Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day

This past Sunday evening, our Chancel Choir presented Handel’s cantata, “Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day.” Accompanied by orchestra, the choir sang beautifully and brought to vivid life the powerful words of John Dryden and Handel’s prophetic music. Profound thanks are due to the choir for the many rehearsals and hours of hard work they invested to master musical and vocal challenges and to manifest the understanding and expression necessary to realize the poet’s and composer’s meaning.  

In this work, Dryden and Handel explore and celebrate the God given power of music in the universe and in humanity. Included below is Dryden’s Poem “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day.” We know of this power of music as cited in the Bible: the walls of Jericho falling at the sound of the Israelites’ trumpets; at the institution of Solomon’s temple, the musicians singing and playing with such character that a cloud filled the temple so that the priests could not see to minister; and “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised.” This is the inspiration for Dryden’s final line, “And music shall untune the sky." Thus music will bring about the coming of Christ and the end of this world as depicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Such major musical works have a time-honored role in the life of the church. Extended subjects such as music’s role in God’s creation call for a larger canvas than is available in a typical three-minute service anthem. This enables the poet and composer to search more deeply and broadly for theological meaning and to use a wider variety and greater force of rhetoric to declaim this to hearers.

Similarly, undertaking these gives the choir an inspiring challenge they can rally toward and thus learn new skills and advance their commitment and discipline. These strengthened attributes carry forward into anthems through ensuing weeks, so that the choir’s improved singing enhances worship into the future. The choir strives always to improve, so that they might bring the word of God through music ever more truly to our congregation.

We are grateful to our choir, for their ever faithful witness, and to our church, which supports music so strongly, and to our United Methodist faith, which soars so truly on the wings of song.   

Steven Darsey


“A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”
John Dryden

Stanza 1

From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
Arise ye more than dead.
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And music's pow'r obey.
From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.

Stanza 2

What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
His list'ning brethren stood around
And wond'ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!

Stanza 3

The trumpet's loud clangor
Excites us to arms
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thund'ring drum
Cries, hark the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat.

Stanza 4

The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

Stanza 5

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

Stanza 6

But oh! what art can teach
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heav'nly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Stanza 7

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r;
When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking earth for Heav'n.


As from the pow'r of sacred lay
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the bless'd above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.