What are the correct words for a particular hymn tune? This question depends upon many things, including the faith tradition in which you were raised, the particular setting or liturgy in which a hymn text is used, or the hymn tune you remember singing when you went to church with your grandmother.
Take the hymn tune Hyfrydol for example. The Methodists and Presbyterians sing “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” to this favorite tune, while the Baptists and some Presbyterians sing “Love divine, all loves excelling” or “Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore him.” The Mormons sing “In humility, our Savior” while some other Christians sing “I will sing the wondrous story” and “Jesus, what a friend for sinners.” All to the same tune, Hyfrydol.
Some years ago, a very close friend of mine, a university and seminary music educator, went through a tough time professionally. He spent some time walking the beaches on the east coast of Florida, asking God for guidance and next steps.
He wound up one Sunday morning in an Episcopal service where they sang “There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy” to the contemporary tune St. Helena (our Hymn 469) by Calvin Hampton (1938-1984). This particular marriage of text and tune changed his life and became his favorite hymn.
Growing up in another tradition that sang this text to the tune Beecher (our Hymn 470), a strong tune with a completely different character, God spoke to my friend through familiar words and a new tune.
I am happy to say that we use both of these tunes and love them both for different reasons. Same text, different tunes.
This same consideration presents itself this Sunday morning (February 25) at our 10:30 liturgy. Our 5:30 Celtic liturgy uses the hymn tune Kelvingrove often, and we have some three various texts in our parish repertoire for this tune. Kelvingrove is a rousing, strong Celtic tune from the Iona tradition to which we love to sing “Will you come and follow me.”
Composer and author John Bell titled his hymn The Summons, which he wrote after he was accepted into the community in 1980. For his text, John selected this traditional Scottish melody Kelvingrove, a worthy tune itself.
In 1989, John Hooker’s rector at St. Philip’s in the Hills in Tucson wanted a new experience for the parish's Maundy Thursday dinner. The theme of the dinner was an Upper Room experience, a calling of each person by name for servant ministry in the same way that Jesus empowered his disciples for ministry at that significant Thursday supper before his Friday crucifixion.
A priest and parish musician by this time (Memphians will remember John Hooker as organist/choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church downtown), John kept coming back to The Summons as a perfect text for this Maundy Thursday dinner, but the Kelvingrove tune just was not quite right. So, he wrote a new tune and named it for his friend Mary Alexandra who had returned from a pilgrimage to the Isle and Community of Iona the year prior.
Mary Alexandra is unique and transforming in the same that Calvin Hampton’s tune St. Helena is for “There’s a wideness.” As John has said to me, this text keeps “turning back onto itself over and over." Indeed, John has captured this within the rich, lush Key of D-flat Major. His gently rocking accompaniment is “through-composed,” that is, never ending once you begin.
With a brief introduction, short interludes and a tag at the end, the piece is seamless and melodically turns back upon itself, mimicking the text, until its gracious close. Mary Alexandra adapts to both the organ and piano, but I find it is especially beautiful on the piano, which is how we will sing this hymn on Sunday.
The Summons contains thirteen questions asked by Jesus in the first person. The first four stanzas are in Jesus’ voice, while the fifth stanza is our response to Jesus. Stanza four will cause the reader and singer to do a literary about-face: “Will you love the 'You' you hide if I but call your name.” Read that phrase slowly a few times and ponder.
I am grateful that my friend and colleague John Hooker composed another tune for this text. Divine inspiration often comes out of necessity. I am also proud that, at Church of the Holy Communion, we sing both tunes and use this hymn text in various liturgical settings. Be sure to turn to Hymn 757 in Wonder, Love, and Praise” on Sunday morning and enjoy singing John's lyric tune.
John Bell (Iona Community, Scotland)
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my Name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoner free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the 'You' you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Christ, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me?