The liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter take lots of time and energy. By the time Ascension Day and Pentecost come around, sometimes our energy is waning. The school year is coming to a close, choirs are finishing up, and we are looking forward to the freer time of summer. Suddenly Ascension Day is upon us. Since Ascension Day and Pentecost are two of the major religious holidays of the year, they deserve some special musical attention.
The four songs on these pages are especially appropriate for Ascension and Pentecost, though you may want to sing them at other times throughout the year as well. The first song is more than two hundred years old; the other three were written very recently and are on the working list of a new hymnal supplement scheduled for release in the year 2000.
HAIL THE DAY THAT SEES HIM RISE
This powerful Ascension hymn written in 1739 has stood the test of time. Its author, gifted hymn writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788), wrote about nine thousand hymns, many of which are still sung today. Of the ten stanzas Wesley originally wrote for this hymn, only five appear in most hymnals today. The rising melody in the first half of each line leads beautifully into the Alleluia that ends it. I love hymns that have repetition—like the repeated Alleluias—because they allow even the very young to join in. Try singing this hymn antiphonally—one group sings the first half of each line and another group (or everyone) sings the Alleluias. This hymn includes much of what we celebrate at Ascension—Christ’s saving work on earth, his intercession for us, and his calling us to rule with him in eternity. “Hail the Day” can be used well in any worship service that emphasizes Christ’s rule.
Strong organ accompaniment with vigor and a lively tempo is good for singing this Welsh tune. If trumpets can be used with organ, that will surely add to the celebrative tone of the hymn. S. Drummond Wolff’s setting arranged for brass quartet and organ in Three Hymns of Praise for Eastertide (Concordia) makes a great conclusion to the prelude when this is the opening hymn of the service. Using the brass to also accompany the singing adds great festivity to the service.
Hermann Schroeder’s brief organ arrangement in The Parish Organist—Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity (Concordia) would also make an excellent ending to an organ prelude or postlude.
O SING TO THE LORD/CANTAD AL SENOR
This hymn comes to us from Brazil as a Portuguese folk song, Cantai al Senhor. Its South American setting makes it a natural also in Spanish. If you have Spanish-speaking people in your congregation, they could help you learn the song in Spanish. Otherwise the English translation also is fine. If the song is new to your congregation, have a small group—perhaps a church school class—sing the first verse. Since the tune is repetitive and very lively and infectious, children will catch on to it quickly. This hymn is also a delight for families to sing around the dinner table, since even the very young can sing it. Use rhythm instruments whenever possible.
Robert A. Hobby arranged a wonderful setting of this hymn for the congregation to sing accompanied by organ, two trumpets, and percussion (MorningStar Music Publications MSM-20-712A). In our church we have used that setting with piano, two trumpets, tambourine, and claves. Parts are also included for drums and maracas. Adding more percussion with each verse adds to the excitement of the piece and creates diversity. A delightful addition to our hymnody!
LIKE THE MURMUR OF THE DOVE'S SONG
This beautiful Pentecost hymn has both a lovely simplicity and, at the same time, an urgency. If this hymn is new to your congregation, perhaps you could introduce it by having the gently flowing melody line played by a flute accompanied by piano or organ. Then have a small group or soloist sing the first stanza before the entire congregation joins on stanzas 2 and 3. This approach is especially effective because of the communal nature of stanzas 2 and 3. Stanza 1 expresses the symbolism of the dove as the Spirit, stanza 2 speaks of the Spirit coming to the Church, and stanza 3 deals with the work of the Spirit in today’s church. This hymn need not only be reserved for Pentecost Sunday!
The text was written in 1981 by Carl Daw, executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and author of three published collections, A Year of Grace, To Sing God’s Praise, and New Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (all published by Hope). Carl Daw wrote this text specifically for bridegroom, a beautiful tune composed by Peter Cutts, an English composer who now teaches at Andover Newton Seminary in Massachusetts. Of his many tunes, bridegroom is the most well-known, and this beautiful match of text and tune is making its way into many hymnals.
John Carter provides a lovely piano setting of this hymn in Today’s Hymns and Songs for Piano (Hope Publishing Co.), and Michael Burkhardt has an organ setting in Eight Improvisations on 20th Century Hymn Tunes (MorningStar Music Publishers). Either of these would make an appropriate offertory on the day these hymns are sung, helping the congregation to remember and meditate on the words. Michael Burkhardt also has a two-part choral setting with congregation joining on stanza 3. It includes oboe and organ accompaniment (Hope MSM-60-5000). A few weeks before this hymn is sung in a church service have the church school classes learn it so they can help teach it to the rest of the congregation.
For a good pair of songs, consider linking “Like the Murmur” to “O Holy Spirit, Breathe on Me” (included in RW 43, p. 33; also in Songs for LiFE 183). Since no key change is necessary, the transition goes very smoothly. “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” ends with an invitation to the Spirit. “O Holy Spirit, Breathe on Me” is a prayer to the Spirit to work in our individual lives. This very personal response to the Spirit’s coming should be sung reflectively. No break between stanzas also means a relaxed tempo is necessary. A flute or violin could play through a stanza one time to help the congregation become familiar with the tune. By the third stanza the instrument could play the top note in the left-hand accompaniment as a descant.
GRACIOUS SPIRIT, HEAR OUR PLEADING
Here is another song from Africa (see pp. 33-37), one that would serve well for Pentecost Sunday and any time we pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This song comes to us from the East African country of Tanzania. It was composed by Wilson Niwagila, who may be associated with the Lutheran Theological College in Makumira, Tanzania, since that college holds the copyright to the song. The original text in Swahili makes this song available to many African Christians for whom Swahili is a regional language that crosses national and ethnic boundaries, especially in East Africa.
Typical of many African songs, this one invites singing in harmony. To introduce the hymn in your congregation, have a small group sing the first stanza without accompaniment. Add keyboard accompaniment to help the congregation learn the song. But after it has been sung once our twice, try singing it all without instrumental accompaniment ex-cept for light percussion.
Howard Olson, who prepared the English translation, published the song in Set Free: A Collection of African Hymns (Augsburg #3-420); a cassette is also available (#3-421).
HAVE YOU REGISTERED YET FOR COLAM '99?
How many of your worship planners are coming? See the inside front cover for more information! Reminder: a brochure was inserted in RW 50.