Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Feast of the Visitation

Mary's visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, recorded in Luke 1:39-56, tells us of the importance of these two pregnant women. Elizabeth greets Mary with words that have come down through the ages: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Mary responds with a prophetic song of praise that we know as the Magnificat.

My soul proclaims the greatness of our God,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
who has looked with favor on this lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
You O God have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
You have mercy on those who fear you in every generation.
You have shown the strength of your arm,
and have scattered the proud in their conceit.
You have cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and have lifted up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich you have sent away empty.
You have come to the help of your servant Israel,
for you have remembered your promise of mercy,
The promise you made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and their children for ever.
(Version by
Frank Huber, 1999)

Taken out of the passage in Luke, Mary's song has been set to music thousands of times: in large choral works by composers such as J.S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi, in liturgical settings used in worship (Evensong in the Episcopal and Anglican traditions, and Matins in the Eastern Orthodox Church), and of course, as congregational hymns. The metrical version from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 begins:

My soul and spirit, filled with joy,
My God and Saviour praise,
Whose goodness did from poor estate
This humble handmaid raise.

Nearly 350 years later, Miriam Therese Winter of the Medical Mission Sisters wrote a version called My soul gives glory to my God, which appears in some newer hymnals.

Somewhere in-between (probably around 1708) Isaac Watts wrote his version of the Magnificat, broadening it from the song of one woman to a hymn for the congregation. Back in the twentieth century we adapted it for contemporary use, taking Watts's original (which subtly warned of Marian idolatry in one verse) and building on it.

Our souls shall magnify our God,
In God the Savior we rejoice;
While we repeat the Virgin's song,
May the same spirit tune our voice.

The Highest saw her low estate,
And mighty things God's hand has done
For Mary, chosen to become
The mother of the Promised One.

Let every nation call her bless'd,
Let endless years prolong her fame;
And God above shall be ador'd;
Holy and mighty is God's Name.

To those that hope and trust in God
Whose mercy stands for ever sure:
From age to age the promise lives,
And God's performance is secure.

God spake to Abr'am and his line,
"In thee shall all the earth be blest;"
From Sarah's child, through ages long
We see the promise manifest.

And now no more shall Israel wait,
No more the world shall lie forlorn:
Lo, the desire of nations comes;
Behold, the Savior Christ is born!

Isaac Watts, c. 1708; adapt.
Tune: TRURO (L.M.)
from Psalmodia Evangelica, 1789

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Trivial Round, The Common Task...

Every now and then I guess I should take a day to follow up on some previous items, when more information comes to light. Just a housekeeping sort of thing, stuff that I stumble across that doesn't quite rise to the level of a whole new entry. Maybe not even very interesting to anyone else but me, but here it is.

Back on January 30 I wrote about Charlotte Barnard, the first entry in the More Voices Found series. I wondered whether any more tunes by her were out there, and now I seem to have found one. The tune PILGRIMAGE is used in one version of the 1916 Episcopal hymnal. I'm assuming that C.A. Barnard is Charlotte, though I suppose there's a chance that it isn't. Since there's no sound file available online, I'm reproducing the tune below.

The alternate tune indicated, INNOCENTS, is the one usually sung with that particular text, Advent tells us Christ is near. I once wrote some additional verses for that hymn, but today's not the day to bring them out.

***UPDATE (6/9/08) - Commenter Leland Bryant Ross has graciously created a sound file so that we can all hear Charlotte Barnard's PILGRIMAGE. Thanks!!***

On April 8 I was talking about William Muhlenberg and the Church of the Holy Communion in New York, where he was rector for many years. The church was deconsecrated in 1976 and became very well known as the Limelight discotheque a few years later. The Limelight has changed ownership over the years and has been closed for different periods, and I had read that the Episcopal Diocese of New York was interested in reacquiring the building, but the last two owners wanted too high a price. I walked by the former church recently during the day and there's no indication that the club is still open, but I suppose I should check it out after dark someday.

On April 20 I mentioned that I had once wanted to call our would-be hymnal Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise. It turns out that the Church Hymnary of Scotland has retitled itself with my title just this year. Guess it was a good idea. It's OK, there are lots of hymnals out there that share the same names.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

One Fold, One Faith, One Hope, One Joy

In memory of the Savior’s love
We keep the sacred feast,
Where every humble, contrite heart
Is made a welcome guest.

One fold, one faith, one hope, one joy,
One God alone we know;
As kindred all, let every heart
With kind affection glow.

In faith we take the bread of life,
Christ's presence is made known;
The cup in token of a love
For all God's people shown.

In faith and memory thus we sing
The wonders of that love,
And so anticipate by faith
The heav’nly feast above.

Thomas Cotterill, c. 1805; Isaac Watts v.2; adapt.
Traditional American melody

Another communion hymn, one we chose for our planned hymnal. I don't remember where we found it, but someone had gotten to it before us and made some changes from the original as well as adding the second verse, and calling it "anonymous." Years later, a Google search reveals that the verse is by Isaac Watts, taken from a different hymn (one not listed at the Cyber Hymnal), but the meter was changed with the addition of a few words. The Internet would have made a huge difference if we had had it back then.

The American folk tune LAND OF REST has also been used to set some parts of the communion liturgy, as well as for another modern hymn for the Eucharist, hymnwriter Brian Wren's I come with joy to meet my Lord. I think there's room for two hymns with the same theme and the same tune.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

More Voices Found: Emily Divine Wilson

Emily Divine Wilson was born on this day in 1865, about a month after the end of the Civil War. In later years her husband was a prominent Methodist minister in Philadelphia, and helped lead camp meetings on the New Jersey shore, where this gospel song was almost certainly sung.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing of mercy and of grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd
Christ prepares for us a place.

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav'ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Christ in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon its beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898; alt.
Tune: HEAVEN ( with refrain)
Emily Divine Wilson, 1898

Emily Wilson may have been playing the piano for some of those camp meetings -- there really isn't much known about her. This is her best-known tune but probably not the only one, so I will be keeping an eye out for more. If you like banjos with your gospel songs, try this version (but you may nearly miss the melody on the keyboard when it comes in). The tune works best with a lot of energy behind it from both the accompaniment and the congregation, and kind of a rollicking tempo.

Of course, this song is not in a style readily recognized by many Episcopalians, but Voices Found does include two gospel songs by Fanny Crosby, so it wouldn't have been impossible for them to have included this one, since both the text and the tune are by women. Happily, it was restored to the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal after having been removed previously.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Today is sixty days after Easter, the feast day of Corpus Christi, in honor of the Eucharist. It was formally established by Pope Urban in 1264, after being first urged by the Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. Though primarily celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, there are observances in Anglican and Episcopal churches; some today and some on Sunday. Many will probably further celebrate the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

I have many favored hymns for the Eucharist, or (Holy) Communion, as many know it. There's a wide range of them from the extremely vivid verses about the body and blood of Jesus Christ to the commemorative ones about shared experience and fellowship. I think there's a place for all of them, though I know many people would require a stricter doctrine in one way or another.

Here, O my God, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the Bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal Wine of heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heavenly table spread for me;
Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
The brief, bright hour of fellowship with thee.

Too soon we rise, we go our several ways;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone,
The bread and cup consumed, yet all our days
Thou art still here with us -- our Shield and Sun.

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by;
Yet, passing, points to the glad feast above,
Giving us foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb's eternal feast of bliss and love.

Horatius Bonar, 1855; alt.
Frederick C. Atkinson, 1870

There are three more verses but they drift away from the Communion theme a bit. In the Hymnal 1940 the Episcopalians actually split the verses up and made two different hymns out of it, giving each one an odd "modern" tune. They tried again with some different/additional (but similarly odd) tunes for the two separate hymns in the Hymnal 1982.

Free advice: Give it up. Frederick Atkinson's tune will never die no matter how unsophisticated you think it to be. While you're at it, put the text back together like it is here. Everyone in the pews will be content, if not the organists and theologians who need to tinker.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trinity Sunday

Lead us, great Creator, lead us
O'er the world's tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but thee;
Yet possessing ev'ry blessing
If our God our comfort be.

Savior, breathe forgiveness o'er us;
All our weakness thou dost know;

Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou didst feel its keenest woe;
Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert thou didst go.

Spirit of our God, descending,
Fill our hearts with heav'nly joy,
Love with ev'ry passion blending,
Pleasure that can never cloy;
Thus provided, pardoned, guided,
Nothing can our peace destroy.

John Edmeston, 1821: alt.
An Essay on the Church Plain Chant, 1782

This is not the grandest of Trinitarian hymns, but I still want to post it here today. I bind unto myself today may be about the longest (in English, at least), and Holy, Holy, Holy may be the most familiar (it's even the first hymn - #1 - in some hymnals). But this is the one that I always think of first. There's a story behind it that I've known for many years.

Back in the Presbyterian church my family attended when I was in high school and college, there was a family from New Zealand, here for a few years on assignment from one of those big multinational companies. They were active members in the church, he in the choir and she in a weekly Bible study group; probably in other areas I don't remember any more.

One Sunday before we sang this hymn, our pastor told a story about it. This couple had attended seminary together (they may have met there; I don't recall) and at some point, this hymn became "theirs." They often sang it together, and over many years, if they were apart, there was a particular time of day when they would go off alone and sing it, feeling connected by the hymn regardless of the physical distance between them. Back then I was sitting in the back of the choir loft, familiarizing myself with the indexes in the back of the hymnal during the sermon (not always...), developing this interest of mine, but this was the first time I had encountered the idea that you could have "your own" hymn. After that, the story would be mentioned whenever we sang this (maybe 3 times a year or so); everyone knew the story. I thought it was soooo cool.

A year or two later, the husband was killed in a car accident. Of course we sang this hymn at his funeral and the story was told again. The family moved back to New Zealand after that and most of us lost touch with them over the years, but the story lived on and was retold for years to come. There's a new pastor there now (I guess he's been there several years now, but he's still new to me) and I hope he knows the story -- it became a part of that congregation. And I always think of Mr. and Mrs. C. when this hymn comes to mind.

You may have a hymn story of your own, or one from your church - please consider sharing it. I'm sure psychologists can tell us why and how music can bring memories back to us, but whatever it is, if you're reading this you probably know that the convergence of music and Spirit, combined in a hymn or song can revive a story you haven't thought about in ages. I have other stories, of course, or I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. There's one in particular (actually, it's a hymnal story) about Christmas Eve but I probably can't tell it here - I wouldn't be able to see the screen as I was typing. But it comes to me every year.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Treasures Still

(slight exaggeration perhaps - but where's the quote from? - without using Google!)

I've added a few new links over on the right which you may or may not have noticed. The
Sibley Music Library, located at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY bills itself as "the largest academic music library in North America." But the most interesting thing about them is that they are making vast amounts of their public domain (pre-1922 for the most part) music available online. I've been prowling around the choral music, but there's lots of instrumental pieces, songs, organ pieces, etc. From the main page, follow the links from "Music Resources" to " Sibley Resources" and then to "Sibley Digitized Material." where you can search by composer.

You will also see a link to "Request Public Domain Scores" where you can request particular PD items from their library to be put online. There's a limit to how many you can ask for at once, so if you don't know what to request I have A LOT of suggestions (just kidding).

Farther down on the right I have added two links to "Inclusive & Expansive Language Resources." The first one, Ohio Conference Guidelines (UCC) I've discussed here before (see February 8 for that background if you haven't been reading here that long). The second link is actually to a book review written fifteen years ago by Ruth Duck, but I think there's plenty of food for thought even without the context of the book being discussed.
Ruth Duck, now professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL is one of the pioneers of inclusive language beginning more than thirty years ago as part of the Ecumenical Women's Center of Chicago, a group that published the inclusive language resource Because We Are One People in 1974. Duck's website, linked above, may also give you a lot to explore and think about.

One of her earliest hymns, Lead on, O cloud of Presence, while under copyright, can be found in a book titled Bearing Fruit in Due Season by Elizabeth J. Smith, (thanks fo Google Books -- if the link doesn't take you directly there, go to midway down page 196). The book quotes the first line as Lead on, O cloud of Yahweh, an earlier version that has since been revised by Duck - no text is set in stone. Tying in with our earlier discussion of Onward, Christian soldiers, this text was written to take the place of the older Lead on, O King eternal. It's no mere revision, but a new text altogether (though generally sung to the same tune, LANCASHIRE) -- and one of my favorite twentieth century hymns.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sir Arthur Sullivan

Arthur Seymour Sullivan, born on this day in 1842, was one of the most pre-eminent composers of the Victorian era, though his fame was not in the arena he would have preferred. He became best known for his collaboration with W.S. Gilbert on fourteen comic operas, but he wanted to be admired for his more serious output. He was probably wrong about that.

However, Sullivan did produce a good number of anthems and hymn tunes, as well as four major choral works (The Prodigal Son, The Light of the World, The Martyr of Antioch, and The Golden Legend). This church and choral music was hugely popular in its time and for many years after, but has gradually fallen out of favor.

His best-known hymn tune has always been ST. GERTRUDE, but even that is in danger of becoming lost, since the text it is nearly always paired with is Onward, Christian soldiers. Over the last twenty years, most new hymnals have left out that hymn, and now a whole generation of churchgoers haven't learned Sullivan's tune either.

The Unitarians came up with a solution even before the "problem" of OCS's militaristic language became widely expressed in other denominations, by pairing the tune with a different text.

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call divine;
Gifts in diff'ring measure, hearts of one accord,
Manifold the service, one the sure reward.

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call divine.

Wider grows the vision, reign of love and light;
For it we must labor till our faith is sight
Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified,
Poets sung its glory, heroes for it died.

Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall;
In each loss or triumph, lose or triumph all.
Bound by God's far purpose in one living whole,
Move we on together to the shining goal.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1908; alt.
Tune: ST. GERTRUDE ( with Refrain)
Arthur Seymour Sullivan, 1871

There was, in fact, a real Saint Gertrude, but following Victorian custom, Sullivan really named this after an acquaintance, Gertrude Clay Ker Seymer, at whose country home he composed the tune.

Most of Sullivan's hymn tunes were composed early in his career. He edited a hymnal, Church Hymns With Tunes, published in 1874. I've been looking through it and it's not exactly what might be expected, that is, stuffed full of the high-Victorian tunes of his colleagues in the church music business. While there is certainly some of that (including thirty-eight of his own tunes and even more of his arrangements and harmonizations), the tunes of popular contemporaries like
John Bacchus Dykes and Joseph Barnby are really not very prevalent, especially when compared with other hymnals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sullivan uses many German melodies, older English composers such as Gibbons and Tallis, Lowell Mason to represent the Americans, and psalter tunes from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as some older chant melodies. Yes, some of these things are "arranged," but I was surprised at the breadth of the music offered. Sullivan also included five hymns with tunes by women, a very high percentage for that time. I don't think there are many other hymnals with three tunes by Frances Ridley Havergal.

Toward the end of his life, he was commissioned to write a tune for a hymn written by Bishop
William Walsham How to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The tune, BISHOPGARTH, was sung with How's O King of Kings, whose reign of old throughout the churches of England on Sunday, June 20, 1897. Four more tunes were discovered and published after his death in 1900. Critics continue to debate his overall contribution to hymnody, but there aren't many people who have written anything so familiar as ST. GERTRUDE.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Feast of Pentecost

Joy! because the circling year
Brings its day of blessings here,
Day when first the light divine
On the church began to shine.

Like to quiv'ring tongues of flame,
Onto each the Spirit came:
Tongues, that earth might hear their call,
Fire, that love might burn in all.

So the wondrous works of God
Wondrously were spread abroad;
Ev'ry tribe's familiar tone
Made the glorious marvel known.

Hardened scoffers heard and jeered;
List'ning strangers heard and feared,
Knew the prophets' word fulfilled,
Owned the work which God had willed.

May your Spirit's pow'r restored
On your waiting Church be poured;
Grant our burdened hearts release,
Grant us your abiding peace.

Latin, 8th c.; tr. John Ellerton and F.J.A. Hart, 1871; alt.
Tune: SONNE DER GERECHTIGKEIT ( with Alleluia)
Bohemian Brothers' Kirchengesang, 1566

I like hymns that start with an exclamation. Usually it's Lo! or Hark! but here's a different one: Joy! Perfect for a day of celebration like this one. There is another translation of the original Latin text in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 by Robert Campbell (#224 - Hail this joyful day's return) but I like this one much better.

The sound file you'll hear when you click on the tune link is a little sloooow for this text, but the one with the slightly better tempo at the Oremus Hymnal is unfortunately missing a note in the first line.

Then there's this version, which has to be heard to be believed (wait for the actual melody, which doesn't start until you hear the piano). Maybe a bit too peppy for your church (but maybe not?).

P.S. The illustration above is a woodcut by Gustave Dore.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Truth Upspringing, Justice Bringing

Motherhood, sublime, eternal,
Lives in God’s great heart of Love;
Ever holds us, safe enfolds us,
Underneath, around, above;
Patient, tender, kind, forgiving,
Though in distant paths we roam;
Gently chides us, ever guides us,
And all-loving, leads us home.

Ev’ry wrong will sure be righted;
Ev’ry evil swept away;
Truth upspringing, justice bringing,
Ushers in the brighter day;
Mother calls her earthly children,
Loves them, lifts them when they fall;
Striving, calling, fainting, falling,
Motherlove enfolds them all.

God is Love, and love forever
In the motherheart is blest;
Lives the longest, lifts the strongest,
Far outreaching all the rest;
Not by might, and not by wisdom
Comes our lifting from the sod:
Love’s pure glory tells the story
In the Motherheart of God.

J.S. Cutler, date unknown; alt.
Willis A. Moore, date unknown

I especially like the internal rhymes (those not at the end of the lines).

I had considered posting this hymn yesterday in relation to Julian of Norwich. There are some (including commenter Leland Bryant Ross) who feel that this text is derived from the theology of Julian, and certainly that's possible. But from the first time I encountered this text about twenty years ago, it's always seemed to me to come from the nineteenth century feminist view of motherhood, an ideal founded on the belief that though women were clearly not the equals of men in the physical sphere, they were morally superior, and none so superior as mothers.

I've since learned that J.S. Cutler appears to be Julian Stearns Cutler (1854-1930), a Universalist minister. This hymn appeared in a number of Universalist hymnals, at least as early as The Life Hymnal (1904) through Hymns of the Spirit (1937), and then, curiously, in the Baptist/Disciples hymnal Christian Worship (1941). Cutler also wrote and published secular poems, for which he was more known than for this hymn. The years of his life suggest that he would certainly have been familiar with the feminism of the nineteenth century. However, it's also quite possible that he had sought out the writings of his thirteenth-century namesake.

One of the Universalist hymnals reveals that both Cutler and Willis Moore were "Rev."s, though Moore remains somewhat elusive (Googling Willis Moore will provide many many pages about the formerly married Bruce Willis and Demi Moore). At any rate, I now know that both text and tune are in the public domain, about which I had often wondered.

Regardless of where the original idea for this hymn came from, it's very appropriate for the upcoming holiday this Sunday (though mothers largely will be upstaged this year by the Feast of Pentecost).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), whose feast-day we celebrate today, was a medieval English anchoress ("called to a solitary life, but one that was not cut off from the world, but one anchored in it") who became known for her spiritual writings. Inspired by visions following a severe illness, she wrote Revelations of Divine Love, considered now to be the first book by a woman written in the English language (also now published in a modern English translation). She is most widely known for the aphorism "...All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (which you may not be able to make out in the stained glass window above)

One line from the book that stands out for me is "As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother." No hiding behind metaphor - she lays it out starkly. She also writes extensively of "Jesus our Mother." This broad understanding of God is still shocking for many people, who tend to associate similar ideas to Godless modernity and the evils of feminism, and cannot conceive its coming from the fourteenth century.

The church in Norwich, England where she served and wrote is still a shrine today. An American Order of Julian of Norwich, of Episcopal monks and nuns was started in Norwich, Connecticut in 1986 and now mostly resides in Wisconsin. Many of the prayers and hymns that they use in daily worship are now available online.

In recent years hymns about Julian and her theology have become quite fashionable (all are under copyright). Voices Found, the Episcopal worship resource discussed here before, includes three hymns about Julian or adapted from her ideas:

I am he for whom you long
Loud are the bells of Norwich
Mothering God, you gave me birth.

This last text by Jean Janzen, which has now appeared in a number of hymnals with a few different tunes attached to it, is of course widely attacked for its "modern" and "feminist" ideas (though Janzen only speaks of God as Metaphoric Mother, unlike the more direct Julian). A defense of the hymn was written after it appeared in a Methodist songbook -- with the suggestion that congregations reprint it when using the hymn in worship -- but whether it convinces anyone determined to oppose it is hard to say.

In spite of the controversy, I have no doubt that Julian would still be able to say "...All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Like Bells At Evening Pealing

I've thought for a while that we just do not have enough variety in the hymns we sing at Evensong (which we have twice a month from September through May). It seems like every other time we sing either Christ, mighty Savior, O Trinity of blessed light, or O gracious light, Lord Jesus Christ). Admittedly, some that we don't usually sing are slightly twee, as the Brits say (Now the day is over). And the main reason there aren't as many evening hymns in contemporary hymnals as there used to be is that fewer churches have any sort of evening worship. I've looked in older hymnals from time to time for something to resurrect, but many of those hymns suffer from excessive sentimentality (like Hark, hark my soul).

But here's one that I came across in an 1848 hymnal (A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion) that seems fairly acceptable. The language is slightly, but not overly archaic. And it just happens to match pretty well to a tune of T. Tertius Noble (the guy from the other day).

How shall we praise thee, Lord of light!
How shall we all thy love declare!
The earth is veiled in shades of night,
But heav'n is open to our prayer.

That heav'n so bright with stars and suns,
That glorious heav'n which has no bound,
Where the full tide of being runs,
And life and beauty glow around.

We would adore thee, God sublime,
Whose power and wisdom, love and grace,
Are greater than the round of time,
And wider than the bounds of space.

Help us to praise thee, Lord of light!
Help us thy boundless love declare;
And, while we fill thy courts tonight,
Aid us, and hearken to our prayer.

John Bowring, date unknown
T. Tertius Noble, c.1900

You may notice - no alt.! In the old days we would have changed "Lord" but I'm a little more flexible now. I generally like alliteration, and as long as "Lord" is only one of the many names of God, and is not used in 90% of all hymns, I don't mind using it now and then.

The arching lines of Noble's tune and the (admittedly) high range seem appropriate for a hymn that aspires to heaven and talks about the attributes of God being "wider than the bounds of space."

I doubt that this hymn is in any modern hymnal, but in these days of music notation software there's no reason why it couldnt be used.

P.S. The most perfect evening hymn (and probably the biggest crowdpleaser), is here. We don't sing it very often, though. I assumed that someone in authority believed it to be too "vulgar" for our Anglo-Catholic worship, though I've been told that isn't the case.

Monday, May 5, 2008

T. Tertius Noble

Thomas Tertius Noble, composer, organist, and choirmaster, born on May 5, 1867, began his long career in England, where he was organist at Ely Cathedral and York Minster. He founded the York Symphony Orchestra in 1898. When he was offered the choirmaster job at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, it made the New York Times. He established a choir of men and boys at the church, then in 1918 founded the St. Thomas Choir School for boys, the first US choir school established in the Anglican tradition.

Come, labor on!
Who dares stand idle, on the harvest plain
While all around us waves the golden grain?
And to each person does the Maker say,
“Go work today.”

Come, labor on!
Claim the high calling angels cannot share—
To young and old the Gospel gladness bear;
Redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The night draws nigh.

Come, labor on!

Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
By feeblest agents may our God fulfill
One righteous will.

Come, labor on!
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Well done, well done!”

Jane Laurie Borthwick, 1859; alt.
T. Tertius Noble, 1918

This is Noble's best-known hymn tune, his only composition still in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. He had at least six tunes in the 1916 edition and four in the 1940, as well as a number of harmonizations (he served on the Committees for both those earlier hymnals). Some of those other tunes include EASTWICK, MAUBURN, and NEW YORK (newer tunes ROCKPORT and NEW ENGLAND are still under copyright). Overall, his hymn tunes have gone out of fashion, (though I like EASTWICK) much like his instrumental and chamber music, and even his anthems, which were well known to earlier generations. Some of his service music still survives: his Evening Services in B minor and A minor, and his Anglican chant settings (we did one on Sunday, though it had no relation to his birthday).

Noble spent thirty years at St. Thomas before retiring at the age of 75. I don't know if they sang Come, labor on at his final service, but it surely would have been appropriate. In retirement, (spent in Rockport, MA), he was known as the dean emeritus of American organists.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hark! the Songs of Peaceful Zion...

Though technically the Feast of the Ascension was on Thursday, many (if not most) churches will observe it today. I've been told that there are only two feast days in the Episcopal Church that can "legally" be transferred to the following Sunday: Saint Michael and All Angels (September 30), and the patronal feast of a parish, but it's hard to believe, since Ascension, Epiphany, and All Saints' Day seem to be moved all the time. Naturally, non-Episcopalians have no qualms about movable feasts, since they rarely have any sort of worship on weekdays, and I'm not at all up on what the Roman Catholics do.

Anyway, if your church follows the liturgical year, you may be singing this hymn today. It's not as inevitable as Jesus Christ is risen today on Easter, but it's one of the best-known Ascension hymns with a tune everyone knows and sings.

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!
Thine the scepter, thine the throne.
Alleluia! Thine the triumph,
Thine the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion
Thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus, out of every nation
Hast redeemed us by thy blood.

Alleluia! not as orphans
Are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! Thou art near us;
Faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received thee
When the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget thy promise,
“I am with you evermore”?

Alleluia! Bread of Heaven,
Thou on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! Here the weary
Flee to thee from day to day:
Intercessor, Friend of sinners,
Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the faithful
Sweep across the crystal sea.

William Chatterton Dix, 1866; alt.
Rowland Hugh Prichard, c.1830

The popular HYFRYDOL first appeared in a collection called Haleliwiah Drachefn (Welsh, as if you couldn't guess) in 1855, some years after Prichard is supposed to have written it. It has been used for many, many different hymn texts since that time. One thing that makes this tune especially singable is that the melody is all within a fifth until the last line, which only rises to a sixth, so everyone can find a comfortable range to sing it in.

James Lightwood, in The Music of the Methodist Hymnbook (UK, 1933), writes that "a generous elasticity in its rhythm enables enthusiasts to fit it to other metres than the one for which it was written." I knew of one such enthusiast who was attempting to find a different text for every Sunday of the church year that could be sung to HYFRYDOL. You'd start with Come, thou long-expected Jesus for the First Sunday in Advent, I suppose, and proceed from there, but the congregation would probably mutiny during Epiphany and even the choir couldn't make it to Easter.

P.S. The picture above is a woodcut by Albrecht Durer that I couldn't resist as it depicts the Ascension from a slightly odd angle. Like the way I look at hymns sometimes.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Feast of the Ascension

He is gone—a cloud of light
Has received him from our sight;
Through the veils of time and space,
Passed into the holiest place;
Still his words before us range
Through the ages as they change:
Wheresoe’er the truth shall lead,
Christ will give whate’er we need.

He is gone—towards their goal
World and church must onward roll;
Far behind we leave the past;
Forward are our glances cast:
Though himself no more we see,
Comfortless we will not be:
No, the Spirit still is ours,
Quick'ning, fresh'ning all our powers.

He is gone—but we once more
Shall behold him as before;
In the heaven of heavens the same,
As on earth he went and came;
In the many mansions there,
Place for us he will prepare;
In that world unseen, unknown,
Christ and we shall yet be one.

He is gone—but not in vain,
Wait until he comes again:
Christ is ris'n, he is not here,
Far above this earthly sphere;
Evermore in heart and mind
There our peace in him we find:
To our own eternal Friend,
Thitherward let us ascend.

Arthur P. Stanley, 1859; alt.
Edward J. Hopkins, 1867

This hymn is a bit of a cut-and paste job. The original text appears to be in six verses, though I have mostly seen it in four. I've rearranged a few lines here and there while keeping the same progression of ideas. Admittedly, the tune CULFORD is not particularly well-known. Edward Hopkins wrote a number of hymn tunes, though the only one still familiar to many would be ELLERS. Sullivan's hymn tune ST. PATRICK was specifically written for this text, but it's not one of his better efforts. I almost like ABERYSTWYTH, but the mood is not quite right. The text could also be sung to EASTER HYMN, though I don't think anyone would (matching up the Alleluia sections would be a chore for many).