Monday, July 6, 2015

Too much of a good thing

At a recent service, we sang “I bind unto myself this day,” (H40: 268) the traditional St. Patrick’s Day hymn. The Hymnal 1940 Companion helpfully notes:
[The hymn] is attributed by legend to St. Patrick [and] is first found in two eleventh century mss. ... Whether actually by St. Patrick or not, it has many element of a Druid incantation, superstitions of a sort which have long survived in Ireland and elsewhere.
The translation, or rather metrical paraphrase, was made by Cecil Frances Alexander for use on St. Patrick’s day in 1889. It was printed in leaflet form and sung throughout Ireland on that day. It first appeared in the [US] Hymnal in 1916.
The setting we use combines St. Patrick (or St. Patrick’s Breastplate) as the tune for most of the verses, and Deirdre for the penultimate verse — a combination created by Vaughan Williams for The English Hymnal (#212). H40 and H82 (#370) have the same seven verses, while the New English Hymnal (#359) moves verse 6 to a separate hymn (#278) with a different tune (Gartan).

I like this familiar hymn, but when we were singing the hymn, I must admit I got bored really quickly. Each verse (except #6) is long and slow, and there were six of them (plus the interlude). TEH would have been worse with nine verses.

Fortunately, both H40 and H82 indicate that verses 3, 4 and 5 — after the introduction of the melody and before the interlude — are optional. In most cases (outside Christmas or maybe Easter) I think five verses are enough, and in this case (IMHO) the music director should have omitted the extra verses. I’d especially take the cut in order to add other music (say a 2nd communion hymn) elsewhere in the service.

So with 3 or less verses, there is no need to mark optional verses, but otherwise — or with particularly long verses — they are merciful for both the singers and the congregation. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever serve on a hymnal committee.

Update: An unusual coincidence: this is the closing hymn of the first communion mass (Tuesday at noon) at next week’s International Catholic Congress of Anglicans. So nearly 300 of us will be singing all 7 verses.

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