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Steeple Newsletter

Music and Pride: Anthems of the Church

In recognition of June being Pride Month, I'm sharing four anthems sung at First Church written by composers from the LGBTQ community.

by Bill Speed on June 17, 2020

Read the full edition of the Steeple Newsletter for June 17, 2020.

In recognition of June being Pride Month, I'm sharing four anthems sung at First Church written by composers from the LGBTQ community.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990): At the River
Yes, we’ll gather by the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river,
Gather with the saints by the river that flows by the throne of God.

Copeland and Bernstein

While Aaron is more known for his "Fanfare for the Common Man" and ballet suites "Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo", he had a special love for uniquely American songs, such as this hymn by the Pennsylvanian Robert Lowry. While Copland remained private about his homosexuality, his biographer Howard Pollack notes that he came to an early acceptance of his sexuality and lived openly with his partners.

(link for Fanfare: https://youtu.be/roUBCqWICq4)
(link for Appalachian: https://youtu.be/8e3rVcSy3IQ)
(link for Rodeo: https://youtu.be/0oR1Vh3DfqM)

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Chichester Psalms, 2nd movement
Psalm 23: Adonai ro-i, lo eḥsar. . . . (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . )
Psalm 2: Lamah rag'shu goyim . . . (Why do the nations rage? . . )
Psalm 23: Ta'aroch l'fanai shulḥan . .  (Thou preparest a table before me . . . )

The Senior Choir sang this complete work for Music Sunday 2009, tackling the complicated rhythms while simultaneously mastering the Hebrew texts. The middle movement starts with a boy soprano singing the part of David, watching over his sheep, strumming his harp. We are then brought into the 'valley of the shadow of death' by shifting to Psalm 2, describing life in the midst of a nation where the rulers defy God's will. We then return to Psalm 23's table with cup overflowing.

While Bernstein was married to Felicia Montealegre, she entered the marriage knowing he was gay. In letters acquired by the Library of Congress, Felicia wrote to Bernstein while they were engaged: "you are a homosexual and you may never change . . . I am willing to accept you as you are . . . I happen to love you very much." So, while Bernstein never came out as bisexual or gay, he had a long-time romantic relationship with Aaron Copland, and with several men after his wife's death.

Mark A. Miller (b. 1967): Love Has Broken Down the Wall
Love has broken down the wall. Let us join our hearts as one.
We're accepted as we are. Peace and love, freely offered here.

Love will tear down every wall!  Christ has called us, one and all.

Love has broken down the wall.

Mark Miller


At First Church, we combined the forces of the Cherub Choir, Junior Choir, and Senior Choir to sing this anthem. Mark A. Miller is a colleague of Kate Ott's at Drew University, and a lecturer at Yale's Institute for Sacred Music (ISM). Mark and his husband Michael live in Plainfield, NJ with their two teenagers Alyse and Keith.
(link for Mark Miller: http://www.markamillermusic.com/)

Tom Trenney (b. 1977): I Will Make a Way!
Behold! I will do a new thing! Everything old has passed away. See, everything old has become new. I will make a way in the wilderness. I will make rivers in the desert. Do not remember the former things or consider the ways of old. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and ostriches. For I give water in the wilderness, the desert shall be a pool. (Isaiah 43:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

Tom Trenney


The First Church Senior Choir sang this anthem at a choral festival in Greenwich conducted by the composer. Tom is Minister of Music at First-Plymouth Church UCC, Lincoln, Nebraska, where he raises two adopted children with his partner Brent. A recent interviewer wrote "Upon meeting Tom Trenney, one can’t help but notice that there is something special about him. His calm spirit, nonjudgmental loving manner, high intelligence, mad musical skills, and ability to express himself blend to make Trenney a unique voice in sacred music." Trenney says about his ministry: “We each have music born within us that no one else has ever made and no one else ever could. It is a rich blessing and a deep privilege to be part of helping others to set that music free!”

(link for First Plymouth: https://www.firstplymouth.org/)
(link for Tom Trenney: http://tomtrenney.com/)

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