Hymn of the Month

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

Although it was written for Dorothy Thrupp's 1836 collection Hymns for the Young and is included in the children's section of many hymnals, "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" appeals to believers of all ages. The hymn graciously avoids the pitfalls of simplicity and sentimentality into which too many children's hymns fall—perhaps because, through the language and symbolism of Psalm 23, the stanzas communicate the message of John 10:14: "I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep."

The new Psalter Hymnal offers the text a new dignity by coupling it with RHUDDLAN, an original Welsh tune first published in Edward Jones's Music Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1794). Translated, Rhuddlan means "Come to Battle," and the original tune does have a martial flavor. The present arrangement omits two dotted rhythms of the original last line of music to play down the martial qualities of the tune and, thus, better serve the pastoral nature of this text.

RHUDDLAN calls for a gentle organ and/or choral support. A light organ registration of only 8' and 4' principals, or perhaps 8' and 2', with light 16' and 8' pedal stops should be enough, especially in the second and third stanzas (or have choir and congregation sing the third stanza with no accompaniment). A slightly fuller registration is appropriate for the final stanza.

Also worth considering is an alternative harmonization by the Canadian composer F.R.C. Clarke (#23 in The Hymn Book of the Anglican and United Church of Canada). Clarke's arrangement contains a tenor line that has sufficient melodic character and is of a suitably high range to function as a descant, with the tenors and sopranos exchanging parts. The organ could also solo out the tenor line in the left hand on one manual, keeping the alto and soprano voices in the right hand on a separate manual and the bass voice on the pedals.

RHUDDLAN is one of sixty Welsh tunes arranged by Franz Joseph Haydn for voices, violin, and piano.

Psalm 126

In applying new words to this old German tune, Calvin Seerveld has followed the very same procedure that was first responsible (as early as 1533) for bringing the melody into early Protestant hymnbooks. Martin Luther himself provided the foreword and many texts and tunes (including this one) for a volume published in 1545.

But although this tune is attributed to Luther, it actually appears to be a reworking of an earlier secular work by Ludwig Senfl, a Swiss composer whom Luther admired greatly. Senfl, a Catholic composer, spent most of his life in the employ of German princes and gained high regard as a composer of German secular songs, or lieder. He composed this tune to the words of a lament written by Duke Albrecht of Prussia in memory of his wife, Queen Mary of Hungary (hence the subtitle in German hymnals: "Queen Mary of Hungary Song").

Seerveld, a member of the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee and professor of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, found this tune in an old German hymnal and paired it with his exuberant, roughly hewn versification of this thanksgiving psalm. The syncopated and dotted rhythms and the short, truncated phrases of the last two lines of music ably support Seerveld's text, underscoring the laughter, joy, and surprise expressed in the psalm.

The tune is actually quite easy to learn. The music for the first three lines of text is repeated for the next three; also, the final section contains a melodic repetition in measures 13 and 14. Pay special attention to the syncopations of this last section. In your performance of it, strive for a detached nonlegato style. Play up the contrast between the legato, smoothly flowing opening lines of music and the rhythmically detached closing section by supporting the latter with tasteful application of handbells, tambourine, or clapping. Rehearse entirely in unison at a moderately quick tempo. The harmonization was composed by Dale Grotenhuis, another member of the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee and professor of music at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending

The English Methodist Charles Wesley first published this text in 1758 in his Hymns of Intercession with All Mankind. The text is based on Revelation 1:7 and Matthew 24:30.

During Advent we not only remember Christ's first coming in humility as an infant but also look forward to his second coming in glory to reign forever over the new earth. The references tojesus' suffering and passion in stanzas 2 and 3 serve to place the Advent season in the context of the church year by pointing ahead to the resurrection.

Over the years this hymn has been most often associated with the tune HELMSLEY and more recently with HOLYWOOD. However, the marriage with the tune WESTMINSTER ABBEY, which occurs in the new Psalter Hymnal, is a most happy one. The regal majesty of the late sixteenth-century English tune by Henry Purcell suits the text admirably and seems to call for an introductory fanfare—either by brass instruments or on the reed stops of the organ. Try composing or improvising a fanfare using the opening three notes of the tune as your theme.

The first stanza clearly calls for strong treatment from organ, choir, and brass (if available). The second stanza might be done more quietly, perhaps in unison, with the choir breaking into four parts a cappella at the words "deeply wailing." Stanza 3 could be presented by the choir alone to the arrangement composed by Ernest Hawkins for Novello's The Psalmist (1843). This version could be employed in the final stanza as well, while the organist plays the accompaniment composed by Harrison Oxley {Last Verse in Unison—RSCM). Another option for the final stanza is the descant by Erik Routley in Rejoice in the Lord (No. 392), which also includes a higher setting in Bb (No. 599), using Purcell's original harmonies.

On several Sunday's prior to introducing the hymn to the congregation, the choir might sing the closing "Hallelujah" portion of Purcell's anthem O God, Thou Art My God, from which the tune was originally derived.

To many of us it is almost jarring to hear the words of a text we have come to know and love set to a new, perhaps unfamiliar tune. However, if—as is true in the hymns considered above—the music informs and imbues familiar words with new meaning and forcefulness, then the shock of the procedure will itself be beneficial. It will lead us to constantly reappraise the intent and validity of the tunes we hear Sunday after Sunday, keeping us from becoming complacent about our musical expression. And it will result in our truly singing not only with spirit but also with mind (1 Cor. 14:15).

Gerald Van Wyk is music director at West Vancouver United Church, British Columbia, and choral director at Vancouver Community College.

Reformed Worship 6

January: Songs of Thankfulness and Praise (SALZBURG)
February: Psalm 130: Out of the Depths 1 Cry, Lord (GENEVAN 130)
March: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (ST. THEODULPH)

Reformed Worship 7

April: Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing (GELOBT SEI GOTT)
May: Christ the Lord Ascends to Reign (CHRIST 1ST ERSTANDEN)
June: Give Thanks to God the Father (DU MEINE SEELE, SINGE)

Gerlad Van Wyk is music director at West Vancouver United Church, British Columbia, and choral director at Vancouver Community College.


Reformed Worship 5 © September 1987, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.