STLT#136, Where Gentle Tides Go Rolling By

I would bet I am not the only person who has looked at the bottom of the page of a hymn, seen words like “traditional Asian melody” and flipped past. Not because we don’t appreciate music from other cultures, but because the scales are sometimes unfamiliar and the intervals are tricky for unrehearsed singers. I know that the times I have been asked to learn a song not composed on the pentatonic scale, it’s been a delightful mixture of challenging, surprising, and pleasing.

And… seeing it noted as the source on a hymn when your office administrator is not so patiently waiting for your submission on the order of service and the accompanist really just wants to know what you want the congregation to sing… well, that note makes it easy to flip past, in favor of a more well known but perhaps less perfect choice.

Well, flip no more, my friends, past number 136! I sat down with my little keyboard app and counted out the 6/4 time, and discovered that while there are a couple of surprising intervals, they make sense to our western-trained ears. But what’s really interesting is that just the melody, without knowing the accompaniment, this could have been in one of the shape note books (Southern Harmony, Union Harmony, etc.). Its 6/4 lends itself to a gentle, rolling hint of a lilt; the four-line structure follows a traditional pattern; and each phrase is remarkably predicable in that “we’ve sung a lot of hymns just like this” way. Of course, I don’t know what the accompaniment is like, and it’s possible that all of my ‘gee, this sounds like Appalachian shape note’ flies out the window. But seriously, flip no more, because it’s highly singable.

Of course… I say flip no more, unless the lyrics do you in.

Where gentle tides go rolling by along the salt sea strand,
the colors blend and roll as one together in the sand.
And often do the winds entwine to send their distant call.
The quiet joys of humankind, when love embraces all.

Where road and wheat together rise among the common ground,
the mare and stallion, light and dark, have thunder in their sound.
The rainbow sign, the blended flood still have my heart enthralled,
the quiet joys of what we share where love embraces all.

But we have come to plow the tides, the oat lies on the ground.
I hear their fires in the field, they drive the stallion down.
The roses bloom, both light and dark, the winds do seldom call.
The running sands recall the time when love embraces all.

Maybe it’s just me, but I had to look twice while singing to make sure of what section I was in – yep, still Love and Compassion. I kept getting distracted by the horses, and definitely the whole light and dark business. I also stumbled on what lyricist Richard Farina meant with the reference to Genesis (“The rainbow sign, the blended flood still have my heart enthralled”) – blended flood? I know it stopped me singing, and I bet I’m not the only one. And seriously, what’s all this light and dark business? And that third verse is really just word salad at this point.

I’m not entirely sure if I’m baffled because I’m not feeling especially metaphorical today or because the lyrics really don’t work. Either way, I really love the melody of this hymn and now need to find another 8.6.8.6.8.6 lyric to set to it.

So… flip as you will, but don’t let it be because of a hesitation on the melody.

One Comment

  1. Sung by Mimi Farina, it is a very ethereal song!

    Note that the confusing line “Where road and wheat together rise” should be “where oat and wheat together rise”… (this makes the line “the oat lies on the ground” actually have a reference!!)

    Other changes:
    The quiet joys of brotherhood
    When love is lord of all

    Along the common ground

    But men have come to plow the tides
    The oat lies on the ground
    I hear their fires in the field (note that “their” refers to “men”. In our hymnal “their” -> “we”??)
    They drive the stallion down (implying that “men” destroy the harmony of verse 2)

    And the oddest one: “The roses bleed both light and dark” was changed to a cheery line “The roses bloom…” (the horses are light and dark, though the metaphor is still obscure!)

    I suspect someone who didn’t know the song transcribed the lyrics off the record…

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