Loving One Who Tends Creation
This new hymn by Taylor Burton-Edwards speaks to the gentle spirit of singing the blessing for the meal. Eating was clearly a matter of holy importance to Jesus, a sacred time where people are fed and spirits are nourished. AR HYD Y NOS is a perfect pairing for this text, for multiple reasons. First, a distinctive triptych of rhyming lines is created in the middle of the hymn, and the melodic line requires this form. Second, the tune itself is nurturing in its very melody and structure. This tune was originally paired with the hymn, “God that Madest Earth and Heaven,” which is a nighttime blessing. Thus, it possesses a gentle spirit to serve as an evening prayer. I recommend accompanying with fingerpicked guitar, if able, or a keyboard with a gentle touch. In addition, add a solo wind or string instrument on a beautiful descant, such as the one contained in Music Supplement II of The United Methodist Hymnal.
Jesus, United By Thy Grace
This hymn by Charles Wesley contains two distinct sections that are divided here to surround the Scripture reading. The first three stanzas focus upon the need to help one another as a responsibility of discipleship and the prayer to make us attentive to the needs of others. The last three stanzas are centered upon Wesley’s inclusion of the word “lodestone,” which is another word for a magnet. In this last section, the image of the lodestone is used purposefully as a way to demonstrate the power of God’s love to hold us together and draw us closer and closer to God. If you will be offering this service in an area outside of the sanctuary (due to the meal), I encourage the use of a piano and/or guitar to accompany. Common meter (CM) offers a short form that is common to many hymns (see “Amazing Grace,” No. 378, or “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” No. 57, for well-known examples), but the tunes for these texts generally do not offer repetition within the stanzas because of their brevity. If the ST. AGNES tune is unfamiliar to your congregation, make sure the song leader sings with a sensitivity and awareness of each phrase. Singing musical phrases that offer direction (usually through a slight crescendo and decrescendo) can actually assist the congregation in learning a new tune. Another option would be to choose a more familiar tune for this occasion.
There’s a Spirit of Love in This Place
One of the greatest elements of this work by Mark Miller is the conversational nature of the melody in concert with the text. In singing the words, we acknowledge the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Sung around tables, the hymn draws us close together as we prepare to hear the words of Scripture and reflect upon it. You will enjoy this gentle creation. The ideal accompaniment in this setting is a piano. I would be tempted, however, to add a simple, pulsing, low-pitched drum (djembe or bass drum) quietly on beats 1 and 3 and the upbeats preceding them. This will create a “heartbeat” that can bring people into a united rhythm together. Hymn Study
Of all the hymns on servanthood, Tom Colvin’s “Jesu, Jesu” is one of the most prominent among them--specifically because of its inclusion of footwashing imagery. In addition, this singable, lilting hymn offers a prayer for us to serve as Jesus did and gives us the ability to sing the prayer with a narrower, lower range than most hymns. Of note is the discussion about the pronunciation of “Jesu.” Despite the fact that I cannot find a standardized pronunciation of this word across multiple resources, I recommend “Yeh-soo,” although using a “J” sound might also be deemed appropriate. Accompaniment works best with a guitar and light percussion, although any combination of instruments may be used. If your percussionists are capable of playing polyrhythms underneath (3 beats against 2, for instance), it will help capture the Ghanaian character of the tune. Read History of Hyms: "Jesu, Jesu" »
The Servant Song
Singing this hymn allows worship participants to assume the posture of servanthood by asking permission to serve, agreeing to walk the road of discipleship together, and making commitments to support one another. The tune is very singable for the most part, with the one possible exception being measure 5. Make sure you have prepared your choir accordingly on this one measure since it is also the highest part of the melody. The majority of the melody includes stepwise motion, with this one measure being the exception. Encourage the congregation by being confident in your leading and not straining on the high Eb. Since this is accompanying a ritual action (washing), you may want to hum the melody or have piano, organ, or a solo instrument play the melody before singing begins. Read History of Hymns: "The Servant Song" »
Many composers have been drawn to this Latin text over the centuries, and Jacques Berthier and the Taizé Community have provided a simplicity to the text that will linger long after the service ends. The intent with many of these short, cyclical choruses from Taizé is for the song to become the prayer. Therefore, sing it numerous times and allow the words to become a part of the worshiping subconscious. Whereas many would advocate for the singing of the song in Latin, the brothers of Taizé recommend singing their songs in the language of the community. However, should you choose to sing in Latin, follow these pronunciations:
Oo-bee cah-ree-tahs eht ah-mohr
Oo-bee cah-ree-tahs Deh-oos ee-bee ehst.
All the “s” sounds are pronounced unvoiced (an “s,” not a “z”), and the vowels should be pronounced with no diphthongs. For a thorough analysis of “Ubi Caritas” in a translation from Latin into hymn form (“Where Charity and Love Prevail, The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 549), click Read History of Hymns: "Ubi Caritas" »
The success of a hymn’s use within your congregation can be reliant on a number of factors, one of the most important of which is the use of a well-matched tune to the hymn text. Below are a few important things to consider when choosing a tune that is different from the tune printed in The United Methodist Hymnal or other resource.
- Determine the meter of the hymn, and find a matching tune using the metrical index. Determining the meter of a hymn is easy--simply look to the bottom right corner of the page. The meter is listed below the tune name, which is printed in all capital letters. Match the numbers or letters there with the information contained in the metrical index, which in The United Methodist Hymnal can be found on page 926. A variety of hymn tunes with the same meter can be found under the corresponding numbers or letters.
- Assess the metrical compatibility with the text you have chosen. Not all hymns in a given poetic meter match with the rhythm of a corresponding musical meter. One common example of this is on the word “Jesus,” which oftentimes does not line up correctly with tunes that place the rhythmic emphasis of the word on the second syllable. This is one of the greatest challenges with Charles Wesley’s texts. (For an example, see “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” No. 57, stanza 3, in which the second syllable of “Jesus” is placed on a downbeat.)
- Consider the character of the hymn and its use in worship, and select a tune according to the intended worship dynamic. Obviously, you might not want to choose a hymn tune with a bright, joyous mood for Good Friday unless you want to get a call from your staff-parish relations committee. The flow and direction of narratives and work within the worship service help dictate the inclusion of tunes and how they sensitively portray the texts. Be considerate of the emotional power of music and how it is a vehicle for the work of the Holy Spirit.
By following these brief tips, you can enhance worship services within your church, offer a creative spark to a well-known text, and even introduce texts that are printed with completely unfamiliar tunes. Sometimes it is best to teach a new tune, but in other instances, a time for teaching might not be a primary goal. Know your congregation, and plan the singing of hymns intentionally and creatively!