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.
DEANNA ON HYMN TUNE “HYFRYDOL”
The tune HYFRYDOL (which means “tuneful” or “pleasant”) was composed by the Welsh composer Roland H. Pritchard in 1830 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)!
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 “188.8.131.52.D” (“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 184.108.40.206.D metrical pattern!
My challenge to those of you who are familiar with hymn tunes is: can you name the other three tunes on the recording that share this pattern? The track list is HERE. For those of you just coming to these tunes for the first time: can you find one other tune with this pattern in my trio video HERE? (Post your responses below!).
PAM ON THE HYMN TEXTS
In 1744, Charles Wesley, the Methodist Poet, then age 37, wrote the words “COME, THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS,” an Advent hymn. Here Jesus is called “hope of all the earth,” “desire of every nation,” and “joy of every longing heart.”
As in his earlier text, Wesley describes Jesus as “all compassion” and “unbounded love.” This hymn is a prayerful plea that the breath of the Holy Spirit will enter our trembling hearts, bring rest, set us free. So filled, our bodies can become temples for God’s goodness until we take our place before God as new creations, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”