Friday, 28 October 2016

Program Notes for Six Hymns

For special occasions (in my case, pastoral installation), it is appropriate for a worship leader to include program notes for the hymns to be sung in a given service. The well trained church musician should be able to say some thoughtful words about both the hymn tune and its text. The model followed here is somewhat akin to that found in the program notes of a classical concert, although other models might be followed (background information, testimonial, etc.).

Regents of Our Lord and Savior. The majestic hymn melody soars to heights, befitting the praise of the one who is the king of heaven. Stressed notes of equal proportion lead to climatic final declarations to conclude each verse. The tune is sometimes sung to other more familiar texts. The text REGENTS OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR is the text selected for our service, and is especially meaningful to the Leonard’s since it is the alma mater of Regent College’s (Vancouver) where Pastor Jim received his Master’s.

Be Thou My Vision. The Celtic text is ancient (Rop tú mo Baile) and is attributed to the Irish monk Dallán Forgaill (c. 530-598). The tune is an Irish folk tune, not published until the early 20th century, but now interlocked with the English translation of the ancient Celtic text. This familiar hymn emphasizes Christ as the object of passionate affection and devotion, and as a guiding light that consumes all else. Pastor Jim claims this as his life hymn.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Full of allusions to biblical texts, this favorite hymn borrows the theme of God’s great promise of his enduring faithfulness and mercy from Jeremiah’s great lament over Jerusalem’s destruction. The repeated text “Great is Thy faithfulness” is a refrain that the members of First Baptist Church Grand Blanc may claim as their own, given the Lord’s goodness and provision through 184 years of ministry, whether through seasons of celebration or seasons of difficulty and lament. The hymn promises God’s continued faithfulness in the coming years of ministry.

When He Shall Come. Full of chordal sequences that convey mystery and ecstasy, the hymn text itself touches several scenes in the book of Revelation, including the parade of “blood-washed overcomers” who welcome the Lord’s return and who will “walk with him in white.” The Revelator writes, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear...” (Rev 19:6-8). The climactic phrase in the third line is breathtaking both musically and textually: “O may I know the joy at his appearing...” Although the hymn gained popularity in the mid-20th century, newer hymnals are not retaining it, and it is likely to be soon forgotten, to the great loss of future congregations. The hymn is sung today in honor of those who founded First Baptist Church Grand Blanc nearly 200 years ago, and to those who have sustained its ministry ever since. We long for that day when we shall join those overcomers and walk with the Lord in white.

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. The hymn and hymn tune both derive from Wales and have been closely associated with the Welsh revivals of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The tune itself was composed during a Baptist worship service. The lyricist composed many hymn texts and was known as the “(Isaac) Watts of Wales.” The text is heavily laden with biblical allusions and is well informed by a sound biblical theology. The Christian life has as its model Israel’s pilgrimage out of Egypt to the Promised Land, with a strong emphasis on God’s leadership and provision. Specific to our situation, First Baptist Church may sing this hymn confident of God’s divine guidance into this new era of ministry.

Wonderful Grace of Jesus. Given its demanding bass melody and four-part harmonization, this famous hymn may not be regularly sung on any given Sunday. Nonetheless, its robust musical lines, paired with memorable text, and celebrative feel make it a most favored hymn for special occasions, especially with a full house of singing congregants. The chorus begins with the male voices making general pronouncements about the grace of God, with the women echoing in like manner. The rolling and cascading melody climaxes with a powerful doxological cadence: O magnify the precious name of Jesus. Praise his name!

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