A lively hymn discussion

One of my favorite parts of a worship service in any denomination is the singing of congregational hymns.

Singing hymns with my Polish Catholic friends during my year an in Warsaw was, once I got over the difficulty of singing in Polish, so much fun! You should hear them sing their favorite Christmas carols. We were practically stomping our feet to some of the choruses in the Cathedral.

Singing hymns with my Episcopalian friends in Cincinnati has likewise been a wonderful experience. The congregation stands for each hymn and sings with conviction supported by the Parish choir with roaring organ and soaring soprano descant.

There are times when we get excited enough or the occasion is special enough in the LDS church that our hymn singing gets close to the fervor I've experienced with my Catholic and Episcopalian friends. Unfortunately, it's not common enough. I won't get into all that now.

I've been wondering lately if I can help, as a composer, to raise the bar a bit in hymn singing in the LDS church. One of my thoughts has been to look for wonderful hymn texts that could be re-set perhaps more passionately, or more lyrically. There appears, at times, to be a disconnect between some of the glorious hymn texts and the less than glorious tune it is set to.

A few days ago, on a couple LDS music Facebook groups, I sent out a question asking others to comment on some texts that might benefit from an alternate musical setting. This started quite the discussion. 

I think I may have come across negatively because we had multiple comments reprimanding those of us questioning the quality of some old time favorite hymns. That certainly was not my intention, though it did lead to even more interesting conversation.

It's really difficult to come up with an all-encompassing statement or summation as the topic is so very subjective.

I came away from the discussion with an increased resolve to write, whenever I do write original hymns (which is semi-regularly, especially in my cantatas for my Episcopalian friends) to do my best to express in melody, harmony, and musical emotion the depth, breadth and simple beauty of the text without getting too complicated or drawing attention away from my interpretation of the meaning of the words.

I thought this would be a good time to share my most recent hymn, "Savior of the Wandering Sheep." It's the final movement from my cantata "The Good Shepherd." The text was co-written by myself and my friend Phyllis Wocher. I think we spent more time working on this hymn than we did on the rest of the cantata combined.

I'm not sure why it was so difficult to get this one right. Perhaps because we were searching for a special simple elegance that would sum up the whole cantata in one clear statement.

Well, if you care to hear it, here are 2 links to YouTube videos of this hymn. One with Choir and Organ (St. Thomas Episcopal), the other with Choir and Orchestra (BYU-Idaho). And below is the text of the hymn. I'd love to hear what you think.

1. https://youtu.be/4rN246pdyew?t=22m29s
2. https://youtu.be/x6bvelQzzWc?t=23m49s

Savior of the wandering sheep,
Good Shepherd of the holy keep,
Hear my yearning, sorrowing sighs.
Oh hear my cries, Oh hear my cries!
     Carry me upon thy breast,
     To safely dwell within thy rest.

Guide me through this earthly toil,
Anoint me with thy healing oil.
Wash me in atoning blood,
Deliver me, O God of love.
     Carry me upon thy breast,
     To safely dwell within thy rest.

Savior, now I truly see,
Thine under-shepherd I must be;
Finding rest with thee above,
By taking on the yoke of love.
     Carrying upon my breast,
     Thy sheep. O Lamb, please give them rest.

For more info about this piece, please visit https://www.douglaspew.com/savior-of-the-wandering-sheep.