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A Funeral Match for a Queen

—By Amanda Patrick

On September 19, the facility of sacred music got here into sharp focus because the eyes of the world turned to Westminster Abbey to watch the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In accordance with some information studies, over 4 billion folks—roughly half of the world’s inhabitants—tuned in because the choir, led by James O’Donnell, Organist and Grasp of the Choristers and soon-to-be ISM school member, led mourners in bidding farewell to Britain’s longest serving monarch.

The announcement of The Queen’s dying simply eleven days earlier triggered a sequence of lengthy deliberate and punctiliously choreographed occasions. O’Donnell first realized of the information when he turned on his cellphone at Heathrow Airport following a quick journey to New Haven to organize for his transfer to Yale in January. With accountability for the music for the funeral itself, in addition to for the lying-in-state ceremony in Westminster Corridor, his very first step from him was to transient the choir. Because it was the start of a brand new faculty yr, a number of of probably the most senior boy choristers had left only some months beforehand and the ‘new’ choir due to this fact needed to discover its ft rapidly. O’Donnell mentioned that every one the singers acknowledged the privilege of endeavor this solemn responsibility and rose to the event beautifully.

The funeral service music featured three hymns, two anthems, and two specifically commissioned items. “The Lord is My Shepherd”, sung at The Queen’s wedding ceremony in Westminster Abbey in 1947—additionally considered one of her favourite hymns from her—is believed to have been particularly requested by the Queen for her funeral from her. The opposite hymns have been “The day thou gavest Lord is ended” by Rev. John Ellerton, set to the tune St. Clement, and “Love divine, all loves excelling” by Charles Wesley. O’Donnell chosen the Ralph Vaughan William’s anthem “O Style and See,” which was composed for, and carried out at, The Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

Picture: James O’Donnell conducting the Westminster Abbey choir on the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (AP photograph)

The newly commissioned works have been by Scottish composer, Sir James MacMillan, and Judith Weir, Grasp of the King’s Music. MacMillan’s anthem was set to the phrases of Saint Paul from Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Weir, who describes O’Donnell as a “peerless” music director, had been requested to set the primary seven verses of Psalm 42, starting “Like because the hart desireth the waterbrooks”, as an unaccompanied choral piece. Weir says she was impressed to write down the piece by “The Queen’s robust religion in, and assist of, Anglican worship.” The service additionally included the Queen’s piper enjoying “Sleep dearie, sleep” and the Allegro Maestoso from Elgar’s organ sonata, opus 28.

As a “royal peculiar”—a church that’s below the direct jurisdiction of the monarch—Westminster Abbey has performed host to numerous state occasions all through the centuries, each unhappy and joyful. Throughout his 23 years there, O’Donnell has directed music for a lot of of them—amongst them, the Queen Mom’s funeral in 2002, the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, and the service of thanksgiving for the lifetime of Prince Philip in 2021. He has additionally overseen every day public providers which, given the Abbey’s location in central London, at all times draw giant congregations.

However the numerous worldwide curiosity within the funeral, at which lots of the world’s most prestigious leaders have been current, O’Donnell says it was nonetheless necessary to do not forget that in the long run, “it was the funeral of a lady who was a mom, a grandmother, and an excellent grandmother.” Though it was a part of his job de él to be ready for this momentous event, he mentioned that it was additionally personally very shifting. I’ve described one second specifically when Her Majesty’s coffin was processing very slowly down the aisle in direction of the altar. “Because it got here previous by way of the center of the choir, I may have reached out and touched it. She was proper there.”

As an expert church musician, O’Donnell believes it’s an honor to be a part of this continuity of custom. He additionally feels an unlimited quantity of pleasure and satisfaction in realizing that music makes a particular contribution by way of its potential to the touch folks in ways in which few different issues can. “I passionately imagine that music of excessive creative high quality, carried out at a excessive skilled normal, is usually a very highly effective a part of worship.” He says that being a part of the Queen’s funeral in his previous couple of months at Westminster Abbey was a “marvelous privilege” and that he’s glad that the music was thought by many to have performed a profound and sacred function.

Headshot of James O'DonnellO’Donnell’s final service at Westminster Abbey might be on Christmas Day. He begins his new function on the ISM and the Yale College of Music in January. As he leaves his function as him in London, he says that there might be issues he’ll drastically miss, however he’s wanting ahead to contemporary alternatives to each train and study. “After almost 40 years working primarily in cathedral music, I hope the appointment at Yale will encourage and allow me to attract totally on my expertise and expertise in new and other ways.” O’Donnell will train graduate majors in organ and different sacred music programs and can direct a brand new skilled choral ensemble that may sing liturgies in sacred areas at Yale and within the New Haven space. He may also additional the ISM’s collaborations with organists, musicians, and theologians across the globe.

Martin Jean, director of Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music says, “We’re delighted and privileged to welcome James O’Donnell to the Yale school the place he could have an opportunity to share his lifetime of expertise with our college students, our communities, and the broader public.”

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