Walking with the Saints

Saints of God: John Merbeck, Thomas Tillis and William Byrd

When I realized the feast day we celebrate for musicians was my topic this week I immediately thought of the lyrics to “I sing a song of the saints of God” which speaks to the variety of people who can be thought of as saints of God. Today we focus on John Merbecke, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. 

John Merbeck served as a chorister and organist at Saint George Chapel, Windsor for forty-four years. Only a small handful of works by Merbeck have survived most notably the Book of Common Prayer Noned,1550 composed to accompany the 1549 Book. John Merbecke was born in 1505 and nothing is known of his childhood. As a young man he was a chorister at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and from 1541 until near the time of his death in 1585, he served as chapel organist.

Thomas Tallis was born near the beginning of the fifteenth century and very little is known of his early life. After a succession of appointments as a church musician, he spent most of his vocation in service to the Crown as musician to the Chapels Royal under four successive monarchs, both Catholic and Protestant. Although always a Roman Catholic, Tallis had the political savvy to survive the shifts in ecclesial loyalties and the musical acumen to respond to the changing needs of the Church of England. He is regarded as the father of English Church music since the Reformation.

William Byrd was a student, colleague, business partner, and successor of Thomas Tallis. Most likely born in Lincolnshire in 1543, he was appointed organist and choirmaster of Lincoln Cathedral in 1563 and served until he joined Tallis as a gentleman of the Chapels Royal in 1572. Tallis and Byrd collaborated on a number of projects and together held the Crown Patent for the printing of music and lined music paper for twenty-one years.

While not the royal court, I believe our own Cannon Phillip Smith qualifies easily as being a saint of God.  His direction of the Choir and inspired selections enhance our worship weekly here at Church of Our Saviour.  His careful selections inspire and transport us into a closer relationship with God and are an essential ingredient to this congregations’ worship.