Songs for Advent

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The Market Place, Wells, November twilight

As of 29th November we are in a new season, and in church terms a new year. So this is the position vis à vis this collection and recommendations in Daily Prayer. Meanwhile, though, I am very grateful for another excitement yesterday. I was very kindly given a copy of the 1906 edition of the Scottish stable door psalter. How over 100+ years it had managed to reach Bristol, I can’t imagine.

Morning Prayer

Opening

The provision is Psalm 24, one of my favourite psalms. The collection offers two versions. Version A is in DCM.  The tune suggested is a Tyrolean folk tune called Falan Tiding.  That tune is cheerful and easy to sing, but some may feel it is too bland for such a magnificent psalm. If you have any alternative suggestions please add them in the comments section. Even better, if you have tried them, please share your results. Or perhaps if you compose, you might feel inspired.

Version B is one of Isaac Watts’s best. It is in LM, to the really excellent C18 tune Kingsbridge by Aaron Williams (1731-1776). For those that say ‘but that’s the tune for Rejoice ye shining worlds on high’, Isaac Watts, as was often his way, splits his version of the psalm into two parts and that is the first line of his second part. It is his rather free rendering of v 7. As I have commented in the headnote there, some of the parts are such good tunes in their own right that by exchanging them, one could turn this into a DLM tune.

Canticle Between the readings –

This is Let Wasteland Rejoice, called in Common Worship A Song of the Wilderness. It is in 11 11 11 11. These are my words.

1. Let wasteland and wild place be glad and be strong.
The desert shall blossom and burst into song,
To see with the nations, the LORD’s glory shown
How God in his majesty makes himself known.

2. So strengthen the falt’ring hands, firm up weak knees,
Speak out to the anxious, “fear not; be at ease.
God comes to avenge wrong, to reap in his due
Your God comes in judgement to bail and save you”.

3. Then blind eyes shall be open; deaf ears shall hear;
Then shall the dumb speak, the lame leap like a deer,
For waters shall burst forth in the wildest place,
And torrents shall drench the dry and desert space.

4. The Lord’s ransomed return to Ziön with song,
Their heads crowned with joy to exult all time long.
They shall attain gladness and joy that shall stay,
For sorrow and sighing shall flee far away.

5. To God in three persons, all praise be addressed,
As was and is now, shall for ever be blessed,
Our Saviour we find in the King of the Jews.
Your voice raise and shout, as herald of good news.

I have suggested two tunes. One is the Welsh tune St Denio by John Roberts (Ieuan Gwllt) (1822-77). It will be familiar to most people as the tune for Immortal, Invisible, God only wise.  The other is the Irish folk tune Columcille, set out in the collection as a melody line with possible chords. John Bell has written a different arrangement of this tune to go with his hymn No wind at the window. A different version of the same melody exists under the name Domhnach Trionoide. 

Evening Prayer

Opening

Daily Prayer provides the hymn Creator of the Stars of Night translated by J.M. Neale (1818-66) in LM. A number of tunes have been linked to it over the years. What is mysterious is the number of detailed differences between the words. There’s no obvious reason for most of the variations. They aren’t even there so as to modernise ‘thou’ to ‘you’. Which are Neale’s originals I have no idea. Can anyone enlighten us on this in the comments section below?

It also suggests as an alternative a selection of verses from Psalm 85, under the title A Song of Mercy and Truth. The selection does not quite fit the verse breaks in the whole psalm.  So this is the best approximation.

1. For why should you be angry still, ~ your ire so long retain?
Revive us, Lord, and let your saints ~ rejoice in you again.

2. Your gracious favour, steadfast love ~ to us O LORD display:
And grant us your salvation now, ~ our peril take way.

3. To those who fear him salvation ~ is surely near at hand:
His salvation is what can make ~ glory dwell in our land.

4. For loving kindness has met truth ~ and righteousness kissed peace.
From earth springs truth, while righteousness ~ from heaven looking, sees

5. The LORD gives good things and our land ~ gives bounteous fruits replete.
Righteousness walks before his face, ~ makes a way for his feet.

The tune suggested is London New, God moves in a mysterious way. Possible alternatives include Abridge and Windsor.

Canticle Between the readings –

This is Revelation 22.12-14, 16-7, Behold I’m Coming Soon called in Common Worship, A Song of the Spirit.  I do not know of any other metrical rendering of this passage. So I wrote the version in the collection It is in DSM. It goes to an attractive North American tune called Welcome Voice, by L. Hartsough (1828-1919).  As a marriage of words and tune, I think it works. I do not think though that my comment in the tunebook is unfair that,

“The accompaniment and its harmonies could hardly be more pedestrian, and could do with improvement. It would be suitable for a more ‘folk’ style accompaniment”.

Something that has gradually dawned on me, is that unlike Common Metre, Double Short Metre does not function just as Short Metre doubled. With Common Metre, when one doubles it, the relationship between the second half of the tune and the first is usually relatively undynamic. DCM is the same sort of metre except eight lines long in stead of four.  With Short Metre, though, an eight line tune will very often have a completely different quality to the familiar four line pattern, often with a dynamism that simple Short Metre tunes rarely achieve.

Anyway, these are the words. Look up the tune in the collection, try it and let me know what you think.

1. ”Behold, I’m coming soon, ~ to bring you my reward,
To give to each as you have done,” ~ for thus has said the Lord.
“Alpha and Omega, ~ the first and last I am;
The start and ending of all things, ~ the lamb of Abraham”.

2. “Bless’d those who wash their robes; ~ their right’s to claim this fate.
They shall receive the tree of life, ~ enter the city’s gate.
Outside shall stay the dogs, ~ whoever good denies,
Who turn their hands to every vice, ~ who love and practise lies”.

3. “I Jesus, I have sent, ~ my angel who shall bear
Witness in ev’ry church to me. ~ Who has ears, let them hear.
I’m David’s branch and root, ~ the brightest morning star”.
“Come”, say the Spirit and the Bride. ~ “Come all, from near and far”.

4. Water of life is he.~ Come you whose hearts are numb,
Who pant; who thirst; his gift is free. ~ Amen, Lord Jesus, Come.
To he who sits enthroned, ~ the Lamb whom we adore,
Be blessing, honour, glory, might ~ both now and evermore.

The other two options are Canticle 57, a selection of verses from Romans 4 and Canticle 72 from Rev 19. Neither yet has a metrical version. In the case of Canticle 57, inspiring though the words are, I have serious doubts whether it is possible to put it into a singable metrical form.

Compline (Night Prayer)

The Advent psalm is 143. It is the last of the seven Penitential Psalms. Some may feel that with twelve verses, it is a little long to sing right through. At Evening Prayer on Friday evenings in ordinary time, Daily Prayer makes a selection of  only eight verses in stead of the full twelve. The version in the collection has an attractive minor tune in triple time called Crowle by M. Greene (1696-1755). Until one knows it though, it is quite easy to lose the rhythm in the third line.

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