This week the choir sings two anthems, “Bow Down Low” as arranged by David Bridges and “Laudate nomen Domini” by Christopher Tye. “Bow Down Low” is a religious song of the Shakers, the longest surviving religious communal group in the United States. The song is an example of a “laboring song,” in which the act of sweeping and cleaning is applied both to one’s home and one’s soul. The second anthem is an excerpt from Tye’s Actes of the Apostles, which was published in London around 1553. The only music of Tye’s to be published during his lifetime — and perhaps the only collection of polyphonic music to be based on that book of the Bible — the work consisted of the first fourteen chapters of Acts in Tye’s own versification, set to attractive but unpretentious music. History has not been kind to the work, especially to Tye’s poetry, and its music is generally now performed to alternative texts.
This week the choir sings two anthems, “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” by Harold Friedell, and “Love Thy Neighbor” by Michael Helman. “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” is the best known anthem by Friedell, an organist and composer who spent his entire career in the New York City area. In addition to teaching at Juilliard School of Music and Union Theological Seminary, Friedell was director of music at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York. The popularity of his anthem is evident in its use as a hymn in many recent hymnals (including the Presbyterian Hymnal). Its use as a hymn brings the piece full circle: Friedell first composed the melody as a hymn tune before arranging and publishing it in anthem form.
The opening hymn this week, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” is a translation of the “Canticle of the Sun” or the “Canticle of the Creatures,” by Francis of Assissi. Written in an Umbrian dialect of Italian near the end of his life in c. 1224, it is considered the first religious poem in Italian, perhaps even the first work of literature in that language. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was on Francis’ deathbed, the verse about “sister death” having only just been added. The English version was made in the early twentieth century by William Draper, a Yorkshire rector who also set it to the early 17th-century German tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN.
This week the choir returns to singing for the 11:00 am service, with two anthems: one an adaptation of the traditional spiritual “Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land,” by Bettye Forbes, the other a setting of Psalm 121 by Jean Berger. Berger’s setting (“I to the Hills Lift Up Mine Eyes”) uses a translation of Psalm 121 from the Bay Psalm Book, the first book to be printed in North America (1640).
This week the ancient Latin poem, ‘Ubi caritas et amor,’ features twice in the service. This text, based on 1 John 4:16 and thought to have been written before the tenth century, was from the Middle Ages one of the antiphons on Maundy Thursday, where it illustrates the “new commandment” that we love another (John 13:34). Sunday’s offertory is a modern setting of the Latin text, written by the English composer Alan Bullard, a student of Herbert Howells. Set for two sopranos and organ, it is sung by Lauren Hauser and Megan Sharp. The second setting is a congregational hymn, “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” which is an English translation of ‘Ubi caritas’ by Omer Westendorf (1916-1997), a Catholic composer and hymn writer.