That’s what John Milton called Voice and Verse, in one of the poems sung by the Westminster Abbey Choir in their performance this evening at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It was the Choir’s final performance of their nine-city tour of the United States.
It was an excellent program, devoted mostly to 20th-century Anglican church music, introduced by three pieces from the English Renaissance (Gibbons, Tallis). I was especially taken with “The Twelve,” an Auden poem set by Sir William Walton. At its center is the following prayer:
O Lord, my God,
though I forsake thee
forsake me not,
but guide me as I walk
through the valley of mistrust,
and let the cry of my disbelieving absence
come to thee,
thou who declared unto Moses:
“I shall be there.”
This is a singularly appropriate prayer for what Charles Taylor calls a “secular age,” a time in which doubt and not belief is the “default mode” of society — but in which faith remains persistently alongside us, and strives for a hearing.
(A couple of pieces the Choir performed — Hubert Parry’s “I was glad” and Paul Mealor’s “Ubi Caritas” — were helpfully marked in the program as “The Royal Wedding 2011.” I am immune to that particular subspecies of Anglophilia — the only Royals I care about are the ones in Kansas City — but I am certainly grateful for what British state ceremonial has done to publicize the beauty of the Anglican religious tradition, and more specifically the Anglican choral-music repertoire.)