LOST AND FOUND - The story of R.J. Powell's 1965 Mag and Nunc
part of their upcoming Epiphany service of Choral Evensong,
The Anglican Singers, artists-in-residence at St. James Episcopal
Church in New London, Connecticut, will introduce the Magnificat
and Nunc Dimittis in G-minor of the eminent American composer,
Robert J. Powell. This inaugural performance of Powell’s
Service will take place at St. James on Sunday, February
11, 2007, at 5:00 p.m.
Here is the story of this opus, its creator, the performers, and an improbable
alchemy that brought them all together.
One afternoon in the autumn of 2005, Dr. David Percival,
parishioner and chorister at St. James Episcopal Church in
New London, Connecticut, picked his way across the rain-spattered
floor of the church’s basement choir room with his
choir director, Violeta Chan-Scott. A heavy downpour had
flooded parts of the room; he and she were mopping up and
trying to salvage music scores and manuscripts from irreparable
The two delved into dozens of boxes that had lain untouched for decades – and
so what had begun as a swabbing-up exercise turned into a treasure hunt. Seeing
the necessity to protect these materials from further ravages of weather and
neglect, they and their colleague, Ken Stewart, catalogued and carted as much
as they could carry upstairs to “The Rector’s parlor,” which
doubles as the church library – and is dry.
But something was overlooked that day . . . . and it was not until five months
later that Dr. Percival, once again tidying up in the choir room, stumbled
upon a mother lode: the original manuscript of a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis.
Its author, the distinguished American composer, Robert J. Powell, according
to the statement atop the first page of the score, had been commissioned to
write a Service “For the Inaugural Festival of the American Friends of
St. Paul’s Cathedral [in London] held in St. James Church, New London,
Grasping the significance of his find, David Percival immediately brought this
score to Marianna Wilcox, director of The Anglican Singers (of which group
he is president), a thirty-member choral-ensemble based at St. James. Since
The Singers perform Choral Evensong throughout each season, and since the canticles
of Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are integral to that service, he knew his director
would be intrigued.
Ms. Wilcox, always on the lookout for new material for The Singers, was excited
because Robert Powell is preeminent among contemporary American composers of
church music. And her curiosity was piqued by the group which had commissioned
the work, The American Friends of St. Paul’s Cathedral. She discovered
that this organization had been established four decades earlier by parishioners
of St. James. And so – entertaining the possibility of The Anglican Singers’ performing
Powell’s Service during their tenth-anniversary season – she determined
to dig deeper.
In June of 2006, Marianna Wilcox located and contacted the composer. To her
surprise, he told her he had completely forgotten about the newly unearthed
work, but asked her to mail it to him, which she did. And so began a series
of exchanges between the two that would culminate in her putting Powell’s
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G-minor on the 2007 Epiphany program, and in
his accepting her invitation to attend that service.
The two of them continued to communicate about this forgotten oeuvre, as well
as other Services Powell had published – having composed “three
or four” in all, any of which he invited her to use. Ms. Wilcox explained
that the rediscovered Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G-minor were particularly
suitable, both to be performed at St. James and to celebrate the tenth anniversary
of the establishment of The Anglican Singers.
Meanwhile, sleuthing once again through dusty boxes in the church’s archives,
David Percival (by now, with his wife, Darbee, church historian) discovered
in a container labeled “Dr. Paul Wilbur” (rector of St. James in
the nineteen-sixties) an article about the origins of The American Friends
of St. Paul’s and a program sponsored by that group, entitled “An
Inaugural Festival Service,” which took place at St. James Episcopal
Church in New London at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 30, 1966.
When he examined more closely the bulletin of the choral festival, Percival
noticed that Powell’s Service was not included. Instead the church had
commissioned two anthems to celebrate its 240th anniversary: “O how glorious!” by
David Williams, and “Who would true valor see” by Anthony Foster. Apprising Marianna Wilcox of this news, Dr. Percival saw her eyes light up: “Do
you know what that means? It means that if The Singers perform Powell’s
G-minor Mag and Nunc, ours will be the inaugural performance! What a way to
celebrate our anniversary year!”
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