Hymn of the month
All of the songs in this issue of Reformed Worship—the three "Hymn of the Month" selections as well as the song on page 41—will be included in a new chUdrens hymnal scheduled for release by CRC Publications later this year. The new hymnal, Songs for LiFE, is designed for use with children in preschool through grade 6. It will be an excellent resource for church school, children's choirs, or Christian day schools. Some churches may even want to consider using it as a supplementary pew hymnal.
Songs for LiFE will contain more than 250 songs from a wide range of sources—historic hymns of the faith as well as Scripture songs and choruses from many lands and cultures. The following three songs provide a glimpse into that diversity.
There's No God as Great / No Hay Dios tan Grande
One of the marks of any folk song is that no one can trace its origin. That certainly is the case for this infectiously joyful song. It is known all over Central and South America by evangelical Christians who love to sing one song after the other, often stringing them together in medley fashion.
North American Christians are now also discovering the riches of songs coming from many different lands and places. This song is one of nine Hispanic songs in the Psalter Hymnal, all of which are available on a cassette from CRC
Publications called "El Dios de las Na-ciones/God of the Nations" (to order, call 1-800-333-8300 US or 1-800-263-4252 CDA).
"There's No God as Great" is built in four sections, almost like a little medley all by itself. Each section is repeated, and each is based on a different Scripture passage.
- Section 1: Psalm 77:13—"What god is so great as our God?"
- Section 2: Psalm 77:14—"You are the God who performs miracles."
- Section 3: Zechariah 4:6—"'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." (See also Hosea 1:7)
- Section 4: Romans 8:9—"You . . . are controlled... by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you."
Like much Hispanic folk music, the harmonies are simple, and the melody is matched by a parallel line found alternately in the alto and tenor. That parallel line, either the interval of a third or a sixth below the melody, makes for good duet possibilities.
- Sections 1 and 3: duet between soprano and tenor
- Sections 2 and 4: duet between soprano and alto
Because the range of both tenor and alto combined is just an octave (from A to A), that harmony part would be accessible to either altos or tenors, who could switch back and forth from treble to bass clef. Perhaps near the end of the choir season, your adult or youth choir could learn "There's No God as Great," sing it the first week of June, and then the next week have the congregation join in.
If possible, accompany this song with guitars and a variety of rhythm instruments, including maracas, castanets, and wood blocks. Make up rhythmic patterns that reflect the joyful confidence of this song. If you need a keyboard instrument, try piano rather than organ, or at least choose a light organ registration.
I have found this simple chorus easy to memorize and fitting for all kinds of liturgical uses. It is a confession of faith all in itself and can serve as a joyful response to Scripture or sermon. The celebration of the work of the Spirit in leading the church is appropriate for the Pentecost season. By the end of the month, every congregational member, young and old, should know it by heart!
If you like medleys, try pairing "There's No God as Great" with some of the eight other Hispanic songs in the Psalter Hymnal. "Alabare" (PsH 234), also in the key of F, is often paired with this song. Two songs in D-minor would also combine well with it: "I Will Exalt My God, My King" (PsH 186) and "God Is My Rock" (PsH 610).
God of Great and God of Small
In this song, we praise the God of creation, the Almighty, "Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible," as we confess in the Nicene Creed. Natalie Sleeth's childlike creation psalm is filled with praise not only for what God has made, but also because this is the God "to whom all things belong."
Each stanza begins with the delightful contrasts we find in creation: great and small, weak and strong, silence and sound, day and night. Then the end of every stanza moves us from creation to the Creator: the God who is "beside me every hour," "who reigns forevermore." Our response to this wonderful God is 'Alleluia!"
Natalie Sleeth wrote many wonderful children's anthems, some of which have found their way into hymnals (see, for example "Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet" [PsH 569] and "Go Now in Peace" [PsH 317; RW27, pp. 18-19]). This arrangement of "God of Great and God of Small" is adapted from her anthem by the same name for unison choir (published by Carl Fischer, Inc.). The original anthem had a much more involved accompaniment, including a change to a minor key for stanza 3 and to a higher key for the final stanza.
To present this song in a more hymnlike format, I separated some of her delightful accompaniment into two parts, which can be played either separately or together, forming a duet. In fact, the second part could be played on organ, with the first part on piano, forming even more of a contrast. However, if desired, an accompanist could still play from the original anthem while a choir sings from this hymn-like presentation.
Rather than just singing this refrain, try "signing" it as well, using the signing motions from The Joy of Signing by Lottie L. Riekehof (Gospel Publishing House, 1445 Boonville Avenue, Springfield, MO 65802; see p. 45 for comments on another book on religious signing). Very young children have always loved songs with motions. But these signs are more than mere motions: "the signs ... are not the invention of the author but are signs that were observed to be in use by deaf persons and by professional interpreters with whom the author associated ... at Gallaudet College and in the Washington, D.C. area." The Joy of Signing is "intended as a basic text for anyone wishing to communicate with deaf people [and] for persons entering interpreter-training programs."
Songs for LiFE, CRC Publications' new children's hymnal, will contain signing motions for several songs. If you have never "signed" a song before, the refrain of this song would be a good place to begin. Leaders should practice and memorize the motions (and the refrain!) before introducing them to the children. What joy it would be to find a whole congregation singing and signing together!
Come, Bless the Lord
The first two verses of Psalm 134 are the basis of this Scripture song. The NTV Study Bible notes give the following setting for this psalm: 'A liturgy of praise— a brief exchange between the worshipers, as they are about to leave the temple after the evening service, and the Levites, who kept the temple watch through the night."
The first two verses are the voices of the congregation; the third and final verse provides the blessing from the Levites to the departing worshipers. The song text is taken directly from the RSV (and the New RSV) translation of Psalm 134 (with one small change; the RSV reads: "Lift up your hands to the holy place").
Although this was originally an evening psalm, it may also be sung in the morning as a call to worship, a call to prayer, or even the final act before the benediction. The minister could then raise hands in blessing the congregation, using the words directly from verse 3: "May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion."
The encouragement to praise is heightened by the duet character of this song. It is as if worshipers were encouraging each other by calling back and forth, almost in echo fashion. The invitation to praise God comes to all servants of the Lord, not just the ministers.
But this song is not actually written in canon, where the imitative voice follows the first one exactly; it is truly a duet. To learn this duet, the congregation should be taught the main melody first, with the accompanist filling in the long-held notes of the second part in order to keep the rhythm going. Better yet, add a flute to the echo part. Later, the men and boys of the congregation could sing the main melody with all the women and girls taking the echo part.
This song also makes a wonderful children's choir anthem. Perhaps a children's choir could learn it yet this spring and then be ready to help the congregation learn it in August.