Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Songs to Die For--Post I

I was once told about a man who would go to the hospital and sit with anyone he knew who was dying. While he sat there, he would sing all the songs he could think of about heaven.
This got me to thinking about all the songs I know about heaven, that I sing around the house pretty frequently. There are so many. Even if they were in the 1940 Hymnal (which none or almost none of them are), they couldn't all be sung at my far-distant funeral. Probably none of them will be. But I'd like to list them somewhere, sometimes a bunch at once, sometimes one at a time.

Here's one: The old spiritual "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger." This one makes a great lullaby. Babies love it. I hope it's burned into my girls' brains from being sung to them in a rocker at ungodly hours of the night, in illness, and during the day to comfort scraped knees. It alludes to Hebrews 11, "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth... But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly, wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city."

I'm just a poor wayfarin' stranger
A-travelin' through this world of woe,
But there's no sickness, no toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I'm goin' there to see my Savior
I'm goin' there no more to roam.
I'm just a-goin' over Jordan.
I'm just a-goin' over home.


William Luse said...

The words sound familiar, but the tune won't come to me. I guess there's nothing you can do about that. But I like it.

Lydia McGrew said...

I know it in D minor. Here's the melody. (Just the notes. It's meant to inspire someone to remember how it goes. I can't think of a good simple way to do the rhythm.)

D D A A, G A G F D, D F G G, D F G A. D D A A, G A G F D, D F G G, F D C D.

That's the beginning. Maybe your musical daughter knows it.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Wayfarin' Stranger - a beautiful haunting melody. First heard it by Emmylou Harris back in the late 70s.

The old 1940 PECUSA hymnal is a pillar of this Roman Catholic household. It has better music and fewer heresies than anything else out there ...

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jeff!!

It sounds like you are talking about the 1940 hymnal we use at my continuing Anglican church. It's just called "The Hymnal 1940." Considering the craziness that has been done (I hear and have seen a bit) to all the mainstream hymnals, including the Catholic one, the 1940 hymnal is a rock in a weary land.

My two complaints about it are merely these: a) Omissions. Some of these are surprising. For example, why have "Just As I Am" but not "Amazing Grace"? The former is hardly _less_ low-Protestant than the latter. b) Some real oddities in terms of time signature and singability. On Sunday we sang "Come Down O Love Divine." (Can't recall the number.) Great words, but what _is_ that rhythm? My family and I call these "Anglican hymns." They have a curious stutteriness in the rhythm and sometimes odd jumps in the melody.

One of the very best that has the slight oddity of rhythm but is wonderful nonetheless and _very_ Anglican is "He Who Would Valiant Be." My husband still can't quite forgive the time signature change midway through. (And there are no time signatures anywhere in the hymnal, which makes it harder.) But I'm used to it and love that hymn. I got the priest to have us sing it at Middle Daughter's confirmation this spring.

We have several hymnals around here. I have a copy of the 1940 one to practice for playing the organ at church. The one we use for hymn sing at our house every other month is very Baptist. It's John W. Peterson's _Great Hymns of the Faith_ from 1968. It has both the Baptist-style hymns (some of them with waltz rhythms, some schmaltzy, from the 1930's and 40's) and also all the very old, good hymns. It even has "For All the Saints," and "The Son of God Goes Forth to War," which I think of as more Anglican in spirit and which were broad-minded of Mr. Peterson to include.

And I even have an early 1970's hymnal that was one of my piano books, required by my piano teacher when I was sufficiently young that it has this very sprawly signature in the front with my maiden name. It was called "Hymns for the Living Church," edited by Donald Hustad. You'd think it would be flaky with a name like that, but it was just _before_ they began editing hymn words to make them "gender neutral," so all the words are normal, it has all the usual Protestant hymns, and it just has an extra set of spirituals and such. I have "Wayfaring Stranger" in there.

Lydia McGrew said...

Btw, I didn't mean to imply that the schmaltzy hymns weren't "good." I enjoy a lot of them very much and find them beautiful, which they are if you don't mind a certain amount of sentiment.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Thank you, Lydia. Very nice place you have here! And how blessed you are to be musically literate - a gift I am sadly lacking, though the talented woman I married is bequeathing this gift to my fortunate children.

After spending five years in the Anglican continuum myself (APCK) I am still very attached to that treasure known as "The Hymnal 1940". I miss some of those old hymns terribly, even the stuttery ones, though I never could sing "Come Down O Love Divine" all the way through to save my life.

Your only complaint with the hymnal seems to be the opposite of mine: omission vs. inclusion. :-)

Do yourself a favor, Lydia, and order "A Vaughn Williams Hymnal" for one of the best sentimental Anglican hymnfests ever recorded:

By pure coincidence, I just happen to be staring at "The Hymnal 1940" this very moment as it sits here on my desk atop "The Adoremus Hymnal". I'm working on putting together a small low budget "hymnal" for low masses in the Tridentine rite that will draw from both of these.

Lydia McGrew said...

Jeff, if you see this, I finally got to check that Amazon link. Beautiful collection. I should request it for a Christmas present!