Easter 2024

06 January 2014
hymns - Christmas, uncommon, a guide to the series

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.

Table of Contents

Note that this series discussed hymns in declining order of popularity using a scale of 1 to 11 with 11 being unbelievably popular, 10 being the most popular, and 1 being the least popular.

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

An index to the hymns by first line

Links to the Part of the series in which the hymn is discussed.
First line Part Score
A child is born in BethlehemPart 61
A stable lamp is lightedPart 45
Angels from the realms of gloryPart 28
Angels we have heard on highPart 210
Away in a mangerPart 37
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly lightPart 44
Christians awake, salute the happy mornPart 52
Dost thou in a manger liePart 61
Duérmete, Niño lindoPart 61
From east to west, from shore to shorePart 61
From heaven above to earth I comePart 45
Go tell it on the mountainPart 37
God rest you merry, gentlemenPart 29
Good Christian friends, rejoicePart 29
Hark! the herald angels singPart 111
In the bleak midwinterPart 36
It came upon the midnight clear (CAROL)Part 29
It came upon the midnight clear (NOEL)Part 53
Joy to the world! the Lord is comePart 210
Lo, how a rose e'er bloomingPart 28
Love came down at ChristmasPart 45
Now yield we thanks and praise Part 61
O come, all ye faithfulPart 111
O little town of Bethlehem (ST. LOUIS)Part 29
O little town of Bethlehem (FOREST GREEN)Part 28
O savior of our fallen race (GONFALON ROYAL)Part 36
O savior of our fallen race (CHRISTE, REDEMPTOR OMNIUM) Part 53
Of the Father's love begottenPart 37
On this day earth shall ringPart 36
Once in royal David's cityPart 29
Silent night, holy nightPart 111
Sing, O sing, this blessed mornPart 52
The first Nowell the angel did sayPart 210
The snow lay on the groundPart 36
Twas in the moon of wintertimePart 36
Unto us a boy is bornPart 37
What child is this, who, laid to restPart 210
While shepherds watched their flocks by night (WINCHESTER OLD)Part 28
While shepherds watched their flocks by night (HAMPTON)Part 52

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hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 6

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.

Area 1: The most uncommon

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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01 January 2014
hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 5

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, or get caught up on part 2 (hymns that score a 9 or a 10) or part 3 (hymns that score a 6, 7, or 8) or part 4 (hymns that score a 4 or a 5).

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 at last get to those hymns that are truly uncommon in Episcopal services. Hymns that score a 2 or a 3 on our popularity scale.

Region 3: Uncommon tunes for hymns already discussed

Coming in at 3 on the popularity scale are two hymns we've already discussed sung to two less popular tunes.

Region 2: The truly uncommon

I have never sung any of these hymns, nor am I aware of any American congregations who have. (I would love to hear of any who have sung these.) They score a 2 on our scale.

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