History of Hymns: “Come Now, O Prince of Peace” (“O-so-so”)

by C. Michael Hawn

"Come Now, O Prince of Peace" ("O-so-so")
Geon-yong Lee with English paraphrase by Marion Pope
The Faith We Sing, No. 2232

Geon-yong Lee

“Come now, O Prince of Peace,
make us one body,
come, O Lord Jesus,
reconcile your people.”*


Geon-yong Lee was born in 1947 in Pyongannam-do, in what is now North Korea. His father was a minister. Following the Korean War, the family moved to what is now South Korea in 1953 where Mr. Lee grew up in Seoul. 

Mr. Lee started to compose at age 12. He played oboe in the school band in Seoul Middle School and studied composition at the School of Music and Arts during his high school years and later at Seoul National University. In 1976 he went to Frankfurt, Germany, and studied composition with Heinz Werner Zimmermann, a well-known 20th-century church music composer, at Frankfurter Musikhochschule. 

After his study in Germany, Mr. Lee returned to Korea and taught composition in Hyosung Woman’s University and Seoul National University, and was president of the Korea National University of the Arts where he has been teaching since 1993. He has also been the choirmaster at the Anglican Cathedral in Seoul and was the editor of the Korean Anglican hymnal. 

Mr. Lee has participated in many ecumenical events including Asian church music gatherings at the Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music in Manila, Philippines. 

He composes for a wide variety of performing media including piano, orchestra and opera. He gives special attention to Korean musical styles and forms, even in his orchestral works. He is also known for church music such as the Asian Mass and works for congregation. 

Korea was divided into two countries in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. Though fighting has ceased, the region remains tense since the conflict did not end with a peace treaty. The southern half of the Korean Peninsula has embraced modern Democracy, while the north has a very isolated Communist government. Mr. Lee is among the many Anglicans actively working toward reunification of the Korean peninsula. 

Mr. Lee composed the words and music of his hymn in 1988 while attending a workshop at Bossey, Geneva, with the World Council of Churches. Marion Pope, a missionary from the U.S., provided the paraphrase. 

This song has been used widely in ecumenical gatherings since it first appeared in the hymnal, Sound the Bamboo (1990), an ecumenical Asian Christian hymnal sponsored by the Christian Conference of Asia. More recent North American hymnals now incorporate this hymn as well. 

I met Professor Lee in 1999 in Seoul, where he had just returned from North Korea with a group of artists in an exchange program. The reunification of his homeland is an underlying theme of many of his works. 

The triple meter of the melody is typical of Korean music. The Western harmonic approach—sounding in a minor mode—gives a sense of longing to our ears. Each stanza is a petition, requesting the “Prince of Peace” to “come” to us and to “reconcile” us to “all people” and “all nations.” 

The text is direct in its requests: “make us one body” and “set us free.” The petitions are addressed to God through a variety of names: “Prince of Peace,” “God of Love,” “God our Savior” and “Hope of Unity.” Each of these names establishes the authority and attributes of the One who can truly provide a cessation of conflict (pax in Latin) and wholeness and healing (shalom in Hebrew).
 

*©1988 Lee Geonyong. Copyright administered by GIA Publications Inc. www.giamusic.com. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns

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