Next on the Countdown, it’s the original one hit wonder. (I’m apparently channeling the late Casey Kasem right now… a throwback to my misspent youth.)

While a working organist, composer, and teacher most of his life, German musician Johann Pachelbel produced more than 200 pieces throughout his lifetime, earning himself a place as one of the most important composers of the middle Baroque  era. But as prolific and popular as he was, he only ever hit the charts with his Canon in D.

Here’s a version on original instruments:

Our chaconne, based on the Canon in D, uses the word “alleluia” for vocalizing. It is a rather lovely way to honor the hit in voice. It’s laid out in a way that should make sense for leading a congregation, but it would require some teaching and strong leading. I’d start it with the choir, and then get them to help the rest of the congregation.

Alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia.
Aleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

That is, if you’re not sick to death of the piece.

I admit to having loved it a lot, so much so that I bought an album called Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit, which features 14 different versions, by artists ranging from Arthur Fiedler to Isao Tomita.  And then I got sick of it. Not as sick as comedian Rob Paravonian, but pretty sick of it. I leave you with the hysterical rant from Paravonian, because we all need something to laugh about now and then:

Image is the cover of the CD, drawn by cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, who draws the popular comic Mutts.

As I mentioned yesterday, the English version of this lyric is a mashup of Luke 2;14 and an Isaac Watts hymn.  I take it on faith that the translation here is good – my go-to on Spanish is currently out of the country, so please, someone, let me know if it’s more or less the same as 381.

De todos bajo el gran sol
surja esperanza, fe, amor
verdad, y belleza cantando,
de cada tierra, cada voz.

I’m not sure I have anything to add, as this is a translation of yesterday’s text.

Except to say it’s beautiful in Spanish, and that I should work toward being more adept at the Spanish language.

I wonder sometimes if I’m overthinking these things.

You see, I first looked at our lyric – another one by Ken Patton – and at first cheered at having an artsy doxology text, since I am an artsy minister. Yay, loveliness! Yay all arts, all songs, beauty! Yay all the other stuff! Yay! Ours be the poems of …wait, of all tongues? Ours? Huh? Who is us?

And now I don’t know what to think. Here’s the lyric:

Ours be the poems of all tongues,
all things of loveliness and worth.
All arts, all ages, and all songs,
one life, one beauty on the earth.

I’m a little confused. Are we taking an imperialistic tone here, or are we saying that all of humanity’s artsy stuff belongs to all of us because we’re all human? And if that’s the case, isn’t that a bit too much “I don’t see differences”? Or… is this meant to be a “thanks, God, for giving us all this artsy compulsion and this artsy, lovely planet to be artsy on”?

Seriously – I may be overthinking this one and may need help to get out of my head. Because I don’t want to be suspicious when I encounter praise for artsy-ness, and I’m feeling that way today.

Before I begin today’s piece, I want to invite those of you not on Facebook to check out my posting of yesterday’s hymn, because it generated a fascinating discussion about the use of doxologies and changing them up. I am so happy when people engage my meandering thoughts on the songs we all think we know.

Now – approaching this one led to an interesting train of thought. Hop on… which requires first reading the lyrics, by Ken Patton:

Let those who live in every land
declare that fear and war are done —
joined by the labor of their hands,
in love and understanding, one.

I first thought, “huh, we really do have a lot of war and peace songs in this hymnal.”

Then, “well, this hymnal was developed at the end of the Cold War, when we talked about war and peace a lot.”

And then, “even so, this is a pretty odd thing to sing for a regular doxology. But maybe it wouldn’t have been then.”

And then, “interesting, we don’t talk much about that anymore. War seems so distant.”

And then, “oh wait. We are still at war. Have been engaged in war for thirteen years.”

And finally. “Oh crap. We forgot about it. I forgot about it. And now we could be facing a new war.”

And then, I turned back to the doxology:

Let those who live in every land
declare that fear and war are done —
joined by the labor of their hands,
in love and understanding, one.

And I thought, “Maybe we need to sing this every week again and remember we’re still at war abroad, as well as at home. Maybe we need to make declarations of peace across the board.”

Maybe. Maybe.

(Also – I instinctively sang this to Tallis Canon.)


So… this one confused the heck out me at first, because there is no such thing as a saffron tree. There’s a flower from which we get saffron that we use for cooking.

Until I realized that saffron here is a color – the color I saw all along the highways between here and northern Westchester County. D’oh!

As saffron trees now capture fire
and memories our hopes inspire;
we’ll praise imagination’s grace —
the human heart’s best resting place.

This anonymously written verse is lovely – I really like its imagery and especially the praise for imagination’s grace. But I will say that I don’t like any of our three tunes; in fact, when I first looked at the lyrics, I started singing them to the Danby tune (best known from For All the Beauty We Have Known), which I think fits them so much more elegantly and emotionally than any of our doxology tunes.

Anyway… I’m a fan of this one, but I suspect I’d only use it in the autumn. How much would it twist our congregations around if we switched up doxologies now and then? Hmmm……

We’ve kinda sung this before.

No, I don’t mean that in some UU congregations, the royal ‘we’ have sung it. I mean that on July 16th, we sang an adaptation of this in the hymn Creative Love, Our Thanks We Give. In the full hymn version, we sing these lyrics adapted by Beth Ide:

Since what we choose is what we are,
and what we love we yet shall be,
the goal may ever shine afar —
the will to reach it makes us free.

There’s only one word changed – “reach” instead of William DeWitt Hyde’s original “win,” which we then use here in the doxology section:

Since what we choose is what we are,
and what we love we yet shall be,
the goal may ever shine afar —
the will to win it makes us free.

And all of this makes me less likely to use it at all as a doxology, because now that I know it’s the last verse of a hymn we sing, it feels like reading just the last chapter of a novel and wondering what happened in the rest of the book. (Have you ever done that, though? Read a final chapter of a book you’re not likely to read all of, and then make up the story for yourself? Or is this just one of those quirky things I did because I was a bookish, lonely child?)

Anyway. I sang it to all three tunes (plus “Hernando’s Hideaway” as per my snarky friends on Facebook), and to me it fits best with Tallis Canon. But I’m not sure I would use it, because I’m still not sure I buy the theology or the privilege of it.

I thought a lot about how to approach the next 12 entries in our hymnal – three tunes, nine different lyrics – and while I could dive into all the words and let the music fall where it may, that seemed to discredit the music, which requires attention. So – today I’ll talk about the tunes, and then the next nine, hit each of the nine quatrains.

Now together, these pieces form one of 27 possible doxologies – a common liturgical element that comes out of the Christian tradition yet possibly based in the Jewish tradition. The doxology, or “words of praise,” is typically a short, communal song of praise that may be a sung response (such as a section of the Kaddish in a Jewish service or the “Gloria Patri” in a Catholic service) or as an affirmation of faith (such as “Glory be to the Father” in many Protestant services). Unitarian Universalist congregations sometimes use doxologies in similar fashion. They become the ‘best known hymn’ because we sing it every week.

Now what we sing it to… ah, that’s today’s question.

Most UU congregations that I have been in that sing a doxology use what STLT notes is the “modern form” of Old Hundredth. Where yesterday’s appearance featured the original key and rhythm – elongated ends of the phrases, a lush, singable key, the commonly used tune for modern doxologies is a shortened rhythm written in G major for reasons passing understanding. (Seriously, what’s wrong with D major?)

Yet our Hymnal Commission offers two other tunes that may be used – and I wish more did.

One is the Tallis Canon, a gorgeous piece written in the mid 1500s by English composer Thomas Tallis; I’ve waxed poetic about the tune before; here is our opportunity to truly make it a ringing-thru-the-sanctuary round.

The other is a tune I’m not as familiar with – Vom Himmel Hoch (“from heaven on high”), from the Geistliche Leider by Valentin Schumann. We sang this once before, but I was too busy getting ready to attend the Women’s March in NYC to actually notice the tune. It’s not as lush as the Tallis Canon, and certainly not as familiar as Old Hundredth, yet I suspect it will be a better match for some of the quatrains we’ve got coming up.

So… those are our tunes. All are readily available to listen to at Small Church Music. And tomorrow, I will begin singing the lyrics; my plan is to sing them to all three tunes and make suggestions as to which one I think works best.

Off we go!

I couldn’t come up with a good image for today, so here are some decorative gourds for the season.

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.

So there.

This is an amazing alleluia that comes out of the Muscogee Creek hymn tradition – which appears to emerge from the congregational line singing tradition.

In a 2014 story on All Things Considered, Dr. Hugh Foley, a fine arts instructor and Native American history professor at Rogers State University in Claremore, OK, explains more about this unexplored tradition:

“We’re talking about a pre-removal music that happened in the early 1800’s and was a combination of African spirituals, Muscogee words and perhaps some influences from their ceremonial songs and then all that being started by the Scottish missionaries who bring in Christianity and their own singing style. All three of those merge into what we now know as Muscogee Creek hymns which are a unique musical product in American and world music history.”

In some ways, this is a continuation of the story that I started thinking about when I heard that great On Being interview with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, when she spoke about the origins of the banjo. Here too is a story of people coming together out of heartbreak and loss and violence and still finding connection. Is it any wonder the music of America is so rich?

Listen to the entire story here.

And.. enjoy a recording of this wonderful piece here.

Heleluyan, heleluyan;
hele, heleluyan;
heleluyan, heleluyan;
hele, heleluyan.

I don’t have much more to say. I love this, and I love learning more about the Muscogee Creek hymn tradition. What a blessing to have this chance to dig deeper.

Our English ethical culturist is back – this time with a more or less decent song of thanksgiving (puzzling placed in the Here and Now section). Good old Perceval Chubb… who once wrote an article stating that Americans ‘have an incapacity for leisure’ and whose O We Believe in Christmas felt pretty empty and apologetic.

I don’t mind this hymn too much. The first three verses are fine, and if you need an unremarkable lyric set to a square Elizabethan tune that is good for a service on gratitude, then this is a perfectly serviceable song.

We lift our hearts in thanks today for all the gifts of life;
and, first, for peace that turns away the enmities of strife.

And, next, the beauty of the earth, its flowers and lovely things,
the spring’s great miracle of birth, with sound of songs and wings.

Then, harvests of its teeming soil in orchard, croft, and field;
but, more, the service and the toil of those who helped them yield.

And, most, the gifts of hope and love, of wisdom, truth, and right,
the gifts that shine like stars above to chart the world by night.

Where I bristle is the fourth verse. “Wisdom, truth and RIGHT”?!? I checked, it’s not a typo. Not in our hymnal nor in the original. I struggle with this – it feels arrogant to me. Maybe I’m over-sensitive to any show of arrogance or ego these days, but this line screams out to me in a way that makes me shudder.

I don’t know what more to say. I don’t love this hymn, largely because it feels dull and uninteresting and a little arrogant. But it’s not utterly offensive, and if it works for you, cool.