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Introits and Graduals for the Church Year by Healey Willan

by Christina Roberts ~ September 17th, 2008

Healey Willan, the Canadian composer and church musician at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Toronto is known within Lutheran circles for his setting of the communion liturgy, Te Deum, and the We Praise Thee collections. But his little known collection Introits and Graduals for the Church Year published by Concordia Publishing House in the mid 1960s deserves the same attention and could gain even wider use among us.

Using the text from the Common Service the introits are structured with a homophonic SATB setting of the antiphon followed by one of the eight gregorian tones for the Verse and Gloria Patri. Willan includes accompaniments for the chant tones.

The graduals and Alleluia verses, while originally designed to be sung together between the Epistle and the Gospel, can be successfully split among three readings. They are also homophonic SATB settings. To bring continuity to the seasons of the church year Willan used the same Alleluias and a similar harmonic structure for each of the graduals and verses within each season. The Tracts are simply set to Tone IV with an accompaniment by Willan.

The settings are unmetered in what the composer calls an “attempt to bring about a natural recitation of the words.” In the introduction to the collections he emphasizes the importance of singing the texts with the rhythms of good speech.

The harmonic and rhythmic nature of these propers make them a natural fit within Setting Three of the Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book or better yet within the Willan setting of the Communion Liturgy.

It is evident in these concise settings that Willan was strongly influenced by the plainsong melodies of the church. His compositions are a faithful extension to that musical heritage. They deliver a simple recitation of the text while remaining musically rich and sturdy enough to endure the test of time. The four-part writing is conservative, intuitive and enriches, rather than dominates, the Word it presents.

So where do we find these little gems? First of all, it is important to know that they were published first in separate collections. So as you thumb through the dusty stacks of music in your church basements look for the following: Introits for the Church Year © 1957; Graduals for the Church Year © 1960; The Introits and Graduals for the Church Year © 1964 (revised edition) © 1967 (complete edition). Some collections are paperback books and others are green hardbound editions.

There are a couple of other places I would suggest searching. I first discovered the collection sitting on the cold cement floor of the Northwestern University Music Library. On-line catalogs make for much easier browsing but academic libraries sill might be the easiest way to access the collection. A final suggestion is to obtain them from those who no longer see the value of the historic lectionary and propers. The copy that I now own came to me from the music library of an ELCA church. Since Lutheran Book of Worship did not include introits within the Divine Service that church has not used them and was willing to part with a copy.

Once you have tracked down a copy you must remember the books are no longer in print and copying privileges must be obtained from CPH. At Our Savior Lutheran Church we were able to gain permission to make 20 copies of the entire book for a very reasonable cost.  We will be using these settings for the entire church year. They will be sung by our SATB choir unaccompanied, and by our children’s choirs, cantors, and small ensembles (sometimes only soprano and bass) with organ accompaniment.

These settings are well worth the hunt and deserve to be brought back into usage within the church. So find them! Your Kantor will thank you.

Christina Roberts
Our Savior Lutheran Church
Grand Rapids, Michigan

2 Responses to Introits and Graduals for the Church Year by Healey Willan

  1. ToddPeperkorn

    Great article. Thanks!

  2. Siegfried

    Thanks for the article. We at Our Saviour Wartburg, South Africa, still use the Introit. We have enough copies of Lutheran Worship, but would also like to put the Introit on the screen. Are they available on disc at all? Thanks Sieg

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