Measured Extravagance

08 June 2003 - 6:45 p.m.

I've been indulging in a bit of hymn geekery, having opted to open this morning's service with "Mysterious Presence, Source of All." Going through the music last night, I decided to see if the tune, "Wareham", was represented in my copy of the Baptist hymnal. Sure enough, as Isaac Watts' "So Let Our Lips and Lives Express" - and the Ames Hymn Collection lists the lyrics for four more: "Eternal Father, When to Thee, " "Great God, We Sing that Mighty Hand" (also listed in The Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian/Reformed)) "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates," and "O God, Beneath Thy Guiding Hand."

But wait! That's but a mere handful of the many lyrics that have been paired with Will Knapp's melody since 1738. The first text appears to have been a version of Psalm 36: 5-10, “But, Lord, Thy mercy, my sure hope.” Since then, there's been "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright" (Methodist), "As Morning Dawns" (Presbyterian), "Eternal Glory of the Sky", "O Sun of Justice, Fill our Hearts" (Catholic), and more. One Catholic source also lists "Wareham" as an alternate tune for "O Christ the Healer" and "Creator Spirit, Lord of Grace," and Episcopal variations include "Your Love, O God, Has Called Us Here, "Now Holy Spirit Ever One" [1], "O wondrous type! O vision fair" (also "O wondrous sight. . ."). Lutheran versions include "Let Thoughtless Thousands Choose," "Come Jesus From the Sapphire Throne," "Come, Gracious Spirit, Heav'nly Dove" and "The Church of Christ in Ev'ry Age."

Cyberhymnal pairs the text "Mysterious Presence" with the tune "Abend" -- and there have been some silent emendations in Singing the Living Tradition to Mr. Beach's original text, adding to one of my biggest quarrels with the hymnal: the fact that substitutions are seldom noted either in the hymnal nor Between the Lines (the companion volume). In this instance, "Fountain of life" has been changed to "thou fount of life" and "That touch divine, still, Lord, impart" has been modified to "That touch divine again impart." And all of the "Thy"s and "Thine"s in SLT are now in lower-case. While I do think the changes improve the text for the purpose of community worship (not to mention personal relevance, emotional impact, etc.), it makes me absolutely crazy that they aren't consistently acknowledged in SLT or BtL.

All of that said - gosh, it's a pretty tune. I have a weakness for the older melodies in general (one of main reasons I prefer seeing older hymns adapted rather than discarded, even if both texts and melodies bring forth and forward all sorts of problematic baggage -- not to mention being dismissed as stodgy by certain other congregants. I can't help it if I prefer Tallis and Bach to Jim Scott and Elizabeth Alexander. . .). My higher notes weren't satisfactorily solid when I warmed up this morning, so I sang "Mysterious Presence" and two of the other selections ("Praise the Source of Faith and Learning" and "A Firemist and a Planet") an octave lower than written. After both services, several women came up and said that they really liked singing along to a lower voice. Noted for next time . . .

After indulging in hymns and associated geekery (accompanied by a fair quantity of bessenjenever), I went out with the BYM to The Basement for Clare Burson's CD release show. Sarah Siskind sang backup vocals both for Clare and for the opening act - someone I want to hear more of in the future. Then we went to the Family Wash, where Amelia White introduced us to Jess Tardy and Noam Weinstein, who are playing around Nashville this week (including two sets tonight at the Lipstick Lounge), and I ran into another musician from church and other degenerate creatures. A while later, I dropped the BYM off at the Radio Cafe and trundled on home.

The BYM's out and about again tonight, but I'm feeling somewhat anti-social, the Tony Awards are on tonight, and I have some writing I need to finish up before the pumpkin hour if I want to make tomorrow's postmark deadline. And the library copy of Tipping the Velvet beckons as well. WRT other reading, I got a good laugh today out of Emma Bull's description of workers at a RenFest bursting out with non-anachronistic language the instant the cannon signalled that they were off-duty (in Realms of Fantasy).

[1] St. John's Jacksonville's hymn index provides the best MIDI rendition I've heard; scroll down the page and click on the "Wareham" link to hear it.

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