Hymn 493: “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion”

This was the title of Charles Wesley’s “O for a thousand tongues to sing” when he first published it in his Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1740.  Later, it was chosen by his brother John to be the first hymn in A Collection of Hymns for Use of the People Called Methodists (1780), the first true Methodist hymnal.

For this reason it is has generally been placed at the beginning of the hymnals of the United Methodist church and its forerunner Methodist denominations in this country (with the exception of the 1932 Methodist Hymnal, which led off with ‘Holy, holy holy’).  Methodists in the UK, however, do not attach the same significance; their hymnals tend begin with a paraphrases of Psalm 100 (either ‘Before Jehovah’s awful throne’ or ‘All people that on earth do dwell’).

In American hymnals, “O for a thousand tongues” almost always appears with the familiar hymntune Azmon.  Azmon is a sturdy melody in triple time by Carl Gotthilf Gläser (1784-1824), a provincial German composer and teacher that had been a boy chorister at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.  It is interesting to note, again, that Brits do not hold to any such strict monogamy between texts and tunes, particularly in this case.  One can see in the illustration above that Wesley indicated ‘Birstal Tune’ was the tune for this text, but that did not catch on either.  In a quick glance through my modest hymnal collection, I found this hymn paired with no fewer than twelve different tunes.  This might seem bewildering, but it isn’t actually that surprising—because of the straightforward meter of the poetry, this hymn can be sung to a wide variety of tunes (including the themes to The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’sIsland).

My favorite tune for this him, the one we sang when I was at university in Wales, is an early 19th-century fuguing tune by Thomas Jarman called Lyngham:

Lyngham has a sprightly melody with several repetitions of the text and lots of interplay between the parts; it has a very similar musical character as Azmon, actually, but is a much longer and more elaborate tune.

As with many of the hymns we sing, this one is excerpted from a much longer poem.  Wesley’s original has 18 stanzas beginning with the text ‘Glory to God, and praise and love.’  The part we know begins at stanza 7.  The number of stanzas that editors tend to include in hymnals varies between five and eight, with as many as ten in Wesley’s original 1780 collection.  As often as not, stanza 1 will be appended to the end of the hymn as a sort of summing up—this is the case in Thy Hymnal 1982.

There is a companion volume to the hymnal that has background and commentary on all the hymns.  The entry on this hymn observes that “this important text by Charles Wesley has suffered at the hands of past Revision Committees of the Hymnal.” Well, I’m sorry to say that the suffering continued at the hands of Revision Committee for the present hymnal.  I am talking about what they did in stanza 5: “Hear him, he deaf: his praise, ye dumb / your loosened tongues employ.”  Now in fairness, I have to admit that “dumb” is considered a bad word by my pre-school aged sons, but I really fail to see who else but a six year old could misunderstand or take offence to its use in the context.  The solution that the committee put forward is typically vapid:  “Hear him, he deaf: ye voiceless ones / your loosened tongues employ.”  Being voiceless (hoarse?  shy?  victim of political repression?) does not pack the punch of being dumb–physically unable to talk.  Also, changing the end of the first line from “dumb” to “ones” necessitated changing the end of the third line from “come” to “comes,” and even at that they don’t rhyme.  To me the thing is just…well, dumb.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, here is the full eighteen stanzas of Wesley’s original hymn.  The harlots, publicans, and sons of lust in the later stanzas can be read as eighteenth-century “quaint,” but the penultimate stanza contains an image so shocking to modern ears that it would be completely unusable in any worship context –it was omitted in the “full” version of the text in the current United Methodist hymnal.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
on my benighted soul he shone
and filled it with repose.

Sudden expired the legal strife,
’twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life
I then began to live.

Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
me, me he loved, the Son of God,
for me, for me he died!

I found and owned his promise true,
Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I knew
When written on my heart.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life, and health, and peace!

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.

He speaks, and listening to his voice
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

Look unto him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace!

See ally our sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

Harlot sand publicans and thieves,
in holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew,
ye sons of lust and pride,
believe the Savior died for you;
for me the Savior died.

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Ethiop white.

With me, your chief, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below
and own that love is heaven.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788), gesturing for the altos to sing just a bit more softly

Hail thee, festival day: Pentecost

May 27, 2012 – Holy Eucharist, Rite II – 11:00 am

Chris Ackerman and John Crowley, trumpets;
Amy Tully, flute; Matt Ward, oboe;
Steve Kirkman, timpani

Listen to Hymn 225,
‘Hail thee, festival day’ (Salve, festa diesHERE 

Please click on the links below to hear other music from this service; download the service leaflet here

Bach: O Spirit of God, O Spirit of life

Psalm 104:25-37 (Plainsong, Tone 2)

Hymn 521, Put forth, O God, the Spirit’s might (Chelsea Square)

Gabrieli: Jubilate Deo. omnis terra

T. Tertius Noble: ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit’

The beautiful “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” by T. Tertius Noble was sung by the Trinity Choir this past Sunday.  The anthem is a setting of Ephesians 4:30-32 and opens with a lengthy soprano solo that was elegantly sung in this instance by Kristine Chaney.

Listen to T. Tetius Noble’s ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit’ here:

In our preparation of this anthem, the choir spent a little time musing about the lore and legend of T. Tertuis Noble himself, the founder of the noted St. Thomas Choir School in New York City.  First of all, the name:  what sort of a name is ‘Tertius’? And what does the ‘T’ stand for?  It turns out that the T is for Thomas, and that both his father and grandfather were called Thomas as well.  So he was the third Thomas Noble—hence, Tertius.

T. Tertius Noble (1867-1953) at the organ at St. Thomas

When Noble assumed the post at St. Thomas in 1912, he was already at the top of his profession in England.  He was the organist at York Minster and, at that time, the sanity of leaving ‘Old’ York for New York was seriously questioned by many.  When Noble’s successor at York Minster, Edward Bairstow, was asked about it he supposedly quipped that he would ‘rather go to the devil’ than to America.  But times do change: in fact, history repeated itself 92 years later when John Scott left St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to come to St. Thomas in 2004.

Aside from his edition of Handel’s Messiah (the gray Schirmer books), I would say that Noble’s most ubiquitous musical legacy is a volume called Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes.  It’s one of those collections of fancy accompaniments that organists use for the last verse of hymns.  The music is okay, but I think the most interesting thing by far about the book is Noble’s preface.  It gives a glimpse into church music of that era and reveals some really strongly-held biases on the part of the author.  Here are some excerpts:

“THE practice of singing hymns in unison has been a common one for many years, especially in churches where the congregation really knows the spiritual uplift to be gained from such a custom. I recall the thrilling effect produced by some seven hundred undergraduates singing in unison at Trinity College, Cambridge, England during the services held there on Sunday evenings. It was not only the unisonal singing that moved one, but also the masterful, free organ accompaniments improvised by Charles Villiers Stanford. As his assistant, from 1890 to 1892, I came under the inspiring influence of this outstanding church musician; and ever since that time it has been my practice to encourage unison singing in all hymns, at least in one verse, or, if the hymn is long, in two or three verses.

“Since retiring from active church work, I have had the opportunity of writing down some of these organ accompaniments used in actual practice. This book is the outcome of over fifty years’ experience of congregational singing in churches and cathedrals in England, and at St. Thomas’ Church, New York City. I hope that its contents will be useful to organists throughout the country in churches of every denomination; at least they will be found useful in demonstrating what can be done in this fashion. There may be some who will challenge the changes of harmony and the free accompanimental treatment that has been used to embellish the melodies.  But I am sure that a large number of organists will enjoy the varied treatments provided, and I trust they will be considered in good taste.

Now we leave introduction and enter into commentary:

“In the playing of free organ accompaniments care should be taken to avoid thick registration. Do not use “doubles” or sub-couplers on the manuals, and play the pedal part as written, in the right pitch. The constant use of the lower notes on the pedal board becomes tiresome and should be avoided. Filling in with the left hand should be discouraged, especially in the doubling of the major third and the leading note, and, of course, the promiscuous [emphasis added] adding of the seventh in the chord.  A thick, muddy effect only causes confusion and gives no aid to the congregation in singing. Clean phrasing in the pedal part as well as on the manuals is very essential.  The poor habit of “carrying over” at the end of the lines is very tiresome; this should occur only when the sense of the words demands it.

And yet more commentary:

“Some of the hymns in this collection are of a rather sentimental type, not so much from the standpoint of the melody, but because of the poor harmonization. Many of the tunes written between 1830 and 1900 suffered because the composers, although they could write a good melody, were not able to provide interesting harmonic backgrounds, with good part writing for all the voices…such boring part writing would seem tedious even for a small choir in a village church…

“The singing of hymns by the congregation should be encouraged not only by the organist, but also by the rector or minister of the church. Indeed, an occasional word from the pulpit about this important matter will be found to be most helpful. It is hoped that this collection of additional accompaniments may likewise be useful in carrying out the Psalmist’s injunction to “sing merrily unto God our strength; make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob.”

T. Tertius Noble, 1946


Hymn Festival Awesomeness

Trinity was pleased to host Jamie Bobb, Minister of Music at First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, for a hymn festival on Friday, February 17.  Jamie had rehearsed with the Trinity Choir on that preceding Wednesday, and they very much enjoyed working with him.  The festival itself (which was a fantastic success) was a mixture of old and new hymns from various traditions, all an improvisations and arrangements by Jamie.

Please click on the links below to listen to some of the hymns from the festival; download the concert program here.

‘The Church’s one Foundation’ (Aurelia)

‘Sing of the Lord’s goodness’ (The Lord’s Goodness)
based on the jazz standard ‘Take Five,’ made famous by Dave Brubeck

‘The King of love my Shepherd is’ (St. Columba) and ‘Sing with all the saints in glory’ (Mississippi)

‘Each morning brings us’ (All Morgen ist ganz frisch) and ‘I want Jesus to walk with me’ (Sojurner)
Lisa Jennings, solo

‘Abide with me’ (Eventide)

‘O God beyond all praising’ (Thaxted)

For more information about Jamie and his musical work in Columbus, please visit the First Congregational Church website here.

Hymn Festival This Friday

Friday, February 17, 7:30 p. m.
Music for Brass, Organ, and Choir
Free and Open to the Public


James E. Bobb,
Minister of Music,
First Congregational Church, Columbus, Ohio

Hymns on the Program Include:

The Church’s one Foundation
Sing of the Lord’s goodness (bassed on ‘Take Five,’ made famous by Dave Brubeck)
Abide with me
The King of love my shepherd is
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
I want Jesus to walk with me

and many others

Hymns for a Gracious Family

This Sunday’s lesson from Ephesians (chapter 6, verses 1-4: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…Fathers, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord…”) coincides very nicely with Rally Day and the opening of Sunday School.  We will also celebrate a Baptism at the 11:00 service.  All three of these occurrences point a strong focus on family relationships, with particular emphasis on the care and Godly nurture of children.  This Sunday we will sing a few hymns that speak directly to those themes.

Hymn 412: Earth and all stars! (Earth and All Stars)

This hymn was written for the 90th anniversary of St. Olaf College in 1964.  The author, Herbert Brokering, comments, “I tried to gather into a hymn of praise the many facets of life which merge in the life of the community.  So there are references to building, nature, learning, family, war, festivity.”  Pastor Brokering is the author of over thirty of books as well as a number of hymns, many of which (like ‘Earth and all stars’) contain imaginative and evocative imagery that attempts to juxtapose the mysteries of salvation with the experiences of the world in which we live.

This hymn was chosen to begin our worship on Rally Day precisely because it encompasses such a wide variety of images.  This reflects not only the diversity of experiences that we bring as individuals, but it hopefully reflects the great and ever-growing scope of ministries in our parish.  The text of the refrain, “He has done marvelous things, I too will praise him with a new song” also reminds us that we make a new song to God with our lives as we celebrate and re-commit ourselves to another year of ministry and mission.

587: Our Father, by whose Name (Rhosymedre)

This text was written in 1939 by the Rev. F. Bland Tucker, who had a hand in editing both the 1940 and 1982 Episcopal hymnals.  In an article written long afterward, he recalled that the members of the committee to edit The Hymnal 1940 we asked to

make a topical index of all the hymns chosen.  I wrote down among other topics, “Home and Family,” but then discovered that there was no hymn on that topic among those chosen.  I looked in other hymnals but could find none (this was 40 years ago), so I tried to write one.  I started from Ephesians 3:14-15 and then the Trinity suggested the home, parents, children, and spirit of the family.

416: For the Beauty of the Earth (Dix)

This familiar text (first published in 1864) did not immediately spring to mind as a “family” hymn.  I think of it as a more general hymn of praise, cast in the mold of Psalm 96 or 98, giving thanks for the wonders of God’s creation and then listing them comprehensively, if not tediously.  But lo, there in stanza 4, was the relevant phrase: “For the joy of human love, / brother, sister, parent, child…”  And so we include it this Sunday.

Superfluous Commentary: Words that Do Not Belong in Hymns

Consider the following, an actual hymn text by Isaac Watts, the same guy who wrote ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ and ‘Joy to the world.”  You can sing it to the Doxology:

Blest is the man whose bowels move
And melt with pity to the poor;
Whose soul, by sympathizing love,
Feels what his fellow saints endure.

His heart contrives for their relief
More good than his own hands can do;
He, in the time of general grief,
Shall find the Lord has bowels, too.

Indeed!  The word that caught your attention, in addition to its obvious clicical definition, has an archaic meaning as “the seat of pity or the gentler emotions.”

Alimentary, my dear Watts.

The Great O Antiphons

On Wednesday, December 15, we will have a service of Lessons and Carols for Advent.  This will be an opportunity to recall the promise of the Savior’s coming in the form of Old Testament prophecy and traditional music of the season.  This service will also be the conclusion of the “Wednesdays at Trinity” activities for 2010; dinner in Gravely Hall at 5:45, followed by the service at 6:30.

The seven lessons and seven carols at this service will be chosen and organized around the so-called “Great O Antiphons,” a series of chants that were sung along with the Magnificat at Vespers on the seven nights before Christmas Eve.  Each antiphon is a prayer for deliverance, and they all begin by addressing the Messiah by one of the prophetic titles found in the Old Testament:

Dec 17       O Sapientia (Wisdom)
Dec 18       O Adonai (Sacred Lord)
Dec 19       O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
Dec 20       O Clavis David (Key of David)
Dec 21       O Oriens (Dayspring)
Dec 22       O Rex Genitum (King of the nations)
Dec 23       O Emmanuel (God with us)

These antiphons embed a striking acrostic: read in inverse order from last to first, the second letter of each antiphon spells out the words ERO CRAS, which in Latin means “tomorrow I will be with you,” a message that is not revealed until the final antiphon is sung on December 23. 

In the event that they might help in your devotional observance of Advent, here are the complete texts of all the antiphons:

December 17 – O Sapientia (Wisdom)

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
Pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

December 18 – O Adonai (Sacred Lord)

O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel,
Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai:
Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

December 19 – O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the peoples,
Before whom kings are mute and to whom the nations will do homage: 
Come quickly to deliver us.

December 20 – O Clavis David (Key of David)

O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel, 
You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open:  
Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 21 – O Oriens (Dayspring)

O Dayspring,
Splendor of Light everlasting: 
Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 22 – O Rex Genitum (King of the nations)

O King of Nations,
The Ruler they long for, the Cornerstone uniting all people:
Come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

December 23 – O Emmanuel (God with us)

O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord,
The Anointed for the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Wedding Freight of the Holy Spirit

Finally, for your intellectual and devotional interest, here is the entire text of the anthem.  I can assure you that the music will be just as beautiful and evocative as the words.

O Thou sweetest Source of gladness,
   Light’s all lovely fountain head,
Who, alike in joy and sadness,
   Leavest none unvisited;
Breath of God head, highest King,
Who upholding everything,
   Wilt uphold, with love undying.
   Hear, O hear me humbly crying.

From thy throne, as April shower
   Thou descendest, heavenly One,
Freighted with thy sevenfold dower,
   From the Father, and the Son.
Bring me noble Guest divine,
God’s own blessings they are thine,
   Freely dealt at thy good pleasure,
   Fill me in abundant measure.

Save, uphold, and go before me,
   Fainting, be my staff and rod:
Dying, to new life restore me,
   Buried, be my grave, O God: 
From the dust when I arise,
Come, exalt me to the skies,
   Where thou within realms supernal
   Feed thy saints with joys eternal. 

-Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676),
trans. Rev. George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934)