Hymn of the Month: October

Update for Sunday, October 22: When I introduced October’s tune, VINEYARD HAVEN, I called it a “twofer” because there are two texts we will sing it to. In fact, we’re going to have a “threefer” with the tune! Recently I was given a copy of an article by Northmont’s former music director, Todd Alexander, which referenced the Isaac Watts hymn, “Come, We That Love the Lord.” I was surprised to see that it wasn’t in the Presbyterian Hymnal, so I went looking for it elsewhere. The first book I grabbed was the Episcopalian, Hymnal 1982, where it is set to VINEYARD HAVEN. I took this as a sign; it will be our opening hymn this weekend. 

Isaac Watts (1674-1738) is often called, “the Father of English hymnody.” There are 13 hymns in the Presbyterian Hymnal credited to Watts. Notably, “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” He is famous for paraphrasing psalms and “Christianizing” them. (A good example of this is found in hymn 423, “Jesus, Shall Reign” which paraphrases Psalm 113, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” By simply beginning with the word, “Jesus,” the text becomes specifically Christian.) While “Come, We That Love the Lord” isn’t a psalm paraphrase, it is a good example of Watts’ devotional poetry style. 

This month we get a “twofer”: OCTOBER’s HYMN OF THE MONTH is more accurately described as the hymn tune of the month, because we’ll be singing it to two different hymns. Remember that the “hymn” is the words, not the tune. The tune we’ll be exploring is VINEYARD HAVEN. It is set to two wonderful texts in our hymnal, 146, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart” and 206, “O Hear Our Cry, O Lord.”

Let’s start with the tune. VINEYARD HAVEN was composed by Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921-2003) in 1974. Dirksen was the music director of Washington’s National Cathedral, where he had a long and illustrious career. He wrote this tune as a processional for the installation of the Archbishop of the National Cathedral. The tune was composed for the text, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart.” VINEYARD HAVEN has been “widely acclaimed as one of the finest hymn tunes of our day,” by editors of hymnology.[2] In only three years the popularity of the tune led to its inclusion in three hymnals. 

Hymn 146, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart”is not a new text to Northmont — we sing it to the tune MARION. But, as you may notice, sometimes we think about words differently when we sing them to different music. The text was written in 1865 by Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891) as a processional for the Peterborough Choral Festival. While it originally comprised ten stanzas, modern hymns use fewer.  Plumptre was an eminent Anglican minister and scholar. He composed several hymns still in use in the UK. “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart” is his only text found in The Presbyterian Hymnal.

Hymn 206, “O Hear Our Cry, O Lord,” is a paraphrase of Psalm 80 written by the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson (b. 1941). Dr Anderson is a PCUSA minister and is pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in NYC. In 1984, he served as a consultant to the denomination’s task force on the use of psalms in worship and wrote a number of settings at the task force’s request. Fifteen of his psalm texts appear in The Presbyterian Hymnal. Although written to be sung to the tune MARION, the tune we know for the hymn, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart,” once coupled with the tune VINEYARD HAVEN, Anderson states that he prefers Dirksen’s tune.