Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Liturgy and Hymnody Review: Sacred Choral Music


The Voices of Anam Cara. James Jordan, Conductor. Inscape: Choral Music of Gerald Custer.  Chicago: GIA Publications, 2008. Audio CD. $15.95. (LH)

The Voices of Anam Cara. James Jordan, Conductor. Angels in the Architecture.  Chicago: GIA Publications, 2010. Audio CD. $15.95. (LH)

Ruff, Anthony, OSB. Canticum Novum: Gregorian Chant for Today's Choirs. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2012. 230 Pages. Paper. $16.95. (LH)

Ruff, Anthony, OSB. Canticum Novum: Gregorian Chant for Today's Choirs. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2012. Audio CD. $16.95. (LH)

Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola. The Chants of Angels (Gregorian Chant). Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011. Audio CD. $18.95. (LH)

McCabe, Michael. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (Hymns of Praise Anthem Series). Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2012. Hymn Anthem for Organ, Trumpet, SATB, and Congregation. $2.20. (H)

Halls, David. Ye Servants of God (Hymns of Praise Anthem Series). Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2011. SATB [sheet music] with organ, congregation, and optional trumpet. $3.10. (H)

Lau, Robert. Sing, Ye Faithful (Hymns of Praise Anthem Series). Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2011. SAB [sheet music] with organ, congregation, and optional trumpet. $2.20. (H)

More traditional sacred choral music fills this review. Let's get started!

With this recording, Gerald Custer firmly establishes himself as a major talent in choral composition. Gloriously performed by the voices of Anam Cara, conducted by James Jordan, this CD is simply breathtaking.

As beautiful as this music is, most is readily accessible to high school and college choirs, and is published as part of GIA's Evoking Sound Choral Series. This project is a culmination of a remarkable friendship and true synergy between Custer and Anam Cara.

Writes Jordan: "I hope this recording will serve to introduce you to this honest, fresh, and gifted compositional voice. Gerald Custer is an amazing combination of composer, poet, and scholar, which produces choral music of not only great beauty but also profound message…As choral musicians, we all know that great choral music takes us on such profound inner journeys."

This recording certainly achieves its ambitious goals.

Gerald Custer is an award-winning composer known for his deeply lyrical and melodic choral compositions. He is presently Director of Music at the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

(Publisher's Website)

Borrowing the term "inscape" from the language and poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the voices of Anam Cara, under the direction of James Jordan, explore the inner human landscapes of the soul.

I mentally divide the disc into four segments that work well together as a whole ranging from grief and despair under the law and suffering to comfort and peace in the grace and love of Christ Jesus:

  • Hymns of Christ and the soul
  • Yeats texts
  • Elizabethan Lyrics
  • Spirituals

A highlight is track 5, a Scottish lullaby translation of Luther's Vom Himmel Hoch!

Anam Cara's soaring and heavenly vocals continue on our next disc.


"...the composer list reads like a veritable Who's Who among leading 20th Century and contemporary masters...On top of these peerless performances, we get pristine recorded sound and a solid [CD] booklet...Choral music just doesn't get any better than this."
—Lindsay Koob, reviewer for
American Record Guide (November/December 2010)

"...a magnificent outpouring of intimate and forceful choral artistry."
—Gramophone (September 2010)

Premiere recording of Blake Henson's "My Flight from Heaven"

In this brilliant audiophile recording from James Jordan and the Voices of Anam Cara, composed of singers from his Westminster ensemble, The Westminster Williamson Voices, it is truly the angels that are in the details.

Jordan selects his favorite works by the great masters of choral composition… and then pairs each work to its ideal acoustical environment. The choir is joined on the recording by organ virtuoso Ken Cowan and Eric Schweingruber, trumpet.

The seven-second reverb in the Immaculate Conception Church in Trenton, New Jersey, to the pristine resonances of The Lawrenceville School Chapel, The Girard College Chapel, the Philadelphia Cathedral, and St. Clement's Church in Philadelphia provide the stunning acoustics for this musical and sonic adventure.

This recording includes two works by Moses Hogan, "Wade in the Water" and "Ole Time Religion," a tribute to Hogan's musical genius. The premiere recording of "My Flight for Heaven" by Blake Henson is destined to be a classic. This recording also includes one of the rare recordings of the choral masterpiece by Sandstrom, a mystical setting of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.

Works by Morten Lauridsen (Sure on This Shining Night), James Whitbourn (Hodie), James MacMillan (In Splendoribus Sanctorum), Felix Mendelssohn (Psalm 100), and other master composers make this an essential recording for any lover of the choral arts.

(Publisher's Website)

I found calm and solitude in the midst of stress and traffic while listening to Angels in the Architecture. From "My Flight for Heaven," track 1 to the latter spirituals and Latin of the end of the disc, I was amazed how well conductor Jordan's attempt to "record works in varing acoustics that would match the aesthetic of each piece" worked out. This demonstrates the fruit of the conductors GIA text books in the real world.

The liner notes also answered my questions about what Anam Cara and her conductor had been up to since our review of their previous recording years ago. 

We are very pleased with these two recordings and how well they represent the best of traditional choral sound in the modern world. We commend GIA for bringing them to the public and for making sheet music available for choirs and congregations (and secular audiences) to enjoy.

GIA is also the source of our next two resources, a book and CD pair on gregorian chant, the original mission and title of the Gregorian Institute of America!


From renowned chant expert and scholar Anthony Ruff, OSB, comes an incredible collection of Gregorian chant for choirs. The book contains 100 hymns and antiphons with psalm verses for every season and occasion. Word-by-word English translations of the Latin responses are provided to aid the singers' understanding. The psalm verses are in Latin and English on facing pages with easy-to-follow pointing to match the psalm tones. The English psalm verses are from the Revised Grail Psalms. A demonstration recording of chants from Canticum novum is also available. This disc provides a very helpful model of singing these chants, while representing the broad range of chants in the complete collection. This groundbreaking work is sure to become a foremost resource for teaching and learning chant.
(Publisher's Website)

The recording provides twenty exemplar changes in Latin and English to get a choir, small group, or solo singer started. This is a pair of resources usable among Lutheran Christians with a patient, informed, and brave choir director.

The facing-page format works well for those who do not yet read Gregorian notation or understand or sing Latin. Learning both Latin and Gregorian chant was a long-time goal of mine. I made progress to that goal as a younger pastor thanks to the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood and their Brotherhood Prayer Book. If I had the choir budget, I would purchase enough copies of PBP and Canticum Novum to bring back Gregorian chant for today's choirs.

Sticking with Gregorian chant, we next consider a recording distributed by Paraclete Press.


Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola presents The Chants of Angels. Using the ancient melodies and texts of the early church, each Gregorian chant depicts a new aspect or story of these heavenly guardians, guides and friends, from the most intimate plea to our own guardian angels, to the great announcement made to the Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. For those who are new to Gregorian chant and for seasoned scholars, The Chants of Angels allows listeners to simply close their eyes, and be surrounded by these songs of prayer and comfort -- just as they are surrounded by angels. (Publisher's website)

I am convinced that Gregorian chant is among the forgotten, neglected, and still recoverable treasures of the Lutheran church. Lutherans regularly used Latin in worship until the days of J. S. Bach. 

It may well be enjoyed simply for its beauty. It aught to be enjoyed in the act of singing. And it can and should be appreciated for its Divine Truth. It is good to join angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in chants of praise to Christ.

The accompanying liner notes are a work of art, both beautiful and informative, complete with English translations of the sung Latin!

Finally, a word must be said about the Hymns of Praise Anthem series from Paraclete Press.

We were provided with three review copies of hymn anthems for three or four part choir, organ, congregation and trumpet:

  • Ye Servants of God
  • Sing, Ye Faithful
  • All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name

Anthems of this sort, involving the congregation, would be a great way to highlight a Hymn of the Day or introduce a hymn new to the congregation. I have not yet heard any of the three sung by a choir, but sitting at the piano for the purposes of this review, I very much enjoyed these settings.  

Sing to the Lord a new song! Since Christ Jesus is our eternally New Song, it matters not whether the song is brand-new from a composer's pen or Finale software or if it is merely new to us. Sing we of Christ always!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a permanent member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

View article...