Text Painting in Sunday's Anthem
Bring your personal flotation devices on Sunday! The choir's anthem is a wild ride.
The choir will sing Herbert Sumsion's beautiful and "stormy" anthem They that go down to the sea in ships. Sumsion was born in Gloucester in 1899. He was a pupil of Sir Herbert Brewer, the Gloucester Cathedral Organist. Sumsion was appointed as Cathedral Organist at Gloucester on the sudden death of Brewer in 1928. Prior to this appointment, he spent a short period in America as Professor of Harmony at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Sumsion died in 1995.
This anthem was written in 1979 for Dennis Kiddy and the Choir of Repton Preparatory School. The piece is an excellent example of how composers use music to "paint" the text which they are setting. Text painting helps illustrate and depict the text in an dramatic and evocative way.
In this particular piece you will here the text of Psalm 107 come alive with a rippling of the sea in the organ accompaniment, a rising and falling choral part that depicts the movement of the ship. Sumsion dwells on the word "wonders", repeating it several times. We hear the dramatic effect of the stormy wind arising as the music moves upwards at the words "carried up to the heaven". His use of syncopation to depict the psalmist words - "they reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man," show's his flair for the dramatic and less subtle text-painting. The anthem ends with a beautiful depiction of peaceful waves.
Understanding a little about the composer's craft, such as these examples of text painting, help us move even deeper into the music and experience and hear the word of God being proclaimed. I encourage you to listen to this anthem a little more closely than you might normally. How does the organ support what the choir sings? How do the choir melodies go with the text? It is remarkable to me how when the Word of God carried on the wings of song, dwell deeper and more profoundly in the soul.
Soli deo Gloria!
Ben Keseley, Minister of Music
They that go down to the sea in ships :
and occupy their business in great waters;
These men see the works of the Lord :
and his wonders in the deep.
For at his word the stormy wind ariseth :
which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They are carried up to the heav’n, and down again to the deep :
their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man :
and are at their wits’ end.
So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble :
he delivereth them out of their distress.
For he maketh the storm to cease :
so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they are at rest :
and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.