Sunday, April 13, 2014

A little hymnology (after some fact checking)

Well, let me get the record “straight” on what I said at brunch and after church at an MCC in Fairfax County, VA today.
The last hymn was “In the Midst of New Dimensions”.  The title suggests something that could fit into NatGeo’s “Cosmos” series.  We can wonder if a Creator set up the laws of physics to work out exactly right for us.  But I got the composer wrong.  It really is by Julian Rush (reference ).

I was mixing the music (and memory by ear) up with the somewhat similar (in terms of emotional effect and style) “In a City Just Beginning”, by the Minister of Music and organist Lawrence P. Schreiber, composed in 2002.  The FBC, as I has covered, installed its new Austin organ in 2013.  It would be expected that this piece might be performed on it.  The hymn is in G Major, with a third verse in parallel G Minor.  The words were authored by former pastor Jim Somerville, now the pastor at FBC in Richmond Va on Monument Ave.  The words would refer to the city of Washington in the historical time before the War of 1812, when FBC was founded.

Today, at MCC Northern Virginia (near downtown in Fairfax City and two blocs off Rte 123, not far from GMU), the postlude consisted of a couple of variations for piano and violin on the Rush hymn.  I don’t know if Rush composed it this way for concert performance.  But it made perfect sense, as if a movement of a violin sonata.  

Hymnology was a big thing at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in the 1950s and 1960s, with the active music program which Dr. Pruden encouraged.  There were a lot of concerts, and later Alvin Lunde founded the Bach Orchestra there.  Another organist while a Peabody college student in the mid and late 1960s, William Evans, taught organ and brought modern French organ music (especially Marcel Dupre with that notorious “Cortege and Litany”) to the congregation, to the consternation of some people who just wanted old fashioned Bible hymns.  I recall that controversy while I was away at graduate school (at KU).  Later Mr. Evans worked at a Lutheran church in Baltimore, which was even more high church and ready for music education.  Not many people (including me) that the organ at FBC then had been built in the 1930s and had been brought over from the previous building. 

There was a member at MCC Dallas, Danny Ray, in the 1980s, who apparently had composed a number of hymns in widespread use.
My own favorite composer as for consistent contribution to hymn literature is British post-romantic composer Sir Hubert Parry (“I Was Glad”).  I like a little bit of harmonic complexity. 

Video: A curious bird, outside the church today.  

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