Great Soul Singing

Well, maybe not soul, as in genre. Tonight, let’s see how two hymns with different pedigrees compare in the CS commentariat.

“How Great Thou Art” was an easy top-ten NPM choice. It finishes pretty much at the top of any non-Catholic poll. It’s an easy choice when you want an ecumenical gathering to sing: everybody knows it. More than you might want to know is spelled out in several versions amd verses. Did you know Erik Routley hated text and tune? He wrote new verses and reharmonized the Swedish folk tune. Here’s a 1995 version from the New Century Hymnal:

O mighty God, when I survey in wonder
The world that formed when once the word you said,
The strands of life all woven close together,
The whole creation at your table fed,
Refrain: (vss 1-3)
My soul cries out in songs of praise to you,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

Only in Christianity could you get a 19th century Swedish text set to a folk tune translated into English, used by the foremost evangelical Christian of the 20th century and spread in numerous translations and versions throughout the world. Now it’s considered a “gospel song.”

The prayer Anima Christi goes back to the late Middle Ages. Authorship has been credited to St Ignatius Loyola, Pope John XXII. Probably neither. It’s older. Here’s a metrical setting:

Soul of my Savior sanctify my breast,
Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,
Blood of my Savior, bathe me in thy tide,
wash me with waters gushing from thy side.

Strength and protection may thy passion be,
O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
so shall I never, never part from thee.

Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
in death’s dread moments make me only thine;
call me and bid me come to thee on high
where I may praise thee with thy saints for ay.

The common hymn tune is attributed to Fr W. J. Maher. Tons of arrangements available. Tons.

Happy choosing.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in 2012 Dance, Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Great Soul Singing

  1. John Donaghy says:

    I have even heard “How Great Thou Art” sung in Spanish in Catholic churches here in Honduras.

  2. Liam says:

    HGTA is one of those songs I can live without hearing again. Too many times have I heard the scooping voices with tremolo…

  3. Todd says:

    Some tunes seem to have more potential pitfalls than others. “How Great” is definitely one of those with more. Liam’s observation is largely one of quality control. If a singing assembly is scooping and soaring, there may be little to be done. Singers, on the other hand …

    I was asked to play a funeral last weekend, and this song was programmed. The first thing I ask (or listen for) is how different communities handle a potential fermata at the end of the chorus. Additionally, bringing any singers in on the third & beat needs to be carefully handled.

    But people sing this pretty well and when they do, it’s always a thrill to accompany such enthusaiasm.

    • Randolph Nichols says:

      Hearing Erik Routley’s adjustments to HGTA’s text, tune, and harmony was an epiphany for me. Among other things, by maintaining a steady pulse he resolves the fermata issue you mention.

    • Liam says:

      I just have *never* heard HGTA in person without highly audible scooping and tremolo; it seems to attract the same kind of voices that sing Danny Boy in the same way, but at least on a drunk at a wake…

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