I really need more congregational hymnody, with music composed by women, for Cecilia's List.
I've been sent suggestions of plenty of worship songs, but many of those I've been sent aren't suitable for congregational hymnody any more than Stanford in C is. Too much rhythmic complexity, too much focus on specialist performers who rehearse, too much melodic complexity.
Ways to fix this:
1) buy or borrow more hymnals, particularly those published in the last ten years or so, and go through them to find the hymns with music composed by women. This is something I am going to be doing, but it's kindof a longer-term thing, and I haven't even made a start yet, partly because I haven't quite allocated enough time to do that and add new composers every week and make music recommendations for every Sunday. But this will improve with time.
2) Find women composers who have written hymn tunes and add their work in the normal way to the database etc -- I'm working on this.
3) Write some myself. This is by far
the easiest thing to do, but I don't want CL to end up being too heavily skewed toward my own music, for various reasons.
So for my own composing of hymns I'm trying to be systematic, but only a bit systematic: I'm looking at the major dates and trying to make sure I have those covered, especially if they're festivals without as much strong hymnody. And Pentecost has come up as something without a huge number of really good hymn tunes extant. I mean, there's the Veni creator Spiritus
plainchant, and there's DOWN AMPNEY for Come down, O Love divine
, and O thou who camest from above
if you fancy some Wesley, and... well, NEH has a bunch of really nondescript things, including a few that aren't public domain. There's an absolutely cracking one in the 1971 (I think?) Canadian hymnal I grew up with (which was a joint venture between the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada (which was formed of Methodists, Presbyterians, and a bunch of others in 1925), when they were talking about merging), In thy Pentecostal splendour
(sorry, no text of the words at the link) which I grew up singing to EBENEZER -- but the writer of the text was born in 1916 and probably lived a zillion years, so that's not generally available except where people have broken copyright to put it online.
Well. I can't do better than Veni creator
, I mean really. And the words to In thy pentecostal splendour
aren't in the public domain and I'm not chasing after the author's estate to get permission to write a new tune for them. O thou who camest from above
has the empha
sis on the wrong sylla
ble enough that it will just annoy me as a text, I mean really, and there are at least two good tunes already.
That leaves Come down, O Love divine
which is usually sung to DOWN AMPNEY, which is absolutely one of the classic "can't touch this" tunes by Vaughan Williams. The timing does take a bit of getting used to, but... well. It's a strong tune, and well known, and there's almost no point trying to write something better. It has particular resonance for me, too, because I remember singing it at C's ordination to the priesthood; I'd turned up slightly too late to get a good seat so was behind a pillar, but during the third verse we managed to make eye contact and now I can't sing that third verse without thinking of her. (Let holy charity / mine outward vesture be...
But the funny thing is that when you actually look at DOWN AMPNEY it's... technically a bit meh. I mean, it keeps having the downbeat on a bit of the words that is not meant to be stressed, so you get:COME
down, O Love divine,SEEK
thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing.O
Comforter, draw near,WITH
in my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
And it continues like that, with those stresses, for four verses, including things like "AND
so the yearning strong". RVW pulls it off because the melody itself is very strong and simple, and because the lines are balanced well enough that the strong emphasis feels okay: all the lines have rhythmic augmentation at the end.
There is a problem where people who can't count long notes play it on the organ and stuff up the ends of lines and nobody knows when to start the next one, but the organ is the loudest thing in the building so you just have to follow the person who is Doing It Rong no matter how Rong they are. As the first note of every line is also longer than the others and it's a fairly stately pace to begin with, this is usually a minor, rather than a major, annoyance. And the people who do this either don't know they do it, or have an entire congregation who don't notice that it happens because they do it the same way every time, so it's not like anyone would go "hey, something that only has two note values instead of four in it!" if I were to write something that doesn't have this problem. Plus, 66 11 D is not the most common of metres to set in the first place.
So. I'm not sure if I'm going to set this or not. I wouldn't mind setting it as an anthem; that's a different animal altogether. But I don't know whether setting words that already have such a strong and well-known tune as a hymn is a complete waste of time, or a breath of fresh air.