Hymns for September, October, and November

Lord, You Give the Great Commission

September is often a season of renewal in the church. The congregation resumes church activities and programs, and both preaching and music reflect a revitalized purpose and commitment. In this context of new beginnings, new challenges, and new commitments, "Lord, You Give the Great Commission" is most fitting.

Jeffrey W. Rowthorn wrote this hymn for the 1978 graduation ceremonies of the Yale Divinity School when he was chapel minister there. It has since gained wide acceptance in the church worldwide. "Lord, You Give the Great Commission" challenges us to bring the reality of our salvation into daily living. It reflects in a nutshell the teaching ministry of Christ, beginning with healing the sick, continuing to the Last Supper and the words on the cross, and closing with Christ's word of comfort prior to his ascension.

Four of the five stanzas begin with a recalling of Christ's words to his disciples and then petition God for guidance in bringing all of life under Christ's lordship. Fittingly, the refrain reminds us that God's work will be accomplished by the empowerment of the Spirit through his gifts to us.

The tune, ABBOT'S LEIGH, is named after a village in Britain, where it was composed by Rev. Cyril Vincent Taylor in 1941. Taylor (1907-1991) an English clergyman and hymnodist, was widely known as a composer of hymn tunes. He served many congregations in various capacities, including a time during World War II with the Religious Broadcasting Department of the B.B.C. (1939-1943); he composed ABBOT'S LEIGH during those years. ABBOT'S LEIGH was originally set to the text "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken"; however, the spirit and dignity of this music also represent this hymn beautifully. Movement by leap is well-balanced with stepwise motion. The downward movement of the first phrase is immediately offset by the octave leap that gives emphasis to the word "great."

To ensure security in congregational singing, the choir should introduce this hymn in unison the very first Sunday of the month. Initially you might involve the congregation by having them sing the refrain as an antiphonal response to the stanzas.

Such an approach is even more effective when using some of the fine concer-tato settings. See concertatos by Marty Haugen (SATB choir, congregation, organ, brass quartet, timpani, and handbells; GIA G-3200) or by Hal Hopson (choir, congregation, organ, and optional handbells; Belwin Mills GCMR03626) both of which climax with lovely soprano descants.

Organists may wish to investigate free accompaniments in Free Harmonizations of Hymn Tunes by Fifty American Composers, edited by D. DeWitt Wasson, Hinshaw Music Inc. (HMO-145) or the longer composition by Austin Lovelace entitled Abbots Leigh: Passcaglia, Fughetia and Finale (Hope Publishing Co. 274).

Holy God, We Praise Your Name

This fine hymn is a paraphrase of the great fourth-century Latin hymn, "Te Deum Laudamus." Ignaz Franz (1719-1790) prepared the German versification for a collection entitled Katholisches Gesangbuch Clarence Walworth, an influential missionary translated the German words into English.

For centuries the Te Deum has held an important place in Matins for the Roman liturgy and in Morning Prayer for the Anglican service, which is one reason many composers have been inspired to set these words. The Te Deum has also been widely used for occasions of thanksgiving and praise outside the worship setting.

October is a month in which many special services are held (including World Communion Sunday, All Nations Heritage Sunday Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and Reformation Day) and "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" is very fitting for all of these. In the words of this hymn, one can join the church of all ages in proclaiming God's rule (sovereignty) but also angels, cherubim, and seraphim in proclaiming God's holiness. We also remember that prophets, apostles, and martyrs from all nations take up this song while we, ourselves, stand in awe as part of this great throng of praise!

The melody (GROSSER GOTT, WIR LOBEN DICH) is straightforward and powerful. The comfortable singing range and the scalewise motion make it possible for congregations to learn it very easily.

This hymn works well as a choral processional at the opening of the service. In the early church, the people sang as the faithful brought gifts to the altar for consecration. Today the processional hymn can add drama to the opening and closing of worship.

Symbolically, the choir represents the entire congregation coming into God's presence to bring adoration to God in song. It is both corporate and individual. Yes, we unite our voices in one glorious sound, but we also use that most personal signature of who we are, the human voice! Instead of aimlessly sauntering to the choir chancel area during the organ prelude, the choir moves from the "world" into God's house in an orderly dignified fashion, singing in unison. Ideally the choir should also recess on the closing hymn in order to complete the symbolic nature of this drama (moving back into the world for Christian service). This kind of processional signifies the true function of a church choir-—a body that leads people in singing hymns rather than merely performing elaborate church music.

The following fine choral, congregational, and organ resources are available for use with this hymn:

■ Donald Busarow's arrangement for choir, congregation, brass quartet and organ is in the key of G, which I favor for its brighter quality. It begins in unison and alternates choir and congregation, ending with a powerful final stanza with descant and fortissimo instruments. The only potential drawback is a very long instrumental introduction and other interludes that demand congregational cues (CPH 98-2530).

■ Roy Ringwald's setting can be adapted for use with the congregation but is really more effective as an anthem. It features alternating male and female verses. Some might think it too elaborate for this unsophisticated tune (Flammer A-5930).

■ Unique to all concertatos is the combination of the original Gregorian melody of the Te Deum with the hymn tune found in the arrangement by John Ferguson (GIA G-3167). The chant is sung very quietly in Latin by the trebles while the men sing the melody of "Holy God, We Praise Your Name." This effectively links the past with the present. Most likely the opening would have to be sung from the rear of the sanctuary before the processional begins. After the four verses are completed the choir closes with a coda, sung quietly and fading out with the phrase, "Through the church the song goes on."

Organists should explore the following collections for preludes and free harmonizations based on GROSSER GOTT. See Heinrich Fleischer's The Parish Organist (CPH 97-1145) Wilbur Held's Hymn Preludes fir the Pentecost Season (CPH 97-5517) or Ten Chorale Improvisations by Paul Manz (CPH 97-5342). Additional free accompaniments may be found in Hymn Preludes and Free Accompaniments Volume 6 by Wilbur Held (Augsburg 11-9402).

What Shall I Render to the Lord

Based on Psalm 116, "What Shall I Render to the Lord" paraphrases the twelfth through sixteenth verses of the psalm where the psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all of his goodness to me?"

The psalmist has been delivered from death after crying out to the Lord to save him. Now he is overwhelmed with gratitude—the very essence of the Thanksgiving season. We render to the Lord worthy thanks for our redemption, for "when we were dead in our trespasses, then Christ laid down his life for us." Consequently we rededicate ourselves to serving him more faithfully. By so doing, we engage the support of all the saints in public worship.

ROCKINGHAM was named after a former prime minister of Great Britain known as the Marquis of Rockingham. Rockingham was a friend and patron of Edward Miller who harmonized this rune when he included it in his Psalms of David for Use of Parish Churches in 1790. The hymn tune is based on a melody that was later identified as TUNBRIDGE. Miller was born in Norwich, England, in 1731 and later studied music from Charles Burney at Lynn. He spent the years from 1756 to 1807, the year of his death, as organist of Doncaster (England) Parish Church. This marvelous melody is found in most hymn books as a vehicle for Isaac Watts's famous "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

You may want to introduce this lovely tune and harmonization to the congregation by having the choir sing it. I advise creating your own concertato by employing a flute to introduce the melody, then having the choir quietly sing the first stanza in unison accompanied by the organ. Involve the congregation on stanzas 4 and 5 with a flute descant, created by playing the tenor part two octaves above the tenor range. This hymn would serve a church well as a response to the offering.

If you'd rather use a published arrangement for this rune, some effective concertatos (using, however, the text for "When I Survey") have been produced by Morning Star and by Concordia. The former is a setting by B. Wayne Bisbee that employs a C instrument in triple time against the tune, harmonized for a mixed choir. The latter is arranged by Bruce Saylor, accompanied only by organ but including a descant in eighth-note movement against the tune. However, I believe the finest is Sir David Willcock's four-part descant in Hymns for Choir, included here.

The alternative harmonization for organ could be played by itself for a stirring conclusion. But praise would be heightened by the addition of the four-part choral descant that overlays both the congregational singing in unison and the organ part. It would take a large choir to be heard above the congregation; a brass quartet could add support and brilliance in place of or in addition to a choir. If your congregation has neither choir nor brass, even adding piano on the descant might add a measure of brightness to conclude this psalm of dedication.

For the organist, Raymond Haan has a beautiful setting of ROCKINGHAM in Contemplative Hymn Tune Preludes (Shawnee Press HF5103). I would also advise looking at Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes (J. Fischer 8175) by T. Tertius Noble, and Henry Coleman's Varied Hymn Accompaniments (Oxford Press).

Because of its lyrical nature, this is an excellent hymn to use with children. Consider involving the junior choir on one of the stanzas or using it as a song for children's worship throughout the month. Certainly the phrases are of comfortable length, and the range is excellent for youth.

Organists will also want to explore the several settings for all three of these hymns listed in the new (1994) edition of the Bibliography of Organ Music based on all the tunes in the Psalter Hymnal and Rejoice in the Lord, and compiled by Joan Ringerwole. Available from CRC Publications (1-800-333-8300 US; 1-800-263-4252 CAN).



December: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Taize)
January: When Jesus the Healer
February: Psalm 1: Happy Are They

Merle R. Mustert is an associate professor of music (emeritus) at Calvin College and director of music at La Grave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 32 © June 1994, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.