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August 03, 2006

Musica Deo Sacra

Music Sacred to God, an evocative term, and a very descriptive one. For one week in every year we play host to a choir of professional singers and musicians who come together at Tewkesbury Abbey to perform music written across the centuries for the glory of God and the embellishment of worship. People come from all over the world, many of them making it a pilgrimage, to take part or simply to be able to worship in services raised to a level far beyond the ordinary by the use of Mass Settings or Anthems written specifically for worship but usually these days heard only as concert pieces. During Musica Deo Sacra they are heard again in their context and setting.

Throughout the week there is a resident Chaplain, this year that role is being fulfilled by Brother Patrick Moore, a Benedictine Monk in his own right, and presently Scholar in Residence at Sarum College. It is a feast of music, of liturgy and of learning for the evenings are filled with lectures or opportunities to meet and talk to some of the country's most eminent theologians and musicians.

We started on Monday with a glorious Solemn Evensong, begun with Bairstow's "Save us Lord". The Preces and Lesser Litany and Responses set to music by Michael Walsh and the Canticles to a setting by Kenneth Leighton from the Magdalen Service and tailed by an anthem set by Edward Elgar - "Great is the Lord". On Tuesday we had a Solemn Eucharist in honour of the Holy Sacrament using the 1943 Missa Brevis setting by Zoltan Kodaly. The Introit was William Byrd's "Laetentur coeli" and the anthems used for the Gradual, Offertory and Communion were by Berkeley, di Lasso and Bairstow. Our preacher and Episcopal representative - whom I Chaplained - was the Rt Rev Colin Buchanan, a noted speaker and author - and a noted Evangelical. His sermon has certainly given many food for deep thought - it was excellent as, indeed, was that preached by the Lord Abbot on Monday night.

Sadly I could not get out of work to attend Wednesday's Mass, but I attended the Organ Recital and Compline! The recital by Carleton Etherington was, as ever, a virtuoso performance. Yet again, he produced a stop on the Mighty Milton that few of us had heard before and managed to play two pieces that had the organists in the audience on their feet applauding his rendition. One, we think, must have required the use of his toes as well as his fingers, and another required such a spread of keyboard he could only have used his entire forearm! And his finale - Reger's Variations on the theme of Nun danket all uns Gott - left everyone breathless. What a musician, what a performer!

To follow that, Compline. What can one say of the acapella performance of one of the most beautifully simple services in the liturgical book. Our resident Benedictine Chaplain declared when it was over, "I can do no other than to go to bed and hope the Lord will bless me with more music of this calibre tomorrow!" The service opens with the words:

"The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end - Amen"

And surely there can be few ways to end a day than with the beauty of the plainsong chants and the canticles and antiphons by Byrd, Tallis, Blytheman and Parsons? Tallis' setting of the 10th Century hymn "O nata lux lumine" opens the service, and Byrd's setting of the 8th Century "Christe, qui lux es et dies" was the Office Hymn. This was followed by the plainsong Nunc dimitis and Blytheman's setting of the Compline responsory "In Pace". After the blessing has been given, the chior make their way round the back of the High Altar and standing at the statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace, sing the Parsons setting of the "Ave Maria". Brother Patrick was right, you could do no other than go to bed before anything could spoil the euphoria in one's spirit!

I will post more on this as I have the opportunity.

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 3, 2006 07:50 PM

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Gorse Fox regrets he didn't get a chance to drop by. Monday evening was so wet that he he just stopped for a quick curry before sheltering in his hotel room.

Tuesday he had had 3 young colleagues in tow... and the opportunity was lost.

Posted by: Gorse Fox at August 3, 2006 07:16 AM

A great shame, I think you would have enjoyed it - and it would have been fun trying to spot each other!

Posted by: The Gray Monk at August 3, 2006 11:31 AM

Incidentally, the Gorse Fox spent 4 of his adolescent years in a monastery as junior, postulant and novice ! (Though, not gray monks... he wore black).

Posted by: Gorse Fox at August 3, 2006 12:40 PM

A rare Benedictine? Actually this one wears black most of the time - except when required to serve then its episcopal pink .....

Posted by: The Gray Monk at August 3, 2006 12:46 PM