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Exploring Psalms with Sheila Bristow

For many centuries, the singing of psalms has played an important role in religious gatherings.  Evolving from simple melodies to complex four-part harmonizations and beyond, the singing of psalms has changed, but its presence remains constant.  In many traditions, organists are expected to be adept at incorporating psalms into liturgy.

On November 12, 2018, Sheila Bristow, sub-dean and program chair of the Tacoma Chapter of the AGO, addressed this expectation with a practical program directed toward organists and choir directors who need a working knowledge of psalm settings.

David Dahl introducing the program in the Ness Family Chapel

David Dahl, Organist Emeritus at Pacific Lutheran University, introduced the meeting with a short history of the Bosch Organ in the Ness Family Chapel.

Paul Tegels, PLU Organist

Paul Tegels, faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University, then opened the program with some comments about Claude Goudimel, a sixteenth century French composer who set all of the psalms to four-part harmony.  Paul played an introduction to Psalm 7 by Goudimel, with melody in the tenor, following which the audience sang Psalm 7.  Psalm 7 ended with two organ verses by Anthoni van Noordt, a seventeenth century Dutch organist.

Sheila Bristow plays and conducts the choir

Sheila Bristow, our program chair,  has served as Organist and Choirmaster at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore, since 2005. Prior to that, she served for 10 years as Organist at Seattle’s University Unitarian Church. In transitioning from a Unitarian job to an Episcopal job, she found herself needing to incorporate a psalm each week.

The easiest solution to congregational psalms is the metrical psalm, much like a hymn but with a text derived from a psalm.  Every hymnal has a few; the Presbyterian Hymnal has many, most of them being derived from the Scottish Psalter.   With the assistance of a choir composed of PLU students, faculty, and an AGO board member, Sheila demonstrated various styles of psalm settings.  Many of them include an antiphon–a short chant that is used as a refrain.  The antiphon is often monophonic, and is often sung by a congregation in alternation with a choir singing the verses in a more complex setting.

Choir composed of PLU students, faculty, and AGO board members

Beginning with a psalm suitable for use in Advent, Psalm 126, the choir sang an antiphon based on plain chant, alternating with the congregation singing verses set by Richard Proulx, an American composer of church music.  This example represents an interesting departure from the usual practice of having the congregation sing an antiphon alternating with the choir singing verses.

Moving on to Christmas, Psalm 96 was presented with a congregational four-part antiphon and descant added by Sheila, alternating with choir verses sung to harmonized plainsong.

Anglican chant is a genre that sets unmetered text to four-part harmony.  It often has multiple harmonic changes per phrase, and can be difficult for congregations.   Psalm 16 was presented by the choir in a four-part setting by Edward Bairstow (1874-1946), an English composer and organist.

 

Peter Hallock 1924-2014

Peter Hallock (1924-2014) is well known in the Pacific Northwest as an organist and composer. He served as organist and choirmaster at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle for 40 years.  After his retirement in 1991, he continued to conduct the Compline choir until 2009.  Sheila points out that his psalm settings often show a great understanding of the text, using as an example a setting of Psalm 104 which alternates a monophonic antiphon for congregation with four-part verse settings for choir based on open harmony and parallel fifths.

Simplified Anglican chant is similar, but has only one harmonic change per phrase.  James Frazier set Psalm 23 in such a way, making it easier for the congregation to participate.  His setting appears in the “uncharted area” of the service volume of the Episcopal 1982 hymnal.

 

Thomas Stratman (1939-2008) was associated with St. James Cathedral in Seattle for many years.  Sheila used his setting of Psalm 131 to illustrate a more contemporary psalm setting, but still matching a monophonic congregational antiphon with a more harmonically complex verse setting sung by the choir.

 

The handout, including all of the musical examples, is reproduced below. Selecting the handout will activate controls that allow scrolling.

Many thanks to Sheila Bristow, for preparing this program, to the members of the choir, for bringing the music to life, to Paul Tegels for demonstrating the organ, and to Satya Jaech for preparing the wine and cheese reception afterward; and, of course to David Dahl for his vision in convincing the PLU Class of 1960 to choose an organ as their class gift.

20181112-handout

The Bosch Organ in Ness Family Chapel at PLU

In 1960, David Dahl was making plans to graduate from Pacific Lutheran University, and suggested to his classmates that they donate money for an organ to be placed in the Tower Chapel.  With help from the classes of 1959 and 1962, the students raised $6000 for an eight-rank Werner Bosch tracker organ to be built in Kassel, Germany.  The organ was completed and installed in 1962, becoming one of the first tracker organs in the Pacific Northwest in the twentieth century. Like many groundbreaking projects, the organ was not without controversy.  A faculty member at the time likened the purchase of a tracker organ to returning to outdoor plumbing.

David Dahl describes the Bosh organ in the Ness Family Chapel

After fifty years of use, the organ was renovated in 2016,  an endeavor made possible by a gift from Richard and Marcia Moe.  Under the guidance of Bruce Shull in the Fritts Organ Shop, the organ was revoiced , and some tonal changes were made.

The Tower Chapel is now known as the Ness Family Chapel.  It is regularly used for church services and teaching. The organ is also an important practice instrument for students.  The current replacement value of the organ is estimated to be $175,000.

Original Specification

Manual I Gedackt 8, Spitzflöte 4, Mixture II
Manual II Holzgedackt 8, Rohrflöte 4, Prinzipal 2
Pedal Sordun 16, installed behind hand operated louvres
Tremulant

Current Specification

Manual I Gedackt 8, Prinzipal 4, Mixture II
Manual II Holzgedackt 8, Rohrflöte 4, Spitzflöte 2
Pedal Dulcian 16
 Tremulant, Kellner temperament
 
I

New Concert Series at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle

Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle is proud to present a new concert series “Music at 9th and Stewart” which will feature performers of various genres, and for the first time in several years, solo recitals on the church’s beautiful two-manual organ installed by Fritts and Co in 1987 as their Opus 6.  On Sunday November 18 at 4 p.m., distinguished Tacoma organist Mark Brombaugh will present a splendidly varied program featuring music spanning the Renaissance and baroque through to modern times.

The organ is the first that Paul Fritts conceived and built on his own after the departure of his original business partner Ralph Richards.  It incorporates ideas from an organ study trip that he made to Germany and the Netherlands, the first of many that he has made through the years.

The company’s original proposal for a tall baroque style case for the organ was rejected by the church committee as being too ornate, so Fritts turned to a simpler design with a low, wide case.  The arrangement of the pipes of the various divisions inside the case was modeled after one of the old organs that Fritts encountered on his European study tour, with the Hauptwerk in the center front flanked by the divided Positiv, and the pedal division in the rear.  The case itself was originally envisioned as a sort of decorative screen behind the altar (the altar was subsequently moved after the sanctuary was remodelled). The pipes were also inspired by early organs, and were made in the Fritts shop after those of Arp Schnitger, who is considered to be one of the finest early baroque organ builders.  The organ features Fritts’ first venture into using lighter wind pressures as well as voicing for a more instrumental type of sound. This gives the organ a wonderful variety of color for individual stops and better blending between the stops when they are played together in various combinations.

Recently, Fritts and Co have reworked the tone-generating parts of the reed pipes throughout the organ. This contributes to better speech, better tuning stability and a more attractive tone. Part of this work included the total replacement of the 8’ Schalmei with German oboe-sounding pipes.

The church once had one of the largest congregations in Seattle, and boasted a very active music program when the organ was installed more than thirty years ago.  This new concert series is made possible by a gift to the congregation. In acknowledgement of this gift, and in keeping with the church’s commitment to social outreach, a portion of the proceeds supports nonprofit relief of immigrants, as well as families experiencing food- and housing-insecurity. Nonprofit beneficiaries are Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, The Hope Center, The Church Council of Greater Seattle, and Mary’s Place.

This season’s concert series will also present organist Dana Robinson in recital on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at 4 p.m.  Other performances will feature the a capella group Les Chanterelles (November 10), the Beggar Boys in a holiday concert (December 15), and the Grammy award winning early music ensemble Blue Heron (March 22, 2019).

Tickets are available here.

Una Hwang is indebted to Paul Fritts for input to the content of this article.

AGO Scholarship Awarded to Olivia Brownfield

The 2018-2019 Tacoma AGO Scholarship has been awarded to Olivia Brownfield, who is a senior at Yelm High School and a student of AGO Member Paul Tegels.  Olivia cites her grandmother’s organ playing as an early influence.  She also has experience in piano and band.  She has accompanied choirs, and has played at her church.

Olivia has written a note expressing her gratitude to the Tacoma AGO Chapter for funding her year of study with Dr. Tegels.  We wish her well in her musical endeavors, and hope to see her at some of our Chapter events.