The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill celebrated a “Pride Evensong” Sunday, June 11.
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill celebrated a “Pride Evensong” Sunday, June 11. The traditional evening liturgy of the Anglican Communion featured music composed by members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as women composers. The service’s clergy, lectors, organist and director of music also identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The evening’s service opened with a lovely organ and choral arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The song, with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg, was composed for the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” It was sung by Judy Garland and became her signature anthem. Garland, along with Marilyn Monroe, became icons of the movement for lesbian/gay rights in the years subsequent to both their deaths from drug overdoses. They were seen as victims of the Hollywood patriarchy that often took advantage of women, in general, and members of the gay community, in particular.
With parish director of music and arts Tyrone Whiting conducting and guest organist Gabe Benton accompanying, St. Martin’s Choir gave the song a haunting rendition that touchingly caught its expression of inexpressible longing. Whiting’s own setting of “Psalm 42” then beautifully followed the traditions of Anglican chant.
The Evensong’s two major choral works were the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc dimittis” from Sarah MacDonald’s settings in her “Evening Service in A-flat.” The women of the choir opened the former while the men took the lead in the opening measures of the latter. Both began simply but then opened up into a full polyphonic counterpoint. The mood of the “Magnificat” is festive and celebratory while that of the “Nunc dimittis” is more reflective.
With Benton at the organ, Whiting led superb performances of both works. The choir sang with a fine sense of ensemble and delivered the classic scriptural texts with passion and precision.
The offertory anthem of the evening was Calvin Hampton’s “A Repeating Alleluia.” Something of an “homage” to Virgil Thomson’s earlier “Alleluia,” the newer work breathes the legacy of spirituals voiced in the classical traditions of developmental counterpoint. It spins out its unbroken melody in a seamless legato that sounds as though it has been singing for all eternity and will continue to do so long after a particular rendition has come to its conclusion. It was sung with a tonal warmth that glowed from start to finish.
Whiting brought the liturgy to a splendid finale with an improvised postlude that included a sweet reprise of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
St. Martin’s interim rector, the Rev. James H. Littrell was the celebrant and the Rev. Dr. Nora Johnson was the guest homilist. Johnson is a member of the clergy staff of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Locust Street in Center City. She is also a member of the faculty at Swarthmore College. The Episcopal Church in the United States consistently has been in the forefront of support for the LGBTQ+ community.
St. Martin’s Church will round out its season of summer concerts Wednesday, June 28, at 5:30 p.m. with a recital presented by the Fairmount String Quartet. The ensemble, which is “in residence” at St. Martin’s Church, will perform a program of music ranging from the classical to the popular.
The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia will present “Ben Franklin’s Fiddle” on June 22 in Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia and June 24 in Stoneleigh Natural Garden in Villanova, both at 7 p.m. Visit chamberorchestra.org for more information.
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