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Songs for the Season

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30). As Christ and his disciples sang a hymn following the Passover, let us, in this season of remembrance and celebration, sing hymns with voices united to the risen and ascended Lord.

MARCH

During the month of March worshipers around the world will once again trace the steps of the suffering Savior, remembering and believing the redemptive work of our Lord. Many of the hymns we sing during the season of Lent help us to commemorate our Lord's journey to the cross, serving as instruments to strengthen and renew our faith.

Perhaps new to most Reformed worshipers, the hymn "It Happened on that Fateful Night" is a poetic paraphrase of the Last Supper shared by Christ and his disciples. The hymn text was penned by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and is found in the Lutheran Book of Worship. An English minister and writer, Watts was also an author of hundreds of hymn texts, many which are still sung today.

Watts stood at the forefront of an explosion of hymn writing throughout the eighteenth century, and his accomplishments changed the future of hymnody dramatically. That his hymns witnessed widespread use for over two centuries is due in part to his ability to summarize universal Christian beliefs in a simple language that every believer can understand. Such is the case with "It Happened on that Fateful Night."

The short, rhyming couplets convey the story of the Lord's Supper in a simple manner that even a child can understand.

The first line of the hymn was originally "Twas on that Dark and Doleful Night." While the first stanza sets the scene of the Passover, the following three stanzas capture the actual events of the meal. The final stanza speaks not only of the earthly celebration of the meal by which we remember our Lord's immense sacrifice, but also of the eternal celebration of the Lamb's feast.

The tune BOURBON appeared in the Hesperian Harp (1848), a hymnbook very similar to The Sacred Harp. Both of these nineteenth-century shape-note hymn-books (the various shapes of the notes on the staff indicated the pitches to be sung) were popular throughout the southern United States up until the Civil War. The Hesperian Harp was a large book (552 pages) used in Georgia prior to the Civil War and was a main competitor with The Sacred Harp. Because of its large size, however, the hymnbook never experienced wide usage.

BOURBON is found in the Psalter Hymnal (Psalm 38), The Presbyterian Hymnal, and Hymns for the Worshiping Church. In the latter two hymnals the tune is set to the text "Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said." The tune is attributed to William Hauser, a Methodist minister, physician, professor of medicine, editor, and composer who was among the most learned of shape-note musicians.

While this hymn is most effectively used in a communion service, it can serve throughout the entire season of Lent as a hymn of commemoration and remembrance. In introducing the hymn to your congregation, have the choir sing it during the partaking of holy communion at an Ash Wednesday or Lenten service (all sing st. 1; women sing st. 2; men sing st. 3 and 4; all sing st. 5). During subsequent weeks, have the congregation sing the hymn (which is best sung in unison) in the same manner; the tune is not difficult to learn. Once the congregation is comfortable with the tune, organists may use the free harmonization (intended for the final stanza) provided in this article for additional harmonic variety. Note particularly how the major mode of the final chord symbolizes the hope and anticipation of the eternal feast. As the tune becomes even more secure, some congregations may enjoy singing the hymn in canon (group one begins; group two joins as group one sings the word "that").

Paul Manz has recently composed a simple, yet profound setting of BOURBON for flute and oboe (Two Lenten Hymns for Flute, Oboe, and Organ, MorningStar Music Pub. MSM-20-370), which would serve well as a hymn introduction, as a quiet reflection between individual stanzas, or as a communion meditation. Organists can find a beautiful setting of the tune in Set III of Charles Ore's collection entitled 11 Compositions for Organ (Concordia, 97-5702) that may be used as a prelude or offertory.

APRIL

The original Latin text of "Praise the Savior, Now and Ever" is one of the oldest Easter hymns. Written in 569 by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (c. 530-609), the hymn appears in the Psalter Hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship, and the Trinity Hymnal. The English translations of the text, however, differ between hymnals.

A poet and churchman who became the bishop of Poitiers, Fortunatus wrote several poems {most for specific occasions), many of which survive still today; the New Grove Dictionary states, "His poems on the cross are among the first, and the finest, in a long tradition. " He is best known for his Lenten hymn Pange lingua ("Of the Glorious Body Telling").

The hymn tune UPP, MIN TUNGA is from a 1697 Swedish hymnbook, Then Swenska Psalm-Boken. An anonymous melody, the tune as it appears in the 1697 hymnbook is in the key of G major and is treated in a snappy rhythm of dotted quarter and eighth-notes (as opposed to the straight quarter-note rhythm in current hymnals). Due to its simple formal structure (AAB) and square rhythm, the melody is not difficult to sing. The tempo should not be fast, but rather stately, triumphant, and broad.

The scarcity of musical settings based on UPP, MIN TUNGA (organ, choral, instrumental) prompted me to compose some new materials that may be useful for your congregation. Because the hymn is strongly based on one tonality (E-flat major), my goal was to search for new harmonic resources to add variety to this wonderful hymn. The following "concertato" may be an alternative to the usual Easter processional hymn "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." The hymn could begin by a child leading the Easter procession (the procession may also include the cross, the Bible, and perhaps a banner) from outside the church, ringing an ostinato handbell part (E-flat played in continuous and steady half notes), announcing the news of the risen Christ. Once the child is at the front of the church, the organist begins the newly-composed introduction while the handbell continues to ring until the final chord of the organ introduction.

The first stanza is sung by the congregation in unison. The second stanza is sung a cappella by the choir, using the new four-part harmony setting printed in this article. The third stanza could be sung antiphonally (switching every two measures) either between choir and congregation or two groups within the congregation. The organ introduction could again be used as an interlude between the third and fourth stanzas.

A free harmonization with a soprano descant is provided for the final stanza, a doxology to the Trinity for the work of redemption through which we obtain salvation. The soprano descant could also be doubled by handbells playing in octaves.

MAY

Celebrate the season of Ascension with the joyful song "Clap Your Hands." The composer, Jimmy Owens (b. 1930), is perhaps best known for his musicals If My People, The Witness, and Come Together, the latter which includes "Clap Your Hands." The text of the song is a paraphrase of Psalm 47:1, 5, with added "hosannas", a Hebrew expression that means "to save." "Clap Your Hands" appears in the Psalter Hymnal (166) and Songs for LiFE (179) with a new second stanza penned by Bert Polman that is especially suitable for the season of Ascension.

What may initially appear to be a simple chorus can actually be used in a variety of ways in the worship setting. If the song is unknown to your congregation, introduce it by having the children sing stanza one on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sunday, have the congregation join with the children in singing the first stanza. Then sing stanzas one and two together on Ascension Sunday. As the song becomes more familiar, try singing it as a round with up to four parts. Also try singing the song antiphonally: measures 1-4 group one, measures 4-8 group two; first "hosanna" group one, second "hosanna" group two; measures 11-12 both groups; first "praise him" group one, second "praise him" group two; measures 15-16 both groups.

Hand clapping is a must! The simplest clapping rhythm is on beats 1 and 3; also try clapping on beats 1, 2, and 3 or beats 1, 3, and 4. The song is best accompanied with keyboard (the Songs for Life harmonization by Charlotte Larsen is simple enough for a child to play), guitar, or any percussion or rhythm instruments.

"Clap Your Hands" is a simple and easily learned chorus with a profound message. May its use provide your congregation a new dimension in celebrating the risen and ascended Lord.