"He shall feed His flock like a shepherd,
and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, with His arm,
and carry them in His bosom, and gently those that are with young.
Come unto Him all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden,
and He will give you rest.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him,
for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest,
and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
I have been asked to sing an introit this Sunday at Holy Trinity Episcopal. I had mentioned to my director, the illustrious Dr. John T. Lowe, Jr., that I had been working on some Messiah arias, and lo and behold!- one popped up in the suggestion list.
For starters: G. F. Handel's Messiah (1741) is the most popular oratorio in history (my opinion, not fact, but probably). It was written in the height of oratorio compositions. The Catholic Church banned secular operas during Lent, so the next best thing, musical drama without staging and costumes and about a sacred subject, voila! Oratorio! This one uses scripture to outline the life of Christ. Just think Hallelujah Chorus, and you'll be there.
My selection is in the first part (out of three). It begins with a recitative "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened..." The first part of the aria, "He Shall Feed His Flock," was originally written for a mezzo-soprano, but as in most Messiah arias, there are alternate keys written for different performers. The subsequent part of the aria, "Come unto Him," is truly written for soprano.
This aria is a tricky little thing. It starts from a high F and descends, gracefully, down the scale and back up again. It is written in 12/8, which means that you get the feeling of triplets, but still count to four. The difficulty with singing in English is that the audience must understand every word of the diction in their native language. Also, there are not a lot of pure vowels in English, so there is a constant battle of placement and brightness v. darkness. Small change. The problem is the repetitiveness of the text and melody, which leads to boredom. So, to embellish or not to embellish? The style certainly lends itself to embellishment (interpolating notes in the melody), but how much is appropriate? Hmmmm. Something for me to experiment with in practice today.
Overall, it's a quite graceful aria. Pleasant in every way. As long as I don't screw it up!
For more music at Holy Trinity, click here.