Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lent 2: Psalm 121

From the Psalm for the Second Sunday of Lent:

Unto the hills around do I lift up
My longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come,
From whence arise?
From thee, my God, shall come my certain aid,
From thee, my God, who heav'n and earth hath made.

Thou wilt not suffer that my foot be moved;
Safe shall I be.
No careless slumber shall thine eyelids close,
Who keepest me.
Thou art the living God, who slumb'rest ne'er,
Who keepest Israel in thy holy care.

O Living God, fore'er our keeper true,
Our changeless shade;
Forever our defense on every hand
Thyself hath made.
And now no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm us in the silent night.

From ev'ry evil God shall keep our souls,
From ev'ry sin;
God shall preserve our ev'ry going out,
Our coming in.
Above us watching, God whom we adore
Shall keep us henceforth, yea, forevermore.

John D.S. Campbell, 1877; alt.
Tune: SANDON (
Charles Henry Purday, 1860

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Today is not only the traditional feast day of St. Valentine (though he got bounced out of the calendar of saints several years ago), but also of the brothers St Cyril and St. Methodius, now considered the patron saints of Europe.

This fourteen-verse Hymn to the Saints Cyril and Methodius can't easily be sung to a familiar hymn tune because the English translation didn't preserve any consistent meter.

There also seems to be a Hymn in Honour of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius written for mixed-voice chorus by Tchaikovsky which might be interesting to locate (it's not on CPDL). He seems to have been pretty crabby about writing it, so you have to wonder if it was among his best efforts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No High Carousals During Lent

Further exploration of yesterday's hymn reveals that it was Francis Pott, the editor of Hymns Fitted to the Order of Common Prayer (1861) who substantially molded and reworked the original nine-verse text of George Hunt Smyttan.

Compare the penultimate verse of both versions:

Pott (and possibly subsequent others)
So shall we have peace divine:
Holier gladness ours shall be;
Round us too shall angels shine,
Such as ministered to thee.

Holy peace and truth divine,
Joy and gladness, light and love,
All around, like angels, shine,
Tokens of our home above.

Pott is aligning the text more specifically to Jesus' trials in the wilderness and our overcoming of those trials.

Of Smyttan's nine verses, two that were removed are the original third and fourth:

And shall we in silken ease,
Festal mirth, carousals high, --
All that can our senses please, --
Let our Lenten hours pass by?

Shall we not with thee retire,
Far from all the giddy throng,
Searching out our heart's desire,
Mourning sin the whole day long?

Pott was, perhaps, a tad less conservative than Smyttan and may have thought these verses a bit extreme. On the other hand, he also removed this more pleasant verse, the original seventh:

For a heavenly food is ours,
And in faith's high hope we live;
Riches, too, come down in showers,
Brighter far than earth can give.

It's also possible that editor Pott simply thought that the theme and intent of the hymn was sufficiently expressed in six verses (cut by later editors to five, remember) and that the remaining three were less necessary. Or maybe someone was telling him "People don't like to sing nine verses any more; cut it down." (Those people are still around, but now they want everything cut to three verses.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lenten Hymn

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted and yet undefiled.

Shall not we thy sorrow share
And from worldly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Strong with thee to suffer pain?

Then if Satan on us press,
Flesh or spirit to assail,
Victor in the wilderness,
Grant we may not faint nor fail!

So shall we have peace divine:
Holier gladness ours shall be;
Round us, too, shall angels shine,
Such as ministered to thee.

Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,
Ever constant by thy side;
That with thee we may appear
At th'eternal Eastertide.

George Hunt Smyttan and Francis Pott; alt.
From NĂ¼rn­berg­isch­es Ge­sang­buch, 1676

This time the "alt." isn't mine; the text comes intact out of the Hymnal 1940. Others got to the text before me. There's another verse describing the forty-day wilderness ordeal not generally used in American hymnals that follows the first above:

Sunbeams scorching all the day;
Chilly dew-drops nightly shed;
Prowling beasts about thy way;
Stones thy pillow, earth thy bed.

That one almost seems to come out of one of the children's hymns of Cecil Frances Alexander.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with thee to mourn our sins
And close by thee to stay.

As thou with Satan didst contend,
And didst the vict'ry win,
So give us strength in thee to fight,
In thee to conquer sin.

As thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Friend,
To hunger, thirst for righteousness,
Injustice to amend.

And through these days of penitence,
And through thy Passiontide,
Yea, evermore, in life and death,
Jesus! with us abide.

Abide with us, that so this life
Of suff'ring overpast,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last!

Claudia F. Hernaman, 1873; alt.
Tune: ST. FLAVIAN (C.M.)
from Day’s Psal­ter, 1563

This well-known hymn for the first day of Lent by Claudia Frances Hernaman has crossed denominations and appeared in many hymnals for more than a hundred years. I've found two modern adaptations of this hymn, one for general use and one with a specific LGBT focus (scroll down slightly on both pages). I think they are both interesting variations on the Lenten themes of the original.

I recently spotted this hymn in an older hymnal index, with its author listed as C.F. Hernaman. Unless you were familiar with this text, you wouldn't know that C.F. was Claudia Frances. I sometimes wonder when I look at an old index if some of the authors and composers listed by their initials are actually unknown women (sometimes anonymous by their own choice). Google and the Internet make cross-referencing easier than it used to be, but I still believe that there are authors and composers, published in perhaps only one or two hymnals, whose gender we may never know.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

You May Have Noticed...

I believe that every full hymn text I have posted thus far (not so many, but it's early days) has been capped with the mysterious "alt.". So what's up with that?

As you probably know, "alt." is a long-standing convention in the world of hymnody, meaning that something in the text has been altered from the original. Could be one word, could be several. Could be for any number of reasons. Sometimes the revision is so extensive that "alt." is insufficient and it becomes "adapt. by ___." But let's not go there just yet.

Sometimes an "alt." is from so long ago, or is so universally accepted that modern hymnal editors don't even acknowledge it anymore. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn called
Hark, how all the welkin rings back in 1739, but everyone knows it today as Hark, the herald angels sing. Would we still be singing it today if the first line had not been changed? (We also generally only sing three of the original five verses, but that's another blog entry for another day.)

There are many reasons why hymn texts have come to be changed over the years. Sometimes theological differences between denominations forced rewrites. Sometimes archaic words have been updated. In some modern hymnals, words like "thee" and "thou" have been modernized to "you," forcing further changes in declension, syntax, rhyme, and meter.

For myself, many of the changes in the texts I'm posting are made for reasons of inclusive language, or perhaps, better called expansive language. Nearly twenty years ago I was involved with a project to develop a hymnal for use in the Metropolitan Community Churches. We developed a set of guidelines around inclusivity and expansiveness which are close to those found
here (developed by the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ). The guidelines on that page are not dated, but I suspect ours were developed earlier. In some instances we went even beyond those guidelines, and a few (not all) of those instances, twenty more years of perspective have led me to believe that we occasionally went a bit too far, but not often. If you make your way through the UCC guidelines, they lay out most of the precepts I'm going by with hymn texts.

Here in the beginning of the twenty-first century, the concept of "inclusive language" dates back more than thirty years, yet it sometimes seems that it is just as controversial in some circles as it was back then. Many denominational hymnals have made modest attempts at changing the predominantly male-focused language of hymnody, at least with regard to humankind and the people of God, but few are willing to go further. On this blog, I'm going to go further, as we did nearly twenty years ago.

Most blogs that I have found on the topic of hymns are pretty conservative, even downright reactionary (and not always in a particularly informed way). They have lots of rules: "a hymn must do THIS" and "a hymn cannot be THAT," and "a hymn can never never say THAT OTHER THING." Most of them are also bitterly opposed to inclusive language in even its most mild form. On the other hand, I have a reeeeeally broad definition of what a hymn is. Since I couldn't find a blog with a similar viewpoint, I had to make my own. In the earlier MCC project, we drew from a very wide range of material across many denominations (and theologies) and vastly differing musical styles. I may not go quite so far musically, due in part to my own musical tastes and in part due to the issue of copyright (modern stuff simply can't be posted online, even though "everybody does it") but you'll see a broad theological spectrum.

So, I'm proceeding with "alts" that you may not have seen before. You may not like 'em. That's fine, but I'm not going to argue about it. I already know your arguments and it's very unlikely that you can convince me that you're right. I also know that I probably can't convince you, if your mind is made up (and it usually seems to be, online), and it doesn't bother me. As Biblical scholarship has progressed, so too should our hymnody. The world is moving on, but I'm not forcing anyone to keep up. The fourth verse of
Washington Gladden's hymn Behold, a Sower from afar begins

Light up thy Word; the fettered page
From killing bondage free;
Light up our way; lead forth this age
In love’s large liberty.

That's what I think "alt." can do, with our hymns as well as our Scripture. Expansive language makes everything fit better in "love's large liberty."

P.S. As you can see, I have no problem with "thee" or "thou." I'm not pleased that
The New Century Hymnal took them all out (even though they did a lot of things right). Bad poetry! Probably more to say about that at another time.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Feast of the Presentation

O Zion, open wide thy gates,
As we with thanks draw near;
A Source and Savior both in one,
The Truth Himself is here.

Aware of hidden Deity
The joyful Mary brings
Her newborn babe, with two young doves,
Her humble offerings.

The aged Simeon sees at last
This promise long-desired,
And Anna welcomes Israel's hope,
With holy rapture fired.

"This is the light prepared to shine
Upon the lands of earth;
This, Israel's glory evermore,
Salvation's blessed birth!"

But silent knelt the mother blest
Of the yet-silent Word,
And pond'ring all things in her heart,
With speechless praise adored.

Jean de Santeuil, 1680
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849; alt.

There are other hymns for this day (though not a great many), but of course I'd choose the one that includes both Simeon AND Anna, from the passages in the Gospel of Luke.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Weather Report

Our church choir is singing Evensong at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City this Sunday evening at 6:00 pm. Big place. Not so big that it might have its own weather system to be reported, but if it did, it might sound something like this:

Weather Report ala Cathedral

In a similar vein, if you should have some need to learn about the Traffic Code in England,
this might be a good way to do so.

background here.

Yes, I know these have probably been all over the internets by now, but they are new to me.