Today, we not only celebrate Thanksgiving, but it is also the Feast of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. It gives me the opportunity to be thankful that I have the opportunity to make a living as a musician, which is not always an easy thing to do. The ability to make music with such gifted colleagues and friends, week after week, and to present it to a supportive and enthusiastic congregation is truly an honor.
Thinking of Saint Cecilia, reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “A Hymn for Saint Cecilia” by Ursula Vaughan-Williams. Vaughan-Williams was of course, the wife of the great English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams. But she was also an accomplished author and poet, with many published works (including the definitive biography of RVW).
Her lovely ode to Saint Cecilia was set to music, not by her husband, but by his friend and colleague the English composer Herbert Howells. Howells’ setting is the perfect marriage of words and music, and one of my all time favorite pieces.
So, I’d like to share this poem and music with you, in gratitude for this profession I have gotten myself into, on this Thanksgiving AND Saint Cecilia’s Day. And below the poem is a link to a video from a recording session for this marvelous piece, in a new recording by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, one of the great choirs on the planet.
Sing for the morning’s joy, Cecilia, sing,
in words of youth and phrases of the spring.
Walk the bright colonnades by fountains spray
and sing as sunlight fills the waking day.
Till angels, voyaging in upper air, pause on a wing,
and gather the clear sound into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
a silver chain or golden as your hair.
Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
in words of music, and each word a truth,
marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
terror must gather to a martyr’s death, but never tremble,
the last indrawn breath remembers music as an echo may.
Through the long aftermath of centuries
Cecilia’s music dances in the skies,
lend us a fragment of the immortal air
where with your choiring angels we may share.
A light to light us through time-fettered night,
water of life, a rose of paradise;
so from the earth another song shall rise
to meet your own in heavens long delight.
A Hymn for Saint Cecilia – Herbert Howells