Dear music directors and accompanists: Old Hundredth can be set in D major.
I make this an announcement, because it offended at least two musicians I have worked with when I suggested that we might transpose Old Hundredth down at least to F if not to D. “But it’s in G major and that’s where it’ll stay!” they argued. Because, oh, I don’t know, they forgot that musicians transpose things all. the. time. I don’t know why I encountered such pushback over the tune that congregations across the denominations have been using for centuries – I don’t know why they stuck with the high key when it was clear the congregations had lower voices. Saratoga Springs had no problem going to F major; it became warmer and more welcoming. Bringing it down to D makes it warmer still.
So now that I realize we have a setting of it in D major, right there on the page (set, by the way, in the original rhythm). In this case, it’s got three verses, which makes it a great introit kind of song. Here are our lyrics:
All people that on earth do dwell,
sing ye aloud with cheerful voice;
let hearts in exultation swell;
come now together and rejoice.
O welcome in this day with praise;
approach with joy your God unto;
give thanks, and faith proclaim always,
for it is seemly so to do.
For we believe that life is good,
love doth abide forevermore;
truth, firmer than a rock hath stood,
and shall from age to age endure.
They’re fine. A little fiddly in the second verse, and I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘it is seemly so to do’, but over all, pretty good. These lyrics are an Alicia Carpenter recast of the original version by Scottish cleric William Kethe. A paraphrase of Psalm 100, this was one of over two dozen psalm pieces he wrote for the 1561 Anglo-Genevan Psalter.
And given that information, we now know why the tune is called Old Hundredth. And it’s set in a nice, low, comfortable, warm and welcoming D major.