Hymn of the Month

A Hymn-of-the-Month program is an effective means of introducing a congregation to new hymns and of using familiar hymns in inventive and fresh ways. Such a program can be invaluable in preparing a congregation for a new hymnal.

In our church the director of music introduces next month's hymn on the last Sunday evening of each month. He gives a short background on the text, which is printed in the bulletin, and on the tune, which he and the organist and the choir teach to the people. On the first Sunday morning of the month, the congregation, bolstered by the choir, sings the hymn "straight." On the second Sunday, we make our own hymn concertato—a hymn arranged for congregation, choir, organ, and instruments. Later in the month the organist plays an arrangement of the hymn, the choir furnishes a more elaborate choral setting, and sometimes the congregation participates in a published concertato version of the hymn.

Printed below you'll find some fairly detailed suggestions on the hymns Reformed Worship recommends for January through March of next year. You may wish to reprint some of the background information in your church bulletin.

O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High

This is a hymn for Epiphany, the season that begins by commemorating the wisemen's visit to Jesus and then celebrates other events, such as Jesus' baptism and temptations, that also serve to reveal God in Jesus Christ to the whole world. The text is a very old anonymous Latin hymn, translated into English in 1854 by Benjamin Webb. The Epiphany message is especially strong in the first stanza: "that God, the Son of God, should take our mortal form for mortal's sake." The subsequent stanzas celebrate Christ's suffering and triumph "for us."

The tune of the hymn is called DEO GRACIAS because these are the first two words of the original song, a ballad commemorating the victory of King Henry V of England at Agin-court, France, in 1415. This "Agincourt Hymn," as it is often called, is one of the most famous old English songs.

The stark, medieval quality of the tune is dramatically highlighted by the use of fanfares. You may hear the effect of these fanfares in the recording Lift High the Cross, made by the Calvin College Oratorio Society and available from CRC Publications. In recording this hymn, we used an organ fanfare written by E. Power Biggs and published in a Treasury of Early Organ Music, Mercury Music Corporation. Although Biggs lists John Dunstable as the composer, this fanfare is really Biggs's imaginative organ arrangement of the old anonymous English song, originally composed in only two voices. At Calvin two trumpets, two trombones, and tympani (optional) played this fanfare as an opening to the song and as an interlude between stanzas. We used unison brass for the melody of the final stanza.

On the following pages you'll find another, slightly more elaborate fanfare. The upper and lower voices are the original refrain; the rest is newly composed. (Biggs used only the lower voice of the original refrain.)

The combination of text and tune printed on page 44 is found in several hymnals, including Rejoice in the Lord (342) and the new Episcopal Hymnal 1982, and is scheduled for inclusion in the new editions of the Psalter Hymnal and the Trinity Hymnal. The Hymnbook 1982 also includes a fifteenth-century setting of the song with the melody in the bass.

The Biggs arrangement of this song makes an especially fine and stately postlude. Also worthwhile is a hymn prelude on this tune by Healey Willan (Ten Hymn Preludes, II, Peters). A choral arrangement by Carl Shalk, using the Biggs fanfare, is published by Concordia. Choral stanzas from this piece could help to form a hymn concertato in which the choir sings one or two stanzas; to provide variety, men in the congregation may be asked to sing some stanzas, women others.

Psalm 23

The twenty-third psalm has appeared in rhymed, metrical psalters since the beginning of the Reformation. Many of us are familiar with "The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want," from the old Scottish Psalter.

In the history of Reformed psalmody, the Scottish Psalter is second only to the Genevan in wealth of tunes and texts. Many appealing, forthright Scottish melodies have found their way into English and American hymnals. Some of the texts also have crossed the Atlantic and appear in updated versions in our psalters today. Fortunately absent is one poet's rather eager rendition of Psalm 83:

O God, no longer hold thy peace,
Hands folded in Thy lap,
But raise Thy rod to shelter me,
And give my foes a rap.

Although its fame is rather recent, CRIMOND has become one of the most beloved of all Scottish psalm tunes.The tune, written in 1872, did not appear in hymnals until after World War II, when its use at Queen Elizabeth IPs wedding brought it wide popularity.

To the left you'll find the traditional text set to CRIMOND, with the harmony as it appears in the Hymnbook 1982 and with a descant. The descant will also work with the Pritchard harmony, found in Rejoice in the Lord (89) and the Trinity Hymnal (77', third tune).

An easy but well-crafted organ arrangement of the song by Ray Haan can be found in Contemplative Organ Preludes, II (Harold Flammer). Still easier, and more straightforward, is Richard Warner's organ setting in The Wedding Ceremony (G. Schirmer).

Wondrous Love

This well-loved Lenten hymn from the Appalachian region of the United States appeared in Southern hymnals in the early nineteenth century. The direct, folk plaintiveness of the text is irresistible, its repeated lines haunting.

Hymns like "Wondrous Love" appear in The Sacred Harp, a hymnbook published for the "hill" people of Tennessee and Virginia in 1844, and still in print today. These hymnbooks (in which the shape of the note reveals its pitch) are still used at the famous Sacred Harp conventions in Tennessee, where thousands of hymn singers come to participate in day-long, open-air hymn sings.

The unsophisticated, craggy music from this tradition is the basis of the settings printed here. We reprinted the original three part version, along with an alto part that was added later. Pitched lower (as in the Hymnbook 1982, #439), it could be sung by the choir, alternating with the congregation. Emily Brink arranged the second setting, which is suitable for either congregational or choral singing.

A choir director who is trying to pull together a hymn concertato for this song may also draw alternate stanzas for choir from the choral arrangements by Shaw/Parker, published by Lawson-Gould; by Eric Thiman, published by Broadman; and by Paul Christiansen, published by Augsburg. The Thiman setting contains a usable descant.

Several good organ settings are also available: David Johnson (manuals only, Augsburg), Samuel Barber (difficult, G. Schirmer), and Dale Wood, in the Organ Book of American Folk Hymns (Sacred Music Press).

Howard Slenk is director of music at Woodlawn CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 2 © December 1986, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.