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Songs for All Ages

Intergenerational worship is a fact of church life. It presents a challenge in that the breadth of difference among worshipers—in both personality and level of maturity—is wide. Life passages progress from simply making sense of perceptions, which we do as infants, to the ultimate knowledge of God and discovery of wisdom, which are the final goals of old age. These passages, each in their turn, prepare us for what is to come as life moves on. Each stage of life has its challenges and its advantages; wherever we are on the road we do well to take cues from both those ahead of us and those behind us. In these hymn reflections we’ll visit some new hymnic acquaintances and call on some old friends that contain insights we can share wherever we are in the life of faith.

 

Father, Lead Me Day by Day

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Even from our start as infants we are eager and hungry to learn. Our brain cells make connections with each other at enormous rates. Connections that are well used become a part of our “hard wiring”; those that are seldom used fade away. Our quest for learning and growing begins with the ability and the will to add to our storehouse of knowledge. Children model this eagerness to grown-ups who imagine they have nothing more to learn, or who have forgotten how to take joy in discovery. “Father, Lead Me Day by Day” is an invitation to God to make up for whatever lack we see in ourselves, and to teach us how to act in our world.

The first stanza recognizes the difference between our own condition and God’s, and asks for help in imitating God’s goodness and wisdom. Successive stanzas recognize places where we may be tempted to act from a human impulse rather than a godly one, and the hymn ends with “evermore thine own to be,” an echo of the Heidelberg Catechism’s first answer that both in life and in death we belong to God.

Though this text is interlined in the tune posen in The Hymnbook (458), the alternative tune orientus partibus is a better choice for younger voices with its narrower range and more sprightly quality. Pat Messick has arranged this tune with a Christmas text, but his simple interlude and percussion can be a welcome addition used between stanzas. That arrangement is available from Choristers Guild (CGA 274). John Ferguson also arranged this tune to another text (“Hallelujah, Praise the Lord,” a setting of Psalm 150), with delightful instrumental accompaniment included on page 15 with the original “Hallelujah” at the end of the melody; he expanded that “Hallelujah” to a three-part echo (Selah Music Publishing #241-189; call 1-800-852-6172). The Orff parts can also be played on organ or piano.

 

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy

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A second spiritual quality children may share with adults is the delight young ones take in life itself and in discovering God’s love for them. “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy” (Lead Me, Guide Me, 247) is an ebullient expression of that delight in the form of call and response. One or a number of soloists, or a small group, may sing the initial line of each stanza, followed by everyone else joining in on “down in my heart.” Praise bands may want to divide in a similar manner—for example, brass taking one phrase and woodwinds joining on the next. There is a temptation to go too quickly through the song, so be aware that a tempo of q = 109 is sufficiently fast. Take time to savor the joy.

The simplicity of the song lends itself to a sprinkling of non-tuned percussion instruments such as sand blocks and tambourine. To avoid confusion and noise, it is wise to teach the instrument’s repeating rhythmic pattern to those who will use these instruments before they get their hands on the instruments themselves. Orff body percussion: finger snapping, clapping, patsching (slapping the thigh just above the knee), or stomping will implant the pattern securely. Players will then be able to transfer the rhythm to the instrument. Carey Landry, in his children’s collection Hi, God! (North American Liturgy Resources, © 1973, admin. OCP Publications, 1-800-547-8992), appended a refrain, which may be added either after each stanza or as a coda.

 

The Lord Is God, the One and True God

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Passage into adulthood confers awareness, among other things—awareness of what one’s duty demands and awareness of the lengths to which God went to bring humanity back from death. Worship in the Reformed tradition includes a reminder of these duties by repeating some form of the law. The hymn “The Lord Is God, the One and True God” by Daniel Meeter affords us with a metrical setting of the Ten Commandments in three stanzas. Originally published in Rejoice in the Lord (1985), the text was revised for Sing! A New Creation in 2000. Its tune, commandments, is the original Genevan tune used by John Calvin’s congregations to sing the Decalogue. Our congregation has used this hymn during Lent instead of reciting the Ten Commandments in the time of confession. It is also appropriate for Advent. Children in Sunday school may find it to be a convenient mnemonic for their efforts at memorizing the text of the Ten Commandments.

Allow the congregation to sing the middle stanza in parts, unaccompanied if possible, or with a single recorder, flute, or violin doubling the soprano part. The Genevan tune will stand up to slow tempi, but singers may not last that long. A steady moderato between q = 108-120 is slow enough; speeding up into the allegro zone may work for an enthusiastic group. The tempo may also reflect whether the Law is being used as the standard which we all fail to uphold (guilt) or as God’s gift to us to help us live well (grace).

 

Con Qué Pagaremos/How Can We Repay You

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Faith that has reached a certain age will not neglect the third tenet: gratitude. It is well expressed in “O What Shall I Render” (Presbyterian Hymnal, 557). This song was brought to English speakers by George Paul Simmonds, an American Presbyterian missionary to Mexico. Simmonds edited El Himnario in 1964, the high water mark in a career dedicated to bringing Latin American song to North American churches. He died in 1991, just short of his one hundred and first birthday.

This song is well known and loved by Christians all over Central and South America; many of them learned this song as children. In the last decade it has become quite popular in North America, and has been recorded many times (a Google search on the Spanish title will yield many sites), but always in Spanish. This issue of Reformed Worship introduces a translation that is closer to the original Spanish text and contains more contemporary language.

If you choose to use the Spanish text, note the following literal translation (taken from www.fernandoortega.com/frame.php?mainurl=/contact.php):

With what do we repay a love so vast
that you gave your life for the sinner?
In exchange, accept the humble offering—
the humble offering, Lord Jesus Christ,
of my heart.

And when the night spreads out her mantle
my weeping eyes will be fixed on you.
(With) my eyes lifted up, I will see the stars;
I know that (from) beyond them, loving Father,
you watch over me.

I cannot repay with gold or silver
the great sacrifice that you have made for me.
I have nothing to give you for such love to me.
Accept this song, mingled with tears,
and my heart.

The anonymous tune is written in the style of a sarabande, a courtly and stately dance of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain. Sing this meditatively, not too fast; top speed is the upper end of moderato, q = 120. In addition to or instead of keyboard accompaniment, acoustic guitars are appropriate; use a simple strumming pattern like qqee with an acoustic bass guitar playing the bass line.

 

May the Lord, Mighty God

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Whatever our age, we do well to have on our lips a benediction for one another in the Lord. One based on Numbers 6:24-26 is “May the Lord, Mighty God” (Sing! A New Creation, 285). Its pentatonic melody has a wide range and may, at first hearing, feel a bit unstable, ending as it does on the fifth degree of the scale rather than the expected first degree. My upstate New York congregation caught on to the melody after about the third try. That notwithstanding, it is a lovely tune which, once learned, will echo in the mind’s ear. When that has happened for the majority of the congregation, like any pentatonic melody, it may be sung like a round, with different voices entering at different times. Try a measure apart a cappella. Alternatively, use the descant provided for the second stanza, sung by the choir or a soloist. Its range will also fit an older child’s voice, so include your younger singers in the pool of performers.