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Hymn of the Month

For years missianaries from North America exported Western hymns. New Christians learned songs that were often foreign to their cultures. Usually these non- Western Christians adapted the hymns~moving pitches, changing rhythms and tempo, and wing instruments very different from the organ to accompany their singing.

As those Christian communities grew and developed, they began to compose their own hymns. As a result, churches in the West now can be on the receiving end, "importing" and singing hymns created by Christians in other cultures.

When we join our voices in song with our brothers and sisters around the world, we may well discover that communion of the saints takes on new meaning.

The three songs featured in this Hymn of the Month are included in the new edition of the Psalter Hymnal. We are indebted to three Methodist publications for making these songs available in current collections.

JULY
Jesus, We Love to Meet (Africa)

Behind our "discovery" of this song lies a fascinating story. In 1962 a missionary in Nigeria sent Austin Lovelace (recently retired President of the Hymn Society of America) a manuscript hymn collection. One song in the manuscript, a hymn by A. T. Olajide Olude, especially caught Lovelace's attention. He called the United Nations, hoping to find someone there who could translate the song into English. To his delight, he learned that Biodun Adebesin, then serving at the U.N., not only knew the composer, Olude, but had sung in his choir. In fact, that choir had traveled thirty miles to sing at Adebesin's mother's funeral.

The two men worked together. Adebesin provided a prose translation of the hymn, and Lovelace versified the text for the Nigerian melody. "Jesus, We Want to Meet" was published in both The Methodist Hymnal (1964) and Hymns for the Living Church, where the Revision Committee for the Psalter Hymnal found it.

But that's not the end of the story. When writing for copyright permission, our Revision Committee was informed that someone had discovered an earlier English text, obviously related to this hymn. It appears that Olude learned an English poem in a missionary school, translated it into Swahili, and set it to music. We found the English poem in a devotional book by Weatherhead, A Private House of Prayer, published in 1958. The bookcontains many poems, including this one attributed to Elizabeth Parson. We know nothing about her or where the poem came from. This may be only pan of the original text, which Lovelace believes was written probably over a century ago. In this song, then, we have a cultural blend of the efforts of many people spread over many miles and years.

"Jesus, We Love to Meet" is a wonderful song for the opening of worship. It captures both why we come together and how we ought to come together. The text also lends itself well to a prayer for illumination before Scripture and sermon.

On the recording We Come, O Christ, to You, the Dordt College Concert Choir presents this hymn unaccompanied except for a drum pattern played throughout and a recorder that links each stanza by repeating the first line without a break.

However, a church may want to use several percussion instruments with this hymn. The basic pattern is best played on a very resonant drum. But other musicians can improvise simple repeated patterns on additional drums, wood blocks, tambourines, and "shakers" (gourds and rattles).

The rhythmic pattern moves very consistently between 3/4 and 6/8, which makes the melody easy for congregations to learn. Typical of African folk music (and therefore many Afro-American spirituals) the music is antiphonal in nature, and may be sung by a soloist alternating with the congregation.

When introducing this song to your congregation, you may want to try the following sequence:

Week 1. An unaccompanied soloist presents the hymn, with the choir (in parts) joining in on the repeated phrase "on this your holy day." Use a recorder and percussion instruments.

Week 2. A soloist or choir sings the hymn, either unison or in parts, with the congregation joining in on the repeated phrase. Use a recorder and percussion instruments. If the congregation is insecure singing without organ or piano support, use one of these instruments to accompany the singing of the repeated phrase.

Week 3. The song works best antiphonally. However, if the congregation has enjoyed the song and caught on well to the rhythm, they may wish to try singing the whole hymn. If so, accompany them with firm percussion and possibly keyboard support at a slightly slower, but still very steady tempo. Let the children play a variety of percussion instruments.

AUGUST
Here, O Lord, Your ServantsGather (Japan)

Hymns from the Four Winds, a collection of Asian-American songs published by Abingdon Press in 1983, offers a treasure of new hymns for the Christian church from many different Eastern countries and traditions. "Here, 0 Lord, Your Servants Gather" is another song well suited for the opening of worship, or for World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate "the holy catholic church, the communion of saints." Scripture references include John 14:6, Romans 10:12-13, and Ephesians 1:7-14.

The music printed here was composed specifically for this text and is based on an ancient melodic form of gagaku, the name for all traditional Japanese court music dating back to the eighth century, with roots before that in Chinese music.

In general, Japanese music is not harmonized in the Western chordal sense. The composer Koisumi combined several basic characteristics of Japanese music (for example, the open fifths) with chords in the more traditionally Western sense. I-to-Loh, editor of Hymns from the Four Winds, spoke about this piece in a meeting with the Methodist Hymnal Revision Committee that I was privileged to attend in 1985: "The attempt to merge authentic Japanese with Western music is serious." He also mentioned that this song should be sung very slowly. In gagaku style, an oboe-like instrument would play along on the melody.

The following pattern would work well in introducing the song to a congregation.

Week 1. Try introducing this hymn as a prelude, with a string or wind instrument playing along on the melody. Use either piano or clear and pronounced stops on the organ (no mixtures).

Week 2. After an instrumental prelude (as in Week 1), the children's choir can sing the hymn as a call to worship. The melody itself is not at all difficult. Its graceful lines and meditative style will enable the children to learn it easily.

Week 3. This time let the adults try it. Perhaps the melody can be played on instruments (played an octave higher for additional support.)

SEPTEMBER
I Will Exalt My God, My King/Te Exaltaré (Equador)

"Te Exaltaré" is one of the forty-six songs in Celebremus II, produced by a task force representing Hispanic congregations and musicians and by the Section on Worship of the Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. We know nothing about the origin of this particular song, but it is well known among Spanish-speaking Christians.

In style, "Te Exaltaré" is similar to the African song "Jesus, We Love to Meet," Bruno Nettl writes: "The development of characteristic and memorable rhythyms that became the basis of Latin American popular dances-the rumba, samba, and conga-was probably made possible by the fact that both the West African and the Hispanic traditions favored complicated, driving rhythyms with steady pulsating patterns" (Folk and Traditional Music of the Western Continents, p. 189).

The text is taken from the opening verses of Psalm 145, a joyful song of praise. This song would serve well as a hymn of dedication and offering, or anytime when praise is appropriate. The hymn has an infectious beat; don't be surprised if you catch yourself singing it at home or in the car!

Suggestions for introducing the hymn follow:

Week 1. Have the youth choir accompanied with guitars and piano, present the song to the congregation. The song may be sung in English or in Spanish-or one time through in each language. Use percussion instruments to add to the festive joy of this psalm. See pattersn at left.

Week 2. The youth choir sings the hymn the first time throughl the congregation joins them on the second singing.

Week 3. If you live near a Spanish-speaking congregation, you may wish to plan a joint bilingual service, in which the hymn is sung in both languages. The joy of singing this song might spill over into additional fellowship as you exalt together the greatness of the Lord.