Percy Deamer for that get-back-to-work time of year:

All our meals and all our living Make us sacraments of thee, That by caring, helping, giving, We may true disciples be. Alleluya! Alleluya! We will serve thee faithfully.

(reposted from the September 2015 Hilltop Herald)

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