The Royal Whoa… Music Monday #2

Alright, fine, I give. It’s Music Monday, so I can’t post about Osama bin Laden. And I’ve been trying not to, but I have to mention the royal wedding. I was so trying not to, but then I realized that it fit in perfectly with the second entry for Music Monday. I don’t know about you all, but if you’re anything like me, you didn’t particularly want to watch the wedding, but it sort of found you and made you do it. I wound up seeing 90 minutes of it – the ceremony itself, actually, sans commentary, replayed on MSNBC on Friday night. (Huzzah… no banality! I don’t need you to point out the various members of the Ministry of Silly Hats; I can see them just fine myself.) Once we got past the fact that the new Duchess of Cambridge was truly lovely in her gown and veil, the ceremony became all about the music, for me. Weddings are weddings. It’s the music that gets you.

The first thing that struck me was that everyone was singing. As a cantor at my church, I know it’s not easy to get everyone to do that… although there’s long been a tacet understanding that Protestants are better about this than Catholics. (Perhaps I could get them to sing if I were a royal. “I am wearing a sword. You shall sing.”) Anyway, I love the sound of voices raised together, because it transcends individual talent or ability, and magically, it sounds beautiful, whether they’re singing a hymn or a Garth Brooks tune.

When the congregation – all 1,900 voices – joined in “Jerusalem,” I couldn’t help but grin. I sang “Jerusalem” when I was 13 years old, and I found it a fascinating and purposeful piece. The lyrics are a poem written by William Blake, about the theory that perhaps Jesus was in England for part of those missing years of His life between the ages of 12 (presentation in the temple) and 30 (the beginning of his public/biblically accounted ministry). Did He go to England? I would imagine it would have been tough to get there from Mesopotamia back then, but the hymn is a gorgeous, anthemic what-if.

Beyond that, though, I was glued to the stunning strains of the chorus. What a beautiful sound those men and boys made.  No matter what they were bringing to life, it was flawless. But there was one piece in particular that stood out, to me. It was the psalm, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” I thought the composition sounded very familiar, not because I’d heard the piece before, but because I suspected I knew the composer. This was when I started wishing there were a banner on the screen telling viewers what piece was being sung and by whom it had been composed. So I went to the Google machine the next day and looked it up.

Hot dog, I win! I correctly guessed that the composer was John Rutter. Do I get a commemorative Will & Kate Plate?

Rutter is a contemporary British composer, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and renowned for his choral writing. I have known his work since I was 13. In fact, one of the first pieces I sang with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, back in 1990, was something he wrote. In my early teens, I sang several of his pieces, and as I have gotten older, I’ve been lucky to sing even more of them. Sometimes they’re a little schmaltzy, but they’re always soaring. My choir friends and I joke that one is not allowed to breathe while performing his stuff… ever. His phrases are lovely, long and legato. If you could see his scores, you would see extended, sweeping lines drawn over the staffs and under the notes to indicate that you-are-absolutely-not-allowed-to-breathe-here-or-here-or-here-or-here-no-I’m-not-kidding-it-sounds-better-this-way-trust-me.

He’s right.

 So, in honor of the marriage of HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, I present to you one of my favorite John Rutter pieces: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” The blessing is old. The idea is simple. The piece is breathtaking and timeless. And it’s one of the first choral pieces I ever sang. This performance is by the Westminster Abbey Choir – the same folks who sang at the wedding. I don’t know for what occasion they sang it. My personal belief is that they cheat because they breathe too much… but still, it’s lovely.

I always encourage you to find higher-quality recordings on the music downloading service of your choice, be it iTunes or whatever. And always… close your eyes, give up distraction and simply listen.