A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Harmonia Sacra

Again this year I was able to participate in the New Year’s Day Harmonia Sacra singing in Elkhart (Indiana), ably led by James Gingerich and Matthew Lind. I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and so I think it was all the more enjoyable and pleasant to be there. In December, I sang with the Goshen Sacred Harp group, which traditionally sings out of the Harmonia Sacra for the second half of their December singing. Then, I chose New Monmouth (midi file), to which is set perhaps my favorite hymn text:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

We arruved at the New Year’s singing just in time for me to lead it.(“Ebenezer” means “stone of help,” and refers to the Old Testament story of a monument set up by Samuel: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”)

Dirk Lind (as he does, traditionally) Dedication Anthem (midi file), known in Mennonite circles as 606 (from its page number in the Mennonite Hymnal) or even the “Mennonite National Anthem.” We were graced with the presence of Mary Oyer, the octogenarian hymnologist responsible for much of the Mennonite Hymnal and for training a generation of Mennonite students in hymnody–including Gingerich and Lind. She may have been present last year, but this year I knew who she was.

I traveled with good friend Dean Knuth; it was his first Harmonia Sacra singing. On the way back, he introduced me to some of his music, including some tracks by Martin Frank and Eric Whitacre. Perhaps if Dean reads this, he’ll comment on the specific pieces he played for me.


2 responses to “Harmonia Sacra

  1. Dean Knuth January 3, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks, Will – was a lot of fun, I hope I didn’t mar the recording with my amateurism…

    Eric Whitacre cuts were “Lux Aurumque”, “I thank You God for most this amazing day” and a bit of “Cloudburst” – one of the composer’s very effective settings of Octavio Paz poems. These can be found on his “Complete A Cappella Works 1991-2001” from Arsis Audio (*excellent* label), CD 147, http://www.arsisaudio.com.

    Frank Martin (Swiss) “Mass fo Double Choir” and Ildebrando Pizzetti (Italian) “De Profundis” (both 20th century) can be found on Hyperion Records CD – http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/details/67017.asp. The latter was written as a form of reconciliation “to a colleague on whom Pizzetti had previously vented his infamous foul temper” and gives me pause to consider those who experience my fetid moments.

    The Martin piece was so intensely personal that the composer locked it away for, if memory serves, about 40 years after writing for his own release when he was in his 20’s. It was only after showing it to a close colleague late in life, who had the training and ability to recognize what was there and the persasive powers to change it that this work avoided being lost. From reviewers, “One of the greatest a cappella works written this century”, “a truly wonderful work, combining intensely personal moments of religious contemplation with outbursts of overwhelming glory”.

    Having been a reviewer for a while, and not being moved by frothy musings by myself or others, I nevertheless found this to be pretty close to the mark.

    The next time we share a ride I’ll try to remember to bring a couple of excerpts that came even close to being lost without hearing – pieces from the late 1500’s by a couple of French and Spanish composers and only unearthed within the last decade and performed probably for the first time.


  2. John Lamb February 4, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Six lessons from the this singing are available for listening at the following link



    A cd of the singing is currently in progress – it will contain roughly 26 lessons from the 60 something that were sung at the singing – including New Monmouth, which is one of my favorite songs from this singing.

    John Lamb, Harrisson, TN

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