STLT#332, Perfect Singer

True fact: context matters.

I mean, I know you know this, but in this case it’s not just the context of where the lyrics come from or when they were written or how they were used. In this case, it’s about the accompaniment – in other words, the context in which the melody sits.

And I’m struggling with this one, because the tune seems hard and I don’t know the context.

Now you’d think it would be easy to find – a famous composer (the Hungarian Unitarian Béla Bartók), and a note from Between the Lines clearly stating that these lyrics (by American Unitarian Universalist minister George Beach) were written to be sung with the Chorale tune from Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Sadly, I don’t know the piece at all, and thus, I’m struggling to find the melody Beach is referring to here.

And thus, I don’t have the musical context for this tune…and that takes away from the lyrical context.

Perfect Singer, songs of earth rise on every field and hearth;
let our voices sound again ancient songs of joy and pain.

All your creatures strive for life, suffer hurt in angry strife,
seek compassion, find release in the covenant of peace.

Sing a sacred melody for the justice that shall be;
let our harmonies resolve dissonance in steadfast love.

Steadfast Seeker, find our song woven into lives made strong;
let the patterns of surprise kindle hope with each sunrise.

What I will say is that given some of the apparent dissonance in the tune, these lyrics are perfectly suited, as the perfect singer isn’t all about the good times. No, it’s about finding joy out of sorrow, comfort out of pain, and letting our compassion lead in places of suffering.

Truly, it’s an amazing lyric. I wish I knew how the song goes.

EDIT: The fantastic Michael Tino sussed it out for me! He found this page that breaks down the Concerto and discovered the chorale is a brass trio in the middle of the second movement. You can hear it here – our melody starts at 2:52:

Now it’s still a bit dissonant, but it’s not as hard to sing as I feared. In fact it’s rather beautiful. I therefore mark this “Complex but Worth it.”

One Comment

  1. I also love these lyrics, but abhor the melody. It may be a beautiful orchestral piece by Bartok, but IMO is completely inappropriate for a congregational hymn — it’s too weird and too unsingable. I imagine this hymn hardly ever gets used, which is a darn shame. It could have been set to any number of alternative melodies in order to make it more congregation-friendly.

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