Home Worship Planning Music Resources “A Star Shone Bright”

“A Star Shone Bright”

TITLE:"A Star Shone Bright"
AUTHOR: F. Richard Garland, 2006
COMPOSER: Traditional English folk melody; arr. Dean McIntyre
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3051
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-10
TOPIC: Bethlehem; Christmas; Epiphany; comfort; healing; hope; inspire; birth and baptism; Incarnation; light; New Birth; star


F. Richard "Dick" Garland is a retired United Methodist pastor. A graduate of Garrett Theological Seminary, he has served churches in Chicago, Indiana, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. He sings with the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra as well as the Chancel Choir of St. Luke's UMC in Derry, NH, where he is serving as interim pastor in retirement. He is also a member of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. He is a lifelong hiker and an avid mountain climber.

Garland wrote his first hymn, a children's song, in a seminary music class with Austin C. Lovelace, and has written poetry for many years. He has over sixty hymns published on the Discipleship Ministries website.

O WALY WALY is a folk tune of Scottish, English or Irish origin that has been sung since the 1600s. The tune name is a lament that translates "Woe is me." It takes its name from the opening line of the lyric, "Waly, waly, gin Love be bonny":

O Waly, waly, up the bank,
And waly, waly, doun the brae (hill),
And waly, waly, yon burn-side (riverside),
Where I and my love want to go

The tune is widely known with the folk song "The Water Is Wide":

The water is wide, I can-not cross o'er.
And neither have I the wings to fly.
Build me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row, my true love and I.

The tune has been widely used, arranged, and recorded to the present day, including by composers Benjamin Britten, John Rutter, and Mack Wilberg. It has been recorded by numerous artists, including The Kingston Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, Bob Dylan, Janet Baker, Sarah Brightman, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Tom Chapin, and many more. It has become a popular hymn tune, with hymns by Brian Wren, John Bell, Fred Pratt Green, Hal Hopson and many others. It appears three times in Worship & Song:

  • 3051, "A Star Shone Bright" (F. Richard Garland)
  • 3124, "How Shall I Come Before the Lord" (Dean B. McIntyre)
  • 3157, "Come, Let Us Dream" (John Middleton)

It appears three times in The Faith We Sing:

  • 2027, "Now Praise the Hidden God of Love" (Fred Pratt Green)
  • 2076, "O Blessed Spring" (Susan Palo Cherwien)
  • 2283, "For All the Saints" (John Bell)

It is used four times in The Upper Room Worshipbook:

  • 140, "O Day of Peace" (Carl P. Daw, Jr.
  • 141, "The Gift of Love" (Hal Hopson"
  • 142, "Before the Earth Had Yet Begun" (Herbert O'Driscoll
  • 143, "Come Follow Me" (Michael Hudson)

It appears twice in The United Methodist Hymnal:

  • 408, "The Gift of Love" (Hal Hopson)
  • 643, "When Love Is Found" (Brian Wren)


Melody: The melody of O WALY WALY consists of eight notes within the D octave. The first three phrases form a rising then falling arch form, while the last phrase is the reverse -- falling then rising.

Harmony: The basic harmonic structure of the arrangement is a simple I-vi-II-V7-I-V7-I with the structural chords interspersed with numerous ornamenting and passing harmonies. The structural or cadence chords support the important and rhyming words of each phrase, set to the long half notes of the melody.

Rhythm: The basic rhythm of the accompaniment is three short notes leading to a long note at the structural chord. The fourth, fifth, and sixth half-phrases contain an extra ornamental note prior to the structural chord. The predominant harmonic rhythm is a change on every half measure, with passing and ornamental harmonies in between.

Form: Musically, the four phrases do not repeat. They thus have an ABCD form. Textually, the hymn consists of two rhymed couplets, AABB, with no internal rhymes. This hymn, with only eight measures, is a good example of how tight and compact the hymn form can be.

Sound: Understanding the technicalities of O WALY WALY's form and structure and its component parts does not account for its popularity. All of these elements combine to produce a whole that is, quite simply, beautiful and satisfying to sing, to play, and to experience. The tune has an extra quality that cannot be accounted for by its individual components or in a technical analysis of their combination. It is this extra quality, in addition to the interplay of the other musical elements and text, that have made it a favorite hymn tune.


Stanza one opens with the heavenly star shining upon the earth on that first Christmas night when hope was born.

Stanza two proclaims the newborn Jesus to be God's son, Incarnate Word, Wisdom's Light. It moves on to call Jesus to come and console our hearts, heal our hurts, and make us whole.

Stanza three again connects the Bethlehem birth with our present lives, asking Christ to be born again in our hearts, to show us the way.

Stanza four calls for the star to shine again and illuminate our world with its heavenly Light, until the whole world and every heart are brought to the glory of eternity.

Within these stanzas are themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany:

  • The fulfillment of the hope of Advent's promise of the birth of Christ.
  • The star that shined over the place where Jesus was born.
  • The Incarnation.
  • The salvation of the whole world.

There seems to be some mixing of images and metaphors, especially in stanza three. It refers to Jesus as Eternal Fire, perhaps to facilitate the rhyme with the next line, "O Spirit come, our souls inspire," another line that usually refers to the Holy Spirit.x

The hymn works well for late Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmastide and Epiphany. The appealing text, coupled with a favorite tune, has the potential to become a standard of the Christmas-Epiphany hymn repertoire.


See more Hymn Studies.

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