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Harvest Time: Reflections

For many years, having lived in suburban or city contexts, celebrating the Harvest Festival at church always seemed out of place. For most of us, the Harvest and Creation’s provision was not an immediate aspect of everyday life. Now we are living in Redbourn, where I can actually see the harvested fields from my front garden, it feels a much more appropriate season to mark and celebrate.

The Book of Ecclesiastes says that ‘there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). As we see the crops gathered in, I wonder what this season is for you? Perhaps it is a time of new beginnings after a busy summer holiday with children, or the start of a new job? Or maybe it might be a time when things are a bit more uncertain as the warm weather starts to turn to the short cold days of winter. Whatever it is, nothing we do is ever out of time with God our Father who is in heaven.

Traditionally, Harvest has been a time to give thanks for the wonderful world in which we live, which provides us with all our food. It is also a time to help those who are not as ‘food rich’ as ourselves. Not everyone in the world, even in Redbourn, can take for granted having 3 meals a day.

Here at St Mary’s we are responding in a number of ways, and you are warmly invited to join us. At our Harvest Festival we will be collecting money for the Bishop’s Harvest appeal. This year the appeal is supporting WaterAid to help bring clean, safe water to rural communities in Madagascar. It is also important to help those in need closer to home, and we are encouraging everyone to consider donating to DENS, our local foodbank in Hemel Hempstead, via the collecting point in church or the Co-op or to bring some items along to our Harvest Festival celebrations. Details of what to donate can be found on the DENS website: click here 

With every blessing,


Assistant Curate, St Mary’s Redbourn

Choral Evensong for Harvest: Sunday 2nd October

The purpose of this column is to promote choral evensong according to the Book of Common Prayer in Redbourn on the first Sunday of the month. In May, by warning you not to come in August, I gave the impression that we sang this service eleven times a year. However, there was no choral evensong in September because St Mary’s unites in one 11am service to celebrate our patronal festival. And as Revd Darren Collins reminded us in this service, autumn is all about preparation, and not just for Christmas. In November the first Sunday evening service is a Eucharist for All Souls, in December it is the Advent Carol Service – though this often comes on the last Sunday in November – and in January it is an Epiphany Carol Service. Given the odd complication of a moveable Easter, we do get a run of six choral evensongs from February to July. So only seven in the year.

Our October choral evensong celebrates Harvest Festival on Sunday 2nd at 6.30pm. Traditionally, this festival is held on the Sunday closest to the full moon nearest to the autumn equinox; this year the full moon comes on September 16, so we are a little late, but the monthly schedule rules.     Celebration of harvest goes back to pagan times but did not become a major feature of church life until Victorian times, partly as a reaction to immoderate harvest suppers: St Mary’s harvest supper is on Friday 30 September, and any immoderation can be assuaged by attendance at choral evensong two days later – subject, of course, to ratification by the Vicar!

And so to the music. It is an interesting fact about responses that, after an initial flowering in settings immediately following the Reformation in England (Byrd and Smith are the two most frequently sung), composers after the Restoration seem to have kings_college_d_lgneglected this part of the service and new settings did not appear until the last century. On this occasion we will sing the Preces and Responses of Humphrey Clucas, who was a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, and wrote these for King’s either while he was there or shortly afterwards. He uses single note recitation along with rich harmonic passages in up to six parts. He must surely have had the acoustic of that wonderful building in mind.

parryCharles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) is best known as the composer of ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘I was glad’. It’s less well known that he was the composer of some great hymn tunes including ‘O praise ye the Lord’ and ‘Dear Lord and Father’. But his output was larger than this and included much instrumental and orchestral music. Although he never held a church music post, he was writing chants and hymn tunes from a very early age. While at school near Winchester, he got to know SS Wesley, and later at Eton he wrote services and anthems. At the age of 18 he was awarded BMus from the University of Oxford for his oratorio ‘O Lord thou hast cast us out’ and promptly went up to Exeter College to read law and modern history. During this time (c1868), he managed to write, or at least get published what he had written earlier, a complete set of morning and evening canticles in D. We’ll sing the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis of this set in which the music follows the style of Wesley with considerable independent interest in the organ part. Parry began his adult life as a Lloyd’s underwriter, but continued to follow his musical instincts until he felt able to support himself exclusively from composition. It was the continuing commissions from choral societies which enabled this change. He taught at the Royal College of Music and was Professor of Music at Oxford University.

There is a second setting of the evening canticles in D by Parry, known as the ‘Great’ service. It was written for Stanford at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1881, but apparently not performed for another ten years, when it was taken up at St Paul’s by john-stainer-172John Stainer (1840-1901), the composer of our harvest anthem, ‘Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers’. The words of this anthem come mostly from Ezekiel chapter 36, but the piece ends with a setting of the last verse of the Chatterton Dix’s hymn ‘To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise’ (524 in HON). This anthem, which dates from about 1880, appears to have been in the repertoire at Redbourn for some years: the copy I’m looking at cost 3d and is well used. The piece offers solo opportunities for bass in the Ezekiel section and soprano in the hymn, with largely chordal comments from the choir enlivened by enough, but not too much, spicy harmony.

The final voluntary is Paean by Percy Whitlock (1903-1946). Whitlock held organist posts in Rochester and Bournemouth, where he was also municipal organist at the Pavilion. This “song of praise” is something of a trumpet voluntary, with extensive use of the solo stop. A comment on this piece that I saw recently on YouTube regretted the lack of a 32-foot reed stop at Wells Cathedral. Well, Redbourn doesn’t have any 32-foot stops but we have every confidence in Jonathan bringing proceedings to a rousing climax.

Can we hope for ‘Come ye thankful people, come’ and ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ among the hymns?

Damian Cranmer


Choral Evensong at St Mary’s: Sunday 3rd July

The organ is an integral part of evensong and we shall hear it used in several different ways at Choral Evensong on Sunday 3rd July.

William ByrdThe Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis will be sung to the 2nd service of William Byrd (c.1540-1623).   This is a verse service, that is it has sections for one or more solo voices alternating with sections for full choir. The organ, then, provides an essential part of the texture, though relatively low-key throughout.
Lincoln_Cathedral_Nave_1,_Lincolnshire,_UK_-_DiliffWe don’t know – well, let’s be frank, I don’t know – details of the organ in Lincoln Cathedral where Byrd was organist from 1563 to 1570 and may well have composed this service. The problem with the early history of organs in England is that they were removed from churches and destroyed during the Commonwealth, when, far from being integral to the service, they were regarded as heretical. But the Lincoln organ would have had gentle flute-like stops, easily reproduced on modern instruments.

I find it quite surprising that Byrd, now regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of 16th-century English composers, has not always had such a reputation. In the late 19th century he was known by only three or four pieces, many fewer than Tallis or Gibbons. It’s not all explained by his continued adherence to catholicism (the same is true of Tallis) or the relatively few of his compositions found in Boyce’s Cathedral Music. These days, even his Latin masses (along with those of Palestrina and Victoria) are part of the staple diet of cathedral services.

Samuel_Sebastian_Wesley_EngravingFor the anthem, we shall sing one of SS Wesley’s extended cantata-like anthems, which also has many sections using solo voices. Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) was the son of Samuel Wesley, a noted composer, and grandson of Charles Wesley, the great Methodist hymn-writer. SS Wesley began his career in the London theatre world, but then took several posts in cathedrals, never quite finding an ecclesiastical or choral set-up to match his aspirations: as I said last month, cathedrals in the 19th century did not have the quality and professionalism in their music which we cherish today. But Wesley wrote many impressive pieces for the church, perhaps the greatest in the repertoire between Purcell and Stanford. He chose his words carefully and ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul’ takes text from Psalms 103, 3 and 5. The care he took with the setting of the words is illustrated in the very first phrase of the anthem where, for musical reasons, he omits the “O” (Praise the Lord, my soul), restoring it in later passages – the cause of some variety in the work’s title.

Perhaps the most interesting point in the anthem is that, during an angelic treble solo, the organ suddenly takes off in a flight of fancy; the piece was written for the opening of, and to show off, the new organ at Holy Trinity Church, Winchester, in 1861 when Wesley held the organist’s post at the cathedral there. Wesley, unlike Byrd, wrote for an organ with a pedal board, but, apart from this one passage of exhibition, the organ mostly provides a harmonic accompaniment.

If the Byrd and Wesley are about 300 years apart, it was around half way between that JS Bach (1685-1750) was writing for the more advanced organs in Germany. It requires the whole of the modern St Mary’s organ to exploit Bach’s great “Dorian” fugue which is the final voluntary of this service. In May we heard Mendelssohn’s answer to Bach fugues. Here is the real thing and impressive it is too.

stopsA copy of this music in my possession is full of a previous owner’s pencil additions: ‘add to great’, ‘add to swell’, ‘full pedal by hand’. So come on, Jonathan, for the final entries of this fugue “Pull out all the stops!” Actually our organ has tabs, but somehow “flick all the tabs” doesn’t have quite the same ring about it. Incidentally, the knobs or tabs which are the means of accessing additional sounds on an organ are called stops because in the early organs they were a method of stopping rather than increasing sounds. In other words, unlike modern organs which are off until you draw a stop, these early organs were fully on until you stopped something.

We’ll also sing Responses by Kathy Goodchild, a member of our choir. Kathy says she wrote these in response (no pun intended) to a request by David Forbes and so, if you don’t like them, please blame David!

This music together with some rousing hymns will be a fine way to bring to an end a year of choral services at St Mary’s.

Damian Cranmer