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Jeremy Filsell directs the Choir of the Church of the Epiphany, Washington DC, Plays the Organ & Carillon
with Washington Symphonic Brass
Stellar Review in AAM Journal - [OAR-966]

The Choir of The Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D. C., Jeremy Filsell, Music Director and Organist
with the Washington Symphonic Brass and the Tower Bells

Writes Marjorie Johnston in The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, December 2015

This recording honors the rich musical history of Washington, D.C.'s Gothic Revival landmark, the Church of the Epiphany, with a program of works connecting former music directors or pieces associated with the Feast of the Epiphany. The parish was the first in the capital city to assemble a mixed, vested choir in 1893, and has continued to give strong support to its music ministry. The current director of music, Jeremy Filsell, has been on staff since 2012 and works wonders with the rather small choir of section leaders and a majority of volunteers. Organ enthusiasts are well acquainted with the Aeolian-Skinner that has resided there since 1911; it has recently undergone the initial phase of a restoration project. . . . (review continues at the bottom of the page)

Epiphany Tower Bells:
Brightest and best are the sons of the morning

Epiphany Hymn

John Weaver: Epiphany Alleluias

Skinner Chavez-Mélo: Epiphany

Jeremy Filsell b. 1964:
Gloria from Missa Epiphaniensis

William Bradley Roberts b. 1947: I saw a stranger

Martin Luther: Hymn: Ein Feste Burg arr. Eric Plutz

Kenneth Leighton: The World’s Desire (An Epiphany Sequence)

Now when Herod

Bright Babe

The Christ Child

Behold, I send my messenger

William Averitt: We Are Held with Saxophone

Charles Callahan: Fanfares & Riffs (organ solo) 

Leo Sowerby: Now there lightens upon us 

C. H. H. Parry: O Love of God arr. Michael McCarthy

James Buonemani: Vis Aeternitatis
Garnell Copeland: the wonder of God’s creation arr. Jeremy Filsell

Music from the Church of the Epiphany

This recording provides a snapshot of the musical life of the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington DC. It is a representation of its liturgical context as well as its historical, for all the music here has a relationship with the Church, either through the composers being former Music Directors, or by association with the church’s feast of title. The Choir at Epiphany is today a mixture of volunteers and professionals where professional section leaders augment 13 or 14 volunteers. The church’s musical tradition has been nurtured for many years by musicians who have brought their artistic and innovative ideas to a church continually morph­ing into a variety of guises— not untypical of any urban, downtown ecclesiastical insti­tution.

Music on this Recording

The centrepiece of this program is The World’s Desire (subtitled An Epiphany Sequence) by Kenneth Leighton, a remarkable sequence of motets, recitative and hymns. Commissioned in 1984 for Stephen Wilkinson and the BBC Northern Singers in the UK, the texts are drawn from the Bible, the poetry by G. K. Chesterton and Richard Crashaw, and the Russian Orthodox liturgy. What emerges through the familiarity of the well-known story is an impression of – musically – the crucifixion, Christ’s destiny, lurking uncomfortably in the background (cross-reference here to the words of Edgar Romig’s Epiphany hymn seems apt). The profundity of Leighton’s creative intensity is hard to underestimate, yet he was an agnostic who was commissioned by and wrote extensively for the Anglican Church. His music never seems to suggest the often comforting fait accompli nature of certain other liturgical music and his expression of religious ‘truths’ seems almost a hard-won process; by turns mellow and beautiful, and then hard-edged and confrontational. This musical sequence is divided into two parts with all the music imbued with motifs from the hymn tune Was lebet, was schwebet (Hymn 42 of The English Hymnal), set to Bishop Heber’s words Brightest and best of the sons of the morning. The centerpiece is formed by two exquisite carol settings, firstly of Crashaw’s Bright babe, whose awful beauties make/the morn incur a sweet mistake, and then secondly of the a cappella carol The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap. Whilst both these ‘motets’ are tender and expressive, the anguish of Christ’s distant fate is encapsulated too. Nonetheless, towards the conclusion, the choral fanfare Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven, seems to affirm a sense of exultation translated into the jubilant rendition of the hymn at the end.

John Weaver retired at the end of May 2005, after 35 years as Director of Music and Organist at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. During his tenure, he was also successively Head of the Organ Department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1972-2003) and the Juilliard School in New York (1987-2004). His vital, fanfare-like setting of the Epiphany Alleluias (texts from Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew) is familiar fare at feast of title time at the Church of the Epiphany.

Skinner Chavez-Mélo was an organist, conductor and composer and Music Director at the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan. Dying of cancer aged only 47, he was Mexican-born but US-trained, writing works for organ, choir and orchestra and contributing hymn settings to several published hymnals. Epiphany is a solo setting (1987) of a poem by David Pogue for voice, hand bells and organ, commissioned by Larry King and Trinity Church Parish, Wall Street, New York, for the Feast of Lights in January 1987. The music’s ethereal effect expresses the wonder of the Christmas story, its implication for humankind and the responses the incarnation should perhaps invoke in us individually.

Jeremy Filsell’s Missa Epiphaniensis dates from 2013 and was written in response to the Rector’s challenge to write something championing two groups of singers: the choir and congregation. The ’82 Hymnal is a marvellous collection of worship material, but is not profligate with congregational Mass settings. Moreover, it seems appropriate that Music Directors should write music for their choirs and congregations (for did not Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina and Bruckner do exactly this?), since the abilities and even idiosyncrasies of individual worshipping communities can be attuned musically by an incumbent who knows them well. Here then, the choir is given the lion’s share in the Gloria with the congregation joining in the repeated response of the opening invocation.

William Bradley Roberts is currently Professor of Church Music at the Virginia Theological Seminary and Director of Chapel Music. Ordained originally in the Baptist Church, before coming to Virginia Seminary he was an Episcopal Church musician for thirty-three years; latterly at St. John’s, Lafayette Square, Washington DC, and formerly in Tucson, Arizona; Newport Beach, California; Louisville, Kentucky; and Houston, Texas. His music is published by Augsburg-Fortress, G.I.A., Hope, Paraclete, St. James Music Press, and Selah. I saw a stranger (2005) takes its delicate and touching text from an ancient Gaelic rune, a poetic interpretation of the phrase, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2 KJV). The music is dedicated Ellen G. Johnston, the Director of the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy for 25 years and now the Coordinating Consultant for the Center for Liturgy and Music at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Eric Plutz was Epiphany’s Director of Music 1995-2004 before his appointment as University Organist at Princeton. By his own admission not a composer, he nonetheless adorned many liturgies on high and holy days at Epiphany with impressive Brass and organ arrangements of hymns. Thus it was that Gillian Shinkman, widow of the dedicatee of this disc, commissioned from Eric a Brass, percussion, organ and choir arrangement of Ein Feste Burg, to be performed at a service in memory of former choir member Bernard F. Shinkman III. For logistical reasons, this never occurred and so, the performance here on disc represents the premiere of this hymn arrangement. Grand, noble and spacious in the outer verses, Eric appropriately reverted to Luther’s original and somewhat quirky rhythmic setting of the tune in the second verse.

William Averitt is Professor Emeritus of Shenandoah Conservatory and the composer of works which have received performances throughout the United States, in Western Europe, Russia, and in Asia. We Are Held was commissioned by the Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Guild of Organists and was premiered at their 2013 conference by the conference chorus, flutist Frances Lapp Averitt and organist Jeremy Filsell, conducted by the composer. The text is by the choral conductor and poet Robert Bode. For the performance on this disc, the composer generously adapted the original flute score for alto saxophone. Irvin Peterson is a longtime and much-valued member of Epiphany’s musical ministry as a singer, organist, conductor and indeed, wind player. For thirty years, he played in ‘The President’s Own’, the Marine band established by an Act of Congress in 1798 to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. It is only appropriate that we should feature his playing on this disc.

Composer, organist, pianist, and teacher Charles Callahan was Director of Music at the Church of the Epiphany 1977-1986. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and The Catholic University of America, his notable compositions include commissions from Harvard University and the Archdioceses of St. Louis and New York for Papal visits. Callahan is a frequent consultant on the design of new organs and his two volumes on American organ building history, The American Classic Organ and Aeolian-Skinner Remembered, have become standard reference works. Fanfares & Riffs, based on a series of alternating short, rhythmic motifs, dates from 2005 and was a commission from the Central Hudson valley chapter of the AGO.

Leo Sowerby was indelibly linked, if not to Epiphany specifically, then to Washington DC where he headed the short-lived College of Church Musicians at the National Cathedral from 1961 until his death in 1968. Previously Organist & Choirmaster at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago for many years and during his tenure, it was consecrated a cathedral (1955). Sowerby’s seduc­tive Epiphany- tide setting of the George Craig Stewart (Bishop of Chicago 1930-40) text, Now there light­ens upon us, is sung virtually each year at the Church of the Epiphany.

The potent text of O Love of God by Horatius Bonar (1861) is linked here with C. H. H. Parry’s great tune – one originally associated with William Blake’s famous poem Jerusalem. Michael McCarthy is Director of Music at Washington Nation­al Cathedral and arranged this affecting music for performance at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004.

James Buonemani was Director of Music at Epiphany 1987-1995 and since moving west, has expanded and enriched the impressive music program at St. James, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. Vis Aeternitatis was written for the choir of St. James in 2006 and dedicated to the Rector of the church, the Rev. Paul J. Kowalewski and his wife, Karen. The powerful poem on the subject of creation, Adam and the Word made flesh is by Hildegard of Bingen, and the form and style of the piece emanates from this vivid text: mysterious drones, hypnotic repetitive sequences and toccata-like cascades punctuate this music’s captivating textures.

Garnell Copeland was one of Leo Sowerby’s students and became Organist of Epiphany in 1968. A career as a performer may have beckoned, yet in his 33rd year, he was murdered outside his apartment by opportunist thieves – on Epiphany Sunday 1977. His untimely death robbed him of the opportunity of perhaps becoming a force within his musical world. He recorded in the mid-seventies, one LP at Epiphany – notably of the Julius Reubke Sonata and music by his former teacher, Sowerby, in which his unique and perhaps eccentric playing (verging sometimes on caricature) is exhibited. Despite this, there is undoubtedly a compulsion, energy and drama in his playing that draws the listener’s ear. If it dwells on the fast and fur­ious, perhaps at the expense of something more honourable and respectful of a com­poser’s score, the technical aplomb and musical audacity is beyond question. Reputedly, he lived as he played; one whose light shone brightly during the short time allotted to him.

Copeland became a good friend of the then Rector Edgar V. Romig (1922- 2006, Rector at Epiphany 1964-1992), and seemingly the only extant choral offering is a collaboration between these two great servants of Epiphany. Romig’s hymn text, Sing the wonder of God’s creation relates the marvels of the world’s foundation and the offering of praise for the gift of God’s incarnate love. It was set to music by Copeland in 1968, and the first line of the tune appears in the ‘musician’s window’, a stained glass piece set high in the church’s western clerestory. It seems fitting that we should end this disc with Copeland’s tune, Epiphany Hymn, heard on Epiphany’s bells.

More About The Church of the Epiphany, Its Organ, and Its Carillon

The Church of the Epiphany on G Street NW in Washington DC was founded in 1842, a handful of blocks from the White House. The new church building was consecrated in 1852 and within six years, the congregation had established the Epiphany Church home to help the poor and sick, a social ministry that still exists today. Soon enough, the American Civil War split the congregation. Senator Jefferson Davis rented pew no. 14, and three of his children were confirmed at the church, but after secession, when Davis moved to Richmond, Virginia, and became the Confederacy’s President, the pew was rented by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. On March 6, 1862, President Abra­ham Lincoln attended the funeral of General Frederick Lander at the church. In the Spring of 1893, Epiphany’s choir became the first mixed vested choir in the city and music has since remained one of the church’s primary ministries. Today, Epiphany, only half a block from Metro Center on the red, blue, and orange lines, provides a spiritual focus for all people representative of the Washington metropolitan community. Diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, age, theology, ability, politics, and socio- economic status, Epiphany welcomes all who seek a place of acceptance, affirmation and inspiration. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Epiphany’s Tuesday Concert Series is a 52-weeks-a-year outreach program to the people of downtown Washington, presenting largely national but often international artists in concert every Tuesday lunchtime. Musicians have always sought out Epiphany’s fine acoustics and exceptional musical instruments, and a strong, appreciative and largely sophisticated audience enjoys a great variety of music week by week.

Epiphany’s organ has had a chequered history since the early twentieth century years. Ernest M. Skinner built an instrument in 1911, incorporating pipes from the former Hook and Roosevelt instruments. The current organ was built by the Aeolian-Skinner Co. in 1968 in memory of Adolf Torovsky (Organist 1919- 1967). Originally of 50 ranks and 2,761 pipes, with additions over the last 40 years, the instrument now comprises 64 ranks and nearly 3,500 pipes. Pipework existing from the previous organs includes the 8’ Bourdon in the Swell (1874 Hook) and the 8’ Spitzflöte (1911 E. M. Skinner). Also from the 1911 E. M. Skinner are the twelve lowest wooden pipes of the Ophicleide in the Solo. The Tuba, French Horn and English Horn were originally part of a large E. M. Skinner organ built for the Beacon Hill residence of the late Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Farnham Greene, an instrument often played by Virgil Fox on his visits to Boston. In a Washington Star review of the 1968 dedicatory recital, critic Lawrence Sears suggested that “Musical pilgrims to Washington will now want to include a visit to Epiphany Church on downtown G Street to see and hear its stunning Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.” A recent restoration by the Di Gennaro-Hart Organ Company included much needed repair and re-leathering. This work formed the first phase of a longer-term plan which will hopefully, as funds allow, further refine the instrument and renew its console.

Epiphany’s 15-bell carillon, high up in the tower, was given in 1923 in memory of The Rev. Randolph Harrison McKim (1842-1920), Rector of the parish for 30 years at the turn of the 20th century. The bells are literally the church’s crowning glory. They are heard from blocks around every quarter hour and then each day at noon, for ten minutes, playing seasonally appropriate hymn tunes. Cast by the Meneely Bell Foundry of Watervliet, New York, they consist of 78% copper and 22% tin and are strikingly melodic. Whilst they are operated electrically or via the organ console today, the original carillon machine still resides in the tower, sadly inoperable since the 1950s. Uniquely, it was built at the request of the organist, Torovsky, by Ernest Skinner in 1923. Skinner provided an organ-inspired solution to the mechanistic needs of the carillon’s operation one level beneath the bells. Thus there resides a console with each of its 15 keys being connected to a valve which, when a key was played, activated a pneumatic motor. The pneumatic motor originally activated the bell clapper. The machine itself is an impressive piece of engineering and sad it is that today, it only serves to collect dust and cobwebs. On this disc, it seems appropriate that we should hear the bells offering two tunes heard within the musical program: the melody, Was lebet, Was schwebet, used by Kenneth Leighton as the thematic thread running through his Epiphany sequence The World’s Desire and then Garnell Copeland’s ebullient Epiphany hymn.

Today, Epiphany’s sanctuary is a vibrant, light space, with a central platform enabling adaptation for differing liturgical and musical function. The church’s acoustics are second-to-none (a happy accident), good for the spoken word and for choral offering, but arguably perfect for chamber and piano music, the staple diet of the weekly Tuesday Concert Series.

Writes Marjorie Johnston in The AAM Journal, December 2015

This recording honors the rich musical history of Washington, D.C.'s Gothic Revival landmark, the Church of the Epiphany, with a program of works connecting former music directors or pieces associated with the Feast of the Epiphany. The parish was the first in the capital city to assemble a mixed, vested choir in 1893, and has continued to give strong support to its music ministry. The current director of music, Jeremy Filsell, has been on staff since 2012 and works wonders with the rather small choir of section leaders and a majority of volunteers. Organ enthusiasts are well acquainted with the Aeolian-Skinner that has resided there since 1911; it has recently undergone the initial phase of a restoration project.

  The disc presents a solid collection of Epiphany anthems to add to one's “to consider” library. John Weaver's Epiphany Alleluias was the only piece I knew well. Michael McCarthy, director of music at Washington National Cathedral, has written a very respectful setting of C.H.H. Parry's Jerusalem with the text “O love of God,” that was sung at the funeral for President Ronald Reagan in 2004. Another treasured discovery is the text “We Are Held” by poet and musician Robert Bode, set by William Averitt. A flute part is interwoven with the organ accompaniment, adapted here for a first-rate alto saxophonist, and it is integral to the anthem's appeal.

It would require very careful consideration to program the centerpiece of the recording, Kenneth Leighton's The World 's Desire, described as a remarkable sequence of motets, recitative, and hymns. The liner notes state that Leighton's “expression of religious ‘truths’ seems almost a hard-won process; by turns mellow and beautiful, and then hard-edged and confrontational.” Nicely put. Those who tend to like Leighton's music will most likely be drawn to this; I liked it very much and was enchanted by the haunting music crafted for “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning.”

     My favorite piece on the disc is Garnell Copland's Sing the Wonder of God’s Creation. lt's a jubilant and bright strophic anthem—accompanied by organ, brass, and timpani—each of whose four stanzas ends with “Offer to our God above joyful thanks for his great love!" Dr. Filsell reports that the work is unpublished but suggests that the hymn itself would he a solid addition to a Hymnal 1982 revision or supplement. Mr. Copland served as musician at Church of the Epiphany from 1968 until he was stabbed to death on January 6—ironically, the Feast of the Epiphany—in 1977 at the age of 34. The hymn text was written by his friend and the Church of the Epiphany's rector at the time, the Rev'd Edgar V. Romig, who described Copland as “a highly vivacious, colorful, lovable person—a personality as well as a musician.”

            In spite of how much I like this recording, I do concede that it has a bit of a local feel to it, partly for the reasons given above but also because this is not a perfectly in-tune, straight-toned choir of 25 to 35 year old singers. It sounds like a normal church choir dominated by amateur singers of varying ages and abilities who happen to be immaculately prepared. The choir's diction and attention to dynamics sound polished and cared for. It's a great reminder that this is what we do as church musicians... we do our best to take people beyond their capabilities in order to make a spiritual connection. To that end, the Church of the Epiphany's web site supplies us with a lovely quotation from Aldous Huxley (1894-1963): “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." l believe that Dr. Filsell, his choir, and the Washington Symphonic Brass embody that sentiment quite successfully on this recording.

Epiphany<BR>Jeremy Filsell directs the Choir of the Church of the Epiphany, Washington DC, Plays the Organ & Carillon<BR>with Washington Symphonic Brass<BR><Font Color=red>Stellar Review in <I>AAM Journal</I></font>
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