It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a 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 begin with part 1 of this series.
We're using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. (On this scale, we cranked it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.) Here we look at hymns that score highly, starting with 10's, then 9's, then 8's.
It may seem a little counterintuitive to continue with more of the most popular Christmas hymns in the Hymnal in a study of the most uncommon Christmas hymns, but I think this will help weed out all the ones we know, and maybe we'll even learn a thing or two along the way.
It may seem strange to talk about something as folksy as a Christmas hymn as being "designed" but these next four hymns all score a 10 in large part because of the symmetry of their respective tunes.
This hymn does require the congregation to sing in Latin, but they seem more than happy to oblige.
I call this "diva syndrome": holding the high notes for longer than authorized. The congregation usually shows symptoms in spades here. But note that the Hymnal makes no provision for this, and I think it is contrary to the nimble spirit of the tune. (The excellent and elegant treatment of the tune by the editors of the New Oxford Book of Carols stands as a counter example to this.)
Another point must be made about this "Christmas" hymn. In the Hymnal 1940 it was not included in the Christmas section, but numbered among the General Hymns. Furthermore, it was not sung to the familiar tune ANTIOCH but to RICHMOND (think the Advent Hymn 72: "Hark the glad sound! the Savior comes" or the Easter Hymn 212 "Awake, arise, lift up your voice").
How remarkable then that this hymn enjoys such popularity at present. This hymnal is only the first to include the popular tune and text pairing. It achieved wide popularity in other denominations and in the secular Christmas milieu in the middle of the last century when other denominational hymnals paired it with ANTIOCH.
The next grouping of hymns all have a certain sweetness about them, some cloyingly so.
The Hymnal 1982 Companion goes so far as to say: "In the experience for many Americans this hymn has acquired such an affectionate association with Christmas that its repeated performance is an essential part of the celebration of the season." In their eyes, we may have ranked it too low. The tune simply oozes mid nineteenth century sappiness.
The setting of this hymn to the alternative tune, FOREST GREEN, is only slightly less popular in America, we'll wager (see below).
But it should also be noted that FOREST GREEN is not exclusively a Christmas tune. It appears twice more in the '82 Hymnal with more general texts.
The New Oxford Book of Carols notes: "with lines of 184.108.40.206. syllables . . . by far the widest number of tunes could be drawn upon. Indeed, no other hymn has been sung to so many tunes and settings. ... It would be good if the near-hegemony now enjoyed by the excellent tune [WINCHESTER OLD] could give way to a little of the earlier diversity."
One final note: in The Hymnal 1940, which provides two tune choices under the same hymn number, the Second Tune given for this hymn is CAROL. This is a fascinating appearance of the tune which is now fully associated with "It came upon the midnight clear".
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