The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984 (2002), Tayloe Harding

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The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984 (2002), Tayloe Harding
Year of Composition: 2002     Composed for the ASQ
I. All Saints
II. St. John's
III. St. Matthew's
IV. Holy Comforter
V. St. James'
VI. St. Paul's
VII. Grace and Holy Trinity

Review

Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, March 25, 2002
Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Jan Jezioro

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet concluded its Westminster Presbyterian season Friday evening with a flourish, in a program that included both a world premiere and a special guest, soprano Dora Ohrenstein.

An arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue V, from Book II of Bach's "Well-tempered Clavier," helped establish the tone for the first half of the evening. The well-blended sound was evident in the celebratory opening Prelude, while their stately measured playing of the Fugue dissolved the sense of the present.

"The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984," jointly commissioned from composer Tayloe Harding by the Amherst quartet and two other quartets, was given its world premiere. This substantial, episodic work is based on the composer's impressions and associations of the churches that he visited in the Easter season of his father's death.

"Seven Churches" is an effective composition for the relatively homophonic sound texture of saxophone quartet, composed with enough variety to sustain listener interest for its half-hour-plus length.

The actively contemplative treatment of the medieval hymn in the opening "All Saints" was nicely contrasted by up-tempo "preaching" in "St. John's." A beautifully full, harmonic low range sound was developed in "St. James," while the memory of Robert E. Lee kneeling down to pray with a former slave provided the happy inspiration for "St. Paul's," the most innovatively written movement.

Leila Lustig's "Lament on the Death of Music" is her witty reply to a newspaper article. Soprano Ohrenstein displayed dramatic flair while declaiming the tongue-in-cheek text that worried back, from Stravinsky, to Debussy, to Wagner, to Chopin, to Beethoven, before reversing the loop, with musical fragments from each serving as underpinning.

Ohrenstein answered her final high note in the questioning phrase, "Is music really dead?" with a girlish, little-voiced, "I guess not," quietly proving the composer's point.

The quartet quickly established a restless feeling, punctuated by outbursts, in the instrumental opening Allegro of Calvin Hampton's "The Labyrinth," composed after a poem by Calvin Abreu. The composer makes good use of some counterintuitive effects in the following Andante movement, where Ohrenstein's singing helped illuminate this poem. Her pointed treatment of the text, both a capella and accompanied, always stood out against the instrumental background.

Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in D major from Book II, Johann Sebastian Bach
The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984 (2002), Tayloe Harding
Lament on the Death of Music, Leila Lustig
Labyrinth, Calvin Hampton

Composer Biography

TAYLOE HARDING is the Head of the Department of Music and Associate Professor of Music at Valdosta State University. A composer, Dr. Harding's works have received performances throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. He has received grants from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, Lila Wallace-Readers' Digest Foundation, Philip Morris, Inc.. and a variety of state and local agencies. Dr. Harding and his wife Christine Carere Harding are very proud of their family, including children Marvel, Maddie, Chase, Mimi, and Grace.

Composition Notes

The Seven Churches of Easter, Richmond 1984 (2002) was commissioned by the Amherst, Chicago, and Ancia Saxophone Quartets. The Seven Churches is scored for traditional saxophone quartet and is in seven movements, each dedicated to a different episcopal church in Richmond, VA. The work is inspired by the composer’s visits to each of these seven churches during the seven weeks of the Easter season following the death of his father in 1984. About The Seven Churches the composer writes: “These visits were for the purpose of choosing a home church in that city. As a result, the music in the quartet here these eighteen years later is reflective of both the feelings and experiences I can remember having in each church at that time, and the feelings and observations I have had in the years since in and about each. And, the content of the work is also much inspired by the deep, complex feelings I have about certain persons in my life who have had great spiritual impact on it and whose associations with these places have provided greater meaning to my selection of the churches themselves.”
TAYLOE HARDING
The Seven Churches of Easter Richmond, 1984 (2002) Saxophone Quartet #2
I. All Saints
II. St. John's
III. St. James'
IV. Church of the Holy Comforter
V. St. Matthew's
VI. St. Paul's
VII. Grace and Holy Trinity
Commissioned by: The Amherst, Chicago, and Ancia Saxophone Quartets
Sunday morning, April 22, 1984 was Easter. I woke up that morning intent on celebrating the day by going to church for the first time since moving back to Richmond, VA the previous August. I had just completed eight months of work at my very first job out of graduate school, at Virginia Commonwealth University. But, I already knew Richmond well, as it was my boyhood home where I lived the first 8 years of my life before moving to Florida when my father retired in 1966. Now I was back there in my first job.
I drove to All Saints Episcopal Church on River Rd in the West End that morning, and went to a fine service. I was drawn to it that day for some reason-perhaps because it was where my family of the 1960's called our church home, or maybe it was because my Uncle Charles had baptized me there (though admittedly that had happened at the OLD All Saints, Richmond which was downtown and later torn down after the parish moved out to the suburbs in the early 60's). For whatever reason, All Saints is where I celebrated Easter 1984.
About 24 hrs later, on Monday morning, April 23, 1984, I was awakened by that call a young man with an older father never wants to get-the one where mother forlornly reveals the news of father's surprising and peaceful passing that very morning, in his sleep.
I was close to my dad. In fact, I revered him like no son could revere a father. His loss was devastating to me when it came, though I had prepared myself for many years, mentally, for life without him. Perhaps these feelings were made more acute because he was not ill and had squeezed so much life out of his 82 years, only to see it gone in what appeared to be an instant. In any event, the days and weeks which followed that day have played an important part in every single moment of my life since, and it is now time to express what I felt and feel about them in a way most personal for me-in my music.
I came home to Richmond from dad's interment in his birthplace of Washington, NC that next Saturday resolutely set on finding a spiritual home in Richmond among its amazing collection of beautiful and profound Episcopal churches. I had known of many of them, been in very few of them, but set about to make a plan for which ones I would visit and how I would decide which one to select.
As I thought more deeply, it became clear to me that visiting these churches during the Easter season would allow me to see them at their best, and to really see what the various clergy were like. I had wanted to try every church in the West End, Fan district, downtown area, and near southside, but that accounts for about 15 or so and that would just take too long-I wanted Pentecost to begin with me and my family at home in a parish. So I decided to visit seven different churches, one each on each of the seven Sundays of Easter.
My parents and their families were well connected to Episcopal churches in Richmond. I wanted to make sure that their connections played an important role in my selection of the seven. Besides All Saints, where I went on EASTER 1, there was St. James' in the Fan on Franklin St where my father had first gone upon arriving in Richmond in 1944 and where he had a Sunday school room named for his first wife following her passing. There was St. Matthew's on Patterson at Forest where my parents were married in 1956, and Church of the Holy Comforter on Monument at Staples Mill where my Uncle Charles had been rector in the 1960's.
And there were, of course, the two most historically famous of the Episcopal churches in Richmond: St. John's Church Hill, where Patrick Henry made the speech which included "give me liberty or give me death," and St. Paul's on capitol square where everyone from Jefferson Davis to Robert E. Lee worshipped at one time or another. These had to be on my list, if for no other reason but that they were historic.
Here I had six for sure. But, I was not sure what to do for the seventh. There were many more to choose from: St. Stephen's, St. Mary's, St. Mark's, St. Luke's, St. Michael's, St. Andrew's and numerous others. But, it was the location of Grace and Holy Trinity on the VCU campus where I worked that got me interested in trying it, and I decided it would be the seventh.
As I then set out to decide where to go on Easter 2, I arranged the trips so that I would alternate one of my parent's churches with one of the two famous ones. Then I would anchor them all with Holy Comforter, Uncle Charles' church, in the fourth week and finish with my new interest, Grace and Holy Trinity. So, the next day, I set off for St. John's. And then, in order, St. James', Holy Comforter, St. Matthew's, St. Paul's, and Grace and Holy Trinity. Churches not named after saints then fell into the spots of 1, 4 and 7 while all other Sunday visits would be to saints' churches. A perfect mix of logic and spiritual order, I thought.
This composition for saxophone quartet is a setting of the experiences I remember in each church. The music reflects a multitude of observations about people and buildings, facts about history and structures, and feelings about all of it and life without my dad. And now, it more further reflects my love for my family and the special place my dad, Charles Tayloe Harding, Sr. and my uncle, Charles Powhatan Moncure had when they were in my life as well.
There are a number of hymn and chant references in various movements. These are interwoven with original themes. There is also a great deal of physical wandering required of the saxophonists in the work as well. These wanderings have both a symbolic significance and also represent characters of some of the churches.

The Seven Churches of Easter Richmond, 1984 (2002)
I. All Saints
An imposing contemporary dark red brick building amongst a forest of trees on a hill overlooking the James River, All Saints is a special place. It is the only one of the seven churches where I actually had memories from my earliest days. It is as impressive now as it was in the 1960's and just as it probably was in its earlier life, on Franklin Street in downtown Richmond. The parish goes back to the 19th century and attracted a great deal of attention from west Richmonders of the age who felt St. Paul's was too far away. My dear Uncle Charles, whose life and memory are also emblazoned in this work, began singing in the boy choir of the OLD All Saints in the 1930's.
A meandering setting of a 14th century hymn tune captures my impression of All Saints.

II. St. John's
St. John's is the first of the regal 18th century Episcopal churches in Richmond. Made entirely of frame, this unimposing structure dating from 1741 sits a top Church Hill, named after it, where scores of east Richmonders came on Sundays in the city's early days. A place of worship has probably sat atop this hill since 1611 when the land was first deeded to Virginia. It was also the site of many colonial gatherings of political and social conscience, further illuminating the fact that it may have had more in common with the fine churches of Boston's North End than it does with the brick and stone giants of near-west Richmond.
St. John's sports its own graveyard, a fact that is not unique to Richmond churches, but is unique to the ones I visited that Easter season. Another unique interior feature: a number of the old family-style walled-pews with wooden gates dot the historic cross-shaped nave.
The music here is designed to celebrate, in some small way, the great social awareness and diversity of this noble place and its neighborhood through the centuries. A selected saxophone-celebrant "preaches" to the others throughout.

III. St. James'
St. James sits under some of the most grand of shady oak trees in all of Richmond on Franklin Street just northwest of the VCU campus. Surrounded on all sides by tight apartment buildings and row houses like Wrigley Field in Chicago, St. James holds a unique place in my heart. Other than attending the occasional really fine chamber music concert, I had no real connection to St. James before Easter 1984. In fact, it was only after dad died that I learned that this was where he called his church home from the time he arrived in Richmond during WWII until just after the death of his first wife. And, I further learned from our family bible that dad had, at some point in time, given money to the church to build and/or renovate a Sunday school room in the name of his first wife, Maude Meekins Harding. By the time I learned of the Sunday school rooms, the church was undergoing another renovation and the room plaques that our family bible mentioned were not to be found amid the construction. My recent trip back confirmed the location of a Sunday school room exhibiting this plaque to Maude Meekins Hardng.
St. James' features a steeple that is among the highest in town. Sticking up above the oaks, it is clearly visible up Monument Avenue for a mile or two.
This movement features my father's favorite hymn "The Church's One Foundation" to the tune Aurelia . It is placed in literal and fantasy-like settings, and is structured so that duos predominate.

IV. Church of the Holy Comforter
When I made the decision to attend Holy Comforter on the fourth Sunday, I only knew that it was Uncle Charles' church years before-a place he loved and that loved him in the years before his priestly calling took him into caring for the aged in Northern Virginia. In 1984 Charles had been gone from Holy Comforter for nearly 20 years. But I still held in my family picture albums photographs of my various cousins and aunts and uncles taken after a long-ago church service we all visited amongst the pines of the Holy Comforter grounds when Charles was rector there. And, in the next few years after my visit there on Easter 4, 1984 I would become dear friends with a number of Holy Comforter parishioners. In fact, it was for the baptismal service of a child of one of these friends that I wrote and organized music as a guest in 1987.
During my Easter visit there, I was struck by how impressive the structure was-I had not remembered it being so inspiring with its great stone interiors and delightful narthex, with beautiful wood carvings separating it from the nave instead of walls.
Uncle Charles' church plays an anchoring role in this work not only because of his love for me and his ties to my faith, but also because of his untimely and tragic death in February 2000. Charles' position in my spiritual life was as irrepressible as was his own spirit and love for life. He was, in all ways, an extraordinary man whose place in our Lord's eternal kingdom has been marked by a grace to which we all can only aspire.
To commemorate Charles Powhatan Moncure's glowing and tolerant personality, a juxtaposition of fanfare and lyrical tune settings are expressed.

V. St. Matthew's
I can honestly say that the one and only time I had ever been in the humble confines of St. Matthew's before a 2001 visit to renew my impressions was on the fifth Sunday of Easter, 1984. My only connection to this place, besides having to drive by it on the way to All Saints and to follow many of my daily habits at the time, was my parents being married there.
The old sanctuary is now the parish's chapel, and is simply adorned with large wooden cross beams in the ancient style. This is the building where my parents were married. The newer church has a lovely open chancel, unusual to the typical traditional Episcopal Church.
A chorale is utilized to present the spiritual nature of my parent's wedding and the joy brought to my whole family as a result of this event.

VI. St. Paul's
At St. Paul's in the late 1870's it is said that a white-haired, weather-beaten old man stepped forward when no one else would and said "Yes, I will kneel beside this Negro and take the Eucharist with him in this community as my brother in God" This man was just the latest in a long line of national heroes and statesmen to grace this regal house of worship on Richmond's capitol square. His name was Robert E. Lee.
My visit to St. Paul's was like any and all visits there by everyone: I was struck in awe by its grand balconies on either side, the ageless wood of the floors and of the trim, the way the voices of clergy and choir and congregation echo in its majesty. St. Paul's windows and light are enormous and powerful-there is an overwhelming feeling of being awakened and revealed when within its walls.
Lee's famous act, as paraphrased above, serves as the inspiration for a spiritual, presented in a unique fashion and arrayed with all sorts of technical flourishes.

VII. Grace and Holy Trinity
It was but minutes into the service of my seventh and final 1984 Easter church visit that I decided where our church home would be-the grand stone structure sandwiched between even grander Richmond landmarks, the MOSQUE and the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart-Grace and Holy Trinity Church. At first, I observed that the church appeared rather ordinary. Only St. Matthew's, it seemed, was more simple in decoration and accommodation. Though beautiful on the inside and itself historic dating back into the 19th century, the church lacked something the others had that had helped me gain an image of each: a good straight-on full view. Grace and Holy Trinity faces Monroe Park, and lies but 50 or so feet from its border. It is not possible to get a panoramic perspective of the structure from a car on Laurel Street between its front and the park, or even from standing in the park for the enormity of its trees.
Though it sits in what a closer and more thoroughly examined view will reveal is a glorious edifice, Grace and Holy Trinity's greatest beauty lies within and with its people and its liturgy. I witnessed no experience quite like it during that Easter season, or any season in any year since, for that matter. The clergy, the music, the fellowship, the pace, there was simply no match for it, to my tastes, anywhere else I went. I fell in love with everything about this place as one is supposed to fall in love with the house of God. And though it was 17 miles from my house, it was only walking distance from my office. I spent many a noon hour in a communion service at G&HT where the Eucharist was celebrated, often, just for me and the celebrant. And as to the distance from home on Sundays, the priest once said to me "If you must get in a car to drive to church, you might as well drive to a good one!" Truer words have not been spoken.
I was confirmed by a former Archbishop of Canterbury in this Church in 1985, and have longed to get back to such an experience there again many times since. It is more than fitting that this composition finish with a movement in honor to the glory and grace of this magnificent place among places.
Any musical composition which aims to recognize the power of Easter and its message of renewal and absolution, should probably note the command that "Christ His Lord is Risen Today" holds for this celebration. This greatest of all the great Easter hymns is set here in a combination of literal and toccata-like settings.