For All the Saints; Music Speaks to the Soul
All Saints’ Day is already upon us, offering an opportunity to observe what is a favorite feast day to many in the church. Canon Missioner for Evangelism and Formation Becky Zartman said that since it is one of the biggest celebration days for Christ Church Cathedral, it is fitting that the accompanying music will play a principal role in the services.
“All Saints’ is a day to come together to celebrate the very basic tenet of our faith – the cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews,” Canon Zartman said. “Saints and martyrs have their celebration day. Like Easter, All Saints Day celebrates the fact that God is doing amazing things and we get to be a part of it.”
Canon for Music Robert Simpson noted that the observance this year would hold special significance as it will be a return to an in-person All Saints’ observance.
Simpson added that the music will be from American and English 20th-century composers. “We will especially remember those we have lost in the past 18 months while giving thanks for our many blessings. I know Cathedral choir members will enjoy returning to some of their favorite works from past years.”
Choir member Charlotte Jones said she didn’t realize how much she’d missed singing with her friends. “Evensongs are the most beautiful services of the year and it’s especially poignant that our first Evensong is for All Saints’ because of all the people lost to COVID this past year,” Jones said.
At the nine o’clock service, the parish choir will sing ‘In Remembrance’ by composer and former professor at the Seminary of the Southwest Russell Schulz. Canon Simpson added that this is a piece the choir had sung for many years at the request of Canon John Logan, who passed away in August 2021. "We sang it each year in John's honor. This year we will sing it in his memory, a poignant moment for John's many friends in the choir.”
For the 11 o’clock offertory, the Cathedral choir will sing ‘And I Saw a New Heaven’ by British composer Edgar Bainton (1880-1956). “It’s like the Hallelujah chorus, a real classic.” Simpson said, adding that: “The choir loves it!”
The piece sets to music Revelation 21 which talks about a new heaven and a new earth with no more death and no more dying, and the holy city of new Jerusalem, compared to “a bride adorned for her husband.”
Canon Zartman said that the text of Revelation is also most fitting for the feast of all saints as it is a vision of what will come. “At the end of time, we will all be together,” she said.
Another tribute in music to the saints of Christ Cathedral comes with Gabriel Fauré's Requiem. “William Barnard was the Cathedral’s organist and choirmaster from 1958 to 1985, and he arranged movements of Fauré's famous Requiem into a Mass setting,” Canon Simpson continued. “We sing it each year, not only because it is appropriate, but also to honor Bill’s enormous legacy.”
A highlight for Canon Zartman will be the afternoon Evensong anthem, ‘At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners,’ by composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011). The song is based on the poetry of John Donne, who was also an Anglican priest and cleric. “Donne’s poetry is transcendent,” Canon Zartman said. “He is so good at the ineffable, capturing both the Holy and the sublime.”
Simpson added that the piece was first performed at the Washington Cathedral in 1974, and said “the text speaks of the infinity of souls who have gone before due to war, age, agues (illness), tyranny, and despair. Donne also includes law and chance among the agents of death. It is timely and timeless.”
Canon Zartman noted that one doesn’t become a saint because one is successful, but because one is faithful.
“The world measures success but faith is trusting what God is going to do and our place in it,” she said. “We don’t know the answer. It reminds us to pay attention to the divine in the world.”
Preceding Evensong, there will be an organ recital at 4:15. The recitalist is Tom Marvel, the Cathedral’s former Organ Scholar, who is now organist at St. Ann's Catholic Church on Westheimer. He will play the complete Organ Symphony No. I by the French composer Louis Vierne (1870-1937) in celebration of the sesquicentenary of the composer's birth which could not be observed in 2020.
Finally, the choir will perform the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale) by Herbert Howells who is one of the most well-known English composers of sacred music in the 20th century.
“It was composed for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, hence the title Collegium Regale which is Latin for ‘King's College,’” said Canon Simpson. “The piece is both hopeful and a little wistful.”
Choir member Frances Kittrell feels that wistfulness, and hope, as well.
“All the separate voices come together to make something much greater than the sum of the individual parts,” she said. “Everything works together to create the beautiful sound, the deep feeling, the message of whatever music we sing.”
For choir member Floyd Robinson the words this year have special meaning, especially the words from the first stanza “for all the saints who from their labors rest” from the processional hymn ‘For All the Saints.’
“I have sung this song for so very many years and still it brings tears to my eyes,” he said. “The words are a fervent prayer in and of themselves. So many souls are at rest and it is overwhelming for me.”