Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

Great hymn texts; crappy hymn tunes.

14 posts in this topic

Posted · Report post

As an adjunct to my handbell music composing and arranging, I've recently been writing choral octavos for hymns (e.g. "Sleep, Holy Babe!") where the original music simply doesn't match up to the quality of the lyrics. (The egotistic assumption, I suppose, is that my music does. But never mind.) So, in a blatant attempt to let others do my work for me: Any favorite hymn lyrics y'all have that aren't nearly matched in quality by the tune?

Dale

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

So, in a blatant attempt to let others do my work for me: Any favorite hymn lyrics y'all have that aren't nearly matched in quality by the tune?
I cast my vote for the Easter fave "O Sons and Daughters"--the only Easter song appropriate for funerals. Why an Easter song, celebrating the victory over the grave, is sung at an abysmal A-minor key in 3/4 time is simply, utterly, beyond me.

I hope I don't get in trouble for writing that...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

The text to Martin Luther's "From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee" is fabulous, but the Trinity Hymnal tune is dirge-like, and painfully slow.

That always has bothered me, because I came to know the hymn through a more modern tune used by a large fellowship group I once attended. However, as much as I like that tune, it strikes me as much to up-tempo of a match for the lyrical content here.

I guess I long for a happy medium, but haven't found one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

My Dad would cite Abide with Me

Some would say that the reverse is true for Jerusalem (crappy words great tune), - at least people who have no interest in Jesus walking upon England's green hills still sing it with great gusto. Personally I quite like the words too, but find it spoilt by Christians who don't get the words complaining about those who don't care about the words.

Perhaps that should be in another thread.

Matt

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Encountered a hymn once, called "I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship" ... or at least that was the first line ... sung to the tune of "Danny Boy."

Nothing wrong with the tune itself, but it's hard to shake all the cheesy paddywhackery associated with it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited) · Report post

Since someone e-mailed me offlist asking me if they could hear one of the pieces, attached is a decent midi realization of "Sleep! Holy Babe," with strings covering the vocal lines and harp covering the harp part. (This isn't meant for congregational singing, I should add; it's just meant for choirs.)

Carry on giving me ideas.

Dale

Sleep_Holy_Babe.mp3

Edited by M. Dale Prins

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited) · Report post

Just about anything by Fanny Crosby. Not that the words are any great Shakes(peare) either, but the interminable roller-rink quality of Fanny's hymns forever spoils whatever truth or comfort I might glean from the words. I just want to strap on the skates and go for a turn around the narthex.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited) · Report post

Ahh but the thing with Fanny Crosby (or whichever of the myriad pseudonyms she was using at the time) is you can pretty much always come up with a better tune, 'cos the poetry is so simple - and I reckon many of them have enough in there to make them worth hanging onto.

My contender for worst Tune / best Lyrics would be the incomprehensible major key version of 'It Came upon the Midnight Clear' - though locally I'm having reasonable success getting people to sing it to the Sam Phillips (Bruce Cockburn) tune - I know people hate messing with carols but her version is lovely.

And theres a hymn called 'Thy Kingdom Come O Lord (thy rule O Christ begin - break with thine iron rod the tyrranies of sin)' which sounds pretty muscular but has a feeble whiny tune in the BHB

Edited by Ackworth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Just about anything by Fanny Crosby. Not that the words are any great Shakes(peare) either, but the interminable roller-rink quality of Fanny's hymns forever spoils whatever truth or comfort I might glean from the words. I just want to strap on the skates and go for a turn around the narthex.

Not her fault. It's those cheesy W. H. Doane tunes!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Well, I don't really like the lyrics either, but the tune to "In the Garden" always reminds me of a carnival, or the theme to "all skate" at the roller rink.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

How about mediocre music and lyrics?

I know it's a classic hymn and everything, but I've never warmed to "There Is a Balm In Gilead".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

Yes, well, once we get into hymns with mediocre music and lyrics, we'll be here all month.

I'm not a particular fan of "There is a Balm in Gilead," either, but my mom is, and my first handbell piece ever published was actually a fantasy on that hymn dedicated to her.

Dale

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted · Report post

My contender for worst Tune / best Lyrics would be the incomprehensible major key version of 'It Came upon the Midnight Clear' - though locally I'm having reasonable success getting people to sing it to the Sam Phillips (Bruce Cockburn) tune - I know people hate messing with carols but her version is lovely.

It's been sung to that tune in the States long before Sam Phillips. She just reharmonized the tune from major to minor and changed 1 or 2 notes.

I have, I think, heard the other major tune (more popular in the UK) and it seems like too much work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited) · Report post

Sixpence also used the Cockburn/Phillips minor-key arrangement of "ICUaMC" for their recording of the song -- it's a subtle change from the original, but I think it's very successful.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0