“If we consider what sort of music we should want to hear on entering a church we should surely, in describing our ideal, say first of all that it must be something different from what is heard elsewhere; that it should be a sacred music devoted to its purpose, a music whose peace should still passion; whose dignity should strengthen our faith; whose unquestioned beauty should find a home in our hearts to cheer us in life and death. What a powerful good such music would have”.
Quoted by Spicer, Paul. Address given at Choral Evensong in Celebration of Herbert Howells, Sunday 6 Nov 2011. St. Mary's, Barnes, London, England.
Two years ago, I ineloquently expressed some misgivings about the "Ashes to Go" phenomenon in the Episcopal Church.
Today, I have been pointed to this much more thorough commentary by the Rev. Michael Sniffen: "Ashes to Go or not to go, that seems to be the question…"
My concern is this: I fear that Ashes to Go is a way for cloistered clergy and baby boomer bishops to check the box of relevance while presiding over an institution that is not “meeting people where they are” in ways that really matter. Ashes to Go risks nothing, it costs us nothing, and it bears witness to a wimpy church. Please prove me wrong on this point.
In Christmastide 2013/14 this blog undertook an analysis of all the Christmas hymns in the Episcopal The Hymnal 1982, focusing especially on those hymns that are the least commonly sung and the reasons for their popularity or lack thereof.
Part 1: Background, Methodology, Turning it up to 11: Incredibly popular Christmas hymns
Part 2: Level 10: The well-designed super-classics; Level 9: The sugary classics; Level 8: Other classics, but with tune issues
Part 3: Tier 7: Deeper cuts; Tier 6: A certain earthiness
Part 4: Code 5: Middle ground; Code 4: An oddball
Part 5: Region 3: Uncommon tunes for hymns already discussed; Region 2: The truly uncommon
Part 6: Area 1: The most uncommon; Conclusions
|A child is born in Bethlehem||Part 6||1|
|A stable lamp is lighted||Part 4||5|
|Angels from the realms of glory||Part 2||8|
|Angels we have heard on high||Part 2||10|
|Away in a manger||Part 3||7|
|Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light||Part 4||4|
|Christians awake, salute the happy morn||Part 5||2|
|Dost thou in a manger lie||Part 6||1|
|Duérmete, Niño lindo||Part 6||1|
|From east to west, from shore to shore||Part 6||1|
|From heaven above to earth I come||Part 4||5|
|Go tell it on the mountain||Part 3||7|
|God rest you merry, gentlemen||Part 2||9|
|Good Christian friends, rejoice||Part 2||9|
|Hark! the herald angels sing||Part 1||11|
|In the bleak midwinter||Part 3||6|
|It came upon the midnight clear (CAROL)||Part 2||9|
|It came upon the midnight clear (NOEL)||Part 5||3|
|Joy to the world! the Lord is come||Part 2||10|
|Lo, how a rose e'er blooming||Part 2||8|
|Love came down at Christmas||Part 4||5|
|Now yield we thanks and praise||Part 6||1|
|O come, all ye faithful||Part 1||11|
|O little town of Bethlehem (ST. LOUIS)||Part 2||9|
|O little town of Bethlehem (FOREST GREEN)||Part 2||8|
|O savior of our fallen race (GONFALON ROYAL)||Part 3||6|
|O savior of our fallen race (CHRISTE, REDEMPTOR OMNIUM)||Part 5||3|
|Of the Father's love begotten||Part 3||7|
|On this day earth shall ring||Part 3||6|
|Once in royal David's city||Part 2||9|
|Silent night, holy night||Part 1||11|
|Sing, O sing, this blessed morn||Part 5||2|
|The first Nowell the angel did say||Part 2||10|
|The snow lay on the ground||Part 3||6|
|Twas in the moon of wintertime||Part 3||6|
|Unto us a boy is born||Part 3||7|
|What child is this, who, laid to rest||Part 2||10|
|While shepherds watched their flocks by night (WINCHESTER OLD)||Part 2||8|
|While shepherds watched their flocks by night (HAMPTON)||Part 5||2|
Christmastide has just come to end. And what better time to complete our look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section. You may wish to start back at the beginning with part 1 of this series. There is also part 2 (hymns that score a 9 or a 10), part 3 (hymns that score a 6, 7, or 8), part 4 (hymns that score a 4 or a 5), or part 5 (hymns that score a 2 or a 3).
We're using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. Here, in this last installment, we discuss those hymns that are truly the most uncommon in American Episcopal services: hymns that score only a 1 on the popularity scale.
I truly have never sung these, and I do not yet know of any parishes that have sung them.
As is true of any slice of hymnody the full history of all these hymns is very rich. I'm more interested here in a reception history, which is a difficult thing to know without more data. I can only really speak to my personal experience with and impressions I have gained about this repertoire working as an Episcopal church musician for about a decade or so.
As someone who grew up outside of the Episcopal Church, I have surely missed some classic usages of these hymns. I am grateful for parishioners at a parish I served previously who alerted me to their fondness for "The snow lay on the ground". And since beginning this serial, I have learned more about historic usages of "Christians, awake, salute the happy morn", and "Sing, O sing, that blessed morn" on Christmas Day in various places. I still believe that these latter two hymns are falling out of favor -- and part of this may be the declining attendance at Christmas Day liturgies in many parishes.
There is a certain cultural weight with many of these hymns, some of them dating back for several centuries or more. Their inclusion in The Hymnal 1982 speaks to their worth, whether they are currently in rotation in a particular parish or not.
As with any portion of any hymnal, there are some hymns in this section that are not destined for a long life. And if certain of these hymns remain very uncommon in our liturgies for a long time it would be expected that they drop out of the next Episcopal hymnal -- if there even is such a thing, but that is another conversation for another time.
But we must be grateful to the '82 Hymnal committee for taking risks alongside those hymns that "must" be included. Our sacred musical life is much enriched, in my opinion, by the inclusion of "A stable lamp is lighted."
We must also thank them for including what we should know but have forgotten, like the simple joys of singing "Christians, awake, salute the happy morn" on Christmas Day, which I will seriously consider for the next 11 months as I work to plan music for Christmas 2014.
There are two interesting shifts that occurred in moving the Episcopal Christmas hymnody from The Hymnal 1940 to The Hymnal 1982:
Firstly, I wonder what psychological impact the "First Tune" and "Second Tune" distinction has in terms of a Christmas hymn's reception history. With the previous hymnal hymn singers could say regarding "It came upon the midnight clear", "Oh yes, I do like to sing Hymn 19. We use the Second Tune in my parish." In the present hymnal there is a dividing line between the two tunes. Today's Episcopalian might say, "Hymn 89 is a favorite of mine," and have no idea that the subsequent hymn in the book is very intimately related, and in fact, might be a pleasing alternative!
Secondly, it seems that the distinction between "Christmas" and "Christmas Carols" made in The Hymnal 1940 is of interest. In this study, I have referred to everything in the Christmas portion of the 1982 hymnal as a "hymn", but we could still make the same distinction that the 1940 makes. This may be of some limited value, but it may also be irrelevant. Still, there are certain portions of the liturgy that clearly call for a "hymn", and others where "carols" would be more welcome.
Finally, it is very interesting to note, from a somewhat longer view provided by this study, the increasing calcification surrounding our Christmas hymnody.
This trend is not surprising given three factors: a precipitous decline in music education, the loss of recreational singing in our culture, and steadily declining numbers in the Episcopal church, both adherents and more so at the Average Sunday Morning. As musical knowledge and ability decreases in our culture, so does the ability to differentiate specific repertories: the shopping mall, the Christian denomination, the local parish church. Where "While shepherds watched their flocks by night" used to be sung to any number of tunes, circumstances have conspired to limit it to one (rather bland) tune.
Tradition speaks out with much greater force at the Church's principal feast days, and Christmas is no exception. The tradition of our Christmas hymnody, however, has been much more fluid than I think many people realize. With the advent of recorded music and a force-fed "secular soundtrack" to a "Christmas season" which begins the week after Halloween and terminates some time around 11:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, it is harder to create the kind of sonic and theological space that our Christmas hymnody used to enjoy.
Anyways, I'd love to chat more about this. Please do weigh in if you have thoughts. I'm going to think a lot more about these uncommon hymns, and this proposed ranking of hymn popularity as a whole. It probably all deserves a second look, sometime around Christmas 2023, perhaps.
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