Greetings, dear friends! I have been blessed over the years with the inspiration to compose and/or arrange a number of choral works to the glory of God and for use in the worship of Lexington Presbyterian Church. I share with you the texts and stories of four of them. WMcC
WHAT IS THE CRYING AT JORDAN
What is the crying at Jordan, who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark our hearts, and shut to mystery.
Who, then, shall stir in this darkness, prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal, in darkness we lie down, blind-hearted, seeing no light.
Lord, give us grace to awake us, to see the Branch that begins to bloom.
In great humility is hid All heaven in a little room.
Now comes the day of salvation; in joy and terror the Word is born.
God gives himself into our lives. O let salvation begin.
~ ~ ~
Words: Carol Christopher Drake, © 1971 Carol C. Stone
Music (1981): Irish melody from collection Danta De (1928), arr. William McCorkle (© 1981)
I discovered this wonderful Advent hymn a number of years ago. In a precursor to The Hymnal 1982 [Episcopal], this lovely poem by a choir singer from California was wed to an ancient nameless Irish melody found in a 1928 collection. I was inspired in 1981 to make an arrangement for the Lexington Presbyterian Choir, centering around opening solo singing by Elsie Brown, whose soprano voice remains in the ears of my memory as one of the greatest treasures of this church and community. Elsie sang the first two stanzas; the choir entered then, in a prayerful third stanza, followed by a triumphant concluding stanza, in which Elsie’s solo voice proclaimed the words “God gives himself into our lives.”
In darkness came
Like candle flame
God’s love to frame.
From shepherd’s dell,
To prison cell
The words resound,
The tidings swell
Till earth, once bound,
Stirs to the sound
Of rushing grace;
And, chains, unwound
She lifts her face
From sin’s disgrace,
Long sought, now
By love’s embrace.
Words (199?): Charlotte D. Gunn (1932-2014)
Music (1999): William McCorkle (© 1999)
Many of you remember the late Charlotte Gunn, who served this church as elder, teacher, treasurer, and as longtime librarian. Charlotte’s eloquent poem, Found, appeared in a booklet of Advent offerings compiled from members of the congregation one year in the late 1990s. My musical setting is for choir with a soloist, with three stanzas in minor mode ‘blooming’ into major for the fourth. The LPC Choir and the Rockbridge Chorus have sung this piece many times. A number of friends/colleagues, some of them no longer living, have sung the solo part (sometimes shared by two singers).
Bethlehem, Bethlehem, Young Mary went down to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem, Bethlehem, City of our Savior’s birth.
Shepherds come, shepherds come, The shepherds come down to Bethlehem.
Shepherds come, shepherds come, Witness to our Savior’s birth.
Angels say, angels say, Be not afraid in Bethlehem.
Angels say, angels say, Herald to our Savior’s birth.
Jesus come, Jesus come, Christ born today down in Bethlehem.
Jesus come, Jesus come, Child of the Lord most high.
Words: Michael Jacob Kooiman Music (2007): William McCorkle (© 2007)
While on a study leave on the Isle of Iona in Scotland, I discovered this wonderful text, by a Canadian churchman, in a rich compendium of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany materials. The musical setting came quickly to fruition during a trip to Maine, as a lively song for children and adults. The church choirs have sung it, as have the Rockbridge Chorus and Youth Chorale.
O LITTLE LOVE
O little Love, who comes again, the Word made flesh to make God plain,
O Child who shines, the Jesus light, disarm the world this Christmas night!
No heart so hard it many not move, no hate resists your open love;
Defenseless in our hands you come to Herod’s power, to Mary’s home.
All the wise look for your star, so I must follow where you are,
As you are light so must I be, as you are peace, be peace in me.
~ ~ ~
Words (1992): Shirley Erena Murray (1931-2020), © 2005 Hope Publishing Company
Music (2012): William McCorkle (© 2012)
The New Zealand hymn writer, Shirley Erena Murray, who died this past January, was respected, indeed revered, by her hymn-writing colleagues. Our Glory to God hymnal contains ten of her texts. I encountered
O Little Love in the Church Hymnary(4th ed., 2005), the wonderful hymnal of the Church of Scotland, and felt the need to give it my own music. The result, with a meditative Celtic spirit, is for a solo voice and choir. I have yet to fully flesh out the keyboard part, always improvised by me or by Josh Harvey.