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August 02, 2005

Music in the Abbey

The first week in August is always special for the Abbey. This is the week of Musica Deo Sacra, a week of sacred music sung within the context of the liturgy. One hears such things as the Hayden, Bach, and Mozart Masses sung as the accompaniment to a Mass and not as a concert performance in a theatre. There is also the opportunity to sing Vespers, to celebrate Solemn Evensong, and even Compline enriched by the fabulous music that so many talented composers have lent their genius to.

Now this is not to say that we don't do all or most of these things in the course of the year, anyway. What makes Musica Deo Sacra special is that it is a weeklong celebration of both faith and music. There is a Sung Solemn Mass on three days during the week, one a Requiem, as well as the Sunday Masses. There is Solemn Evensong or Choral Evensong every day, Solemn Matins on Saturday and Vespers on Thursday. Wednesday is celebrated with both a Mass and Compline and enriiched in between with an organ recital. Nor is the Word of the Lord neglected, as at each there is a preacher of some standing invited to preach on the word as read in the lessons for that service.

You may well ask where do we find a congregation through the week? You may also ask how big a congregation we could possibly hope to attract. Well, the congregations we get come from all over the world. Many of our local congregations take their annual holiday at this time just so that they can attend as well. Last night's Solemn Evensong was a case in point - a congregation of a little over 400 were there for the first celebration of music in worship for this year.

For those of us who are members of the Abbey congregation it is always good to welcome back, year on year, familiar faces from our scattered world-wide family, and last night it was a pleasure to welcome folk from Holland, from Germany, France, New York, Massachusets and elsewhere in the US and from Australia and New Zealand. All of them regard the Abbey as their home away from home, and it is a real sense of the fellowship that is such a vital part of being a Christian that one gets on occassions like these.

And who are the choir? There, too, we are fortunate; the choir is made up of professional and semi-professional singers and musicians who take time out of their schedules to offer this week to God in this festival. They ask no payment for it and they offer their voices and talents for their praise of God. At the final services on Sunday next we will have them joined by a full orchestra which forms itself every year for this festival and comes together just to perform the music of the Mass and again for the Solemn Evensong and Benediction. Again, all are professional or semi-professional musicians who offer their services and talents for this festival.

Last night we started the festival with a Solemn Evensong. Our preacher was the former Dean of York Minster and he spoke movingly and well on the subject of music in the liturgy, drawing on the prophet Amos and the lessons set for the day, Isaiah 53: 7 to end, and Luke 18: 31 to end, to remind us that the music was the vehicle of worship and not the object, that the Lord sought our devotion and not our tokens, but that the offering of music where it enriched and uplifted our praise and was the offering of joy and fellowship was a very rich offering indeed. And what an offering we had.

The Introit was "Lord, I call upon thee" to a setting by Edward Bairstow, the Preces and Responses and the Lesser Litany were to a setting by Richard Lloyd, the canticles to settings by Charles Wood in F from the Collegium Regale. These were enriched by the Anthem set by John Rutter and entitled "Hymn to the Creator of Light" and the service closed with the Organ Voluntary "Fantasia" by York Bowen.

Last night I had the privilege of being the Assistant Minister at the Somen Evensong. I read the two lessons and did the "continuity" announcements. Today I have the privilege of being the Sub Deacon for the Mass for Our Lady at 1100 which will be accompanied by Louis Vierne's setting of the Mass. Another feast for the soul to look forward to ahead.

A feast of music and prayer, an offering worthy, we hope, of God.

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 2, 2005 08:10 AM