I gave up men for Lent. Sort of. I usually go with some sort of theme during Lent: one year we gave up words and sang all untexted anthems. Last year, we sang a different setting of the Pie Jesu text every week.
This year, all through Lent, every weekly anthem at my church was composed by a woman. Choosing anthems is an exercise in restriction already: it has to be a piece of music easy enough for my choir to sing, interesting enough for them to want to sing, appropriate to the season and the sermon topic, and preferably already in my choral library or available for free because we don’t have a budget for more than two or three new pieces a year.
So, for Lent I added a new restriction: only women composers. It was the suggestion of my friend and organist, Penny, who is brilliant and thoughtful.
First, we sang “Be Thou My Vision” arranged by Alice Parker, a beloved favorite of the whole church. A member of my choir has left the longstanding order that it is to be sung at her funeral–a long time from now, I hope. We sang a Puerto Rican folk song, too, but the rest of the anthems were original compositions. Twila Paris was the woman of the hour today, and she got applause! Singers in my choir even requested we sing it again next Palm Sunday, too. Which I agreed we will.
Next Sunday is Easter, and we’re singing a “Beethoven explosion,” as Penny describes it: the “Hallelujah” from Mount of Olives. Very festive. And for Maundy Thursday, the Tenebrae service will feature Cesar Franck, William Billings, and John Bell. But I feel like I’ve benefited from creating a season of women composers: I feel a satisfying focusing of my energies during Lent, which makes me remember to pay attention all the time, to be more active in my advocacy for women, and to help others see the equality of artistry composers regardless of sex or race.