Last year this blog featured Frederick Gere and Milton Williams’ The Winds of God, which was one of the earliest Episcopal “folk Masses” produced. Attempting to break out of the traditional Episcopal mould of music, the folk Mass featured several types of music. One of them was the Nicene Creed, where choir director Milton Williams sang it antiphonally with the choir responding.
Antiphonal music isn’t a novelty in the Anglican world, but the style is. Rather than drawing from the English tradition, Williams turned to an African-American style. It had its roots in slavery and agricultural work; the rhythmic music helped to ease the hard tedium of working in the fields in the hot South. It appears in compositions such as Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha (which I highly recommend you see if you get the chance).
The “field hands” Williams had to work with were the youth of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA. Although the result is quite charming, I’m sure that Williams got a good laugh at the business of having a largely white, middle class choir singing in a style which had been (and probably still was at the time) sung by poor black people picking cotton.
And, of course, the Nicene Creed sung included the “filoque” clause, which has created such a headache these days in the Anglican-Episcopal world.
It’s been a long time since this was recorded, but some more contemporary observations are in order.
The first is a question: how many of these fine Episcopal youth “stayed on the plantation” after the convulsions of the 1960’s and 1970’s turned into the church’s first major shedding of membership?
The second is that, during the second shedding of membership, the orthodox African provinces came and helped give cover to the “Anglican Revolt”. The Africans also found out that some of the “field hands” they took on weren’t as amenable to oversight as expected, which only shows that some people are better at dishing it out than taking it.