Composer Spotlight Lent I: Thomas Tallis

February 11, 2016 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent I: Thomas Tallis

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the First Sunday in Lent (February 14th) will be:

  • The Great Litany in Procession
  • Cristóbal de Morales – Missa Mille regretz (Kyrie)
  • Cristóbal de Morales – Inter vestibulum et altare
  • Thomas Tallis – Absterge Domine

We will be using this space in Lent to highlight a composer from the upcoming Sunday’s schedule of choral music. This week’s composer spotlight is Thomas Tallis.

-Blog Editor


‘Tallis is dead, and music dies’: the conclusion of the lament on Tallis’s death set by William Byrd, his devoted pupil. Music died not simply because Tallis was perhaps the greatest English composer of his generation. He was a man of rare integrity, who had weathered the shifting religious and musical currents of the Reformation period and was a living link with the old, settled Catholic orthodoxy which that period had toppled. By the end of his long life he had become a kind of father-figure to church musicians, and his passing seemed to mark the end of an age, like the passing of an Elizabeth or a Victoria.

Tallis was born in about 1505, and we hear of him first in 1532 as organist of Dover Priory. Thereafter he served at St Mary-at-Hill in London, Waltham Abbey in Essex, and Canterbury Cathedral, before being appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in about 1543, a post that he held until his death in 1585. His life encompassed the reigns of four monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, a time of unparalleled change in both the style and the function of English church music. Composers gradually abandoned the extended and brilliantly florid but emotionally detached style of the early Tudor period, and, towards the and of Henry’s reign, they adopted in its place features that had been established earlier on the Continent such as the use of imitation as a structural rather than a merely decorative device, homophony (chordal writing) and a more subjective and expressive response to texts. (These differences can be clearly heard between the earlier Videte miraculum and the later O nata lux and Absterge Domine.)

Early in Tallis’s career, the Votive Antiphon, an extended composition often with a devotional text in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the major musical form outside the Eucharist or mass.  With its decline in Henry’s later years, a new kind of composition began to take its place as. Responds, or Responsories, were sung to plainchant as part of the daily Office. Formally, they are all built round the alternation of sections chanted by soloist(s) and by full choir. The main section, the Respond proper, is begun by soloists and continued by full choir: the soloists then sing a Verse, and the choir responds with a shortened repeat of what it sang before; in the more important examples, the soloists then sing the first half of the Gloria Patti to essentially the same music as the Verse, and there is a final choral reprise of the Respond, which is sometimes further shortened: an ABA, BA form.

Taverner almost certainly invented a new type of Responsory form with his settings of Dum transisset sabbatuum. In these the solo sections which are left in plainchant while the sections assigned to full choir are adorned with polyphony, the chant remaining clearly audible as an equal-note cantus firmus, usually in the tenor. The progressively shorter repeats of the Respond are exploited to give a new kind of formal coherence. This distinctively English style of setting was popular towards the end of Henry’s reign but was also presumably revived under Mary. Tallis, in his Responsory settings of this type, such as Videte miraculum, creates a fundamentally syllabic style by extensive word-repetition, and shows great skill in presenting his ideas in imitation against the cantus firmus. The texture of all these settings is very sonorous, with an atmosphere of solemnity and restraint which is characteristic of most of Tallis’s music. (Tallis at some stage revised one of his own Dum transisset sabbatum settings to work in a compliment to Taverner, taking the means briefly above the trebles in the Alleluia section to sing a short but instantly recognizable quote from one of the older master’s settings.)

The enchantingly simple O nata lux is a setting of two verses from the hymn at Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration, but was obviously not designed for the liturgy: it makes no use of the chant, sets only the first two verses, and has an unliturgical repeat of the last two lines. Taking his earlier hymns as its starting point, it is homophonic throughout and perfect in its subtle harmonic and melodic touches and the repeat of the final section is in the manner of Tallis’s English anthems.

Absterge Domine was one of Tallis’s most popular settings appearing in four contrafacta sources as well as the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae. Deeply penitential in character, it falls into a number of short sections some of which are repeated for dramatic effect. Tallis’s sure hand for drama is obvious throughout, allowing the motet to rise and fall, using minor and major modes to heighten and release the dramatic flow.

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Lent Madness: Helena vs. Monnica

February 11, 2016 Comments Off on Lent Madness: Helena vs. Monnica


It’s here!! Lent Madness! On the Lent Madness site, our very first match up is: Helena vs. Monnica. Good stuff.

Remember: vote at Lent Madness here AND ALSO below the saint bios here so we see how the readers of the St. Luke in the Fields blog compare! Results of this match up will be reported the next day.


During her long life, Helena gathered the most-sought-after relics in Christian history, including splinters of what is known as the True Cross.

Helena was born around 246 CE, somewhere in Asia Minor—most likely the city of Drepanum. She grew up as a stable maid, but her fortunes changed radically when she met the emperor, fell in love with him, was whisked away to Rome, and gave birth to Constantine in 272 CE.

Some describe Helena as the royal wife, some as the royal concubine, some as the royal consort. What is clear is that after Constantine was born, the emperor sent Helena away. Helena and Constantine were exiled from court in 289 CE.

This was not the end of Helena… Read more here.


Monnica, a model of the praying mother and wife, was the mother of Augustine—the father of Western Christian thought. Married to a pagan bureaucrat named Patricius, who would later convert to Christianity under her influence, Monnica was mother to several children; Augustine was the eldest. After her husband’s death, Monnica made fierce and tireless efforts to secure Augustine’s conversion, even going so far as to push the local bishop to track Augustine down and argue with him.

By the time he was twenty-nine, Augustine decided to journey to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monnica, while opposed to the plan, persisted in going with him… Read more here.



A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

February 10, 2016 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

veilsLent comes to St Luke’s! In my mind, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are one continuous day, even though each has its own rhythm and focus.  On Shrove Tuesday, it’s pancakes and King Cake’s (this year I even stood in line at Randazzo’s in New Orleans and got my own!). Ash Wednesday is all Psalm 51, kneeling and simplicity.

For the altar guild, the liturgical seasons arrive well before the actual day: Christmas arrives on the weekend before December 25th, Easter arrives on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and Lent begins on the last weekend of the Epiphany season.  In those times before for each season, many things happen: at Christmas the Crèche is set up; at Easter the New Fire grill is put back together and the cross used on Good Friday is taken down from the wall; for Lent, pieces of linen are ironed, frontals are put on altars, and cast iron replaces silver and brass.

One of my favorite Lenten traditions at St Luke’s is the covering of the sacred images. Many churches only cover their images during Holy Week, but our tradition is to cover the images for the whole Lenten season. Our sacrisity has a drawer called “Lenten Coverings” and this is where we store all the linen we use to cover all the images.  We use coverings in the church that match the color of the walls so that the covering blends into the background. The first image that is covered always seems to be the icon of Our Lady of the Sign. Every Shrove Tuesday I climb up a ladder to place the carefully ironed linen cloth and come face to face with the Virgin Mary. What do you say when you meet the Virgin? I usually say first “Ave Maria!” and then as the cloth covers her face, “See you at Easter!”

The next image is the icon of Christ above the door where our processions begin. This is a difficult icon to see since it is so high but it is very beautiful. We have to use the tall ladder to reach the icon. I am usually trying not to look down or fall off the ladder so I do not have as much of a conversation with Christ but I do say, “See you at Easter!”

The next sacred image that is covered is the Lenten processional cross. We have three processional crosses at St Luke’s: our Icon Cross that we use most of the year, the silver Easter Cross (which seems to weigh a ton), and the brass Lenten Cross. The Easter cross has the Lamb of God at the crossing with the symbols of the Evangelist on the ends of the beams. It’s a very simple design. The Lenten Cross has been with us for over 100 years. It is is need of some TLC but it seems a shame not to use it and so why not use it when it can be covered?

The chapel images are always covered after the burning of the palm and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist before the parish pancake supper. Lent comes to the chapel later than the rest of the church. In the chapel, we have the icon panels of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, an icon of our patron St Luke, as well as the Rood Cross saved from the fire. We have beautifully crafted coverings that have a purple and ox blood panels down the center. I love how it gives the chapel a quiet dignity during this solemn season.

In Lent I miss seeing these sacred images. They are so much a part of my attending church. They are much like the person who always sits in the second pew on the right but one Sunday morning is not there and you wonder why. Did they go away for the weekend? Are they on the intercession list? I really should ask after them but who would know? Not seeing the images causes me to meditate and ponder them in almost the same way. If they were visible I would most likely give them a second thought but now that they are gone they make their presence know almost in a troubling way. Isn’t that one of the challenges of Lent?  To examine ourselves and take notice of those things that we take for granted and to be thankful for them before they go away?

– Sean Scheller

The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

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[Editor’s note: This was so good last year, that we are bringing it back this year.]

It’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

Hymn of the Week: Precious Lord, Take My Hand

February 27, 2015 Comments Off on Hymn of the Week: Precious Lord, Take My Hand

121757“Take My Hand Precious Lord” is au courant after Beyonce’s performance at the Oscars, and Ledisi’s moving version in Selma. Recalling its meaning for Dr. King is a beautiful way to close Black History Month. Thomas A. Dorsey, famous for incorporating the rhythms and spirit of the blues into gospel music, wrote this hymn in his grief after his wife died in childbirth. So many insightful things have been written about it that it’s slightly intimidating to take up. For example, in her recent NPR piece, Ann Powers notes how earlier hymns that helped people survive by envisioning a transcendent future Promised Land “lacked earthiness, literal earthiness — the acknowledgment that we don’t live ‘over there,’ even when we want to.” In contrast to the transcendent escape we long for, especially in suffering, “‘Precious Lord’ requires a singer to stay within her body while reaching heavenward, calling to God as a bereft blueswoman calls to a straying lover.”

In the spirituality of the cross, the totality of God’s decision to be with us, within our world and the darkness of our struggles, within human embodiment and all of the vulnerability and humiliation that goes with it, I feel like I am always a learner, drawing from others’ wisdom. I spent most of my life feeling that I was floating above my body, and struggling to connect with other people in it.

But when I heard “Precious Lord” this week, and suddenly felt it for the first time, the word that especially struck me is home. The images that came to mind were all of doors. The dark doorway that I pictured as a kid when going “into my heart room” to be with Jesus, while praying Teresa Donze’s classic meditations for children. The “doorway that belongs / to you and me” in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Coming Home“. The kind of home that the doorway represents, the home of memory and imagination, is inherently shared. I think that’s what makes home a painful thing to think about sometimes. It reminds us of the people we’ve lost, as Dorsey had lost his wife. It can remind some of us (and especially LGBT people) of awkward holidays, of family who have rejected us or with whom we aren’t able to share our full selves. Exactly because coming home sounds like such a warm thing, it can bring out the thin sliver of grief in even our happy relationships — the realization that nothing lasts forever, that children grow up and parents age, that lovers change and friends move away. Home hurts most when we are lonely, when we are feeling the lack of loving relationships in our life.

The Precious Lord in this hymn isn’t pointing ahead to otherwordly bliss, or even to the specifics of what practical restoration of relationships, of health, of whatever is lost, will look like. He is already there in the dark, close enough to touch and hold on to. He isn’t offering a map. He invites trust. He doesn’t wait for us to find and follow him. He grabs onto us and pulls us with him.

 – Aaron Miner

The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

February 26, 2015 Comments Off on The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Artist, Simon Carr Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

Artist, Simon Carr
Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

This station, rather than simply being one more way-station on the road to Golgotha, seems to me to be significant in terms of our practice discipleship. Jesus is not simply suffering something that is his own to bear. Rather, he is doing something, that in its obedience and self-denial, he holds up as a model for everyone who is drawn to follow in his footsteps.

Jesus’ crucifixion seems to many observers to be a terrible tragedy, the fate of someone trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I think this robs Jesus of his crucial agency in the sublime and terrible working out of salvation that took place on the cross. In every moment, Jesus chose to meet his fate, however cruel, with open eyes and an open heart. When he takes up his cross, he provides us an example of meeting the violence and hatred that prophetic actions can provoke with sober dignity, conscious choice, and forbearing love.

It is the vocation of his followers to meet hatred with love, to bear undeserved suffering with grace, with the hope that God is still working out the Divine Purpose, even when nothing makes sense.

– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares

Ash Wednesday: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Lenten Message 2015

February 18, 2015 Comments Off on Ash Wednesday: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Lenten Message 2015

jeffertsschori_300_0Lent is about to begin. That word in English comes from an Old English word that means “to lengthen,” and it’s a reminder of the days getting longer as we move toward summer out of the dark of winter.

But in a number of other languages, particularly Spanish and French, the word for “Lent” reflects “forty days,” “cuaresma.” Forty days of wandering in the desert, forty days of Jesus out in the desert.

It’s also about a journey.  And it’s a journey that is about enlightenment if we’re willing to think about it that way.

Lent is an ancient tradition of solidarity and preparation for those who look forward to Baptism at the Easter Vigil.  It has always been a time for prayer and study, fasting, self-denial, and alms-giving, sharing what we have with those who do not have.  Prayer is an opportunity to reflect on who walks with us in the desert, who brings light into the world. Study is an opportunity to do the same kinds of things looking at the history of our tradition, where have human beings found light and direction in their journey through this world.  Fasting and self-denial are an inward-reflection on what it is that keeps us in the dark, or what it is that keeps us directionless, or that keeps us overly self-focused.  And it becomes an invitation to turn outward and share what we have with those who have not.  To build solidarity among God’s people and the rest of the earth.

One of the most memorable Ash Wednesdays I ever spent was in San Jose, Costa Rica, in a school for children. I was asked to place ashes on the foreheads of toddlers.  It was a provocative experience in the deepest sense, reminding very small children that they are mortal.

That cross that comes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the cross that’s put there at Baptism.  You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.  The cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder that you are dust and to dust we shall return, that we share that dust with every other human being who has ever walked this planet, that we share that dust with the stars and the planets, that we share that dust with all that has been created.  We are made for relationship with creator and creation.

Lent and cuaresma is a journey to walk toward that light.  May it be a blessed one this year.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

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