This article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of our parish magazine. You can read it again here:
I have been contributing articles about music every month since “Duo Seraphim” was offered for publication in the November 2013 issue of this magazine. At first it was easy: so much wonderful music to write about, and the articles just flowed. That was fine whilst I worked through my personal all time favourites! Oddly though, I have never been stuck for a piece of music to write about, and – so far – writer’s block has never bothered me. Music has come looking for me to be written about. Sometimes months in advance, sometimes with only a few days to spare, but the music has always found me.
So it was with this piece. I was at the vicarage attending the third of four sessions during Advent 2015. We had been thinking about Joseph, and the importance of dreams in his acceptance of Mary and her baby. We were asked to consider, silently, what were our hopes and dreams for ourselves, for our church, and for our relationship with God. I found myself singing this prayer inside my head. It wouldn’t leave me, and I knew that as soon as I got home I would have to write about it.
The version we learned at St Margaret’s is a simplification of the full prayer, and was set to music by L J White in 1947:
- O holy Jesus, most merciful redeemer, friend and brother.
- May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly
- and follow thee more nearly. Amen.
The tune is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity. It can be sung by a solo soprano for the first time through, then as a soprano/alto duet as the entire prayer is repeated. We sang it as a semi-chorus/full chorus, with the altos and tenors joining in after the sopranos had sung the words through for the first time.
The simplicity of the piece is also deceptive. At times unaccompanied, the voices must enter together at the same time and at the same pitch. That’s harder to do than you might think. When the prayer is sung a second time, the lower voices take the tune and the sopranos have quite a tricky descant to float in over the top. The choir is rewarded for its efforts with a final Amen that is luscious in its rich harmonies.
Here is a beautiful recording of the choir of St Francis Xavier, Carfin, Scotland singing this prayer, with organ accompaniment.
This prayer remains my hope and dream for myself, for you, for our church and for the world. Amen.