Music Notes for February 11, 2024

During February, Black History Month, we are celebrating each week the contribution African Americans have made to our worship either in our hymns, anthems, preludes or postludes, through musical compositions and/or texts rooted in this history and culture.

Today we hear and sing the tune “McKee,” for the Opening Voluntary and Gathering Hymn: the first, a quiet and delicate meditation for piano solo by Justin McCarthy and the second a setting of the African American spiritual adapted as a hymn by Harry T. Burleigh. Let’s raise the roof!

Hymn of the Day: “How Good, Lord, to Be Here!” (ELW 315)
Text: Joseph Armitage Robinson (1858-1933)
Tune: POTSDAM, W. Mercer (1811-1873) The Church Psalter and Hymn Book

Dean of Westminster since 1902, graduate of Christ College, Cambridge, Fellow of his College, Norrisian Professor of Divinity, Cambridge, Rector of St. Margaret, Westminster, and Canon of Westminster, J. Armitage Robinson was an English scholar who wrote extensively about the New Testament, the early church and the cathedral at Wells. He is only slightly associated with hymnology. His hymn, "'Tis good, Lord, to be here” was written c. 1890. It was included in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern, and supplies a long felt want with respect to hymns on the Transfiguration.

The tune, POTSDAM, first appeared in William Mercer's The Church Psalter and Hymn Book (Sheffield, 1854). It was derived in a novel way—by adapting the fugue subject of J. S. Bach's (#310) Fugue IX from Volume II of The Well-tempered Clavier (BWV870-893) and repeating it four times: beginning on the tonic for the first phrase, repeating it a fifth higher for the second, beginning on the third for the third phrase, and repeating it again on the tonic for the fourth. The only changes are in the third phrase where starting on the third modifies the intervals and where the meter requires two more syllables than the other phrases. There G sharp and A were added at the end of the phrase, emphasizing the dominant and making the singers long for the tonic's return as if the tune actually had gone somewhere. These two notes may also be attributable to Bach who did the very same thing in measures 26 to 27 of the fugue. The name POTSDAM comes from the city Bach visited in 1747 where, at the bidding of Frederick the Great, he improvised on a theme the king gave him and then went home and turned it into what became The Musical Offering. (Though the tune is ingenious and congregational, there is no little irony here. The theme and complexity of The Musical Offering, which stand behind the name of the tune, bear no relation to the tune itself.) Except for the two notes added to the third phrase, the tune in its overly simple and undeveloped character bears no relation to the musical interest Bach developed in the fugue from which it is derived in The Well-Tempered Clavier.

The usual assumption is that William Mercer adapted Bach's fugue subject and created the tune. He was born in northeastern England in Durham and went to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1840 he became the incumbent at St. George's, Sheffield, and served the church faithfully for the next thirty-three years until his death. His church was full, and he led it to set up both day and Sunday schools. With John Goss's (#318) musical assistance he edited The Church Psalter and Hymn Book, where this tune appeared. This book was first published in 1854 and included the Psalms and Canticles, four hundred metrical psalms with chants and tunes, "for congregations and families." It went through multiple versions with additions in twenty-two different forms from 1854 until 1872. Of it John Julian says this: "For many years this collection was at the head of all the hymn-books in the Church of England, both in circulation and influence. Its large admixture of Wesleyan hymns, and of translations from the German gave it a distinct character of its own, and its grave and solemn music was at one time exceedingly popular." By 1864 it had sold one hundred thousand copies. Hymns Ancient and Modern took its place.

It could be asked if John Goss, the assisting musician of The Church Psalter and Hymn Book, was the one who constructed POTSDAM. He surely knew the Bach fugue, how to use repetition, and how to move to the dominant in a congregational tune. The melody nonetheless seems a bit too simple for a sensitive musician like Goss, who composed one of the Victorian gems, PRAISE, MY SOUL (#318). Furthermore, according to the preface of The Church Psalter and Hymn Book Goss's role was to harmonize the tunes that Mercer chose (and which, Mercer notes, Goss approved). Mercer knew what he was doing (as an editor, not necessarily as a hymn writer), and he appreciated Bach. He may well have constructed this tune, possibly with his "able Organist, Mr. Phillips, whose skill on his instrument is only equalled by his exact taste" and whom Mercer thanked "for his kindness in rendering me assistance, whenever required.”

Offertory: "Arise, Shine" Alan Lewis

A native both of the Episcopal Church and of Southern California, Alan holds degrees in organ performance and music history from Oberlin College & Conservatory of Music in Ohio. He returned to California for graduate work as a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley; his doctoral research into the sacred vocal music of the Renaissance resulted in a dissertation on the motets of Nicolas Gombert, one of the prominent Flemish composers of the mid-sixteenth century. While completing his doctoral studies, Dr. Lewis joined the faculty of the (Episcopal) Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, lecturing in Church Music and directing the Chapel Music for six years. He also served as the Music Director for Episcopal congregations. He is a passionate advocate for excellence in the Church's musical offerings, old and new. He currently serves as Director of Music, Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to his work at Calvary, Alan is the choral music reviewer for the Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, and serves as Sub-dean of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land,
deep gloom shrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise,
and his glory will appear upon you.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and your God will be your glory.
Arise, shine!

Opening Voluntary: “McKee” Justin McCarthy

MC KEE has an interesting history. According to a letter from Charles V. Stanford to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (who arranged the tune for piano in his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, 1905), MC KEE was originally an Irish tune taken to the United States and adapted by African American slaves. It became associated with the spiritual "I Know the Angels Done Changed My Name," which appeared in J. B. T. Marsh's The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1876). Harry T. Burleigh arranged the tune to fit the text by John Oxenham (aka William Arthur Dunkerley) in 1939. As a setting for that text, the tune was published in The Hymnal 1940. Burleigh named the tune after Elmer M. Mc Kee, rector of St. George's Episcopal Church, New York, where Burleigh was the baritone soloist from 1894-1946.

Burleigh began his musical career as a choirboy in St. Paul's Cathedral, Erie, Pennsylvania. He also studied at the National Conservatory of Music, New York City, where he was befriended by Anton Dvorak and, according to tradition, provided Dvorak with some African American musical themes that became part of Dvorak's New World Symphony. Burleigh composed at least two hundred works but is most remembered for his vocal solo arrangements of African American spirituals. In 1944 Burleigh Was honored as a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.

Closing Voluntary: "Trumpet Tune in C” David N Johnson (1922-1987)

"Trumpet Tune in C” Is an energetic piece written in baroque style. this melody sounds centuries old, but is completely original.

David Nathaniel Johnson was a composer, organist, and college lecturer, who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and held positions at Syracuse University, St. Olaf College, and Arizona State University. His most famous piece is “Trumpet Tune in D Major”, however, the majestic “Trumpet Tune in C” which is slightly lesser known is a wonderful composition also. Johnson is also known for his hymn tune Earth and All Stars.