In Which I’m Not Really Yelling at You

21 Dec

Do you know what’s exciting about his week?  I get to play over 40 hymns.


(Okay, so that was yelling, but the rest of the all caps in this post will be quietly spoken, it’s just the way dorky hymn nerd indicate the titles of hymn tunes – the special title for the music, usually separate from the title of the text.)

I love my job.  Being a church musician is one of those rare vocations that allows you not only to adore the thing you do, but to actually be fed as you work.  Maybe the same could be said about chefs, but I’m quickly getting off track.

Back to hymns:  Hymns make up the core of my work.  I play them on the organ, I teach them to the children, I rehearse them with the choirs and instrumentalists, I arrange them in new settings, and I study their origins and theology.

My church musician interest was piqued when in Book First, Chapter V the men gathered at the bonfire have traveled over to the Quiet Woman in order to welcome the new bride and groom on their wedding night.  Unbeknownst to them, there has been no wedding, but that doesn’t stop them from waxing eloquent about Thomasin’s father, an accomplished musician.  They tell stories of the times he played bass-viol and clarinet in church, including this one:

One Sunday I can well mine – a bass-viol day that time, and Yeobright had brought his own.  ‘Twas the Hundred-and-thirty-third to “Lydia;” and when they’d come to, “Ran down his beard and o’er his robes its costly moisture shed,” neighbor Yeobright, who had just warmed to his work, drove his bow into them strings that glorious grand that he e’en a’most sawed the bass-viol into two pieces.  Every winder in church rattled as if ’twere a thunderstor-storm.  Old Passon Gibbons lifted his hands in his great holy surplice as natural as if he’d been in human clothes, and seemed to say to hisself, “O for such a man in our parish!”

I was familiar with the reference to “Hundred-and-thirty-third,” meaning that they were singing the hymnic setting of Psalm 133 from A New Version of the Psalms of David 1696.  But the tune LYDIA was a new one to me.  Apparently it was a fairly popular tune among British Methodist churches in the 19th century.

It’s okay that the tune is older than the hymnal.  That hymnal didn’t include music, just text.  Here’s what it would have actually looked like to Fairway that glorious afternoon:

See, there’s that ending line that Timothy mentioned.  But actually the hymn carries over onto the next page – see that handy little “‘Tis” in the corner?  That let’s you know what the first word will be when you flip the page.

Handy, eh?  There is one problem with the tune though.  It’s not in common meter.  The syllables in text are set up in a 86 86 pattern called Common Meter, or CM in hymn speak.  But the tune is 86 86 10.  I’m not sure what they would have sung to those last 10 notes.  I have two theories.

1)  They were actually using a different tune named LYDIA.  It wouldn’t be that unusual, there are several tune names that do double duty.
2)  There was some well-known practice for repeating texts that would allow a CM text to fit into an 86 86 10 tune.

So, if you’re a hymnologist out there reading this, and know the answer, please chime in.

In the mean time if you would like to hear the tune LYDIA you can go check out this video.  I don’t know anything about this organist, I’m sure he’s a very gifted musician, but his sense of hymn pulse leaves something to be desired.  The hymn tune itself is about 30 seconds long, he just plays it six or seven times with different registrations.

And here’s a copy of the melody.  The breath marks indicate the end of each musical and textual line.  You can see the extra ten bonus notes clearly here:


And if you’re interested in playing it for yourself you can find the full harmonization here.

Hymn Nerd out.


Posted by on December 21, 2012 in The Return of the Native


Tags: , , , , ,

4 responses to “In Which I’m Not Really Yelling at You

  1. Patty Sessions

    December 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Wow, you have a great job! I know something about hymns and meter and tune names, but not that much, and I can’t play any instrument well (or even fairly).

    So I have a Hymn Nerd question for you, then. When I had that M. R. James party in the fall, one of the stories mentioned a tune name that I couldn’t track down. It said that the bell tower was playing “St. David’s tune,” which the notes seemed to think is quite well-known, but the Internet was unhelpful. My own church’s hymnal doesn’t have it, and I have no other hymnals with tune names in (apparently my church is weird for even having it set up the way it is).

    • Christina Joy

      December 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      I bet St David is this one: It looks like a good old Ravenscroft Anglican CM tune, but I was not familiar with it either. As far as I know it hasn’t made an appearance in any Lutheran hymnals. On the link above there is a way to here a midi file of the tune and a pdf file of the music, as well as the scan from the hymnal that is shown on the bottom of the page.

      There are entire reference books of hymn tunes that list every possible name they’ve ever been given, and every variant to the melody along with a listing of hymnals in which they’ve appeared. Sadly, I don’t have access to them right now, so this is as much info as I can dig up.

      • Patty Sessions

        December 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm

        Thanks! I remember now that I did find that site before, but gave up in the face of the QuickTime installment that would let me listen. This time I soldiered through it. 🙂 It makes sense that it’s an old Anglican tune as James was a very traditional Anglican. To me those old Anglican tunes sound strange–both random and formal at the same time–but maybe that’s just because I don’t know them?

        I’m going to go sew now, and listen to Christmas carols. 🙂 I am weird and picky about carols and only like religious songs written before the modern age. To my shame, I recently realized that my kids don’t even know the words to “Up on the Housetop.” Oops….

  2. Jeannette

    December 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Fascinating! (And I’m looking forward to each and every one of the 40. Plus a few carols tonight.)


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