Vivian’s Music Notes: 9/22/19

Director of Music Vivian Montgomery’s Music Notes are published in the weekly order of service and here at 

Music Notes for Sept. 22:

Today the Adult Choir regales us with two contemporary songs rooted in early American traditions: New England Folk composer Peter Amidon’s setting of Tennyson’s “Crossing The Bar” and the boisterous shape-note style “Emerald Stream” that has a powerful environmental message worthy of this Climate Strike weekend.

The Amidon piece is an elegant, expressive setting of Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar,” which the poet is believed to have written (after suffering a serious illness) while on the Solent Sea. Its central message is on travelling serenely and securely from life through death, and, in keeping with this month’s “returning” theme, it suggests the tide’s reversing force with the lines “When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home.” Shortly before he died, Tennyson told his son to “put ‘Crossing the Bar’ at the end of all editions of my poems.”

The inspiration for “Emerald Stream” came when the then seventeen-year-old composer Seth Houston was fishing with his father in Colorado. The music draws from the shape-note tradition and features a hearty sound, an imitative fugal section, melodic ornaments, open intervals, and doubling at the octave, all typical sounds in this rugged New England group singing tradition. The text, also by the composer, draws on the hymn-writing style of the great theologians of the shape-note tradition, though it proclaims a more contemporary message of environmental stewardship. It has had an extensive pre-publication life that includes performances on “A Prairie Home Companion” and by the Christmas Revels.