A Brief History of the Pipe Organ and Church, by Jesse Ratcliff
The most attention-grabbing object in the church, aside from stained glass windows is the pipe organ. With its commanding appearance and rapturous tone, it’s difficult to ignore. In worship, its primary job is to lead hymns and accompany the choir. The prelude, on the other hand, though not integral to the service, is sometimes the most overlooked role of the organ.
The history of the prelude is extensive, but has always held an important role in regards to worship. In the Baroque era, (1600-1750) Bach utilized the prelude as a means of conveying a chorale/hymn melody to the congregation. He utilized numerous compositional tools to enhance the chorale text.
Easter Vigil is one of the most beautiful services of the church year as we segue from the reflective and somber atmosphere of Lent into the joy of Easter. The choral anthem for this service, Alleluia, composed by Randall Thompson conveys all the emotions of this holy day.
Thompson, born in 1899 and died in 1984, was an American composer who taught at many prestigious schools, including the University of Virginia (1941-1945), whose compositional style is regarded as “distinctly American”. Alleluia was composed in five days with the text being two words: “Alleluia, Amen”-with the latter being sung once at the final chord which spreads the choir into seven parts. This composition was a reaction to the war, especially the fall of France.
Corporate worship lies at the heart of Saint James’ spiritual life, and music plays an important role in almost all of the worship services that we offer. It is the mission of Saint James’ music ministry to aid the congregation in offering up praises to God.
As Episcopalians, we have a musical heritage that is one of the world’s richest and most deeply spiritual. For over 500 years, Anglican church music has sought to tell the Christian faith with authenticity and truth. Our music is an extremely diverse and multi-layered art form that celebrates and encompasses many different traditions. You might be interested, when singing hymns, to read the small print below each one and note the many and varied sources of the poetry and the music.
During the last three years it has been a privilege and a joy to watch and hear the music at Saint James’ develop into a robust extension of our liturgy. The adult choir has grown into a vibrant and supportive group of folks who love each other and love to sing. The Saint James’ Youth Chorale began two years ago with only five members and now has tripled in size, and the choristers have brought home a trophy from an adjudicated event! The fun-loving handbell ringers have adjusted to my direction and are eager to learn more music and ring at more events inside and outside the church. Lastly, as I’ve said before, it is the strong and full-voiced congregational singing that makes our services so special.
In 1982, the late Jeanne Davis compiled personal reminiscences of Saint James’ congregants, mostly elder, as part of a nationwide Episcopal celebration reminding us that our church is a body of people with rich and varied gifts. The following is taken from these recollections found in “Gifts of the Generations” (St. James’ Church, September 1982).
“Many remembrances of personalities center around the organists and choir members. Among the organists was Charlotte Holt, daughter of the Rev. George Washington Nelson, Rector 1880-1903. Also, Dr. Bromley, organist during the early tenure of Mr. Bowden, organized a boys’ choir made up in part of boys from Stuyvesant School.
To the people of Saint James’, I give my sincere thanks for the vestry resolution presented to me and the music program last month. It is an honor to serve as organist and music director at Saint James’. I am most grateful for the hard work and dedication of everyone in the adult choir, handbells, and youth chorale as they lift their talents to God to provide inspiration and encouragement to the member s of Saint James’ and beyond.
This past Sunday, Senior Warden Bill Turnure presented the resolution to Jesse and the music program in gratitude for their exceptional service
Resolution of the Saint James’ Vestry: December 15, 2015
Whereas the choir of Saint James’ Episcopal Church under Music Director Jesse Ratcliffe’s capable and inspired leadership have ascended to new heights musically;
Whereas the choir’s tireless dedication demonstrated by untold hours of rehearsal stands as an icon of committed ministry;
Whereas the liturgical year at Saint James’ Episcopal Church, especially Holy Week, Easter, and Christmas, has been immeasurably enhanced by the choir’s freely and beautifully offered gifts;
Whereas the choir has provided the people of Saint James’ Episcopal Church the opportunity to experience a myriad of worship services from Choral Evensong to a Bluegrass Mass, from Taizé to Morning Prayer, from a Longest Night healing service to a Celtic Eucharist, from an outdoor service at the Cathedral Shrine to a Requiem Mass;
Whereas the Christmas Concert beautifully wove together the considerable gifts of our Junior Chorale, Bell Choir, and Adult Choir;
Whereas many families and friends have been comforted by the remarkable participation of the choir in laying to rest both beloved parish members and relative strangers;
Whereas the music program of Saint James’ Episcopal Church will gracefully lead us in our bicentennial celebrations;
Now therefore, be it resolved that we, the wardens, vestry, and clergy of Saint James’ Episcopal Church, commend with abundant gratitude the faithful ministry of our Choir, and Jesse Ratcliffe, Organist and Music Director.
Be it further resolved that this resolution be presented to Jesse Ratcliffe as representative of the entire Music Ministry, a copy of this resolution published in the Weekly News of Saint James’, and recorded in the minutes of this vestry;
Given under our hands at a regular meeting of the vestry of Saint James’ Episcopal Church, Warrenton, Virginia, the Diocese of Virginia, on December 15th, 2015.