I met Deanna Witkowski a few years after she won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, but we kept bumping into each other at workshops, concerts, and conferences.
One hot summer day a couple Solstices ago, we both showed up to help set a World Record for the most pianists playing Pachelbel’s “Canon” at the same time with Make Music New York. And one week every summer, when Deanna entertains lunch hour listeners with jazz piano in Bryant Park a block from Times Square, I’m at the front of the appreciative crowd, her #1 fan.
I was thrilled, therefore, when she suggested we co-author a few hymn blog posts over the next few months in celebration of her new recording, “Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns.” She includes a surprising arrangement of “HYFRYDOL,” familiar as the setting for “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and, in some hymnals, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” two hymn texts by Charles Wesley.
DEANNA ON HYMN TUNE “HYFRYDOL”
The tune HYFRYDOL (which means “tuneful” or “pleasant”) was composed by the Welsh composer Roland H. Pritchard in 1930 when he was 19. Pritchard was well known as a “precentor”- a “cantor,” or “song leader” in modern day terms. HYFRYDOL was first published in Pritchard’s collection of music for children, Cyfaill y Cantorion (“The Singers’ Friend”), in 1844. Its best known musical version is with a harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the English Hymnal of 1906.
Two things strike me about this hymn tune. The first is that the entire melody – with the exception of one note – consists only of the first five notes of a major scale. This makes the tune easy to sing, and it also showcases the gracefulness of Prichard’s choices in the contour of the melodic line (where it goes up, down, changes direction, repeats a note…).
I’ve sung this tune with various texts since childhood, and never really thought about how elegant the twists in the melodic line actually are until I arranged the tune for my trio!
The second is the meter. When I first started working as a church musician a couple of decades ago, I finally started using all of the different indexes in the back of the hymnal! One of those indexes invariably is called a “metrical index.” It’s basically scanning the text that fits a hymn tune’s melodic line and translating it into numbers: i.e., one of the texts that is sung with HYFRYDOL, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” starts with:
Love-di-vine-all-loves-ex-cel-ling (8 syllables)
Joy-of-heav’n-to-earth-come-down (7 syllables)
This 8-7 pattern happens four times in the text/tune, so the meter for HYFRYDOL is labeled as “184.108.40.206.D” (“D” stands for “doubled”).
After I’d compiled all of the hymn arrangements to record for Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns, I realized that I had included four tunes with this 220.127.116.11.D metrical pattern!
My challenge to those of you who are familiar with hymn tunes is: can you name the other three tunes on the recording that share this pattern? The track list is HERE. For those of you just coming to these tunes for the first time: can you find one other tune with this pattern in my trio video HERE? To post your response to Deanna’s challenge, visit her blog at http://deannajazz.com.
PAM ON THE HYMN TEXTS
In 1744, Charles Wesley, the Methodist Poet, then age 37, wrote the words “COME, THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS,” an Advent hymn. Here Jesus is called “hope of all the earth,” “desire of every nation,” and “joy of every longing heart.”
Singing this hymn, we are ready for the Savior, promised in Hebrew scriptures, to release us from our fears and faults, let us rest, bring consolation.
Dr. C. Michael Hawn pointed out in a blog essay that Wesley employed the cumulative technique of repeating the word “born” four times in just two verses:
Each time “born” is sung, an aspect of Jesus’ mission to a troubled world is revealed: “Born to set thy people free”; “Born thy people to deliver”; “Born a child and yet a king”; “Born to reign in us forever.”
Three years after penning the words of his Advent hymn, Wesley wrote another hymn of petition, “LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING.” He had studied the classics at Oxford and obviously remembered the lilt and beauty of John Dryden’s libretto for King Arthur, an opera with music by Henry Purcell. The “Song of Venus” begins, “Fairest isle, all Isles excelling, / Seat of Pleasures and of Loves …” Inspired, Wesley employed a neat nip and tuck and began his lyrics, “Love divine, all loves excelling, / joy of heaven, to earth come down.”
As in his earlier text, Wesley describes Jesus as “all compassion” and “unbounded love.” This hymn is a prayerful plea that the breath of the Holy Spirit will enter our trembling hearts, bring rest, set us free. So filled, our bodies can become temples for God’s goodness until we take our place before God as new creations, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
TO GO DEEPER
Sheet music for Deanna’s arrangement of HYFRYDOL, along with corresponding video and audio, are available at: http://deannawitkowski.com/sheet-music/#Congregational
Discipleship Ministries, History of Hymns: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Mark Beggs
Song of Venus by John Dryden
Discipleship Ministries, History of Hymns: Hymn expresses longing for arrival of our Savior — “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by C. Michael Hawn
Deanna and her trio play her jazz arrangement of HYFRYDOL from “Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns”