music: Maurice Greene (1696-1755), words Psalm 65, vv9,12
This article was written for the October issue of our parish magazine.
About a year ago, in the autumn of 2020 we had endured a full national lockdown, a summer of somewhat eased restrictions, and were entering a time of less-than-clear tiered restrictions. If memory serves, that meant that worshippers could attend services in person, but had to remain seated throughout, keep a mask on at all times, and absolutely no singing whatsoever.
Our singing group, Maggie’s Music Makers were allowed to rehearse in person – but only in groups of 6, so half the group attended each week via Zoom, on a rota basis. This was far from satisfactory, but like everyone else we were obliged to stay within the law, so hymns and anthems were pre-recorded and published online each week along with a recording of the livestreamed service.
One such anthem was “Thou Visitest the Earth”, suggested by our organist Tom, in good time for Harvest. Greene’s original had been arranged for upper voices by Desmond Ratcliffe, and that was the version we used. It’s a gem of an anthem, and a true nugget of silver lining to the dark cloud of all the pandemic restrictions. Maggie’s Music Makers couldn’t attempt it at the time due to the constraints on our weekly rehearsals, but using the magic of technology, Tom and I could record it together. There was just the small matter of learning three voice parts! Soprano I has the first page as a soli*, and soprano II has the second page soli. The altos join in at page 3, and the second half is in 3-part polyphony. That is, the three parts weave around and within each other singing the text in canon, imitating each other musically at slightly different pitches.
The text, drawn from psalm 65 is:
Thou visitest the earth and blessest it:
And crownest the year with thy goodness.
Our recording was shared with the congregation at the Harvest Festival via the blog, and you can listen to it again here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpYpDfneBDM
At time of writing, Maggie’s are busy learning this anthem, but after the summer break there are precious few rehearsals before Harvest! If it’s ready, you’ll have heard it sung live in church by the time you read this. If it’s not ready in time…maybe next year!
*soli is the plural of solo. That is, a small group sings (or plays) a given section of music, rather than the full ensemble.