By Walter Saul
October 17, 2020
The Third Concert – music by Lavinia Kell Parker, Ian Guthrie and Xavier Bateta
The final concert took place at 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time and brought together some of the larger ensemble works presented during the conference.
Lavinia Kell Parker’s Soli Deo Gloria is several entities in this concert: it is a beautiful opening prayer, an inspiring dedication to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, and a rich, thickly-threaded tapestry that portrays the majestic courts of our most high Lord Who is truly other from us. In Bible study groups in which I have participated, we have often mentioned a “high view” of God as Ruler and Sovereign of the universe, and Parker’s motet underscores this with one of my favorite Psalm verses, Psalm 115:1: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory.” Parker emphasizes the Lord’s majesty by setting the text in Latin. She also adds the signature made famous by Johann Sebastian Bach on his scores (whose birthday was yesterday, according to our modern calendar), Soli Deo Gloria, which also is the title of this work.
While this music is indeed lofty, it is also invitational, with its ingratiating and warm harmonies inspired by Morton Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre. The lovely message here is that we may safely approach the Lord of Lords to worship Him. The motet begins in the rich key of D-flat major and unfolds engaging triads and especially seventh chords. About a minute in, a beautiful F-flat major triad with an added sixth adds a minor hue to the tonality, as if to reflect the suffering and torture that Emmanuel, our God in the flesh, endured for us. This leads into an imitative passage that recalls the Renaissance motets of Orlando di Lasso briefly before showcasing chords with added seconds (such as Gb-Ab-Bb-Db with the added Ab). Then, there’s that marvelous F-flat chord, now with its added second, again. But this time the music moves to the distant keys of A major, E major, and eventually to G major (as far as possible from D-flat major) as the sopranos and then the tenors caress the word gloria with repeated descending thirds.
Here Parker begins a retransition by stepping the tonalities down by whole steps, through F major and then E-flat major enroute back to the original D-flat major. The Mixolydian mode supplies the lowered seventh scale steps that make this a natural progression. In the process she uses quintal chords, created by stacking fifths on each other rather than the normal thirds, such as F-C-G). All this tonal movement, even to the most distant G major, portrays the Lord of glory and His dominion as the universe, not merely one’s favorite locality, which further undergirds the message of Psalm 115:1.
There is a recapitulation of sorts, but the high voices add a rich descant to the simplicity of the opening. Parker knows a gem when she discovers it; that wonderful chord on F-flat makes a third appearance to showcase the coda with its descending third glorias, another Mixolydian modal reference and a plagal cadence (more like an “Amen” to a traditional hymn).
The Mississippi College Singers, directed by Mark Nabholz, perform this work exquisitely well in the beautifully resonant sanctuary of the Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. You may listen to this work here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKNYZOAPeMw. I also was privileged to hear this work live in Provine Chapel, the home chapel of the Mississippi College Singers.
Since this is such a suitable work for Holy Week, let’s enjoy it and focus on its wonderful message. In the next Stanbery Chronicles, we will celebrate the Life and Music of Larry Warkentin.