Friday, March 9, 2012

Hymn of the Month -- Jesus, Lover of My Soul

I was looking for a hymn on YouTube recently, I think it was Jesus I Am Resting, Resting, but I could not find the tune that was familiar to me. All the songs posted were sung to a newer tune. It was a fine tune, but it wasn't the tune I wanted. As I was grumbling to myself about how many of the good old hymns have been set to more contemporary music, it occurred to me that the tunes I grew up on are not necessarily the original tunes. I've been singing modernized tunes, although they may be 300 years old! Maybe I shouldn't get so worked up about people setting the wonderful old hymns of the church to newer, more contemporary music.

I received an e-mail from my friend Jerry Piger, a pianist and former music professor at Seattle Pacific University. He shared some thoughts on hymns, hymn tunes, and John and Charles Wesley:

"I enjoyed your comments on John Wesley. In my own research I found that Wesley was very concerned about changes being made to his brother's fine lyrics. John made sure the theology was sound before he gave his "okay" to the hymn. John issued the statements that were in your last blog about not changing anything because there were unscrupulous men back then (no copyright laws) who had no compunctions about ripping off intellectual material.

"One of the funnier stories about John was when Charles presented him with Jesus, Lover of My Soul. John was shocked at this kind of thinking because of the common use of the word, lover. After thinking it through, however, John came around and decided that Jesus is indeed the Lover of our souls.

"John, to his dying day, and he lived most of the 18th Century, hated the tunes that were given to his brother's fine hymn lyrics. It wasn't until the Oxford Movement that gave us the marriage of the old lyrics to the melodies that we associate with them. Of course, the Oxford movement was much more than that, but giving the church some great tunes was one thing they accomplished.

"...There are some great differences in opinions regarding the tunes. The British, to this day, think we are nuts reserving one tune for one hymn (lyrics). As long as the meter is the same, the English sing many different tunes to the same hymn. In fact, I have seen "split" hymn books from England that allows the alignment of any hymn to any tune. And, by the way, the English own their own hymn books along with their Bibles. They bring both (or at least they did in the past) to church."

Here are several versions of Jesus, Lover of My Soul. Three of the tunes are from the 1800s. Aled Jones' rendition is sung to the Aberystwyth tune by Joseph Parry, (1879).  The Refuge tune, circa 1865, and the Martyn tune from 1834 are the two tunes on the second video featuring the South African Mass Male Choir.  There are two other videos, both new tunes. One is by the group Indelible Grace and the other by a Dutch woman, Judith Sportel.

Which do you like best? What do you think of old tunes in new settings? Do you have any you'd like to share?

1 comment:

irene said...

Hello Ginger -
I enjoyed reading (^ listening) here. Thanks for the very interesting information and lovely music!
Blessings to you and yours!