I was about to write something quick about this quick little song, and then go on with my day.
I was going to write something like “how sweet and familiar this is” and something else about how some congregations accept the offering by singing this.
And then I was going to add a quick note about the composers, Joseph and Nathan Segal, and be done with it.
Until I started learning more. And found not only a heartbreaking story but also something interesting about the version we sing.
First, the heartbreak: the Segal brothers are rabbis – singing rabbis, in fact – who trace their lineage as singing rabbis back 12 generations. They performed a spiritual and often humorous show for decades, until a car accident in Jamaica in 1988 left Joseph critically injured; eight years after the accident, it was news that he would join his brother Nathan at the congregation Nathan served. Since then, it appears Nathan has continued his work as a spiritual leader, healer, and musician – sadly, nothing on his website says anything about Joseph other than providing MP3s of the songs they recorded together. In fact, along with those recordings, there is just one video of them together from a concert they did in Woodstock in the late 1960s.
But it was from watching a clip from that where I learned we aren’t singing the song correctly. Listening to the MP3 reveals the same. Now I suspect the hymnal commission didn’t have benefit of these recordings at the time and learned the song by rote, but it’s interesting that not only do we have a different version, but apparently Nathan himself sang it differently over time, based on a later solo recording.
From you I receive,
to you I give,
together we share,
and from this we live.
So this brings up the question around folk music: is it necessary to sing it in an original fashion, or is it okay to change it as we learn it? I think about the Facebook discussion around The Earth, Water, Fire, Air – a song that many of us learned very differently yet seems to be connected to the same origins as the one in our hymnal. Is it the same song? Different now because of the changes? Is it like languages that have the same root but a thousand years goes by and suddenly the guy from Paris can’t understand the gal from Barcelona?
I don’t know. But I’d like to relearn the song in 4/4 time with a different final phrase and see what happens.