Looking Back And To Baptism

Stephen Watkins is back from holiday and his first program of the New Year, “Starry Night,”  focused on liturgical offerings for the Epiphany feast. Go to his page on the Australian public radio web site for the audio link. Plainsong from Kentucky to John Rutter and a dollop of JS Bach.

This weekend’s lineup for the Baptism of the Lord feast also looks pretty good. The audio is usually posted by Monday morning Down Under, which translates to Sunday night in North America.

I know lots of my liturgical music colleagues love Rutter. I’ve sung his Requiem and it was nice. One of the cantors at my last parish often sang “Pie Jesu” before the funerals. I may get angry rumblings coming my way, but his music doesn’t really impress me. In fact, I thought the piece Watkins featured on last weekend’s program sounded a lot like 1980’s David Haas: nice enough but unremarkable. The orchestrations are lush and creamy, but is there something more? What am I missing?

By the way, how many church musicians have programmed something of Christmas on this penultimate feast of the Nativity cycle?

Image above Copyright © 2001, He Qi

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to Looking Back And To Baptism

  1. We are singing a Gloria which features the Glo-ooooooooooooooo-ria in excelsis De-e-o of “Angels We Have Heard on High” as the refrain. I despise this piece and am more than ready to put it away for another year – make that forever!

    Although I like Rutter’s music and have just about everything he’s recorded, I’d have to agree there’s substance to your critique, Todd. But I’d put him at least a few steps above the place you landed him.

  2. Anne says:

    We’ve been singing the same Gloria at my parish,ConcordPastor. I’m not a fan either but on the positive side, the people participated enthusiastically.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    Rutter’s short Christmas pieces have their charm and place, but his talent for miniatures doesn’t transfer to the larger forms. I will not be upset if my group never sings the ‘Requiem’ or ‘Gloria’ again. I know, many in the audience love them, but the experienced “vets” in the choir don’t.

    As to your question about Christmas music still being sung for the Baptism of the Lord, my parish does not have any specifically Christmas music scheduled for the morning Masses but there is some in our annual afternoon Epiphany-Baptism of the Lord Lessons & Carols:

    Adeste Fideles (congregation)

    O Magnum Musterium (Victoria)

    Here Is the Little Door (Howells)

    What Star Is This (congregation)

    I Wonder As I Wander (arr. Leo Nestor)

    On This Day (congr; tune: Personnet h.)

    The Holly and the Ivy (arr. Benj.Bolden)

    Alleluia, Alleluia! Sing a New Song
    (congregatiion; tune: Bryn myrddin)

    Let All Mortal Flesh (arr. F Gramann)

    There Shall a Star (Mendelssohn)

    Magnificat (Randall Thompson)

    Of the Father’s Love Begotten (congr.)

    Seek the Lord (Julian Wachner)

    Procession to the Font: O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (congregation)

    Rejoice and Sing (Carlye Sharpe)

    Recessional: Arise, Shine Out, Your Light Has Come (congr; tune: Andernach)

  4. Randolph Nichols says:

    I should have noted the verses we are using for ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’:

    v. 2
    Led by the starlight, Magi, Christ adoring,
    Offer him incense, gold and myrrh;
    Glory to God in the hightest! (Refrain)

    v.3 Yea, Lord, we greet thee, Baptized in the Jordan,
    Jesus, to thee be glory giv’n:
    Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing. (Refrain)

  5. Gavin says:

    The term I associate with Rutter is “Anglopop”. Actually, it’s good and often accessible. But it’s nothing to write home about.

  6. Liam says:

    Rutter can do some nice settings, especially of existing hymn texts. I think, for example, of his spare but deft setting for “Be Thou My Vision” (Slane). And he is good at getting more than the typical tiny sound from his singers. But he oversteps his many solid competencies when he tries to do settings of spirituals or larger works. And then he can enshroud more shallow texts like “Candlellight Carol” with more aural gossamer than might be prudent – it’s the hymn equivalent of the gauzy filming of Lucille Ball in Mame….

    Sadly, our Lessons & Carols at St Paul’s was cancelled today. I am glad that Randolph was able to point out some of the textual thoughtfulness of Ted Marier’s & John Dunn’s work in our wonderful hymnal.

  7. Anne says:

    Sadly, our Lessons & Carols at St Paul’s was cancelled today.

    Hopefully the weather will improve and cancellations won’t be necessary. Will something else be scheduled at another time instead of Lessons and Carols? Or, no more scheduling until spring?

  8. Liam says:


    (First, a brief apology to Todd from me talking local, but I hope he doesn’t mind.)

    I doubt it – the L&Cs (Advent and Christmastide) are not revenue events like the BACS concerts but really purely liturgical. The adult choir’s spring concert will be on March 29th (a shift up of a month compared to the usual) – I believe Faure’s Requiem is on tap – so that will be on the fifth Sunday in Lent, and the BACS has concerts in Eastertide.

    The L&C for Christmastide is, however, the one service where the various choirs sing together, and that will be missed this year under the new direction.

    This actually has been far from the snowiest early winter we’ve seen, but the timing and nature of the storms has just been badly coincident with parish activities.

  9. Gavin says:

    The Te Deum would be an excellent score for the new Star Trek film…

  10. Gavin says:

    I should add on a positive note that indeed his work is worthy on a smaller scale. I sang “Lord Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace” with a men’s choir, very nice. There’s some good SATB stuff too. It’s when he goes large scale that it loses its worthiness.

  11. Randolph Nichols says:

    Liam, Anne:

    What’s with all the Requiems? The choir school concert on May 8 will feature the Mozart Requiem and toward the end of February a “first annual” parish-wide Duruflé Requiem Sing has been scheduled (modeled after the Messiah sings).

  12. Dear Todd:

    Rather than rumble at you, I will entirely agree with you that Rutter is pretty lightweight as regards his larger forms. While I have sung and even enjoyed some of his music (done professionally, and not in my church, for which God is to be thanked), any thing larger than his work with carols rather reminds me of the orchestrations in the early works of the British rock group, The Moody Blues.

    That said, I also think that his What Sweeter Music deserves its place among great carols of the ages.

  13. Todd says:

    Let me say that I find Rutter’s music tuneful and orchestrations lush. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but you can say the former about the best of David Haas’ work.

    As far as arranging tunes, that’s a different kind of art. Merely good melodies have benefitted from great arrangements.

    Great composers can do both. I wouldn’t put Rutter on the level of Part or Tavener or the top shelf of contemporary classical composers. I would like to hear more sacred music from people like Rouse or Higdon or Picker or Schneider … if they would want to.

    But no Requiems, please.

  14. Kudos to those who rightly take the time to mention the attributes of any composer’s SELECT pieces; coal to those who cooly lump same composer into stereotypical scrapheaps.
    Experiencing the Rutter REQUIEM sung by the local community choir is one thing, sung by the Loyola Marymount Combined Choirs under Salamunovich in 1988 in their chapel quite another. To abet other posters and my point: I will be the better if never ever hearing his “For the Beauty of the Earth” again, and for having my choir reasonably master “What Sweet Music” (no mean feat.)
    And might I curmudgeonly add, why is it so necessary to keep dredging up Tavener and Part as _the_ pinnacles of modern choral composition? As if….

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