Keys to the Kingdom is an (almost) weekly blog about the music and liturgy of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, St. Louis, Missouri.


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The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Hancock, Friedell, and Duruflé

The Prelude to this Sunday's service was composed by Gerre Hancock (1934- 2012), a noted organ improviser and composer who was the Organist and Master of the Choristers at St. Thomas Church in New York City for many years. His Meditation on “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether” is based on the splendidly tuneful anthem of the same name by Harold Friedell (1905-1958), who was Organist and Master of the Choir at the nearby St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York.

There are so many small musical elements of our liturgy that (hopefully) coalesce to make a satisfying whole. If you begin doing the math about every organ piece, introit, service music, anthem, and motet, you can see that the music list adds up quickly. This is not to mention, of course, the hymns! There are at least four at every service, and often, the sopranos of the Choir sing a descant on one or more of these hymns.

This week, we will sing two decsants. The first is by the Director of Music to the opening hymn "The Church's one foundation;" the second, by Gerre Hancock (the composer of the prelude) to the sequence hymn "Be thou my vision."

Tantum ergo is one of four motets by Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986; pictured) dedicated to Auguste Le Guennant, the director of the Gregorian Institute in Paris. The motets are all based on traditional Gregorian plainsong melodies. In this motet, Duruflé eschews rhythmic suppleness in favor of a harmonic sumptuousness, with free points of imitation in the tenor.

You might remember that we also sang one of these Duruflé motets last week. We are gearing up to sing all four of them in concert along with the Duruflé Requiem on Sunday, October 27 at 4:00 p.m. I hope you will mark your calendar and come along to hear all of this marvelous sacred music.

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St. Peter's Day: Duruflé, Buzard, Langlais, and Vaughan Williams

This Sunday is "St. Peter's Day," an opportunity for this parish to celebrate its Patron, St. Peter.

St. Peter's feast day is joined with St. Paul's on June 29, and it's for this reason that you'll hear both saints mentioned in the Collect of the Day.

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There is much music that surrounds these two saints, especially Peter. The service opens with an Introit for this feast, Nunc scio vere, which picks up in the middle of the story of Peter's supernatural prison break recorded in Acts chapter 12. An angel appears and removes Peter's shackles, opens all the locked gates, sneaks him past the guards (Jedi-style, I imagine — as in, "this isn't the Apostle you're looking for"), and out into the city. It's the very moment the angel disappears that Peter realizes he wasn't seeing a vision, he was actually escaping from prison. 

Peter is an important figure in scripture, of course. Matthew 16:18 is the verse that records Jesus saying that Peter is the "rock" on which he will build his Church. 

During Communion, the Choir will sing Tu es Petrus by Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986). The short text is treated polyphonically in a joyous choral “carillon.” I've tolled told the Choir to imagine the ringing of all the bells of Paris, the most titillating tintinnabulation I can think of. Duruflé had an incredible ability to make the most splendid music when taking plainsong as his basis. His music ebbs and flows as it references the traditional Tu es Petrus chant. The unexpected shifts of meter heighten the sense of joy and surprise, especially at the motet’s conclusion.

The final hymn tune, Ladue, was commissioned by St. Peter’s for the Hymn Festival celebrating the 150th anniversary of this parish held in November of last year. It was written by Stephen Buzard (b. 1989), the Organist and Choirmaster of St. James Cathedral, Chicago.

French organist and composer Jean Langlais (1907–1991) was blind from childhood. Langlais, a student of Dupré and Dukas at the Paris Conservatoire, was a prolific composer. His Messe solennelle is considered his finest piece of church music, though it is not without its critics. Google reveals that a common response of clergy is "never again, please." I hope that the St. Peter's clergy don't respond that way (at least they didn't when we last sang the Gloria in 2016), because I am a big Langlais fan. This is powerful music that enlists the full resources of the organ.

The grand anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) is a setting of words from Psalm 90 and their famous metrical paraphrase by Isaac Watts. Vaughan Williams employs the familiar tune associated with the Watts hymn, “St. Anne.”   

Keys to the Kingdom strives to be an almost weekly blog about the music and liturgy of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, St. Louis, Missouri. It is written by the David Sinden, Organist & Director of Music. You can learn more about the church's music ministry at or email David at

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Advent Sunday: the Advent Carol Service

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Dear readers,

Please accept my apologies for not keeping up with the blog in the final stretch of the season after Pentecost. I return to writing in this space with renewed Advent vigor!

It's no secret that I love Advent. I would wager most church musicians do. It's full of extraordinary hymnody, seasonal carols (Advent carols, I mean; Christmas comes later), and profound themes.

Here at St. Peter's we continue our pattern of having a great Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent. This year's service is this Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

The service will begin with the Advent Prose set by British composer Judith Weir (b. 1954). The Choir will sing this from the narthex, as we do the Introits on Sunday mornings. The Choir will then emerge into the church during the processional hymn to the words:

Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.

It's worth mentioning that Judith Weir was commissioned by Stephen Cleobury (b. 1948) to write for the famous Christmas service at King's College in 1985. We sing one of Stephen Cleobury's splendid carol arrangements "The Cherry Tree Carol" after the Third Lesson. I became mildly obsessed with this piece earlier this summer, and I have written about it here.

It's also worth mentioning that Judith Weir has been commissioned by Stephen Cleobury again for this year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's (please note: a true Christmas service, not an Advent service like ours). The composers Cleobury commissioned in 1983 and 1984 have since died, so Judith Weir is the earliest commissioned composer in his tenure still living. Cleobury will retire in September of 2019, making this year his last Festival at King's.

We'll sing many great carols, anthems, and motets at this service.

The Invitatory Anthem is by our good friend Melissa Dunphy (b. 1980): "O Oriens," which sets the words of one of the great "O" Antiphons of Advent.
It's the only work of Dunphy we sang before commissioning her to write "If thou wilt be perfect" for our anniversary service on October 14 of this year.

The Sopranos of the Choir will sing a splendid "Bible Song" by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924): his "A Song of Peace," which incorporates phrases from the familiar Advent hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." So do keep an ear out for those!

The Motet "E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come" was written by American composer Paul Manz (1919–2009), but it is now famous the world over, especially this time of year.

"Come, thou long-expected Jesus" is often sung as a hymn at a service of this type, but the choir will sing it to music composed by Indianapolis resident Steven Rickards (b. 1959). I got to know Dr. Rickards well during my tenure at Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, but one of our altos grew up in this fine choir, and knows Dr. Rickards much better than I do! He has written an evocative setting of these words, full of poignancy and longing. Dr. Rickards dedicated this piece to the memory of his grandmother.

With "Come, thou long-expected" being sung by the Choir, the Congregation will have a go at "Savior of the Nations, come!" as a hymn this year. It's a sturdy Lutheran chorale that serves as the basis for myriad organ chorale preludes.

The topsy-turvy "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day" by John Gardner (1917–2011) is a mental  workout for the choir.

"This is the record of John" by Tudor composer Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) is a staple of Episcopal/Anglican choirs in Advent. We'll sing this work accompanied by the Mander Chamber Organ.

"On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry" is the hymn that follows the Sixth Lesson. I can't hear this hymn now without wanting to hear Dan Fortune's terrific descant on the last stanza that ascends to a high B-flat!

For the start of the final section of the service "The Christ-Bearer," we hear a quieter carol written by a composer strongly associated with St. Louis, Ronald Arnatt (1930–2018). His carol "The angel Gabriel from heaven came" is so simple yet devastatingly effective. It's is one of the 1,000 or so pieces filed in our Choir Library, and I have to say that I have genuinely enjoyed getting to know it this year. Ronald Arnatt died earlier this summer, so we will sing this piece with special intention for his memory.

Before the service ends, it's traditional to include the Magnificat (the Song of Mary). From the order of service we are using, there is a nod to the tradition of Choral Evensong at this Advent service, which uses the Magnificat; and the corresponding Epiphany service, which uses the Nunc dimittis. (We will sing A Service of Lessons and Carols for Epiphany on Sunday, January 13 at 5:00 p.m.)

Before the Magnificat, we will sing the carol "A spotless Rose" by Herbert Howells (1892–1983). We will follow it immediately with Howells's Magnificat setting for King's College, Cambridge: the "Collegium Regale."

I'm so excited about bringing this service to fruition on Sunday evening. And I didn't even mention the Byrd "Vigilate" which we will sing first in the 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist on Sunday. (Yes, please note that the full choir is showing up to church then too! If they can do it, surely the congregation can as well, right?) 

The organ prelude to this year's Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent will begin at about 4:35 p.m.

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