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When the time comes that we get through this pandemic and can safely resume the beauty of choral music in church, what anthems would you consider for your choir on its first Sunday back in worship?

I heard this first posed by Eric Nelson this summer in the (online) Montreat Conference on Music & Worship. It intrigued me as a question of hope and vision accompanied by a lot of thorny secondary questions following immediately after. Such as: How much time will we have to rehearse? How much breath control and tone will my singers have lost since they last sang regularly?


Like those who dream


The opening words of Psalm 126 come to mind:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced. (v. 1-3, NRSV)

From this distance, it does feel dreamlike. So I posed the question to various directors and colleagues.

Some directors merely shrugged or didn’t answer at all. Perhaps they were preoccupied with the thorny questions. Some listed one anthem or hymn (probably taking the thorns into consideration), others thought by general topic (‘something about singing,’ or ‘on Psalm 23’) — and still others dreamed big and produced a top ten list of favorites. Several anthems appeared more than once.

The variety of thought between a few directors similarly reflects a variety not only of preferences in music, but in the path towards making it.

Here’s the list:

Brunner, David – CANTATE DOMINO. SATB, piano. (© 2002, Boosey & Hawkes)
Butler, Eugene – FESTIVAL PIECE ON ‘ST. ANNE.‘ SATB, organ, opt. brass (4), timp. (© 1976, Belwin Mills)
Courtney, Craig – IF YOU SEARCH WITH ALL YOUR HEART. SATB, keyboard. (© 1994, Beckenhorst)
Cousins, Thomas – GLORIOUS EVERLASTING. SATB, organ. (© 1959, Brodt Music)
Dilworth, Rollo, arr. – GREAT DAY. SATB, (or 2-Part Treble), piano. (© 2000, Hal Leonard)
Faure, Gabriel – CANTIQUE DE JEAN RACINE. SATB, piano. (various editions available)
Ferguson, John, arr. – O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST. SATB, organ, opt. brass (4). (© 1993, GIA)
Fettke, Tom – THE PRAYER WITH ‘LEAD US, O LORD.’ SATB, piano. (© 2008, Jubilate Music)
Forrest, Dan – TO THE LAMB ON THE THRONE. SATB, organ, opt. brass (5) + perc. (© 2015 Beckenhorst)
Forrest, Dan, arr. – O GOD, BEYOND ALL PRAISING. SATB, piano, opt. strings, or brass (6) + perc. (© 2010, Hinshaw)
Gibbs, Stacey, arr. – GREAT DAY. SATB div., a cappella. (© 2014, Hinshaw)
Goodall, Howard – THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD. SATB, keyboard, opt. strings. (© 2000, Faber)
Hagenberg, Elaine – O LOVE. SATB, piano. (© 2016, Beckenhorst)
Halley, Paul – THE RAIN IS OVER AND GONE. SATB, solo, piano, opt. rhythm, bass. (© 1998, Pelagos)
Handel, G.F. – HALLELUJAH. SATB, keyboard (various editions available)
Haydn, F. J. – THE HEAVENS ARE TELLING. SATB, soli, keyboard (various editions available)
Jennings, Kenneth – WITH A VOICE OF SINGING. SATB, a cappella. (© 1964, Augsburg)
Langston, Paul – GOD OF GRACE AND GOD OF GLORY. SATB div., organ. (© 1957, Brodt Music)
Marshall, Jane – MY ETERNAL KING. SATB, organ. (© 1954, C. Fischer)
Miller, Mark A. – I BELIEVE. SATB, piano, opt. strings/harp; or full orchestra. (© 2012, Chorister’s Guild)
Nelson, Eric, arr. – HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING? SATB, a cappella. (© 2002, Augsburg)
Parker, Alice/Shaw, Robert – BRIGHT CANAAN. SATB, a cappella. (© 1961, Lawson-Gould)
Parry, C. HUBERT H. – I WAS GLAD. SATB/SATB, organ. (various editions available)
Pitoni, Giuseppe – CANTATE DOMINO. SATB, a cappella (various editions available)
Ray, Robert – HE NEVER FAILED ME YET. SATB, piano, opt. rhythm, bass. (© 1982, Jenson)
Rutter, John – LOOK AT THE WORLD. SATB/Children’s Choir, keyboard, opt. orch. (© 1996, Oxford)
Shaw, Martin – WITH A VOICE OF SINGING. SATB, organ. (© 1923, G. Schirmer)
Stanford, Charles Villiers – O FOR A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD. SATB, organ. (various editions available)
Stroupe, Z. Randall – COME DWELL IN SOLOMON’S WALLS. SATB, piano, opt. orch., organ, (© 2006, MorningStar)
Thiman, Eric, arr.- IMMORTAL, INVISIBLE, GOD ONLY WISE. SATB, organ. (© 1934, Novello)
Thompson, Randall – ALLELUIA. SATB, a cappella. (© 1968, E. Schirmer)
Wilberg, Mack, arr. – LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING. SATB, keyboard. (© 2002, Oxford)
Wilberg, Mack, arr. – MY SHEPHERD WILL SUPPLY MY NEED. SATB, piano (or harp), flute, oboe. (© 1995 Hinshaw)
Young, Gordon – NOW LET US ALL PRAISE GOD AND SING. SATB, organ. (© 1956, Galaxy)


Come home with shouts of joy


Clearly, the return to song will be a lofty homecoming. Choir-lofty. And glorious. Hold to the dream (the bigger dream). But be assured: it will be different than you think.

Psalm 126 is characterized as a psalm of ascent, sung on Hebrew pilgrimages en route to Jerusalem – perhaps even ascending the temple mount. Its concluding words prayerfully plead (and pledge):

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (v. 4-6, NRSV)

It is noted that no director offered as a suggestion the old and nearly bygone hymn, “Bringing In the Sheaves” — an apt reflection of Psalm 126. Too bad.