Best Hymn Tune

Another in my periodical, sporadical, and occasional series on Hymns (the first of which can be found here), I nominate, for the prize of Best Hymn Tune Ever, O Sacred Head Now Wounded.  By clicking this link, you will be able to listen along in a separate browser as you read.  The words are not exactly chopped liver either; you will also find 11 (!) verses of the original poem — although Trinity Hymnal #247 uses only 1, 2, and 6, I recently attended a memorial service for an ardent hymn-lover where I think we sang all 11!  Originially written in 1156 in Latin by Bernard of Clairvaux, the text is closing on 1000 years of meaningfulness and relevance. 

Not composed by J.S. Bach himself, he apparently did harmonize it, and it certainly sounds worthy of him.  The so-called “passion chorale” was included many times as a choral interlude in his St. Matthew’s passion; the music always commands an air of solemnity and penance that is a remarkable aid to reflection on Christ’s suffering, and our relationship to it (as causers and beneficiaries).

After my junior year of college, I had scrimped and saved my money to buy what I considered an awesome-quality budget stereo system (Adcom GTP-400 preamp, GFA-535 amp, Celestion 3 speakers, driven by some Sony CD player that has since bitten the dust).  The Baltimore summers being too hot and humid for human habitation, I set up shop in the air-conditioned apartment of my blogroll buddy. I remember that one night another friend that lived in the building started listening with me to St. Matthew’s Passion (London/Solti/Chicago), reading along in the booklet to understand the German, and more than three hours, and many pots of tea later, we ended up listening to the whole thing. 

More recently, one of my many started-but-not-well-persisted projects was to start to teach #1 hymns, so he could begin to participate with us in church.  The idea was to learn one hymn tune & verse each week in advance of the service, and eventually he would build up a useful repertoire that would allow him to worship meaningfully with us, not just struggle with unknown words and music, or tune out with books or drawing. 

Well, given that you are reading this particular post, you can probably guess what hymn was first up to bat.  You might be interested to know, however, that I chose to work first not with verse 1, but verse 2, in particular because of the line

mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain

As I hoped, #1 got a kick out of singing about “deadly pain”, and I think that met my goal of teaching him about substitutionary atonement. 


4 Responses

  1. I’m so glad you’re his dad :)

  2. Is the goal to pick a hymn for #1 to learn just before you sing it in a Sunday service? Or are you picking your favorites on the expectation that they will be in a service at some point in the future?

  3. The former, which is predicated on knowing what the hymns are in advance. Our church website used to have the order of service posted by Thursday for each Sunday, but they’re undergoing a total web-renovation, so our online bulletin remains stuck at last Christmas. That’s why it was somewhat providential that the first week I got around to finding out what hymns were up the next week, O Sacred Head was up!

    Once the new website is up, we’re supposed to have all sorts of cool stuff available; pastor’s blog, mp3/podcast sermons, etc. I’ll definitely provide a link when it’s available, but it probably won’t be for a few months.

  4. […] perhaps also the reason for omitting “It is Well with my Soul”?), but the hymn with the best tune ever was surely a shoo-in. Also the W2K anthem (and perhaps overtaking as my favorite hymn) […]

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