aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

New tunes for old

And Can It Be?

And Can It Be?

2. 'Tis mystery all: th'Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.

3. He left his Father's throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam's helpless race.
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound by sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

5. No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th'eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Words: Charles Wesley, 1739
Music: "The Times They Are A-Changing," Bob Dylan

"And Can It Be?" is one of the great hymns of the Wesleyan revival. When I went to Asbury Theological Seminary in 1975, it was THE song in chapel. It was confusing, however, for they didn't sing it to the tune in The Methodist Hymnal. That tune, Fillmore, is a fairly bloodless thing, drained of passion.

At Asbury, we sang it to the tune Sagina, a powerful, rousing example of what one church musician of my experience called "Methodist thump." This tune is what is in the current United Methodist Hymnal. On the other hand, if you don't sing it with souls afire -- particularly if the accompanist doesn't really put the old heavenly march step into it, it can become what one teenager described to me as "the longest hymn I have ever sung."

My desire to find a way to sing this hymn in campfire settings led me to adapt "The Times They Are A-Changing" for it. It is a gentle, easy melody, but nevertheless laden with tension. It makes a good support for Charles Wesley's words of wonder and victory.

I find that singing an old song to a new tune can really help make the text come alive again. Of course, you can sing "Amazing Grace" to any number of gawdawful tunes -- including the theme song from Gilligan's Island -- and you can also sing "Blessed Assurance" to the tune of "Beautiful Dreamer" (a slightly better fit); the fitness of some tunes for use in church (because of previous associations, not the music itself) may render some options out of court from the beginning.

On the other hand, singing "Lead on, O King eternal" to Rienzi's Song rather than the terrible Lancashire is a plus. And the lugubrious "My Jesus, I love thee" becomes positively fresh and moving when sung to the old Irish air MacFarlane's Lament (see below).

My Jesus, I love thee

My Jesus, I love thee

Words: William R. Featherstone, 1864
Music: Old Irish Air, "MacFarlane's Lament."
Tags: music

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