"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," or so goes the oft-repeated aphorism.
And if music generally is tricky to write about, church music can be even more so. And couple that with the tremendously mysterious feast day which we call Trinity Sunday and all bets are off.
So rather than write anything, maybe we should dance our way into the music instead.
The poet Malcolm Guite combines music and dance images in his sonnet "Trinity Sunday":
In the Beginning, not in time or space, But in the quick before both space and time, In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace, In three in one and one in three, in rhyme, In music, in the whole creation story, In His own image, His imagination, The Triune Poet makes us for His glory, And makes us each the other’s inspiration. He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance, To improvise a music of our own, To sing the chord that calls us to the dance, Three notes resounding from a single tone, To sing the End in whom we all begin; Our God beyond, beside us and within.
Hear also the words of Thomas Merton, from his New Seeds of Contemplation:
"For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity
Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance."
All of this is to say that we dance around the Trinity in an unusual piece by American composer William Albright (1944–1988), which we will sing at Communion. His An Alleluia Super-Round is written for a minimum of eight voices, all of whom sing the word "Alleluia" at different times
The Gloria in
The organ voluntaries which frame our Trinity Sunday service are from J. S. Bach’s Monumental Clavierubung III, one of the few collections the composer saw published in his lifetime. The concluding voluntary, the "St. Anne" Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552b, with its triple fugue and a key signature of three flats is replete with Trinitarian symbolism. The opening fugue subject’s resemblance to the hymn tune St. Anne (Hymn 680: “O God, our help in ages past”) gives this piece its nickname.
By the way, please feel free to make your way up to the organ console during the concluding voluntary if ever you would like to see the organ up close.
Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “God’s Grandeur” is a sonnet overflowing with Biblical imagery. The “ooze of oil / Crushed” is a reference to Gethsemane (literally the “place of the olive-press”) and the Crucifixion. The image of bare soil at once conjures the parable of the sower and speaks to a spiritually barren state. And “nor can foot feel, being shod” reminds us that all the earth is holy ground. The final sestet affirms the promise that God’s glory will continue to “flame out” and that God will help us to “become participants in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Kenneth Leighton’s (1929–1988) sublime setting of this sonnet, sung at the Offertory, includes a chord for “God” simultaneously D major and D minor, “a harmonically ambiguous, unsettling combination of major and minor, joy and pain.”
God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck* his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
* reck = to pay heed to