Notes from BenMonthly musings from the Choirmaster


For All the Saints

Owing to a lack of side aisles, it is impractical to do long processions at Grace Church. This seems surprising in a church built in 1871 and influenced in its architecture by the then current Catholic revival, as pockets of the Anglican Communion were rediscovering the value of ritual. Fortunately we are able to get some of our urge for processions out of our system by singing thirtyfive verses of the Walsingham ballad as we walk around the block on a Saturday in October, aided by a brass quintet and hoping not to be drowned out by leaf-blowers and lawnmowers. Chaos is part of the fun – you really cannot control how fast people will walk, or how many keys they will sing in simultaneously, depending on varying amounts of deafness.

From where I was in the procession this year, it sounded especially lovely with sopranos notably singing written and improvised descants, depending on their degree of spiritual exaltation, the trumpets adding an occasional flourish, the music echoing off the walls of buildings, and relatively little competition from wind and traffic, thanks to help from the police and cooperative weather. It’s always nice to be visible in the community, or as someone attending the Pilgrimage said, “Why should the Hispanic congregations have all the fun?” When we did a similar outdoor procession on Corpus Christi in 1997, we had to use five different hymns in order to cover the time it took to march around, beginning with “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” and ending with “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates.” The brass quintet, at that time a local one, were (some of them) in assorted conditions of pregnancy and were unwilling to pretend to be a marching band, so they stationed themselves in lawn chairs on the corner of Ontario Avenue and Seventh Street, so we could at least hear them for two of the four blocks. Miraculously, we ended up together at the end. Some of what happened in the middle is perhaps best forgotten.

“For all the saints” is one of the few hymns in our current hymnal with enough verses for even an indoor procession of any elaborateness, but when the poem was first published – in London in 1864 - it had eleven verses rather than the current eight. The verses now omitted were as follows:

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture-kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The author, William Walsham How (1823-1897), eventually became Suffragan Bishop of London, and then Bishop of Wakefield, but was best known for his work among the poor, and for founding a community of deaconesses which worked in East London.

The tune, Sine Nomine, “without a name,” was written specifically for this text by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and appeared in the English Hymnal of 1906. Is the tune name a reference to the innumerable saints whose names are not famous, but known only to God?

Event Calendar

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