excerpt from 'Musical Reminiscences Past and Present' pp. 70 71 72 (951 words)

excerpt from 'Musical Reminiscences Past and Present' pp. 70 71 72 (951 words)

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Musical Reminiscences Past and Present

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Sunday morning (St. Peter’s Day) The beautiful choral service at All Souls’, or the Hook Memorial Church


 The chants used for the Te Deum and Benedictus, though excellent as music, did not, especially the former, exactly suit the meaning and expression of the words ; exempli gratia, in the verse, “Thou did’st open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers,” and again, “ Thou sittest at the right hand of God: in the glory of the Father,”—surely such words as these should not be sung to a minor, but to a bright major strain.

The Venite and Psalms for the day (139, 140, and 141) were sung to chants by Frost, Turle, and Barnby—of which Turle’s was by far the best, whilst Barnby's is pretty and rather secular. The singing of the Psalms was admirable throughout—time, tune, clear enunciation, and considerable expression being alike to be admired and commended. The sweet, clear voices of the boys, led by Masters Holliday, Umpleby, Dodds, and Heath, and the sonorous tones of the basses here came out with telling effect, especially in the unison verses, of which I should like to have heard more. Again, the congregation joined with the choir, adding another proof that in such churches as the Hook Memorial, people go now to church to worship for themselves, and not to listen to a substitute like the old defunct parish clerk. When the Psalm says “ Come, let us sing,” the congregations of these days believe in the Psalm, and will not read, nor will they permit any substitute to read or sing for them. It is, therefore, most important, as Mr. Hird knows, that the chants should all be carefully selected, choosing those which have plain, simple melodies and pure, strong chords, which form the chain of church harmony, and, above all, avoiding such as have high reciting notes, or commencing on the major third above C the third space in the treble, and florid phrases. There is one point, however, in chanting the Psalms, which I venture to think the congregation would do well to observe, and that is to sing antiphonally with the choir, instead of joining with both sides, decani and cantoris. To accomplish this properly it might be desirable that most of the congregation should possess Psalters with the sides the choir take marked therein.

The musical voice of the congregation was heard at its best in singing the hymns. There they asserted their right and their power, and occasionally with so much vigour that the organist had to bring out the full power of his instrument to support the united voices of the choir and people. With rare exceptions all the hymns are selected from the popular “ Ancient and Modern ” collection, wherein there is much that is good, and certainly a sprinkling of that which is not good. But why take the tunes quite so fast ? There is a via media in most things, and such a chorale as St Ann's loses much of its dignity and grandeur when sung at the speed it was—especially if wedded to majestic words like—The Son of God goes forth to war.” One of the hymns (No. 436, “ Gloria ”), good as it is for harmony, will, oddly enough, be found by any musical person to contain melodic phrases exactly like those in the old English song, “ The Vicar of Bray.”

There was both a Processional and a Recessional Hymn, the effect of these with such a large choir, well supported by the congregation and organ, being remarkably fine and impressive. Many conscientious persons object to these Processional and Recessional Hymns, but it must be remembered that it was an ancient custom of the Church, and not only so, but is in itself an act of praise and worship that gives tone, reverence, and solemnity to the beginning and ending of the services. The original use of the cathedral nave was that of preaching to the people, and walking up and down therein singing proces¬sional hymns. Soon after the Reformation the union of walking and singing fell into disuse, and as the people did not hear or did not relish what they heard, the pulpit was removed into the choir, and the nave became a sheepfold, without shepherd and without sheep. Thanks to the awakened spirit of the times, and to the example set by churches like our Parish Church and All Souls’, the nave of cathedrals has been restored to its original use. The Versicles, Preces, Litany, etc., are sung to what is called “ Hill’s Service ”—a modification of the ancient Durham Use, introduced into our Parish Church service when Mr. James Hill was choir-master, during the first part of Dr. Hook’s reign ; but they have been discontinued for some time, and those by the immortal Tallis, of Queen Elizabeth’s time, used instead. The former are comparatively weak, mostly in minor cadences, and are generally dragged by the choir, who sink in pitch considerably, especially in the Litany, which, by the way, was admirably intoned by the vicar, the Rev. Cecil Hook, the other parts being sung by the preacher, the Rev. B. R. Wilson.

The organ voluntaries and accompaniments were throughout admirably played by Mr. Hird, whose good taste and technique were always apparent and acceptable. The March which he played at the conclusion of the service, and which he contributed some years ago to The Organist's Quarterly Journal, served at once to display his ability both as a composer and an executant.

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