Hymn of the Month

MARCH

How I Love You, Lord...(Psalm 18)

Psalm 18 may at first seem a strange choice for a congregational song, especially during Lent. Praise, militant language, despair, destruction, salvation, and apparent boasting present a confusing mix. Congregations will appreciate an explanation of the psalm or, better still, reading it responsively before attempting to sing it.

David was inspired to write this song when God delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. The psalm appears with minor variations in 2 Samuel 22.

The psalmist begins with a simple, personal declaration of his love for God—his rock, fortress, refuge, and shield. Pushed to the brink of disaster, he cries for help. The heavenly warrior himself dramatically intervenes, angrily unleashing the powers of heaven and earth so that all creation trembles and the foundations of the earth are laid bare. The Lord uses no sword, but the arrows, the thunder of God's voice, and bolts of lightning rout the enemy. Then with loving concern God rescues David and sets him on a spacious place, safe and secure.

David, the warrior king, takes no credit for the victory. "For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?" Stanzas 5, 6, and 7 celebrate the victory, based on what God has done. In unrestrained adoration, David enumerates the marvelous perfection and enablement of a living, saving, and loving God.

An exultant doxology closes the psalm. David gratefully promises to extend his praise beyond the limits of God's people—a prophecy of the coming of Christ and his kingdom.

David's claims have been and are being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Christians share in the exultation because we too have been miraculously delivered from sin and death by the sacrifice of God's own Son, our Rock and our Redeemer.

The psalm is set to a solid Welsh tune—a good selection. Welsh tunes are often in the minor key, have strong harmony and powerful melodic drive. ABERYSTWYTH, named for the university town where the composer taught, is no exception. However, the composer, Welshman Joseph Parry, was educated at England's Royal Academy of Music and Cambridge University and has produced a Welsh tune polished by English musical training. That may be why it also works with the words of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" with which it has long been associated [PH 303, PsH 578, TH 508] and is effective with "God, Be Merciful to Me" [RL 104].

Teaching and Singing the Psalm

Instruments.

Organ selections played before the Lenten season will accustom the congregation to the tune. I like to add the psalter or hymnal page number to the title so that people can follow the words. Play the hymnal version before playing a prelude, such as one of those listed in the Bibliography of Organ Music (available from CRC Publications).

If you plan to use other instruments to introduce the tune, try Douglas Smith's 61 Trombone Hymns and Counter-Melodies, vol. 2, or his 61 Trumpet Hymns and Descants, vol. 2 (Hope Publishing Company). Both have Aberystwyth in D and E. The keyboard part can be played from the hymnal [PsH 18].

Choirs.

Use the hymnal version of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" as an anthem.

Solo or choir.

Sing "God, Be Merciful to Me"
[RL 104].

Concertato.

Introduction: Play the PsH Busarow arrangement (found opposite PsH 17), using a reed or other solo stop on the canon. A trombone or cello could also play the melody. Or have a trombonist play the Douglas Smith arrangement (see above).

Stanza 1: choir and congregation
Stanza 2: organ verse by Jan Over-duin; the congregation could sing to this accompaniment, or, better yet, be encouraged to meditate on the text during the organ interpretation of this dramatic stanza. (For the music see RW15, page 17.)
Stanza 3: all, unison
Stanza 4: women
Stanza 5: men
Stanza 6: Busarow canonic arrangement again, followed by a modulation to the key of E.
Stanza 7: Play PsH 578 or Gerre Hancock's arrangement from Improvisations of Hymn-Singing.

Liturgical Use

The psalm is appropriate not only during Lent, but for services throughout the year.

Stanzas 1, 3, and 4 can be used as an assurance of pardon after the prayer of confession.

Stanzas 5, 6, and 8 are appropriate as a congregational affirmation after the pastor has given an assurance of pardon.

Stanza 8 can be used as a choral call to worship on Easter Sunday, followed immediately by stanza 5 of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." No modulation is necessary if stanza 8 is sung in the key of E.

APRIL

Jesus Lives and So Do We

This hymn [PsH 399] is one of Christian Gellert's best hymns—a classic in German hymnody. It is based on 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8:35-39 and is a wonderfully hopeful hymn, affirming that in Christ's victory over death, believers already have new life and will experience a glorious resurrection. It is a fine addition to the Easter section and an appropriate selection for a Christian funeral. Other translations are found in Rejoice in the Lord, 320 and 322, and in the Trinity Hymnal, 705.

Author and Text

Preachers today usually rely on sermon notes to aid their memories. In eighteenth-century Germany, however, preaching from a manuscript was not tolerated by the Lutheran Church.

The author of this hymn, Christian Gellert (1715-1769), a man trained in theology, found that his "treacherous memory" prevented him from becoming a pastor. After additional education he became a professor of philosophy, loved and revered by his students, among whom was the famous Goethe.

Gellert's life was characterized by deep and sincere piety, regular church attendance, and blameless conduct. He produced hymn texts that were genuine expressions of his own feelings and experiences, texts that remain classics in German hymnody. Calvin Seerveld, who teaches at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, translated this text in order to put into current English this "strong Gellert text affirming the comfort of Christ's resurrection." Seerveld served on the Psalter Hymnal revision committee.

Composer and Music

This text is well-matched with a sturdy tune, sometimes referred to as a "pearl" among chorale tunes, JESUS MEINE ZUVERSICHT ("Jesus, My Confidence or Sure Defense") was composed by Johann Cruger (1598-1662), a skillful German composer who wrote only chorale tunes (the Protestant hymn tunes shaped by Martin Luther that developed into the Lutheran chorale). Cruger's compositions were simple melodies with a firm metrical rhythm. During the forty years he served as a cantor for St. Nicholas Church in Berlin, he became acquainted with the music of the French Psalters through the Calvinistic movement in Berlin. His harmonic and rhythmic treatment of this tune reflects that influence.

Although this tune may be new to many, several of Cruger's tunes (set to the words of "Now Thank We All Our God," "Ah, Holy Jesus," "Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer," and "Clothe Yourself, My Soul, with Gladness") are already well-known and loved. Also, in the Psalter Hymnal, his melody is used for Psalm 142. Its likeness to a Genevan tune is unmistakable.

Playing the Hymn

When practicing, sing all the stanzas in order to catch the excitement of this inspiring text. Strong leadership will help the congregation sense the confidence and hope of the text, so play firmly and keep the rhythm steady and flowing. A good tempo is J = 76. Play the text, breathing with the people, treating the half note at the end of each phrase as a dotted quarter and an eighth rest. Bring each stanza to a triumphant close with no ritard except on the last stanza.

Teaching the Hymn

Organists.

Play a different setting each week as prelude or offertory, always preceding it with the hymnal version. For preludes, consult the Bibliography of Organ Music (CRC Publications).

Choir.

Use the Cruger arrangement with treble instruments, or use the hymnal, varying the stanzas by unison, harmony, men only, women only, and so forth. Consider Jan Bender's Prelude, 10 Chorale Settings and Postludefor Unison Choir and Handbells #2 in key of C. (Concordia)

Congregational Involvement.

Organist plays entire hymn, melody on solo stop. Choir or soloist sings all stanzas, but on stanzas 3 and 4 the congregation joins on "refrain" (God shall raise me, etc.) All sing stanza 5.

Creative uses.

Try some antiphonal singing: side A of the church sings phrases 1 and 2; side B responds with phrases 3 and 4. All sing "refrain." As part of the liturgy on Easter Sunday, have the congregation read responsively Lord's Day 17 (Heidelberg Catechism) or Romans 8:31-39, followed by the hymn.

MAY

All Creatures of Our God and King

Author

Francis of Assisi was born into an Italian merchant's family in 1182, and nothing in his wasted youthful years of revelry indicated that Christian history would consider him one of the world's greatest saints. Nevertheless, he was converted at the age of twenty and became an obedient servant to his new Master until his death in 1226. (Some of you may have seen the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which is based on his life.)

After his conversion, Francis gave up his inheritance to become a humble brother to the poorest among the poor. He and his followers, dressed in rags, lived as pilgrims and strangers humbly serving God. The members of the Franciscan order did not confine themselves in cloisters but went about as fishers of men, seeking out the simple people, teaching in parables, and singing their laudi spirituali—spiritual songs that were in sharp contrast to the sophisticated music of the cathedrals. Often paraphrases of psalms and litanies, their songs were frequently sung to popular airs. The music and poetry appealed to the people and touched their hearts.

Text

The hymn gives us a sense of Assisi's gratitude to God for the gifts of nature. It is based on his "Canticle of the Sun," which has been called the "most sublime as well as the most original" of all the lauds.

Translator

In 1910 a Yorkshire rector, William Draper, translated and wrote a poetic version based on the canticle for a school children's festival at Leeds, England.

Music

The German melody (1623) was originally coupled with an Easter song. It was first used with the words of "All Creatures" in 1919 in an English Public School Hymn Book.

Vaughan Williams's harmonization can hardly be improved on. Each repeated phrase is harmonized differently and words, melody, and harmonization combine to make this an excellent congregational hymn for all seasons—but especially spring.

The Canticle of the Sun

O most high, almighty, good Lord God, to Thee belong praise, glory, honor and blessing!

Praised be my Lord God with all his creatures, and especially our brother the sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light; fair is he and shines with very great splendor; O Lord, he signifies to us Thee!

Praised be my Lord for our sister the moon, and for the stars, which He has set clear and lovely in heaven.

Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable unto us and humble and precious and clean.

Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom Thou givest us light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant and very mighty and strong.

Teaching the Hymn

With young children, start with the simple four-note descending scale passage (alleluias and "O praise him!"). For children who are able to read, make a chart with the beginning and important words of each phrase. Use colored markers to underline the words, coloring the same tune with the same color (e.g., phrases 1 and 2, same color; alleluias, different, etc.).

Be meticulous about holding the note in the next to the last measure for three beats: lu_ _ia. When the children know the first stanza, have them introduce the hymn to the congregation.

As suggested before, use organ preludes and offertories to acquaint the congregation with the melody. Henry Coleman's Varied Hymn Accompaniments make useful preludes if a flute or violin plays the melody. John Ferguson has a short, easy setting in Concordia Hymn Prelude Series, vol. 30, in both D and E-flat.

Choir Anthem.

Use the hymnal in E-flat. Play an introduction, possibly using the Ferguson setting or his intonation.

Stanza 1: Choir sings hymnal version.
Stanza 2: Men sing unison phrases; all sing harmony phrases.
Stanza 3: Women and children, or children only, sing unison phrases; choir on harmony.
Stanza 4: Choir sings hymnal version.
Stanza 5: All, perhaps including the congregation, sing hymnal version with organ playing varied accompaniment. (Nobel, 100 Hymn Accompaniments or Gerre Hancock, Organ Improvisations for Hymn-Singing. Both are in E-flat.)

Concertato.

Follow the suggestions for the choir anthem, but start in key of D with everyone singing. Organist can use 1974 Psalter Hymnal Supplement, page 3, or Hymns for the Living Church, p. 166 (ignore the fermatas). Jack Goode's 34 Changes on Hymn Tunes (H. W. Gray) has the hymn in D. After stanza 4, organist modulates from D to E-flat. All on stanza 5 in E-flat with varied accompaniment.

A festive doxology for any time of the year can be sung to LAST UNS ENFREUN:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him all creatures here below,
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!