Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Musical Heaven

We had finished supper and the Scrabble game was out. Commonplace in our family. Then I was taken completely by surprise and transported almost it seemed to heaven itself.

We have a record player and have inherited several hundred vinyl records from various sources. From one of these records rose the voices of a choir from St. John’s Cambridge. I enjoy English hymnody, and their music made a pleasant backdrop to the word game in front of us.

“The Lord ascendeth up on high,
The Lord hath triumphed gloriously,
In power and might excelling:
The grave and hell are captive led.
Lo, he returns, our kingly Head,
To his eternal dwelling.”

Trebles and tenors soared in their upper range, while altos and basses provided a quiet underpinning. I sat, the game forgotten and the evening light transformed. Words by A.T. Russell (1806-1874) and melody by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). A bit of research in Wikipedia shows that Russell was an English hymn writer and Praetorius was a musician in the Lutheran church. Such details give no hint of the music that soared around and above me.

“The heavens with joy receive their Lord.
By Saints, by Angel-hosts adored,
O day of exultation;
Glad earth, adore thy might King,
His rising, his ascension sing
With thankful adoration.”

An August evening, but it was Resurrection morning as the voices shook the evening and my world. Angel voices—almost the voices that I imagine sounded in Rivendell and Frodo and his companions first descended into that blessed valley, but singing of a reality greater and more terrible and more wonderful than anything in Middle Earth.

“Our great high priest hath gone before,
On all his church his grace to pour,
And still his love he giveth:
O may our hearts to him ascend,
And all within us upward tend
To him who ever liveth.”

This is a new hymn to me. I know many, but I had never heard this one. Nor did YouTube help: I could not find a recording of it to listen to again, only my old vinyl record. In my own estimation Praetorius’ music outranks Russell’s text. But the combination of both, coming so unexpectedly gave me a gift that evening that cannot be properly described, only experienced. A wonderful gift. A gift of Heaven.

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