Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Organ Master Class and Special Choral Evensong – pictures and sermon

Eight organists participated in the workshop on Anglican Music last Friday. They are all students at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva, studying for either a Bachelor or Masters degree in Organ Playing.The organists then went on to play for Evensong. Music for Evensong was: Responses – Aylewood, Canticles – Stanford in C and then Anthem – Stanford O for a closer walk with God.

Canon Alex gave a musical themed sermon – reproduced below.

Music and neurophysiology

The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song  – Isaiah 5512

It is very good to come together tonight on this feast day of S. Luke, to sing and to reflect upon Anglican Choral music in our tradition of worship.  Luke gave us the two Canticles of Evensong, that we sang tonight to the famous setting of Stanford in C, the Magnificat of our Lady and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon.  He gave us the Morning Canticle, the Benedictus, too, of course.  As well as being patron saint of doctors, he is also the patron saint of artists – amongst whom we include musicians who paint pictures with sound.   

To help us, I hope, just a few thoughts.  

The first of which is very important.  Neurophysiologists and anthropologists now believe that music came before language in the development of our humanity.  In a way, that is hardly surprising.  After all, the intonation of the voice expresses far more, generally speaking, than the actual words do.  This harks back to the time when we did not have words and language. 

The second is that today’s Collect, the special prayer for the day, asks God that the Gospel may be a wholesome medicine by which all the diseases of our souls may be healed.  Tradition has it, of course, that Luke was a physician.  Again, one of the ills that neurologists point to in our Western society is the increasing predominance of the left hemisphere of our brains over the right.  Whilst that is a highly simplistic way of putting it, there is a tendency for us all to become more and more involved with the left brain functions of analysis and splitting things up, that we lose our ability – one more associated with the right brain – to put things together, to see a bigger picture, to engage in meta-narratives, or, in other words, to synthesise rather than just analyse.  

Of course we need to do both things.  Religious faith and practice however is concerned more with synthesis – of putting things together and seeing things in a bigger perspective.  Something that the right brain is much more involved with.  

Significantly for us today, music also in the first instance a right brain function, along with poetry.  Though the execution of a piece of Choral singing, or organ playing, requires the integral cooperation of both parts of the brain.  We have to attend to the details (LH) of the musical syntax as well as appreciating the whole piece (RH).  Something which – particularly in our present cultural situation – is profoundly healing.  In other words, making music is good for your mental health! 

But of course when we are engaged in an act of worship the making of music becomes even more significant and, I believe, vital.  It’s not without good reason that our Orthodox sisters and brothers will not allow the Eucharist to be celebrated withoutmusic – or, for that matter, the Daily Office either.  It must be sung.  And humanity has long known that truth, though in our own times it has become rather less acknowledged.  Our Anglican heritage in this respect is quite distinctive and unique, but it is built upon a much older and longer tradition which can trace its origins back many centuries, and certainly long before the time of Christ.  

Music puts us in touch with intangible realities.  We are all aware of the effect that it has with our emotions – though as soon as we start to quantify and analyse that effect, we are like to come very unstuck.  And I believe that in the context of worship, music opens up our unconscious depths, where we may more fully encounter the living reality of God.So, I would argue, music is essential in our worship.  Even when something is ‘said’ the music of the voice, its specific intonations, are important.  But when words are sung, they take flight and we are raised with them.  Drawn into a deeper correspondence with our memories, our intuitions, our profoundest depths.  Tonight we celebrate the feast of S. Luke, the physician.  And we offer our thanks for our Anglican tradition of Choral music.  And as always with things Anglican, it defies an easy categorisation!  Both Catholic andReformed.  Ancient and Modern.  Traditional and innovative.  But then, we need the synthesis that such