Nodie Murphy, Choir Director
Nodie Murphy originated the idea of worship gifts by members of the congregation during the summer months while the choir is on vacation. On July 21, 2019, Nodie presented her gift and many in the congregation praised it. It seemed that it deserved a wider audience, hence this reproduction. Special thanks to the trio, Amy Harris (violin), Jonathan Geer (piano) and Tony Rogers (cello) for providing the associated music.
Before we adopted the Glory to God hymnal, we had an ongoing debate here between “the red and the black,” the Pilgrim Hymnal (dating from 1931) and the "New Century Hymnal" (published in 1995). The “red” represented tradition and familiarity; the “black” brought us new hymns, but also “tinkered” with the poetry of the older ones in order to bring them up to date with newer notions of inclusiveness and progressive theology. Generally speaking, to keep the peace, if a hymn was found in both hymnals, we would sing the traditional version of it from the Pilgrim Hymnal. Until one Sunday…
The choir was rehearsing “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart” (Pilgrim Hymnal #345), preparing for the worship service. The second verse began “Bright youth and snow-crowned age, strong men and maidens meek” …and I just couldn’t do it. I dared to announce to the congregation that, instead of singing the “red hymnal” version listed in the bulletin, we would be singing the New Century Hymnal version, “Rejoice, YOU Pure in Heart,” whose second verse begins “Bright youth and seasoned age, strong souls and spirits meek.” Yes, I know, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but I wasn’t feeling meek that day, just a bit irritated.
In the Glory to God hymnal, that entire verse is omitted. In fact, often hymns are written with many more verses than appear in published hymnals collections. Committees are appointed to assemble a new hymnal, and the members sift through myriad possibilities to arrive at a book one can hold in one’s hand. For years I have been wanting to look at the relationships between words and tunes with you—and today is my chance!
Let’s begin by looking at some poetry by Edward Perronet: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” on page 1, shown below, of your music booklet. Perronet published the first stanza of this hymn in Gospel Magazine in 1779, then produced seven more verses the next year. He was originally a Methodist, then became a Congregational minister near Canterbury in England. Soon afterwards, an English Baptist minister, John Rippon, began altering the text and adding stanzas. As you see, not all the verses that these two men wrote are in this Pilgrim Hymnal version of it. Let’s sing the first verse of #581. (Sing v. 1)
(Click to hear trio play 581.)
The name of the tune we just sang, CORONATION, can be found in the upper right-hand corner of the page. It was composed by Oliver Holden in 1793. Holden was an early American carpenter, legislator, musician—and hymnal editor. He helped to rebuild Charlestown, Massachusetts, after the British burned it in the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Holden generously used his own money to build churches and publish music. According to the New Century Hymnal Companion book, CORONATION is the only eighteenth-century American hymn tune still in general use. The small pipe organ on which Holden composed it is in the Old State House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Let’s sing the second verse. (Sing v. 2)
David McKinley Williams wrote the included descant for this tune. The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology says that Williams was “one of the most dynamic 20th Century leaders of American church music.” He was born in Wales in 1887, but moved here and was organist at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City from 1920 until 1947. Let’s sing verse 3. I encourage any high voices among you to attempt this descant. (Sing v. 3)
In an old Presbyterian hymnal I found a different descant for this tune, one written by Michael E. Young in 1979. Turn to page 2, shown below, of your booklet and let’s all sing the 4th verse with Young’s descant. (Sing v. 4, p. 2)(Trio plays 142.)
When I compared the versions of this hymn in various hymnals, I found that they all started with verse one, then some had 4 verses, some had 5 or 6, the order of verses was often rearranged (the “wormwood and the gall” verse was left out of most of them). What intrigued me, though, were the different hymn tunes used for Perronet’s and Rippon’s words. Look at page 3 in your booklet, #196, shown below; this is the “second tune” for “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” in the Pilgrim Hymnal. The composer, William Shrubsole, like Oliver Holden, lived in the late eighteenth century. The tune is called MILES LANE. Let’s sing verses 1 and 3; note that verse 3 in #196 from the Pilgrim Hymnal is verse 2 in #142 version we just sang, but that the word order is slightly altered. (Sing vs. 1 & 3)
(Trio plays 196.)
Actually, Chester Rosson started me on this journey when he brought me the tune on page 4, shown below, of your booklet from his Methodist Hymnal, #155. James Ellor wrote it in 1838. The tune name is DIADEM.
One big difference between this version and the two others we sang is that this DIADEM tune has 3 beats to the measure while the others had 4 beats to the measure, making them more march-like. Amy, Jonathan and Tony, would you please play it once through.
(Trio plays 155.)
Look halfway down the page. Notice how the notes in the treble clef in the third system dance about, while the bass clef singers are very emphatic. Jonathan, please play the treble clef in the third system where the words “and crown him” appear.
(Jonathan plays 1st snippet, Dancing Notes.)
Now Jonathan and Tony, please play the notes in the bass clef, the “less dancy” ones.
(Jonathan and Tony play 2nd snippet, less dancy notes.)
Now look at the last system, the one at the bottom: the roles change. Now the lowest voices are “dancing,” while the other parts are more staid. Tony, please play the bass part from the last measure of the system above, where the word “crown” appears below the notes.
Jonathan and Amy, would you please play the three other parts in the bottom system.
(Jonathan and Amy play.)
Now would the trio play that section beginning with the last measure of the third system.
Now please play both of those sections, beginning with “and crown him,” and we’ll listen to how the different parts dance around.
Now let’s hear it all the way through one time and then sing verses one and three. (Sing vs. 1 & 3, p. 4)
(Trio plays 155.)
Did you notice that “the wormwood and the gall” showed up? Twice?
Now look at page 5, of your booklet; shown at right below, this is #304 from the New Century Hymnal.
Here’s an example of the word changes made by that hymnal committee. Read the verses over to yourself. What are the most obvious changes? Why do you think they were made?
Any ideas? (Had a problem with “Lord,” tried to explain Christ’s message to current worshipers, tried to clarify how making Christ “Lord” over Caesar meant something different: servant of all, bearer of all, healer of all, savior of all.)
So far I’ve been talking about a poem, frequently altered, being set to a variety of tunes. My other fascination is with great varieties of poems being set to one tune: EBENEZER. A Welsh organist and choral composer, Thomas J. Williams, wrote this tune seen on page 7 below, around 1890 as part of an anthem. When it became a hymn tune, he named it for Ebenezer Chapel, which he had attended. This tune is also known as TON-Y-BOTEL (Welsh for “tone in a bottle”) after a legend that it had washed ashore in a bottle.
The first time I remember singing this tune was here in the Congregational Church of Austin, #441 (above) in the Pilgrim Hymnal, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” The words were written by James Russell Lowell, an abolitionist born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1819, the son of a Unitarian minister. Lowell earned a law degree from Harvard and was a language scholar, poet and essay writer. He taught languages at Harvard for 20 years. In 1857 he became editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Later he received political appointments abroad. He died in Cambridge in 1891. The words to this hymn are taken from one of his poems, called “The Present Crisis,” about the national crisis over slavery leading up to the Civil War. The NAACP named its newsletter “The Crisis” after this poem and Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently quoted from it. Let’s sing verses 1 and 3. (Sing vs. 1 & 3)
(Trio plays 441, tune is EBENEZER.)
Please open your Glory to God hymnal to #181, shown below.
The words to “Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit” are also set to the tune EBENEZER. Thomas H. Troeger wrote the words to this hymn in 1984. It concerns the experience of Jesus exorcizing a demon. Let’s sing the first verse. (Sing v. 1) The footnote to this hymn says that the “recurring three-note figures help to convey a sense of internal turmoil.” Can you hear that? Let’s sing the second verse in a manner conveying this agitation. (Sing v. 2)
(Trio plays 181, tune is EBENEZER.)
Now turn to hymn #758, shown below, in the Glory to God hymnal.
ln 1995, Michael Morgan wrote the words to “Why Do Nations Rage Together” as a paraphrase of Psalm 2. Here again “turmoil” is suggested in the footnote. Let’s all sing the first verse in a tumultuous fashion! (Sing v. 1)
(Trio plays 758, tune is EBENEZER.)
In the United Methodist Hymnal I found the hymn “Let My People Seek Their Freedom” set to the tune EBENEZER. The words are on page 8, of your booklet, shown below. T. Herbert O’Driscott wrote them in 1971. He was an Irishman educated at Trinity College, Dublin, who became dean of the cathedral in Vancouver, Canada. He wrote 30 books and was known as a brilliant scholar, great preacher and “mesmerizing Irish storyteller.” Let’s read these hymn words silently to ourselves. (Read silently.)
Now let us sing verse 4 together. (Sing v. 4)
(Trio plays 758, tune EBENEZER.)
So, I sense here turmoil, yes, but also the “hungering for grace.” The “journeying into space” leads us to another poem sung to this tune, “Thy Strong Word,” found on page 9 of your booklet, shown below.
These words were written by Martin Franzmann, an American Lutheran clergyman born in 1907 in Minnesota, the son of a Lutheran minister who had immigrated from Germany. Martin was a theologian and a college professor. I found these words in a Lutheran hymnal, and the three-note pattern of EBENEZER seems circular to me, like planets in orbit. The emphasis here appears to be on light rather than darkness, creation rather than destruction, salvation rather than despair. Let’s sing the first 12 lines of “Thy Strong Word.” Note the triple “Alleluias!” at the end of each stanza we sing. (Sing 2 verses)
(Trio plays 758, tune EBENEZER.)
Now let’s sing the last six lines, beginning with “God, the father.” (Sing last 6 lines) The three-note pattern here seems to suggest the Trinity, the Triune God--not so much turmoil as being enveloped in God’s love and light.
Now turn to page 10 in your booklet, shown below, #450, “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.”
Do you remember when Bernadette Peters sang “Someone to Watch over Me” about twice as slowly as it was usually sung? It transformed that song. Let’s sing the first verse of “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” slowly and lovingly. (Sing v. 1) Samuel Trevor Francis, an English lay preacher, wrote these words around 1890, about the same time as the tune EBENEZER was composed by Williams. Francis made his living as a merchant, but he loved to write hymns. This one is his best known.
(Trio plays 450.)
On page 12, of your booklet, shown below, you’ll find “God Hath Spoken by the Prophets,” words written by George W. Briggs, an English hymn writer and Anglican clergyman.
Let’s sing the first stanza together. (Sing v. 1) These words were originally written to be set to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Let’s try that! (Sing v. 1 to “Joyful, Joyful,” #611).
(Trio plays 611.)
Do you feel what a difference a tune makes? If you look on page 1006 of the Glory to God hymnal, you’ll find the Metrical Index of Tunes, and you can look up all the hymns that have the syllable count 87.87.D. That means that any of these poems could be sung to EBENEZER—or the Ode to Joy! –or to 27 other tunes. How does one select the most appropriate words to fit the most inspiring tunes?
By now I’m hoping that EBENEZER has become an earworm that you will carry home with you today. As homework I offer you “Alleluia! Alleluia!” on page 13 of your booklet, shown below.
Try singing it on the way home and see whether you sense turmoil or peace, darkness or light, trinity or unity—of all of the above!
I became acquainted with the Glory to God hymnal through Glauçia Vasconcelos-Wilkey, a soprano in the San Gabriel Chorale with which I sing in Georgetown. She and her husband had retired to Sun City from careers in church music, theology and liturgy at Seattle Presbytery. She spoke Portuguese, Italian, English, Spanish, French, Korean, and German, played various instruments, sang beautifully, and had recently edited a collection of essays on church liturgy. She was on the committee that assembled the Glory to God hymnal.
I think of each hymnal as being like our prayer net, the collected contributions of many composers and authors, of magazine editors and theologians, of individuals and committees—each trying to guide the music in order to pull us closer to God. Each one has a perspective, a vision, a bias, a hope, a fear, an inspiration, a dedication, a calling. All are striving to put God in our hearts and in our memories, to be recalled in time of need or celebration.
Please turn to hymn #280 in the Glory to God hymnal, shown below. Janie Alford wrote these words in 1979, when she was 92 years old. She was born in Nashville, Tennessee and worked for over forty years as a medical secretary. She wrote poetry all her life. She helped start the library at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, where she was a charter member. Alford died in 1986 at the age of 99. In her honor and in honor of all the spiritual journeys that have led to this book we hold in our hands, let us sing the first verse of “Come, O Spirit, Dwell among Us.” (Sing v. 1)
(Trio plays 280.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member…may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church.”
(from Life Together)