• Vested Interest

Name That Tune!

Colin Lynch
November 15, 2015

Hi.  I’m Colin.  You might guess some things about me from my name, such as my family descent.  In Scottish, “Colin” means young pup.  In Gaelic, it means “child” or “virile.”  Let’s go with the latter and not the former.  Maybe you’re named after a favorite relative, famous actor, or a certain characteristic. Or maybe you’ve acquired a fun nickname.  I used to have a student named “Critter” and I’m fairly certain his mother didn’t put it on his birth certificate after holding him for the first time. I’m guessing for most of us, our parents chose our names with great discernment in hope that we might become something more in life than “Hey you.” 


You may have noticed in our Sunday leaflets that each hymn has a tune name, which is listed in parentheses…or maybe you’ve just been wondering what that funny word was.   Almost all of our hymns have been given tune names.  Some were given by their creators while others have acquired nicknames given by hymnal editors. Some convey fun stories or hidden meanings while others are meaningful dedications.  The names suggest that the composer took great pride in their carefully crafted tune; that their hymn tune is not simply 16 measures of disposable music.  It recognizes the importance of this music and its role in our congregational worship of God.


The name of the tune also distinguishes it from the text to which it is wedded.  Sometimes the tune was written for a specific text.  Sometimes, hymnal editors pair up the text and tune.  We can also sing several texts to the same tune. For example, we sing two familiar texts—“All creatures of our God and King” and “Ye watchers and ye holy ones”—to the same tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN.  Or, you can sing the text of “How firm a foundation” to both FOUNDATION and LYONS.  The better tune is often a source of heated debate around Copley Square!  We usually refer to “Amazing Grace” by its first line of text, but the tune is actually called NEW BRITAIN.   You could also sing the text to Hernando’s Hideaway or the theme song from Gilligan’s island.  Try it in the shower sometime.


Think of your favorite hymn. Do you know the tune name? What is it?


To be continued with more fun facts next week!


At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!