An Autumn Marathon - 2022

Sussex Harmony’s Autumn Marathon

There can’t be many West Gallery quires that would accept invitations to organise and perform in two workshops and three services within the space of eight days.  The Gold Medal has to go to our indefatigable music director and oboist, Rachel Jordan who arranged the music and orders of service to be printed as well as getting her regular quire members and a motley selection of visiting singers and musicians up to scratch.

We started with a workshop leading to a service of Evening Prayer in Catsfield, a village situated in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that was first mentioned in the Domesday Book.  Rachel welcomed our visitors from the parish choir of St Laurence and Bexhill Methodist Church plus instrumentalists bearing a trombone, fiddle and clarinet.  After a busy afternoon, fortified by a slap-up tea, we progressed up the unlit lane to the medieval church.  Crammed into the chancel, the opening voluntary was a setting of Psalm 134 to Sternhold and Hopkins’ words with music by Samuel Wakely 1820 – c1882.  The Lord’s Prayer was sung to Pulborough, a tune by Sussex composer Nathaniel Cooke who gave many of his tunes local names. A fuguing Psalm 135, originally set to Psalm 133, by Thomas Clark was followed by The Magnificat (Tate and Brady) to Richmond which had been adapted by Samuel Webbe 1770 -1843 from an earlier version by Thomas Haweis.  We stuck to Tate and Brady for The Nunc Dimittis to the tune of Cambridge by John Randall which was very appropriately found in the Catsfield Manuscripts. Collected by Canon Kenneth MacDermott at the beginning of the 20th century, nine manuscript books thought to have been used by the choir are lodged with the Sussex Archaeological Society and they provide us with rich source of psalms, anthems and hymns.[1]  Our anthem was Henry Tolhurst’s Jubilate, Diadem and Lyngham provided the tunes for the congregational hymns and we finished with Rachel’s arrangement of John Ellerton’s Grant us thy Peace to William Seal’s (c1790) rip- roaring tune which is usually sung to Shepherds Rejoice.

There was a break of six days before we provided music for a short service of an anthem and harvest hymns to precede Dancing in The Old. This is a Lewes tradition to celebrate the year’s first brew of local brewery Harvey’s award-winning old ale. The church is bedecked with hops and bags of malt, as is befitting for a church dedicated to the Patron Saint of Brewers, St Thomas. As the brewery call the tune, the hymns are the usual harvest ones of We plough the fields and scatter and All things bright and beautiful, but we were able to provide a fair share of West Gallery music too.  Our introit was Elisha West’s (1756 – 1832) With songs and honours sounding loud to Psalm 147 with words by Isaac Watts, and we top and tailed the service as the congregation assembled and left with various favourites such as Pentonville. Then it was off to the nearby brewery yard with hundreds of Lewes folk to sample the free ale and watch several Morris sides dance.  A joyous occasion.

The next day, we travelled to Hailsham.  Once a charming market town on the railway, at least it’s church still provides a focal point across the Pevensey levels, and we know that in the early 1800’s the music was supplied by a playing choir of violins, oboes and bassoons. About 10 local singers and musician, including the peripatetic trombonist from Catsfield, joined us in a workshop leading to a harvest thanksgiving themed Evening Prayer.  In good company with other composers such as JS Bach who was obliged to produce a cantata weekly as well as anthems for high days and holidays, we did a little re-processing too. Both The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were as performed at Catsfield, Psalm 65 was set to Pentonville but our introit, Sound, sound your instrument with joy was different as were the settings of The Lord’s Prayer (Tate and Brady to a tune by William Tans’ur), the hymn Fair waved the golden corn to Cranbrook plus a couple of standard harvest hymns chosen by the church’s Music Director who played his recorder throughout.

Now it’s a short break before we start practising carols for at least four services in December.  There is never a dull moment or one of rest for Sussex Harmony.

Paula Nicholson