Six tunes, at least that many texts

More on fitting tunes and texts, this time starting from a pairing that combines Christmas words with a New Year’s tune: on the Boston Camerata’s An American Christmas album, the “Shepherds Rejoice” text (by Isaac Watts) —

Shepherds, rejoice! Lift up your eyes,
And send your fears away.
News from the region of the skies –
A savior’s born today!

paired with the tune normally associated with the Robert Burns poem “Auld Lang Syne”:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and auld lang syne?

But that’s just the beginning.

The Boston Camerata took the setting of the tune from the shapenote book New Harp of Columbia (1867), where it was named Hamburg; I’ll refer to the tune as Auld Lang Syne. (The tune is pentatonic major; several of the other tunes I’ll mention here have pentatonic tendencies.) The meter of the text is C.M.D. (Common Meter Double), which means that with a little work C.M. texts can be substituted for this one.

On the “Auld Lang Syne” text, from Wikipedia:

“Auld Lang Syne” (Scots pronunciation: [ˈɔːld lɑŋˈsəin]: note “s” rather than “z”) is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud [folk song index] # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially (but far from exclusively) in the English-speaking world; its traditional use being to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

The Auld Lang Syne tune is in fact in the Sacred Harp, but under the name Plenary (#162), and set to different words:

As for the Watts “Shepherds Rejoice” text, it  appears twice in the Sacred Harp, set to a tune named Shepherds Rejoice (#152):

(wonderful YouTube performance by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band here) and then to the tune Oxford (#306), which I think of as the right tune for this text:

(Shapenote singers on YouTube here.)

So much for the 1991 Sacred Harp. But the Watts text has been paired with other shapenote tunes, in particular William Billings’s Boston, which I wrote about in my “Text+Tune” posting a few weeks ago. Billings liked the text he paired with Boston — “Methinks I see a heav’nly host / Of angels on the wing” — so much that he also paired it with his tune Bennington. (The pairing of Boston with the “Methinks I see a heav’nly host” text is fabulous, to my mind; it’s my favorite Christmas hymn.) But the “Shepherds rejoice” text fits the tune Boston very nicely.

The Watts text has been set at least two more times, to the tune Ellacombe (originally a German hymn, and now a great favorite of organists; YouTube here) and to the tune Christmas Eve (originally a Norwegian Christmas carol). From the 1958 hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America, Ellacombe:

and Christmas Eve:

The majestic and joyous Ellacombe has been paired with a large number of texts; its flexibility is suggested by some of its alternative names: I Sing The Mighty Power of God, also known as The Day of Resurrection; Hosanna, Loud Hosanna; Come Sing To God; and Hail to the Lord’s Anointed. The 1982 U.S. Episcopal hymnal has it with a text that begins “The day of resurrection!” Elsewhere: “We limit not the truth of God”. It’s pretty much a celebratory C.M.D. tune for all occasions.

The Peter Knudsen tune Christmas Eve is closely tied to the Norwegian text “Jeg er så glad hver julekveld” (and its English translations), but, even so, it’s been paired with the Watts “Shepherds rejoice” text. (The YouTube resources here are less satisfactory than for Ellacombe. The song strikes me as a children’s song, though there’s a sweet and reverential choral performance of it, in Norwegian, here. And a rather muddy congregational singing in English here.)

Once again, mixing and matching, promiscuously.

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