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Hymn tune history: HYFRYDOL (with co-blogger Pam McAllister)

After recording all of the jazz hymn arrangements on Makes the Heart to Sing, I knew that I wanted to spend some time learning a bit about the history of each hymn tune. I immediately thought of my friend, author and activist Pam McAllister. Pam has a great blog called Ask Her About Hymn(s) where she focuses on the story behind hymn texts (as opposed to hymn tunes).

I approached Pam about co-writing some blog posts to correspond with each of the 14 hymns on the new recording. Here is our first co-authored blog post on HYFRYDOL, familiar as the setting for “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and, in some hymnals, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” two hymn texts by Charles Wesley.


The tune HYFRYDOL (which means “tuneful” or “pleasant”) was composed by the Welsh composer Roland H. Pritchard in 1930 when he was 19. Pritchard was well known as a “precentor”- a “cantor,” or “song leader” in modern day terms. HYFRYDOL was first published in Pritchard’s collection of music for children, Cyfaill y Cantorion (“The Singers’ Friend”), in 1844. Its best known musical version is with a harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the English Hymnal of 1906.

Two things strike me about this hymn tune. The first is that the entire melody – with the exception of one note – consists only of the first five notes of a major scale. This makes the tune easy to sing, and it also showcases the gracefulness of Prichard’s choices in the contour of the melodic line (where it goes up, down, changes direction, repeats a note…).

I’ve sung this tune with various texts since childhood, and never really thought about how elegant the twists in the melodic line actually are until I arranged the tune for my trio (see a sheet music excerpt here)!

Excerpt of Deanna’s arrangement of HYFRYDOL. Click the photo to see a larger sample/purchase the sheet music.

The second is the meter. When I first started working as a church musician a couple of decades ago, I finally started using all of the different indexes in the back of the hymnal! One of those indexes invariably is called a “metrical index.” It’s basically scanning the text that fits a hymn tune’s melodic line and translating it into numbers: i.e., one of the texts that is sung with HYFRYDOL, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” starts with:

Love-di-vine-all-loves-ex-cel-ling (8 syllables)

Joy-of-heav’n-to-earth-come-down (7 syllables)

This 8-7 pattern happens four times in the text/tune, so the meter for HYFRYDOL is labeled as “” (“D” stands for “doubled”).

After I’d compiled all of the hymn arrangements to record for Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns, I realized that I had included four tunes with this metrical pattern! Continue reading

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