Lenten Music For Listening and Meditation

When you think of Lent, I’m sure that “great music” isn’t the first thing that comes to mine. There are beautiful hymns out there, though, especially if if you listen to and meditate on the lyrics. I’ve collected a few of my favorite pieces here, and I’m hoping that they will inspire you as we move through this holy season.

What Wondrous Love Is This, St. Olaf College Choir

MLC College Choir – “His Robes for Mine” from Martin Luther College on Vimeo.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Hyfrydol, huh?

Ever notice how “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the ABC song have the same melody? As a piano teacher, I think it’s really cool when students come to that realization. I even notice it with my little three-year-old nephew — we have a video of him singing “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder, L M N O P”. This is a fairly common occurrence in music of all genres.

I’ve always been fascinated, too, with songs with interchangeable melodies. Did you know that you can sing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun”? Try it out — it works!

This interchangeability is very common in hymn singing. This tradition can be traced back to at least the 16th century when books were few and far between and most people could not read music. Hymns were taught by rote, and when a new hymn was introduced, it was often put to a melody that was very familiar to the congregation so that the only “new” part was the text. The tunes became so familiar that they were often called by a name entirely separate from the hymn text. The tune that we commonly sing with the text “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” is called Hyfrydol.

This past Sunday, we took the lyrics from Hymn #610 in Hymnal 1982 (“Lord, whose love through humble service”) and used that melody — Hyfrydol. There are many reasons that a music director might choose to do this. This past week, I felt that the more upbeat melody of Hyfrydol fit better into the service than did Blaenhafren, the tune that is printed in the hymnal. And just like it worked out for congregations back in the 16th century, it worked out well for us — everyone was familiar with Hyfrydol and sang the alternate text with strong and joyful voices.

There is much more that can be said about hymn tunes, and at a later date I may go into it in more depth. But for now I will leave you with some fun examples:

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” to the tune St. Louis and to the tune Forest Green:

“Alleluia Sing to Jesus” and “Once to Every Man and Nation” both to the tune of Hyfrydol:

“Amazing Grace” as we know it to the tune New Britain and the also to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun”: