Cecilian Ode #1

A Hymn for St. Cecilia, composed by Herbert Howells [1892-1983]

Sing for the morning’s joy, Cecilia, sing,
In words of youth and praises of the Spring,
Walk the bright colonnades by fountains’ spray,
And sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
Till angels, voyaging in upper air,
Pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
Into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
A silver chain, or golden as your hair.

Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
In words of music, and each word a truth;
Marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
A bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
Terror must gather to a martyr’s death;
But never tremble, the last indrawn breath
Remembers music as an echo may.

Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia’s music dances in the skies;
Lend us a fragment of th’immortal air,
That with your choiring angels we may share,
A word to light us thro’ time-fettered night,
Water of life, or rose of paradise,
So from the earth another song shall rise
To meet your own in heaven’s long delight.

— Text by Ursula Vaughan Williams [1911-2007]

This is the first in an occasional series exploring the Cecilian Ode, a uniquely English poetic and musical genre that spans the centuries from the late 1600s to the present.  More to come!

— Rick Krueger

Why Spirit of Cecilia?

For six years, I was one of five folks who founded and ran a website dedicated to reviewing and promoting music.When we formed in October 2012, we originally wanted to be a fan site for the English (and now Anglo-American-Scandinavian) band, Big Big Train.  We broadened our reach almost immediately, attempting to review music of all forms.  

We ended up having a blast, to be sure.

After six years, though, several of us thought it was time for a change.  That is, time to take us not just into music but into all of our cultural loves: music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film. Certainly, we could’ve done that with the old site, but that site had taken on a life of its own.  We wish them nothing but love and success!  We’re certainly not leaving music behind with the Spirit of Cecilia, but we are adding quite a bit to it. So, not just Big Big Train, but Big Big Train plus Margaret Atwood, T.S. Eliot, Willa Cather, Miles Davis, Leo Strauss, Philip Melanchthon, Sir Thomas More, Edmund Burke, Alfred Tennyson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kevin J. Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and Alfred Hitchcock.

We threw around a number of titles for this website, knowing all along that our inspiration was St. Cecilia, the Roman Catholic (and Anglican) patroness of music and the arts. Traditionally, St. Cecilia is depicted as a young woman, holding and performing on some kind of instrument, with an angel or two watching over her. Though quite Catholic, such depictions are most likely Christianized updates of the muses inspiring a Mediterranean musician.  

Kevin McCormick finally came up with the name, “Spirit of Cecilia,” and it stuck.  Indeed, more than just stick, it seems perfect for what we want to do. 

And, this brings us to a second form of inspiration for the title–arguably the greatest album of any type of music of the last six to seven decades, SPIRIT OF EDEN by Talk Talk. With all due apologies (and praise for) to James Marsh, the cover artist, I did my best (and, sadly, my best is pathetic!) to create an icon something akin to the original 1988 cover to that album.

My terrible imitation of Marsh’s work.
Ok, show off.  Art by James Marsh, 1988.

Well, as is natural for all human institutions and works, this website will evolve over time as well. No matter what, though, we promise to write our best, to think our best, and to give you. . . you guessed it. . . our best. Thanks for joining us.  We hope you enjoy the ride.

–Brad Birzer