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“God of Great and God of Small”

TITLE: "God of Great and God of Small"
AUTHOR: Natalie Sleeth
TUNE: GOD OF GREAT AND SMALL
COMPOSER: Natalie Sleeth
SOURCES: Worship & Song, no. 3033
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 107; Psalm 146; Hebrews 13:8
TOPICS: new birth; care; dancing; time; Earth; environment; eternity; time; Kingdom of God; light; music & singing; name of God; night; play; power & might; silence; sound; tomorrow; truth; walls; yesterday

Background
Natalie Allyn Wakeley was born in Evanston, Illinois, on October 29, 1930. She began piano study at the age of four and gained much of her musical experience by singing in choral ensembles during her early years. Studying music theory, piano, and organ at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she received her B.A. in 1952. She received honorary doctorates from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1959 and from Nebraska Wesleyan College in 1990.

She married Ronald E. Sleeth, a United Methodist clergyman and professor of homiletics in Evanston, Illinois, on September 5, 1952. She studied organ at Northwestern University and served as the organist of the Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe, Illinois. After moving to Nashville and finally settling in Dallas, she became director of children's choirs at Highland Park United Methodist Church in 1965 and served as music secretary at Highland Park United Methodist Church from 1969-1976. During this time, she studied music theory with Jane Marshall and audited a course in choral arranging taught by Lloyd Pfautsch at SMU. Choristers Guild published her first anthem, "Canon of Praise," in 1969, the highest selling anthem in the history of that publisher. Her choral works for all ages number more than 200, many of which have been adapted as congregational hymns. Some of her compositions are described in her devotional book, Adventures for the Soul (Hope Publishing Co., 1987). She composed both words and music for her anthems and hymns.

Ms. Sleeth died of cancer in Denver, Colorado, March 21, 1992 at the age of 61. Dr. Michael Hawn writes, "Composer R. G. Huff, who attended her funeral in Denver, describes her impact on him in Worship Matrix, an online hymnal companion for the hymnal Celebrating Grace (2010): 'In March 1992, I attended the memorial service of Natalie Sleeth at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, across the street from the church I served there. I had been a pen-pal of sorts with her for several years and wanted to be there for the celebration of her contribution to church music, especially the music of children. For a full hour before the funeral, the church's choir, soloists and organist performed her songs, hymns and anthems. It was a great tribute to her writing legacy.'"

"God of Great and God of Small" was first published as a choral anthem by Carl Fischer, Inc. in 1973.

Hymns by Natalie Sleeth:.

United Methodist Hymnal (1989)

  • "Go now in peace," no. 665
  • "In the bulb there is a flower" ("Hymn of Promise"), no. 707

The Faith We Sing (2000)

  • "Praise the Lord With the Sound of Trumpet," no. 2020
  • "Go Ye, Go Ye Into the World," no. 2239
  • "Come! Come! Everybody Worship," no. 2271
  • "Joy in the Morning," no. 2284

Worship & Song (2011)

  • "God of Great and God of Small," no. 3033

Music
One of the hallmarks of Sleeth's musical style is that of balance: phrases often divide into equal halves with thematic and motivic themes repeated or varied melodically and rhythmically. "God of Great and God of Small" consists of three four-measure phrases: AA'B. Phrase A opens with a rising melodic fifth, repeated as the opening of A'.

Harmonically, both A and A' exhibit the very classical tendency to move from tonic to dominant, from I to V, that is, from a C chord to a cadence on a G chord. While the first phrase (A) moves to the dominant area, the second phrase (A') does so much more conclusively with the introduction of the secondary dominant chord of D7 and a decisive V-I cadence, including the melody note ending on the fifth scale degree.

One might have expected the third phrase to begin on the tonic chord, the logical conclusion of the preceding dominant chord at the end of phrase two, but Sleeth instead uses a deceptive movement and surprises us with the relative minor vi chord to open the refrain (phrase three, B). The B phrase moves through several chords, finally and quite satisfyingly ending with a strong ii-V-I cadence.

Also take note of the range and tessitura of the three phrases. A and A' both begin on the lower tonic pitch of middle C, rising through and prominently sounding in a mid-octave range. The B phrase contrasts by boldly opening on the C above middle C ("Alleluia"), gradually falling a full octave, sounding every scale degree, to conclude on the lower middle C.

Sleeth has provided a spare accompaniment in the Accompaniment Edition, mostly consisting of a two-voiced bicinium, one melody, the other bass. For much of the hymn, the harmonies must be assumed or interpolated from these two voices. She provides slightly fuller harmonies in the refrain with the addition of a second harmony note above the bass line. The effect of the two-voice setting is to recall the sound of many similar compositions from the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. This structure points out the strong dual relationship that often exists between melody and bass lines. This structure might be exploited by having the choir or two duet voices sing the hymn using only these two parts, adding a third voice as provided in the refrain.

Words
Sleeth's fondness for a balanced structure in her musical style is also exhibited in her text. In the first stanza, for instance, note the structure and how Sleeth skillfully employs the use of opposites in successive phrases:

God of GREAT and God of SMALL, . . . God of ONE and God of ALL,
God of WEAK and God of STRONG, . . . God to whom ALL THINGS belong,

Not only is there balance in the yoking of paired nouns at the smallest level:

GREAT – SMALL . . . ONE – ALL,

there is also balance between the half phrase:
GREAT – SMALL (large/small) and ONE – ALL (small/large)
is answered by their opposites:
WEAK-STRONG and ALL THINGS

As so many hymns do, "God of Great and God of Small" seeks to understand God by providing images that are immediately apparent and understandable to the singer. When we sing "God of grace and God of glory," (UM Hymnal no. 577), we can perhaps grasp something of the nature of God by understanding the concept of God extending grace and exhibiting glory. Jaroslav Vajda's hymn "God of the sparrow, God of the whale" (UM Hymnal no. 122) has similarly given countless children and adults insight into who God is and our relationship to God. So has "God of Great and God of Small" (Worship & Song, no. 3033) as it enumerates pairs and opposites as part of God's creation and concern:

Stanza 1: great and strong; one and all; weak and strong . . . all things
Stanza 2: land, sky and sea; life and destiny; eternal power and hourly presence
Stanza 3: silence and sound; the lost; day and night; wrong and right
Stanza 4: heaven and earth; death and birth; present, past and eternal
Refrain: offers our response in alleluia and praise

Sources

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