Name that tune –

A mighty fortress is our God of course

Have you ever wondered about the information in very fine print at the end of each hymn?  Besides information about the composer and the source for the text, and a tune name (itself often suggesting an interesting story for that particular hymn), there is a series of numbers or set of letters that correspond to the meter of the text.  A mighty fortress, as noted above, is made up of two sets of eight-syllable phrases joined to seven-syllable phrases, and then two sets of six-syllable phrases, concluding with a seven-syllable phrase. 

You don’t find this terribly interesting?  Perhaps more interesting then is Amazing grace, which could be marked 86.86, but that is so common that it is marked as CM or Common Meter.  As CM suggests, there are many hymn texts in this meter.  We could in fact sing the words of Amazing grace to the same tune as I come with joy to meet my Lord (Hymn 304) or In Christ there is no East or West (Hymn 529).  

Text and music are so often inseparable in people’s minds, but you might agree that sometimes a wonderful tune is linked to less than great poetry (Onward Christian soldiers comes to mind), and perhaps more often, great poetry is set to – how shall we say it? – challenging tunes.  I would argue that a challenge, once met, makes the hymn that much more satisfying to sing, but I understand the need to find simple comfort in a hymn sometimes.  Yet all too often a soaring text is tied to an earth-bound tune and simply cries for a musical setting that moves the listener more.  There’s a wideness in God’s mercy has two tunes in The Hymnal 1982 found at 469 and 470.  In my very humble opinion, one tune floats and the other sinks –but you can be the judge.

So, would you be very upset if new words appeared with a familiar tune, or a favorite text was paired with a new tune?  How about switching two 76.76 D (D for double) hymns: O sacred head sore wounded sung to the tune of All glory, laud and honor anyone?  Just kidding.

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5 Responses to Name that tune –

  1. One of my favorites is to have the congregation sing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling to the tune of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. It is so glorious!

  2. The Rev. Canon John E. Lawrence says:

    A fun Daily Cup. I remember the great hymnologist and organist Alec Wyton speaking on this same subject to a group of us clergy. One of his examples of how a great tune can even strengthen weak words was using Ton-y-Botel (#s 381 and 527 and formerly “Once to ev’ry man and nation) as the music for “What a friend we have in Jesus!” Try singing it–you’ll be amazed at how well it works!!! (I’m still not suggesting we try this in church, however.)

  3. Beatrice Meyerson says:

    About “There’s a widenss in God’s mercy”
    I am always distressed to find that at St. Alban’s we are singing it in the “wrong” tune. My tune must be the one Sonya thinks sinks. But, it is beloved of my childhood, and singing the other tune robs the hymn of its comfort and wideness and familiarity for me.
    As a child I loved singing the hymns in church. They were welcome additions to an otherwise quite boring hour. Even though I couldn’t/can’t hold a tune, I can sing hymns lustily to the glory of God and no one will notice if I am not on key.
    Please don’t neglect all the old tunes and now and then sing “wideness” the old way.
    Thanks. Sorry, to be a Philistine. Bea Meyerson

  4. Beatrice Meyerson says:

    Please notify me of further comments.

  5. Christian says:

    This “Cup” is a delight. I didn’t know anything about the number system. I enjoy the playful and wishful thinking about substituting lyrics and melodies.

    Sonya’s — your Cup’s are soooooo enjoyable.

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