A Canticle with Tambourine and Triangle

by David Ouzts, Minister of Music and Liturgy

As a liturgist, I live my life, or at least the professional part of it, by rubrics. In the free worship tradition, we “just let the Lord lead” (a quote from a favorite past voice professor) with few directions. However, in the liturgical worship tradition, we follow guidelines called rubrics that are based upon Anglican traditions. I try to not always die in the rubrics ditches, but I do believe getting the liturgy correct is important. As I frequently say to our choirs, “God is paying attention and will notice.”

A hymn, Psalm, or anthem may follow. This rubric is one of the most common in the entire Book of Common Prayer for sure, especially in the Holy Eucharist (p. 323 or 355), the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (p. 423), and in the Burial of the Dead (p. 469 or 491). In this usage, an anthem implies any sung piece of music by choir or ensemble or soloist.

One of the following Canticles is sung or said after each Reading. This rubric is found in Morning Prayer (p. 37 or 75) and Evening Prayer (p. 61 or 115) and refers to that great collection of canticles rarely used these days on Sunday mornings: VeniteJubilateBenedictus es DomineMagnificatNunc dimittisTe Deum laudamus, etc.

At this point many will want to have the argument that the Church “threw the baby out with the bathwater” when it decided that the principal liturgical act on Sundays should be the Holy Eucharist. Gone are the days of Morning Prayer regularly held on Sunday mornings. The other offices are now called Daily Morning Prayer or Daily Evening Prayer and are intended for weekday worship. I am happy to say that we sing Evening Prayer (a.k.a. Evensong) here five to six times a year, during which we sing gorgeous settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.

So, what is a canticle? Derived from the Latin word for “song,” a canticle is “a hymn or song of praise taken from scripture other than the Psalms.” The Magnificat is the song of praise that Mary exclaimed when she visited her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). The Nunc dimittis is the song of praise that Simeon proclaimed upon seeing the infant Jesus in the Temple some 40 days after his birth (Luke 2:29-32).

The anthem this Sunday (Oct. 18) is a setting of a portion of the Benedicite omnia opera Domine (A Song of Creation) canticle from Morning Prayer. It's a musical setting by the Reverend Dr. William Bradley Roberts, professor of church music of Virginia Theological Seminary who was with us for our Alleluia Be Our Measure festival in May 2015 and who also composed our parish hymn tune Walnut Grove. The anthem text is a paraphrase of the Benedicite by the Reverend Dr. Carl P. Daw, Jr., an Episcopal priest, former executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and presently adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Theology.

This setting is a lively tune full of syncopations, accents and great word-painting. Bill provides choral textures that even emulate bells in the opening section (“heav’n with praise is ringing”). Along with the running accompaniment notes, he calls for triangle and tambourine for the texts, “Sing, wind and rain! Sing, snow and sleet!” And for the “living things upon the earth” and the “green fertile hills and mountains,” he gives the anthem over to a soloist, which is an effective compositional technique.A new anthem to our parish music library, we considered including this piece in the sacred arts festival this past spring; alas, time did not allow for it. With its crashing and banging on the organ, supplemented by tambourine and triangle, our Parish Choir’s choral offering this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. might be great fun.