Tag Archives: choral music

Idyllic St. John’s on the Rappahannock

-by Elaine@hymnserve.com   card00558_fr

It was January, cold and even snowy in Virginia.

The phone call was from the Rector, Dr. Bailey.  They  needed help with the music on a Sunday and were going down the American Guild of Organists list of possible substitutes where my name was listed.  They were located in the town of Tappahannock, about an 60 miles or so from Richmond on the Rappahannock River.  Also, the Bishop was to visit them which made it doubly difficult with no organist.  It captured my attention and stirred my compassion.  I agreed literally to go the extra mile.

Rather than travel so much in bad weather, we decided that I would go on Saturday afternoon, work with the choir, and stay the night in the parish house.   Little did I know what a memorable experience it would be.

I gathered music and an overnight bag and headed out Saturday afternoon on Highway 360.    It was a pleasant drive, but the approach to the little town kind of took my breath away.  As I took the bridge across the River, I could see the lovely church on the other side, traditional vertical siding of English Gothic style of the most picturesque of the Episcopal churches.  I drove up and went inside the church, and met the Rector, an older, dignified, man.  He introduced me to the choir, a small and faithful group ready to do whatever I said.  They were so o o o thankful that I came, and it made my time with them the most pleasant.

After a good workout and planning with the choir, I got familiar with the organ and practiced awhile until was time to go next door to the parish house.  It was cold outside, but they had a blazing fire going in the fireplace.  Mrs. Bailey was preparing supper.  She was like a lovely storybook character with her British accent, full of kindness, the lines in her face where smiles had occurred.  They both welcomed me to their cozy little house.    Then the Rector asked if I would like some sherry before the meal.   How unusual, I thought, that the minister would offer an alcoholic drink.  This all has to do with the way I was raised.  But I knew this was part of their best hospitality they were offering me, so we shared a glass of wine and had an easy conversation about things that we had in common.  When it was time to eat, we gathered around the fire and ate on folding trays, and the soup was delicious.  Everything about it was delightful and homey and surpassed my expectations.

When I went upstairs to the tiny comfortable room prepared for me, they had one last surprise.  Almost unnoticed, on the shelves full of interesting  books, was a miniature vase with little white flowers in it.  I touched them and they were real and this was January.  Later, Mrs. Bailey gave me the story.  They are snowdrops.  And they will come up through the snow!  They grow in the parish yard and around the big tree out there.

Everything went well the next day.  The Bishop was there, music was lovely, and everyone happy about the day, and no one would have known the challenge that preceded it.   How glad I was that I said yes!

A Hymn to Help

After that I became a somewhat permanent substitute.  They called again when they had a special challenge at the time of the Easter season.  That was when I learned more of the beautiful hymns from the Episcopal tradition that they loved.  I began to love them too.   Most memorable for me is the hymn  “I Bind Unto Myself Today,”  a hymn about getting close to our God.  I love the idea of binding myself closely together with the strong Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   There is a departure from the song toward the end which goes into another melody in a major key.  In it, I recognized Grandma Clark’s words as she used to pray for us.  She must have known this hymn from her earlier days, because she would pray protection over us asking that God be over us, under us, all around us, just like the words here.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 Here is a nice rendition of this hymn by the Corpus Christi Male Chorale.



St. John’s Episcopal Church in the town of Tappahannock is located in the heart of historic Tidewater area. Situated on the south side of the Rappahannock River, it was built in 1849 and is the only purely Gothic Revival structure in the County.


Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com.  Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniments for congregations, small groups and individuals.


My Catholic Experience

-by Elaine@hymnserve.com   hs-home-01

It was a venerable neighborhood Catholic church in Wichita and my first paid organ position after finishing college.  

For a person raised in the evangelical tradition, it was very much a new experience.  In my growing up years, we gave wide berth to anything Catholic.  There was a loud bell like the recess bell at school that would sound out and give me a start, signaling when the bread and wine was actually turning into the blood and body of Jesus.  The young director would roll his eyes when the priest was singing knowing how impossible it was for the choir to get the correct pitch from his singing and continue on through the liturgy.  There was a big drape hiding the statue of Jesus at the front during Lent, so that on Easter Morning it would be triumphantly removed.  This had to be good for the children to help dramatize our Lord’s resurrection, I thought.

Every Sunday the Latin was sung and the same words were used.  They would ask for mercy from God….  Kyrie eleison, (Lord have mercy), Christe eleison, (Christ have mercy). I had studied the parts of the Mass, the Kyrie, the Gloria, and all.   Even as the statues in the darkened church when no one else was around felt a bit spooky to me, neither had we put that much emphasis on asking for mercy from God in my growing up years.   However, this time at the Catholic church was to add an important dimension to my life experience.

The congregation was in the throes of transition at that time, changing from Latin to English for the Mass and learning new music…hymns.    The young choir director would rush downstairs on Sunday mornings before Mass began and lead the congregation in the hymn they would be singing that day.  They never sang hymns before…that was a Protestant thing.   The favorite new hymn and best standby for the congregation was Holy, Holy, Holy.  They sang it often.

Since I was invited to join them downstairs for weekly coffee after Mass, I began to know the people more personally.  I observed what a struggle it was to make this transition, especially one dear gray-haired woman.  I felt a lot of compassion for them, and was very sympathetic with their decision to move toward the opposite spectrum of Christianity for the sake of more unity among us.  After all, if the early Christians had not written down the scriptures by hand at candlelight, preserved them, and kept the faith alive, I, myself, would never have known the story of Jesus.

One Sunday morning, the choir was singing one of their a capella parts of the Mass.  I was sitting over at the side there in the balcony.  As I listened to their singing, I felt something familiar in this unfamiliar surrounding.  The warmth of God’s Spirit just settled down right there all around me.  This was a big surprise to me.   I never expected to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit here in this place.  

So this was a big lesson for me.  God’s Spirit can flow here as I listen to the music of the liturgy.  This was the beginning of my peeking around the huge wall that I thought separated me from other denominations, only to find that there wasn’t a wall there at all.  God’s Spirit lights in many places, at the mall, driving in a car, anywhere.  It flies away just as easily, like a gentle dove.  It won’t stay where there is discord in the heart, preferring love, peace, joy, all those fruits of the Spirit.

After the Catholic Church, I went on to work in the Baptist, Methodist, Congregational Christian (Disciples of Christ), Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Christian Science, and others I may have left out.   It has all been to my benefit, for I know now that there are wonderful Christians implanted everywhere.  They are like yeast in bread, and are enmeshed amongst all types of humanity shining there for all the world to see, adding salt to a tasteless world.

The favorite first hymn of the dear Catholics in Wichita is highlighted here, Holy, Holy, Holy.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

– Elaine@hymnserve.com Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com.  Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniments for congregations, small groups and individuals.

A Day Trip to Duke University

-by Elaine@hymnserve.com


This time I would go with Dan on his day trip from Richmond to Duke University. 

He would do his work and I would spend the day on my own.  So I put my nice big architecture book in the car.  In Durham, North Carolina, the campus has rich Gothic and Colonial examples and I would try to identify types of columns and recognize festoons, pediments and quoins.

It was one of those lovely spring days with brilliant white light all over everything.  Dan got out of the car and went on to find the right building for his meeting.  I just sat in the car with my book and began to study the beautiful building details right in my vision there.  To do something I had been wanting to do for a while…and on this beautiful campus…promised to be a perfect time for me.

Later, I locked up the car and went in search of the Duke University Chapel.  Someone had told me that there was an organ recital at noon every day.  As I turned a corner and arrived at large expanse at the center of the campus, I saw the chapel…   My eye scanned the beautiful gothic edifice up and up until I pinpointed the top of the tower way up there.  Fitting right in with the scene there was a young student sitting on the top of the brick wall playing his guitar and beautiful music was filling the air.  How delightful!  How could this be that I could have such a lovely day as this to break up the busy lives we lived in Richmond!  I was so thankful.

I wouldn’t be able to go in and sit down for the concert, because I had to be on the lookout for Dan since he didn’t know when he would be finished.  So I went up the many steps leading to the entrance door all the time listening to the dear young guitar player.  I hoped to hear the music of the organ, but not sure how.  I cracked the door open and sure enough I could hear that way.  If someone wanted to enter, I could open the door for them.  Standing there in the doorway, I spied an elderly man slowly making his way up the stairs, no doubt coming to hear the music.  Hmm…he has the look of an old  professor, with his tweedy jacket drooping a little on the shoulders, his white hair and beard.  He must come here every day.  As I opened the door for him,  he stopped and his eyes twinkled as they met mine.  “Are you the doorkeeper?” he said.

I smiled and answered, “yes,”  and he went on inside.

As the organist played, I thought, me… a doorkeeper.  Just like the song which says ‘I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness.’  How true that was for me too.   As I lingered there, I saw two little sparrows fluttering around in the exquisite carvings up on the wall above the door.  The song by Samuel Liddle based on the Psalm 84 was being played out right before my eyes.  How lovely are Thy dwellings, O Lord of Hosts!  (How do the words go?)

“My soul longeth yea fainteth for the house of the Lord.

My heart and my flesh cry out for the living word.

Even the sparrow hath found a house

Where she may lay her young, even Thine altars,

O Lord of Hosts, My strength and my God!”

Do you remember the ‘object lessons’ we had long ago in children’s church?  This felt like a real life object lesson presented that day by God himself.  I felt the glow of it all the way home and was anticipating looking up the entire Psalm to see how many parts of it were illustrated to me that day.

A Hymn to Help

Here is the Psalm:

       How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;  My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.   Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.  

       Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.   As they pass through the Valley of Baka, make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.  Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.  Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.  

       Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.  For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.  Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.


Members of the Duke family were devout Methodists. Although Duke Chapel is not a Methodist church, above the portal are sculptures of those who helped advance the American Methodist movement.


– Elaine@hymnserve.com

Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com.  Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniments for congregations, small groups and individuals.

Job Interview in Texas

-by Elaine@hymnserve.com

The interview for a new assignment went well for my husband Dan.

Now, they want him to come again and bring his wife for a second interview.  This was new territory for me and not a very comfortable one.  He had always done very well on his own with job interviews up until now.  What if I messed it up for him by saying the wrong thing or doing something stupid?

I began to mull over what to wear, how to think about this, and saying, Dear Lord, I need your help.  Very soon the day came when we headed for the airport, suitcases in hand, and were on our way to the second interview.

As we found our seats on the plane and got settled in, there was nothing else to prepare, only get quiet now, sit back, and enjoy the ride.  I was still hesitant about my role in this trip, but I noticed as my mind relaxed that there was a little tune repeating itself there without my taking notice.  What was the song playing about in my head, I thought.  Maybe this song had some significance for me for this moment.  To my great amazement, it was “Go Now in Peace,” the choir’s favorite benediction where I served as organist.

A Hymn to Help

My heart skipped a beat with the realization that my caring Father in heaven was bringing these words to my remembrance to help me now.  So I went over them slowly in my mind, taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and drinking them in.

       Go now in peace…never be afraid

       God will go with you each hour of every day

       Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true

       Know He will guide you in all you do

       Go now in love, and show you believe

       Reach out to others so all the world can see

       God will be there, watching from above

       Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.

       Amen, amen, amen.*

A new peace settled around me at that moment.  Maybe I can do this!  Yes, it gave me confidence for the days ahead.  As it turned out, the whole experience was somewhat effortless and quite enjoyable, supported by the realization that God would go with me and guide me in all that I was to do.

When the time was right and we knew we would be leaving Richmond, Virginia, and going on to Denton, Texas, I shared briefly in the choir room rehearsal before we went in for the service about how their favorite benediction had helped me.   During the weeks ahead, we shed tears, especially me, for I had really become bonded with the people at the church.

When my last Sunday there arrived, I had special satisfaction when I saw the sheet cake with the words “Go Now in Peace” because it meant that they remembered my small sharing moment that day in the choir room.  They also prepared a beautiful framed caligraphy of the words to the song, topped off with a bouquet of red roses on the organ.

The framed caligraphy of the words has hung on our wall ever since, right at our front door, so that everyone who goes from our home can see the words….Go now in peace.


– Elaine@hymnserve.com

Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com. Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniment for congregations, small groups and individuals.

*by Don Besig

HymnServe.com – That Day, 9-11

That day, 9-11, we drove to Columbus for one of Dan’s meetings.

As President of University of Toledo, he had to go to Columbus periodically to meet with the other state presidents in Ohio.  I was to drop him off and then do my own thing.  I was out at the parking meter, preparing to get in the car and drive away from the building he had entered for his meeting when the cell phone rang.  It was our son who called and said, “Have you heard?”  No, because we had traveled from Toledo to Columbus without the radio on.

He said, “We are at war!”

So I just walked to the nearest place where I could see a TV–a hotel lobby where a little group of people were gathered to watch.  It wasn’t long before Dan and all the others came back down without continuing the meeting and headed back to Toledo to deal with any campus issues that might threaten.

The 2nd morning after 9-11, there was an all campus memorial gathering outdoors for students and any and everyone who wanted to come.  As I parked and walked toward the large quad in the middle of the campus, I began to hear choral music wafting out over the sunshiny air.

A Hymn to Help

The music was breathtaking, and as I got closer the scene became surreal.  So many people had quietly gathered, but the University’s male chorus was truly inspired in singing an ancient modal hymn that had been selected by the director.  I thought I knew almost any hymn they could have sung, but not this one.

God be in my head…and in my understanding,

God be in mine eyes…and in my looking,

God be in my mouth…and in my speaking,

God be in my heart…and in my thinking,

God be at mine end…and in my departing.

If ever there was a moment when God’s Spirit settled down on a place, this was one of them.  I will never forget it.

Since that time, I have gone back periodically to listen to this hymn and learn it myself.  If you want to hear it as sung by Kings College, Cambridge, you can use this link:


As a postscript to this story, it was the students of the University that held the day.  Administrators and faculty spoke during the convocation.  Then, the student body president and vice president came to the podium together to represent the students of the University.  They who had never experienced an attack by a foreign power on our homeland were crushed and frightened.

So the student body president, a devout young Catholic student, began his remarks.  Half way through he broke down so that he couldn’t continue.  The lovely young woman vice president began without a break to read his script for him.  Then when he regained his composure he began again.

He said, “I asked her beforehand to take over for me if I couldn’t finish.”  So he ended his speech.

Toledo has a high Arab population as does Detroit which is only over the border into Michigan from us.  When it came time for the Muslim student association president to make remarks, I could feel the tension rise in my own heart.  What would he say?  Would it be right?  He was a wonderfully handsome young student, and by the time he finished, he had said exactly all the things that I would have wanted him to say.

But here is the heart stopper.  Halfway through his speaking, the student body president stepped up beside him, put his hands on each of his shoulders and stood there until he finished the speech.  It signaled to all of us such an eloquent moment,. . . we are united, and we are standing together in this time of crisis.


– Elaine@hymnserve.com

Elaine is the founder of hymnserve.com. Her website provides downloadable hymn accompaniment for congregations, small groups and individuals.