Video & Audio: Junior Music Tutorial, Spring 2013
During the last days of classes before final examinations, 35 Thomas Aquinas College juniors gathered in the rotunda of St. Thomas Hall to sing five hymns. The brief performance marked the latest chapter in a young but increasingly anticipated campus tradition.
This was not a performance of the Thomas Aquinas College Choir. Indeed, many of the students have little or no choral experience. As members of the College’s junior class, the singers are students in the music tutorial that is required in the third year of the College’s integrated academic program. Students in the tutorial study music’s inner mathematical structure and learn how to read music.
The emphasis on singing, with the public performance at the end of the semester, is a new phenomenon, the inspiration of Dr. Phillip Wodzinski, a tutor on the College’s teaching faculty. After his first semester teaching the tutorial in the fall 2010, Dr. Wodzinski was eager to showcase his students’ achievements; so he arranged for the mid-afternoon performance in the College’s faculty and administration building — surprising and delighting passersby.
Buoyed by this success he has arranged for subsequent performances at the end of every semester ever since. “This performance,” says Dr. Wodzinski, “is a way for the students to close off a semester of hard work that has combined some difficult theoretical reflection on the nature of music with some effort to analyze and perform some basic choral music.”
Below are audio clips of the juniors’ five end-of-the-year hymns, accompanied by Dr. Wodzinski’s description of each one. (Note: To download a clip, click on the down arrow in the audio player.)
“And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time”
1. The lyrics of “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” come from William Blake’s (1757-1827) poem making use of the English legend that Joseph of Arimathea, a well-traveled merchant, brought the adolescent Jesus to England for a visit. The song was used by various political movements (left and right) prior to finding a home in Anglican churches as well as an unofficial English national anthem. The tune, generally referred to as “Jerusalem,” was composed for unison voices by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). The students sing Philip Legge’s recent four-part arrangement of Parry’s tune. The D-major piece has two stanzas, the second of these with a slightly different rhythm that adds subtle intensity. In 1973, the rock group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer recorded a version of this anthem; a more traditional performance can be heard prior to the closing credits of the film Chariots of Fire.
“Holy God, We Offer Here”
2. “Holy God, We Offer Here,” a hymn by English Hymnal text-editor Percy Dearmer (1867-1936). The music is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s adaptation of “Da zu dir der Heiland kam,” a chorale found at the beginning of the first act of Richard Wagner’s Die Miestersinger von Nuernberg, where a choir sings a hymn in honor of St. John the Baptist. The key of the music is B-flat major, with excursions into F-major, then d-minor and g-minor and then back to B-flat major. The phrases at the end are a little tonally ambiguous but not so chromatic as to erase the role of B-flat as the common measure. The tempo of this beautiful hymn is a little slow, which makes it something of a challenge to sing.
“Let God Arise in Majesty”
3. For a change of pace the students then sing the driving but not overly fast “Let God Arise in Majesty,” set to the second mode (E-hypodorian) melody of Thomas Tallis (1515-1585). In more familiar terms, the piece begins in e-minor, moves to a-minor, and then to G-major before returning to G-major’s relative, e-minor. The first and fourth verses are from Psalm 68, translated (in 1567) by Matthew Parker, for which the music was originally composed; the second and third verses are taken from a translation of an eight-century Greek book of hours. The composition is such that the tenors sing a melody almost identical to that of the sopranos; this allows the tenors (accompanied by the basses) to handle verse two without the ladies and the sopranos (backed by the altos) to sing verse three without the men. Verse four is a pleasing reintegration of all four voices and both melodies. Overall, Tallis’ tune was described by Parker as “sad, in majesty.”
“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”
4. The fourth hymn is the gentle “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” with lyrics by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), an American Quaker. It is taken from a larger poem, The Brewing of Soma, which concerns the taking of hallucinogenic drugs as a means of arriving at a state of religious ecstasy. As one student put it, this poem could be taken as an early example of “Just say no.” Several different tunes have been associated with the lyrics, but the students will sing the one commonly used in England: “Repton,” composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (see above). The music, written for solo soprano and usually sung by choirs in unison, is here sung using a recent four-part arrangement; the key is E-major with no modulation. (More hymns-in-cinema trivia: this one plays a pivotal role in the Whit Stillman film The Last Days of Disco.)
“O God of Earth and Altar”
5. The students wrap up with “O God of Earth and Altar” (Vaughan Williams’ harmonization of an English folk tune paired with text by G. K. Chesterton).
“If you come to the College with any spark of faith at all, it’s fanned into flames. That’s certainly what happened to me.”
– Dr. Jean Rioux (’82)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Benedictine College
“The Catholic Church may be justly proud of this unique college of Saint Thomas Aquinas on account of the high quality of its professors and its cultural contribution through philosophy and theology.”
– Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo
President Emeritus of the Governatorate
Vatican City State