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“How Shall I Come Before the Lord”

TITLE:"How Shall I Come Before the Lord"
AUTHOR: Dean B. McIntyre
COMPOSER: Traditional English folk melody; arr. Dean McIntyre
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3124
SCRIPTURE: Micah 6:6-8
TOPIC: bow down; daily living; giving; humility; justice; kindness; law; love; offering


Dean B. McIntyre grew up in a Methodist pastor's family and began at an early age playing piano, organ, and leading choirs in a variety of denominations. After many years as a full-time United Methodist music director, he is currently the Director of Music Resources at The United Methodist Discipleship Ministries in Nashville. He is active in developing and promoting music resources for use in the UMC, as well as speaking and leading workshops on a variety of worship- and music-related topics. McIntyre served on the editorial committee of The Faith We Sing and chaired the General Conference Music and Worship Study (2004-2007). He was named co-editor (2007) of the United Methodist Hymnal Revision Project. He served on the editorial committee of Worship & Song, was editor of the Worship & Song Worship Resources Edition, and chaired the national introductory event. He is a composer, arranger, and author, major contributor to the Discipleship Ministries worship and music website, and moderator of the Methodist Musicians' Listserv and Ruach List. He has a bachelor's degree in organ performance, a master's degree in post-secondary music education, and a Ph.D. in Fine Arts, is a member of ASCAP, the Charles Wesley Society, and a Life Member of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. He is the compiler of A Reference Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing and Hymns for the Revised Common Lectionary. His two great musical passions are arranging, accompanying, and leading congregational singing and playing the songs of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and others on the piano.

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 has made it a favorite hymn tune.


The familiar words of the prophet Micah have been included in United Methodist songbooks previously:

  • The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 441, words by Albert F. Bayly, music by Erik Routley.
  • The Faith We Sing, no. 2174 (Micah 6:8 only), music by Jim Strathdee.

The setting in Worship & Song seeks to simplify the text as rhymed poetry (aabb) while remaining closer to the actual scriptural text. Stanza one sets verse six, preserving the biblical questions of what God requires. Verse seven's opulent gifts of thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, even our firstborn in exchange for our own sin is changed to a more generic concept of finest gifts and wealth, with short searching questions asking what, indeed, does God require? The questions of verses six and seven are answered in the biblical verse eight, as are the questions of the hymn stanzas one and two answered in stanza three: God requires us to act and live with justice, loving kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

"The Water Is Wide" (song)

See more Hymn Studies.