"Housekeeping in the Hymnal"
"Notes from the Bench"
Sunday, 27 February 2011 13:10

Dear Friends in Christ,

In honor of the impending task of spring cleaning the title of this week’s entry is the ever glamorous "Housekeeping in the Hymnal".  I want to talk about all of the bits of writing that you see in small print below a hymn. 

There is a listing of who wrote the text, a possible listing of who translated the text, and who wrote the tune.  On the right side you will see the tune name in all caps and underneath a series of numbers.  The practice of naming hymn tunes developed to help identify a particular tune. The name was chosen by the compiler of the tune book or hymnal or by the composer. The majority of names have a connection with the composer and many are place names.  Be on the lookout because the same tune can have different texts. From the late sixteenth century, when most people were not musically literate and learned melodies by rote, it was a common practice to sing a new text to a hymn tune the singers already knew which had a suitable meter and character. 

So what's up with these 'random' numbers?  The numbers describe the meter of the hymn.  It tells how many lines are in the poetry and each number tells you how many syllables are in that line.  If you see the letter D after a series of numbers it means to double or repeat that set.  Why is this helpful?  This another guide and index to help you if you want to use different texts with a particular tune.  Let's say you write or find a poem and want to set it to music.  Just look in the back of the hymnal  in the Metrical Tune Index and match up your meters.  

As you begin to familiarize yourself with the indexing information you will notice that Catherine Winkworth is a name that often pops up.  Winkworth, who was English, didn't write hymns herself but was an excellent translator with a gift of expertly setting text which in turn also made her a preserver of beautiful hymns.  No easy task!  Take a look at the opening hymn for Sunday, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty #858.  The original translation from the German is number #859 and Winkworth's translation is in #858.  Both are very beautiful translations but Winkworth's tweaked version is just a little more accessible and singable in our modern age.  I like to think of it as the 'King James Version' and the 'New Revised Standard Version'-both equally beautiful in their own way. 

In celebration of hymn text our choir will be singing a favorite piece from our Swedish heritage:  Children of the Heavenly Father.  As a special treat the first verse will be sung in the original Swedish.    

Gretchen Mundinger