Category: Music

In consideration of Labor Day, I am reminded of the old hymn “Come Labor On” (Ora Labora). The hymn tune was composed by T. Tertius Noble (1867 – 1953). Below is a recording of the late Gerre Hancock (1934-2012) giving a farewell improvisation on this hymn in 2004, as he was retiring from his post as organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City. The performance was recorded by Dr. Alan van Poznak, and posted to YouTube by a YouTube community member named “contratromba858”. The words to the hymn are below.

Come, labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain,
while all around us waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
“Go work today.”

Come, labor on.
The enemy is watching night and day,
to sow the tares, to snatch the seed away;
while we in sleep our duty have forgot,
he slumbered not.

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
by feeblest agents may our God fulfill
his righteous will.

Come, labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share–
to young and old the Gospel gladness bear;
redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The night draws nigh.

Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun.
“Servants, well done.”

In honor of the Feast of the Ascension, and for your meditation and listening pleasure (courtesy of a Youtuber named Enrique Guerrero):

Latin text:
Ascendens Christus in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem: dedit dona hominibus.
Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae.
Dedit dona hominibus.
Dominus in caelo paravit sedem suam.

Christ, ascending on high, led captivity captive: He gave gifts to men.
God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.
He gave gifts to men.
The Lord hath prepared his seat in heaven.

This beautiful work was published in 1572, while the young Victoria was studying for the priesthood in Rome.  The text is taken from the matins responsory for the Feast of the Ascension.

One of the classic hymns of an earlier day is “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”. The melody was written by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Ray Palmer (1808-1887) wrote the lyrics:

My faith looks up to Thee;
Thou Lamb of Calvary;
Savior divine;
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day be wholly Thine…

Ray Palmer was a Congregationalist minister, who graduated from Yale in 1830. According to Ernest E Ryden, author of Story of our hymns (1930; online here at, Palmer wrote these lyrics shortly after his graduation while working as a tutor at a New York school.  He was reading a German poem, and dashed some stanzas into a notebook  He was contemplating what it would be like to be a penitent sinner standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Later, when Lowell Mason was compiling a hymn collection, he happened across Rev. Palmer on a street in Boston. Palmer had by then established a reputation as a decent poet, so Mason asked him to write something for a new hymnal. Palmer dug out his old notebook and gave him the lyrics.  Mason praised his work. “You may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”  Mr. Ryden has called the hymn “the most precious contribution which American genius has yet made to the hymnology of the Christian Church”.

I will tell another story. Nestled into the bucolic setting of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, near Knoxville, is Johnson University (formerly Johnson Bible College). This small, nondenominational college was founded in 1893 as the School of the Evangelists. It was and is a symbol of frontier faith and zeal, which emanated out of the revivalist fervor of the “Second Great Awakening”. In 1904 the college suffered a major blow when a fire broke out and burned the Main Building to the ground.  Local lore has it that even as their dreams went up in smoke, the faculty and students held hands and sang this hymn together. (They were able to rebuild the following year).

The performance below is by an anonymous group of singers, performing an arrangement by Fred Waring; it is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing, from the Internet Archive.

Here also is a lovely piano version, uploaded by someone named “HouseOfJoel”, also available in the Creative Commons section of the Internet Archives.

For a limited time, you may listen free to a veritable feast of gorgeous liturgical music, performed in an appropriate setting.  Those who follow my postings closely will know that I am a fan of the webcasts of Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue. They are in the midst of their “2016 Orchestral and Organ Mass Series featuring the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys and Saint Thomas Chamber Orchestra”. Already on demand are webcasts of recent services featuring the Mass in C, op. 169 by Josef Rhineburger, and the Mass in G major by Franz Schubert. This coming Sunday, June 6, will feature the Missa Solennelle by Louis Vierne.

These webcasts can be found at:

In honor of the recently passed milestone of 100 posts, I feel it a fine time to play the actual “Brother James Air” (the music by that name, not my airs). This is performed by the choristers of Canterbury Cathedral in England. The text is a variation of Psalm 23. The piece was written by Scottish minister and hymn writer James Leith Bain (1860–1925).

Hymn: Christ, the Fair Glory of the Holy Angels
In honor of today’s Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas).

Photo: Public Domain image of St. Michael, by unknown Spanish painter, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Relevent Verse: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Psalm 91:11.




Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels
thou who hast made us, thou who o’er us rulest,
grant of thy mercy unto us thy servants
steps up to heaven.

Send thine archangel Michael to our succor;
peacemaker blessèd, may he banish from us
striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful
all things may prosper.

Send thine archangel Gabriel, the mighty;
herald of heaven, may he, from us mortals,
spurn the old serpent, watching o’er the temples
where thou art worshiped.

Send thine archangel Raphael, the restorer
of the misguided ways of men who wander,
who at thy bidding strengthens soul and body
with thine anointing.

May the blest mother of our God and Savior, may the assembly of the saints in glory, may the celestial companies of angels ever assist us.
Father Almighty, Son, and Holy Spirit,
God ever blessèd, be thou our preserver;
thine is the glory which the angels worship,
veiling their faces.

(Words: Latin, ninth century; trans. Athelstan Riley, 1906)

About the hymn

The text was written in the 9th century by Rabanus Marus Magnentius, also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, born around 780. He was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis.

The text is commonly set to the tune Caelite plaudens, a French melody from the 1728 Rouen antiphoner, which was subsequently harmonized by the great English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. It appeared in the English Hymnal of 1906.

For more Information:
Note: The audio file is a public domain recording, available at Internet Archive. It is listed as “St Michael’s Conference Hymn”; No further information is available about the venue, organ, or performers.

In reading about John Scott I found this gorgeous recording of the Hylton Stewart setting of Psalm 23, by the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, conducted by John Scott. The performance took place in 1988 at the Grote Eusebiuskerk in the Netherlands.

“Alone to God be glory”, reads the text above. This phrase adorned every manuscript penned by the great master, Johann Sebastian Bach. This phrase will be carved into the case of a great organ being built in New York, at the insistence of a modern master, who has recently and unexpectedly passed away.

John Scott was the most recent organist and choirmaster at St Thomas Church, New York, a grand place which can be fairly described as the pinnacle of the Anglican music tradition in the U.S. Prior to this he was organist and choirmaster at St Paul’s cathedral in London. His compositions include music performed at the Queen’s “Golden Jubilee”, and Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

My own connection with his recordings occurred early in my teens when, as a rebel from the low musical tastes of my generation, I began listening to sacred choral music by the likes of Byrd and Tallis. Also, I will make no secret of the fact that I am currently a huge fan of the webcasts of St Thomas Church, New York. I have loved the music, and applaud that they have so far upheld doctrinal orthodoxy (if of a sacerdotal bent) in their theology and practice, against great odds.

For more information on John Scott, consider tuning in to this tribute program on the public radio program
Pipe Dreams”. Also, more information about him can be found at the websites for St Thomas Church and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Our condolences to Dr. Scott’s family, church, and those whom his life impacted. As I scan tributes to him, I have seen over and over that “Soli Deo Gloria” was an important theme in his life and work. May it be so in our lives also.

We are pleased to announce our second video offering, a bit of (respectful) whimsy that utilizes the creative game of Minecraft:

The Text here is from the King James version of the Holy Bible.

The images are screen shots from a minecraft game.

The music is by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), from his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16: Adagio section. This is a public domain recording available on the musOpen website.  This is an early work, written when he was 24 while visiting Søllerød, Denmark, and is the only concerto completed by Grieg.  It is often compared to the piano concerto by Schumann.  It is scored for piano, woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.  The performers here are the Skidmore College Orchestra.

The Minecraft style titles are thanks to Textcraft:

And of course I am grateful to the inventive folks at Mojang for their creative game.