• Vested Interest

Name That Tune! (Part 2)

Colin Lynch
November 22, 2015

Sometime at church (ahem, not during the sermon), crack open your hymnal to pg. 949 for a complete list of tune names in the hymnal. Several hundred in number, they represent the diversity of our congregational song, a jumble of languages, people’s names, and geographical locations throughout the world.  There are lots of cities, streets, and provinces: SALZBURG (“At the Lamb’s High Feast”), DUKE STREET (“Jesus shall reign”),  EAST ACKLAM (“For the fruit of all creation”).  Former organist at the National Cathedral, Richard Wayne Dirksen took his named his tune INNISFREE FARM (“Christ mighty savior”) after the residence of a stained glass artist, changed the rhythm and named it DECATUR PLACE (“We the Lord’s People”), after the residence of his predecessor at the Cathedral.


Then there are tunes named after people, such as MICHAEL (“All my hope on God is founded”), which Herbert Howells named after his son who died tragically in childhood polio at age 9. There are dozens named after saints: ST. AGNES, St. DENIO, St. CLEMENT, etc.   We sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (The Trinity Church Fight Song!), to a tune called ST. LOUIS, a sneaky attribution to its composer.  The tune was written by Lewis Redner, the organist at Phillips Brooks’ church in Philadelphia, to accompany Brooks’ famous Christmas lullaby.  Legend has it that Redner was somewhat of a procrastinator and wrote the tune on Christmas Eve! You can believe that if you want.


Some tunes are named after the text to which they were originally wedded.  There’s OLD 100th, Old 124th, etc. named after the psalms they set in Calvinist Geneva.  Or German and Latin tune names such as LOBE DEN HERRN (“Praise to the Lord”) ALLEIN GOTT (“All Glory be to God on High”).  We have lots of fabulous Welsh tunes like CWM RHONDDA (“Guide me O thou great Jehovah”) and ABERYSTWYTH (“Jesus, lover of my soul”) You’ll need to buy a vowel to pronounce these.   The Welsh tune TON-Y BOTEL means “Bottle Tune.” But perhaps Ralph Vaughan Williams came up with the best tune name ever when he wrote music for “For All the Saints.” SINE NOMINE…  without a name.


So, take pride in our hymnal.  The music in those blue books is a crown jewel of the Episcopal Church and the envy of many other churches.  Even if you don’t fancy yourself a singer, I encourage you to pick up the hymnal and follow along with the texts and tunes, each carefully wrought by centuries of poets and musicians.  Learning a name can be the first step to a much deeper relationship.*


*So wear your name button to church!


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