Hymn: In the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, we read, "In Christian churches, a song in praise of God. St. Augustine (353 - 430) stipulates the essential presence of three elements-song, praise and God-and thus distinguishes hymns from psalms or spiritual songs." In modern usage, hymns are generally understood to be the songs intended for congregational singing. Have you ever given much thought to the history or origins of these songs? Like most American hymnals, ours offers examples of songs from almost every period of music history and from many different cultures. Our own church played an important role in the development of American music and much of that story can be traced in our hymnal.
Over the next few months, I would like to highlight some aspects of music history and its interplay with our hymnal. First, though, I would like to give an introduction to hymnology and give us some common terms we can use in further discussion.
A "hymn" is a poem. A "hymn-tune" is the melody to which the poem can be set. Any hymn or poem can be set to any tune assuming the poetic meter and the musical meter match. In fact, if you were to take a survey of hymnals from the churches here in Hingham center, you would find some differences between which text or poem is set to which tune. In our own hymnal, you will find "O Little Town of Bethlehem" set to two different tunes. At #246, is the tune familiar to most Americans. However, #247 is the tune more commonly sung in Great Britain (Last Sunday we sang this tune to the text "All Beautiful the March of Days").
As you can imagine, this poses a problem if we want to discuss these tunes-what shall we use as a common name? The solution is to name the hymn-tune; to give it a name separate from the poetry. Open to any hymn in the book. Look at the lower right hand side of the page. You will see a word or phrase in capital letters. Underneath it will be a series of numbers, the poetic meter. The word or phrase in caps is the hymn-tune name. For example, turn to hymn #303. In the lower right hand corner you will find the tune name, EIN' FESTE BURG. Most of the Christian world sings this tune to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", but you will see we are using a different set of words. We need not be confused, though, the tune is the same: EIN' FESTE BURG. You can now go to any Christian church and sing "A Mighty Fortress" with the same gusto as a Lutheran. Pay attention to these tune names. Over time, you will start to remember them and it will help you if you are asked to sing a new set of words to a familiar tune. Forest Green is the tune name mentioned above sung more often 'across the pond' as "O Little Town of Bethlehem". FOREST GREEN (which we sang last Sunday as "All Beautiful the March of Days) appears in our hymnal four times. Now, if you are asked to sing "O Come, You Longing Thirsty Souls" to the tune Forest Green you need not worry if you have never sung those words before because you already know the tune. Maybe next Christmas, we will sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" like the Brits, to the tune FOREST GREEN!
If you turn to page 661 you will find the Alphabetical Index of Tunes. Scan down the list and choose a few at random (numbers refer to the location in the book) to open in the hymnal and see if you recognize the tune. Hymn-tune names are how church musicians refer to the songs in the hymnal. I might tell a friend that I have played NEW BRITAIN more times than I could possibly count, and even though I have played HYFRYDOL about as often, somehow I never tire of it. My favorite hymn is SINE NOMINE but there is a special place in my heart for early American tunes like RESIGNATION. Look these tunes up in the index and see if you recognize any of them.
These hymn-tune names tell us a little about the origins of the tune as well. Generally, if the tune name is English, such as FOREST GREEN, DUKE STREET orresignation, you are fairly safe to assume the tune is of English or American origin. Likewise, tune titles in German or French likely originated in those countries. Latin titles such as ADORO TE DEVOTE or VENI EMMANUEL may be some of the oldest hymn tunes in the book as they may date to the earliest Christian eras. There are also tunes which originated in the Jewish liturgy such as MOOZ TSUR. The composer's name might be preserved in a title such as the TALLIS' CANON or BILLINGS.
Here's a fun little research project you can do on your own: What is the original language of the tune, Jesous Ahatonhia (hymn #257)? What is the origin of this tune? Who composed the tune? Who penned the poem? By what name is this tune more commonly known, at least to English speakers? If you go to YouTube and search under the title Jesous Ahatonhia, you can easily find several performances in the original tongue. This one hymn and tune is a fascinating tale of cultural sensitivity long before anyone cared about such things, and, if you find a video, you can hear a language you might never have known existed. Approach me at coffee hour with your answers. I have sweet treats to give away to anyone with correct answers.
At Old Ship the minister and music director complement each other, together creating a distinctive worship experience. Sermon topics address a wide range of spiritual and social concerns, as well as contemporary issues. Music, chosen from a wide variety of sacred and secular sources, is performed by a dedicated choir of fine musicians (some professionals), who are often accompanied by instrumentalists. Our fine digital-sound Allen organ has the power and diversity of the old pipe organs.
A new Worship and Music Committee has been organized and will be posting its mission and goals soon.
Choir at Old Ship
The choir at Old Ship Church is composed of amateur singers, supplemented by a professional quartet. The only prerequisite for membership is a love of singing. People of all ages (beginning with high school students) are cordially invited to join, whether or not they read music. The choir sings at three Sunday services per month from September through June, providing musical inspiration and support for the day's topic. Classical selections, pop songs, jazz tunes, folk music and spirituals are all in the repertoire, as well as music from other cultures and religions from around the world. Guest instrumentalists are added from time to time.
Our Music Director: Ms. Bernadette Nadeau is our music director.
If you like to sing or think you might want to, you are invited to try out our choir.
In lieu of mid-week choir rehearsals, singers are expected to learn music on their own between Sundays using printed music and recordings of their parts provided by the music director, sent by email. The choir meets at 9:30 on Sunday mornings to polish the music for the service. For further information, call the Old Ship office at (781) 749-1679.
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