Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Arguably the most prominent Wesleyan hymn in our collections, this hymn serves as a cornerstone for our hymnody and speaks of the Wesleyan understanding of grace in ways other hymns simply cannot. Lots of discussion has been made about the ideal tune for this hymn, and in many situations, it depends on your context. We have offered here two suggestions for an alternative tune, bearing in mind there are plenty of other options. The first tune is HOLY MANNA, from the shape-note singing tradition. It offers a singable and quickly paced setting that can be played and sung with an organ or a band and every combination in between. Another tune is FUSION, which was written for the 2016 Fusion Conference in Raleigh, NC. It was written with a band in mind, but it could easily be accompanied by solo piano or guitar and light percussion. Each phrase of the first half of each stanza begins with the same melodic contour, and the second half of each stanza is characterized with repetition as well, thus making it somewhat accessible for congregational singing. Either setting can be sung in the key of G, which makes the transition into the next hymn seamless. Read History of Hymns: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" »
Now Praise the Hidden God of Love
Because of its lyrical phrases and gentle, folk quality, the hymn tune O WALY WALY may not be seen initially as a setting for a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, but Fred Pratt Green has written a hymn that pairs with it beautifully. Pratt Green was almost unmatched in his skill and eloquence, as is evidenced in the inclusion of the text, “to storm the citadels of wrong,” within this hymn. Every stanza is vital to the message of this hymn, and this is made clear with the use of a colon at the end of stanzas 1 and 2. “We have still a work to do” also seems to spur us on in our journey toward Christian perfection, and this in particular makes this a wonderful companion to the previous Charles Wesley hymn, “Love Divine, O Loves Excelling.” The tune can be accompanied by organ, piano, or guitar, with plenty of possible options, composed or improvised, among almost all instruments. Keep this hymn in the key of G because of the movement toward the climax on the D in measure 5. To promote musicality in singing, encourage your choir and congregation to crescendo (not overdramatically) on all the longer notes, which can be found on the downbeats of each measure. Read History of Hymns: "Now Praise the Hidden God of Love" »
Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Ghost
This classic gem within the Contemporary Christian genre offers a Caribbean flair to worship and includes possibilities for a praise team, Latin percussion, and repetitive rhythms that are quite catchy. The song is an invitation to live and work in the kingdom of God. The tempo is very quick and needs to stay in a 2/2 feel. If sung in 4/4, it loses some rhythmic intensity that moves the song along and makes it culturally interesting. The ideal key is C. This would also make a great song for children and youth to lead. Even if they are not singing as the choir or lead ensemble, children of all ages could be taught a simple percussion accompaniment to make this piece an expression of praise in your worship.
Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)
“Knowing You” is a perfect complement to the Scripture for this week. The first stanza states, “All I once thought gain I have counted loss,” which illustrates the “You have heard that it was said”/”But I say to you” language from Jesus this week. Graham Kendrick has created this hymnic modern song to address the disparity between what Christ teaches us and what is learned from the world. Keep this song in C to seamlessly follow the previous song. This is also an ideal key for singability, but it also leaves room to modulate up for a closing chorus in the key of D. Accompany with any variety of instruments, including organ, piano, or band.
We Would See Jesus
Our recommendation with the use of this resource this week is to speak the words of stanza 3 while the instruments accompany underneath. The use of a folk ensemble (guitars, mandolin, fiddle, etc.) can go a long way in helping this become a heart song of the congregation. Read History of Hymns: "We Would See Jesus" »
More Like You
Bookending the Scripture this week is this great short song akin to the same sentiment as “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian.” “More Like You” embodies a prayer of one moving toward Christian perfection and gives a concise reframing of the scriptural narrative as it implies becoming more like Jesus and less like the temptations of the world. The accompaniment edition of The Faith We Sing includes a stanza with this hymn, but with the purpose found here of accompanying the Scripture reading, I would recommend using the chorus only. Any number of instruments can accompany, but make sure the song doesn’t become so complex that it overshadows the Scripture reading here. Use a simple instrumentation like guitar or piano, along with a solo wind or string instrument (flute, violin, clarinet, etc.). The purpose of singing here is also accompanying another liturgical piece, so encourage the congregation to do whatever is liturgically appropriate in your context: either remain seated (if they will be seated during the Scripture reading) or stand (if they are used to standing during the Scripture reading). Keep in mind, however, that this song should be sung in whatever place the congregation will be for the reading. In other words, do not sing it seated if the congregation will stand for the reading (or vice versa). Allow the song to be a part of the proclamation of the word by creating continuity with it. The key in The Faith We Sing is Bb, which, though low, is appropriate for such an introspective, intimate song as this.
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
One of the more prominent and well-known spirituals in the church today, this hymn offers yet another prayer in the journey of Christian perfection. In this setting, “I want to be a Christian” means “I want to be more loving, holy, and like Jesus.” With many pianists and organists in the church who volunteer and may not have spent an entire lifetime honing an intense level of technical skills, the choice of setting this hymn in Db may be perplexing for some church musicians. Why set a text in a key with five flats? The answer is two-fold: 1) Vocal range, and 2) tone color. For more information on these key components of hymn tune settings, see the sidebar for this week’s music notes. Since this selection will fall in Black History Month, click this link for more resources from The United Methodist Hymnal for this important month in our civic calendar.
For the Beauty of the Earth
This week, we have featured a song of thanksgiving, and there aren’t many better choices than this hymn by Folliot S. Pierpoint. It is simple, teachable, singable, and capable of being adapted by a variety of accompaniments and instrumentations. We have recommended the inclusion of a stanza in the worship order that focuses on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it offers an opportunity to create some retroactive connection with previous weeks. Read History of Hymns: "For the Beauty of the Earth" »
Christ for the World We Sing
The tune of this hymn is one of the most interesting compositions in hymnody. It is one of few hymns that contains multiple measures of unison notes, even from those who accompany (See the measures of “with loving zeal/with fervent prayer/with one accord/with joyful song” for the first example). Written in 3/4, this hymn would be musically appropriate with a slight lilt to the tune and emphasis on count one of each measure. Felice de Giardini composed this tune in 1769, which was when Mozart was an adolescent, and European culture was still moving out of a dance-influenced era. The nature of this tune could best be described as a minuet, with a light character. Don’t sing it too heavily or slowly, or the character changes and the dance-like quality is lost. If you are in a band setting and need something other than 3/4 for the meter, feel free to sing in 4/4 and syncopate the melody by beginning with two dotted-quarters and a quarter to follow. The rhythm becomes fairly easy to work out after that.
Other Suggested Hymns for The Great Invitation, Week 6:
“Amazing Grace” UMH 378
“Rule of Life” W&S 3117, Africana Hymnal, 4056
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” UMH 400
“Covenant Prayer” W&S 3115
“I Give Myself Away” Africana Hymnal, 4066
When choosing an appropriate key in which a hymn or song can be sung, there are a number of things to consider. Know that this can be frustrating at times, but the ultimate goal of any issue related to hymns and tunes is the encouragement and enlivening of congregational song. Here are a few thoughts when choosing appropriate keys:
- The most important consideration is the encouragement of singing and the ability of the congregation. Know that hymns will often have to be different in one church versus another because of the nature, history, and ability of each community. The needs of the instrumentalists, even though they are important, are secondary to the ability to foster a culture of singing in the church.
- Know the vocal capabilities of your congregation. The congregation is your largest choir in the church, and you need to know their ability. Can they sing above a D? Can they sing below a Bb? Most congregations will refuse to sing if a song exceeds their range, and I don’t blame them. Some can sing wider ranges than others. Note that Bb to D (just over an octave) is not the range for every single church, and you must know if they are able to sustain high notes or sing them only briefly before coming back down. If you continuously program high keys for them to sing that are out of their range, they will not trust you to lead them, and they will eventually quit singing. They must trust their worship leaders, so when the music or the message gets challenging, they will know you won’t simply stand by and hope they get it. Be the musical shepherd they need.
- Consider the context of the songs. Is the song featured as a part of a high-energy set at the beginning of worship? Is it a prayer song? Will it accompany a ritual action in the church? Will the congregation be standing or remain seated? These questions can all help determine what the best key is for singing. Take, for instance, the entry “More Like You” this week. The key of Bb works well for those sitting throughout the Scripture reading or leading into a time of prayer. The ability for a congregation to support higher notes while seated is quite difficult, so choosing a lower key while seated is appropriate. It may make more sense to take it up a step when standing.
- Tone color can affect the mood of worship. For those who might not know what I’m talking about here, keys sound different from one another. True, those who haven’t spent a lifetime of ear training might not hear the subtle nuance in frequency, but keys actually become brighter and darker in color depending on the key. “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” is set in the key of Db, which is not the easiest of keys for musicians with limited experience to play. However, Db is a very dark key (I actually see it as a deep purple color), while D, which is just one half-step higher, is one of the brightest keys (yellow). You may find it interesting to read about synesthesia (or, more specifically, chromesthesia), which is a condition that causes people to associate sounds with colors. Many musicians throughout history have had this condition, and I am one of them! Singing in a dark key can effectively bring people into a prayerful mood in the same way that a bright key can incite rejoicing in the good news of the Resurrection!
- Lastly, consider the needs of the instrumentalists. Keep in mind that every church is different, and this may be of ultimate importance in your church if you wish to keep your organist! Since the ultimate goal of congregational singing is the gathered people of God, however, let the focus be on the singing if it is possible, and make decisions about keys and other musical considerations thoughtfully and confidently.