Hymn of the Month – January week 2

By: Stephen Schall

January finds us exploring a new tune that can be sung with several terrific texts. Last week I introduced the tune RENDEZ A DIEU and we sang it to the hymn, When John Baptized by Jordan’s River. For the next few weeks, we’ll be using the hymn, New Songs of Celebration Render. 

This hymn was written by Erik Routley (1917-1982) in 1972 and is a paraphrase of Psalm 98, which begins, Sing a new song to the Lord. This splendid text is a paean of praise to God, whom Routley describes in ways that seem fresh and new to those familiar with the psalm. It is helpful to take a moment to read this thought-provoking hymn, which Routley wrote to be sung to this tune. 

Erik Routley, D.Phil, was an ordained Congregational minister in the UK and a trained church musician. He served churches throughout England and Scotland before joining the faculties of Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Choir College in 1975. Widely regarded as one of the most influential persons in English and American church music during the 20th century, Routley published nearly 40 books on theology and church music, edited important hymnals and church music publications, and lectured extensively. His hymn tunes, harmonizations, and texts appear in every major US hymnal.

On a personal note, Dr Routley died during the first semester of my freshman year at Westminster Choir College. He lectured to Church Music 101 class the day before he died. He then traveled to Nashville to lead a church music seminar, had a lovely evening at the home of Hal and Martha Hopson, returned to his hotel room, and never awoke. His death was devastating to the Westminster community and to the world of church music. I can attest that he was a dynamo – an outstanding preacher and an inspiring lecturer. His passion for hymnody was infectious. 

The tune is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (c.1510-1561), who is perhaps most familiar to the average pew sitter as the composer of OLD 100TH – the tune to which we sing the Doxology. Bourgeois was a French composer who was responsible for setting the music for the Genevan Psalter – essentially, the Calvinist hymnal. This book contained metrical settings of the Psalms – the only sung texts Calvinists were permitted to use in worship. It’s rather ironic that this tune, which would have been known by heart by those early Presbyterians, is being taught as a “new” one. The melody is beautiful and quite singable, and with at least three texts that are important and helpful for worship, we are sure to use it for years to come!