STLT#371-373: An Unusual Day

I thought a lot about how to approach the next 12 entries in our hymnal – three tunes, nine different lyrics – and while I could dive into all the words and let the music fall where it may, that seemed to discredit the music, which requires attention. So – today I’ll talk about the tunes, and then the next nine, hit each of the nine quatrains.

Now together, these pieces form one of 27 possible doxologies – a common liturgical element that comes out of the Christian tradition yet possibly based in the Jewish tradition. The doxology, or “words of praise,” is typically a short, communal song of praise that may be a sung response (such as a section of the Kaddish in a Jewish service or the “Gloria Patri” in a Catholic service) or as an affirmation of faith (such as “Glory be to the Father” in many Protestant services). Unitarian Universalist congregations sometimes use doxologies in similar fashion. They become the ‘best known hymn’ because we sing it every week.

Now what we sing it to… ah, that’s today’s question.

Most UU congregations that I have been in that sing a doxology use what STLT notes is the “modern form” of Old Hundredth. Where yesterday’s appearance featured the original key and rhythm – elongated ends of the phrases, a lush, singable key, the commonly used tune for modern doxologies is a shortened rhythm written in G major for reasons passing understanding. (Seriously, what’s wrong with D major?)

Yet our Hymnal Commission offers two other tunes that may be used – and I wish more did.

One is the Tallis Canon, a gorgeous piece written in the mid 1500s by English composer Thomas Tallis; I’ve waxed poetic about the tune before; here is our opportunity to truly make it a ringing-thru-the-sanctuary round.

The other is a tune I’m not as familiar with – Vom Himmel Hoch (“from heaven on high”), from the Geistliche Leider by Valentin Schumann. We sang this once before, but I was too busy getting ready to attend the Women’s March in NYC to actually notice the tune. It’s not as lush as the Tallis Canon, and certainly not as familiar as Old Hundredth, yet I suspect it will be a better match for some of the quatrains we’ve got coming up.

So… those are our tunes. All are readily available to listen to at Small Church Music. And tomorrow, I will begin singing the lyrics; my plan is to sing them to all three tunes and make suggestions as to which one I think works best.

Off we go!

I couldn’t come up with a good image for today, so here are some decorative gourds for the season.

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