Thursday, June 28, 2012

O God of Earth and Altar

My husband, the parish music director, has chosen G.K. Chesterton's text, "O God of Earth and Altar," with Ralph Vaughan Williams's tune "Kings Lynn" as our parish hymn for the Fortnight for Freedom.  In light of today's decision, I think that posting it here is particularly apt. Here is the hymn tune:


 There really ought to be a better recording available, on organ alone, but all the other versions are either not well played or have choirs singing words other than Chesterton's.  Here are his words:

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

Chesterton must have appreciated that Vaughan Williams based his hymn tune on a folk song.  Chesterton was still alive when the setting was done, but I have never seen any documentation about what he thought of it.

According to the received wisdom, hymns that mention swords in every verse, criticize politicians, and admit the possibility of damnation will not be popular with modern congregations.  There were no complaints, however, about last weekend's use of it except that the hymn tune was a little unfamiliar--concerns assuaged when the complainers were assured that they'd have another crack at it this weekend--and one person even called the office to ask if he could get a copy of the text, because he liked it so much!  The received wisdom is wrong.  People, normal people at least, like strong hymns now and again, especially if the poetry and music are good.

Perhaps we'll be able to sing Chesterton's "Hymn for the Church Militant" some time.  I am not sure if there are any Vaughan Williams tunes that would fit it, but the meter is common enough.  Most of Vaughan Williams's melodies are fantastic--truly the great hymn tune writer of the 20th Century--and I think the combination of his music and Chesterton's words is wonderful.  If only there were a dozen more hymns like that, any complaints that Sunday Mass had become to feminized and unmanly would soon disappear, at least from our parish.

That paragon of manly virtue, the newly named Venerable Fulton Sheen, would be proud.  At least there was some good news for America today, eh?


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Time in Anchorage

When we came to Anchorage in February, we were getting up very early because we were still on Eastern Standard Time (four hours' difference), but the sun did not get up early. On our first day, the clouds hung low and it snowed steadily all day long--about eight inches of snow that day, as I recall. One of our new friends tried to take us on a driving tour of the city, but we couldn't see anything but white snow and gray buildings and white and gray clouds. I was very apprehensive, because it really looked like this was the right job for my husband, but I was not at all sure that I wanted to live in this awful place!

The next morning, we got up early again, well before the sun. We puttered around in our hotel room, killing time until we could reasonably go down to breakfast. Finally, rosy dawn crept up into the sky, and I saw those mountains for the first time. I fell in love. I grew up in Northern California, and spent time in the state of Washington, then moved to Los Angeles, where I had a great view of the hills from my 8th floor apartment. I was used to hills and mountains, but I had never seen any mountains quite as dramatic as the Chugach range that surrounds Anchorage, and after two years in Eastern North Carolina, as flat as can be, I was thrilled to the core. I am, at heart, a creature of the places where forest and mountains meet the ocean, and I suddenly felt like this wouldn't be such a bad place to call home.


After years of blogging with my former college roommate, I've decided it's time to strike out on my own. I've lived all over the place since I started my previous blog, Catholics, Musicians, Students, in 2003: Washington, northern and southern California, and North Carolina. I'm now resident in the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska, which is the inspiration for the title of this blog. I haven't yet endured an Alaskan winter, but came to look the place over in February of this year and moved in April, so I did get a little taste of the worst winter in 50 years, and I know I'll get my fill of snow soon enough. This blog will cover various aspects of life in Alaska, being Catholic, and my favorite topic: music, especially sacred music. My husband is a professional choir director/organist and I perform, teach private lessons, keep house, and sometimes write. I have a B.A. in Music, emphasis in Liturgical Music from a Catholic university, and unfinished graduate work in Historical Musicology from a private, secular university.