Our Best Efforts

When we began this blog, now some years ago, the intent was both reflective and informative.

The musical and liturgical traditions of the Episcopal Church are so rich that confess I most often probably fall into the hole of being informative and educational rather than being reflective.

For a severe ESTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator test, being reflective is sometimes difficult for me.

I am an organist, and I must practice, you know. I am also responsible for five parish choirs, and I have anthems and services to plan.

However, last evening’s Choral Evensong for the Baptism of Christ, ably sung by the Motet Choir, has given me a great opportunity for reflection.

Last night’s sung liturgy was our normal Evensong and Holy Eucharist fare: the first half of the service was standard sung Evening Prayer – priest, people and choir singing all of those beloved favorite prayers and canticles from the Book of Common Prayer.

Because our 5:30 Sunday evening liturgy is a principal service for the Lord’s Day, and is the principal Sunday service for so many of our parishioners, we combine our Evensongs with the Holy Eucharist, an option wisely granted to us by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

(Some of my Episcopal parish musician colleagues will disagree with this last statement, but this liturgically legal option works well for us.)

The Officiant and choir sang the Preces and the Prayers responsively and antiphonally – literally antiphonally, given that in our church the officiant is in the chancel and the choir is in the rear gallery. The choir sang the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, as usual, and the people sang the Phos hilaron setting and the hymns.

Evensong is a wonderful, combined effort of mind, heart and voice by priest, people and choir.

With our Evensong and Holy Eucharist “holy combo,” the Officiant then liturgically punted the leadership ball to the Celebrant, who gave the Peace and commenced with the Eucharistic Prayer, which was beautifully sung as one might do in an Evensong/Eucharist combo liturgy.

However, the motet sung by the Motet Choir (no pun intended) at the beginning of Communion was in some ways not our standard fare.

To say the least, the François Poulenc motet Videntes stellam is a tricky little piece. Only four pages, it is one of those musical works that in spots does not sound correct when it is. “Crunchy” is my affectionate term for such pieces.

Again, some of my colleagues might say that I was daft to allow our nine-voice Motet Choir to sing this Poulenc motet. With only nine singers, in a couple of spots that was one singer to a part, called divisi, in musical terms.

We began rehearsing this difficult piece weeks ago. Our singers learned their parts outside of regular choir rehearsals by all manner of practices: playing their notes on the piano, taking the piece to a voice lesson or two, listening to YouTube clips, analyzing the musical theory and intervals closely, and having secret sectional coaching sessions behind my back.

(Yes, the choirmaster is all-knowing and most appreciative.)

I employed every teaching tool in my bag of tricks, including inspiration, precision, guilt, musicianship, suggestion, demand. I may have even whined a little.

When we began learning this piece, one I remember lovingly from my college-choir days, I told the Motet Choir that, despite its difficulty, it had to sound “tossed-off.”

The congregation could not know or sense its level of difficulty. Otherwise, it would not be able to convey the surprise, wonder and mystery of Videntes stellam Magi gavisi sunt gaudio magno (“Beholding the star, the Magi were overwhelmed with great joy”).

God deserves only our best efforts, and the Motet Choir exhibited theirs last evening. Deo gracias.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 13:54