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Before the Bread

A canonic setting of a traditional English blessing
English folk prayer

This traditional English blessing is set to music as a lyrical canon, celebrating the cycle of planting, growth and harvest.  With its arching melody suggesting the limitless bounty of the world, this piece is a welcome addition to celebrations of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Item Instrumentation/Voicing Duration Level Audio Peruse Delivery Method (Print vs. Digital) Price Quantity
SEA-023-02 2-part or 4-part treble choir a cappella - Choral Score
3' ME Sheet Music $2.25
SEA-023-02DEL 2-part or 4-part treble choir a cappella - Choral Score
3' ME Licensed PDF $2.25
SEA-023-03 SATB a cappella - Choral Score
3' ME Sheet Music $2.25
SEA-023-03DEL SATB a cappella - Choral Score
3' ME Licensed PDF $2.25

English folk blessing

Before the bread the mill,
Before the mill the grain,
Before the grain, the sun and rain,
The beauty of God's will.

Composer's Note: 

When setting a pre-existing lyric to music, I typically refrain from changing, omitting or “modernizing” words. So you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that I had accidentally substituted the word “bread” for the word “flour” when setting the following folk blessing:

Before the flour the mill,
Before the mill the grain,
Before the grain, the sun and rain,
The beauty of God’s will.

I found myself strongly resisting the correction, for I had become thoroughly attached to the sound of the word “bread.” Could I leave the mistaken word unchanged, I wondered, since this was after all a folk blessing? I decided to delve deeper, and soon discovered that I was just one in a long line of liberty-takers! My first searches yielded these three-line versions:

Before the flour the mill,
Before the grain the earth and rain,
The beauty of God's will.

Before the flour the mill,
Before the mill the grain,
Before the grain the sun, the earth, the rain.

I was quite pleased when subsequent searches revealed that I was not the only person to begin this blessing with the phrase “Before the bread!” Interestingly, these versions contained alternate names for God as well:

Before the bread the mill,
Before the mill the grain,
Before the grain the sun and the rain,
The beauty of Nature’s will.

Before the bread is the snowy flour,
Before the flour, the mill,
Before the mill, the field of wheat, the rain,
And the Father's will.

Which version is the true “authoritative” one? We will probably never know. Following the folk tradition of this blessing, I left my own inadvertent bread/flour word substitution unchanged. No matter what words speak most strongly to you, I invite you to sing and engage with the words I chose, keeping in mind the universal sentiment behind this blessing. -E.A.

A Final Note about “God’s will”:

For those of you who wince at the oft-abused phrase, “God’s will,” I'd like to share a story I heard many years ago, as told by the Rev. Max Coots in his sermon, “The Rabbit, the Radish Bag, and God’s Will.” (My apologies for any inaccuracies that might have crept into my retelling of his story.)

Max was walking through the woods with a friend when they spotted a dead rabbit by the path. They inspected it briefly and then walked on. Later on the same path they spotted a plastic bag that had formerly held radishes, no doubt discarded by a thoughtless hiker. They thought little of these discoveries until they took the same walk on subsequent days. They noticed the radish bag each time, but the rabbit’s body gradually decomposed, and then disappeared altogether.

Max realized that the natural order of things was what God intended – for living beings to reach the end of their days and then be folded back into the cycle of life. On the other hand, he was not at all sure that the manmade plastic radish bag was working within this natural order. In this one tiny way, he actually knew the will of God. Not an arrogantly manufactured “will of God” like “God wants us to win this war” or “God wanted this child to recover from cancer.” But a true and humble glimpse of the cosmic mind, a small rare certainty in a mostly uncertain world.

Program Notes / Performance Notes: 

Premiere: Choir of First Universalist Society of Hartland Four Corners / Patricia Talbot (Hartland Four Corners, VT)
Camerata Singers of Muskegon / Floyd Farmer (Muskegon, MI)
Choir of Boulder Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship / Clelyn Brown (Lafayette, CO)
Choir of First Baptist Church of Ithaca, NY / Christopher Morgan Loy (Ithaca, NY)
Choir of First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, VA / Suzanne Riehl (Richmond, VA)
Choir of First Unitarian Society of Ithaca / Jennifer Lawrence Birnbaum (Ithaca, NY)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, MN / Joe Mish (Rochester, MN)
Choir of Richfield United Methodist Church / Elizabeth Alexander (Minneapolis, MN)
Choir of Saint James Episcopal Church of Richmond, VA / Virginia Whitmore (Richmond, VA)
Choir of Unitarian Church of Charleston / Martha Welch (Charleston, SC)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of LaCrosse / Becky Post (La Crosse, WI)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha's Vineyard (Vineyard Haven, MA)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills / Ekaterina Anoshkin (Wellesley Hills, MA)
Choir of Unity Church-Unitarian of Saint Paul / Ruth Palmer (St. Paul, MN)
Choir of UU Society of Wellesley Hills / Suzanne Cartreine (Wellesley Hills, MA)
Endicott Singers and First Baptist Church Choir / Rebecca Kenneally (Beverly , MA)
Walden Hill Vocal Ensemble / Joe Mish (Rochester, MN)

Premiere: Children’s Choir of First Unitarian Church / Jennifer Haywood. Stewart Park (Ithaca, NY)
Boston Children's Chorus. Benefit Concert (Boston, MA)
Children's Choir of First Parish in Lexington / Mary Neumann (Lexington, MA)
Evanston Children’s Choir / Kate Ulett. Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (Evanston, IL)
Parish Singers of Old North Church / Rebecca Kenneally (Marblehead, MA)
WomanKind / Virginia Whitmore. Womankind Retreat (Richmond, VA)
WomanKind / Joy Hirokawa. Womankind Retreat (Bethlehem, PA)

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