Here is another hymn!
Title: Blessed Be the God of Israel
Tune: Forest Green
Meter: 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52 (Common Meter Doubled)
Composer: English Folk Tune; arr. Ralph Vaughn Williams (October 12th 1871-August 26th 1958)
Author: Carl P. Daw. Jr. (March 18th 1944)
This hymn was written for a hymn writing competition in 1985 sponsored by The Hymn Society of America. This text shared the same first line as another hymn written by Michael Perry that was being presented at the competition as well. This hymn is a paraphrase of Zechariah’s song found in Luke 1: 68-79, which is the Benedictus at the circumcision of John the Baptist. This hymn uses many allusions to other texts throughout the bible, including passages from Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:1-2, Mark 1:2-8, Luke 3: 1-20, and John 1: 19-28. Though these allusions are specifically named, Daw has inserted “intentional echoes” from Galatians 5: 22-23, and Colossians 3: 1-2, as well as an attempt to create a blend between John the Baptist acclaiming the coming of Christ, and the triumphant Lamb found in the book of Revelations (Westermeyer, p 15).
Born the in Louisville, Kentucky, as the son of a Baptist pastor, Daw grew up in several towns throughout the state of Kentucky. Before his ordination, Daw taught in the English department at the college of William and Marry for nearly eight years. After his ordination, he began serving as Assistant Rector of Christ and Grace Church in Petersburg, Virginia for three years, and he served as the Vicar-Chaplain of St. Mark’s Chapel at the University of Connecticut at Storrs fir nine years. Eventually Daw spent three years serving as a resident Companion of the Community of Celebration in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and has served in many different capacities since then. From 1996-2009, Reverend Dr. Daw served as the Executive Director of the Hymn Society in America and in Canada, while the ecumenical organization held its headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts at the University School of Theology, where Dr. Daw remains as an adjunct professor of Hymnology in the Masters of Sacred Music degree program. Dr. Daw also serves as the Curator of the Hymnological Collection at the School of Theology. Dr. Daw is known for having numerous hymns published in ecumenical hymnals all around the world in countries ranging from Canada, all the way to Scotland and England as well as Japan. Daw acted as a consultant for the Text Committee, as well as a contributor of his own translations, paraphrases, and original hymns in the Hymnal 1982. Working with Hope Publishing Co, Daw has published four titles: A Year of Grace; Hymns for the Church Year (1990), To Sing God’s Praise (1992), New Psalms and Hymns and Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1996), and finally Gathered for Worship( 2006). Daw has been an active member of several different committees, including one that published the Hymnal 1982 companion, as well as a member of the committee that has published several essays regarding the importance of hymns in the church today.
The tune “Forest Green” was written by the famous English composer, Ralph Vaughn Williams. Vaughn Williams is famous in the wind band era, having written several pieces for a concert band, which in his time, was a very new and incredibly interesting idea. Vaughn Williams notated this tune in December of 1903, after he had heard the tune being sung by a man named Garman of Forest Green, near Ockley, Surrey (Westermeyer, p 16). This tune is included in Vaughn Williams 1906 English Hymnal, in which he was the musical editor. This tune is written in the form of AABA, which may get repetitive, but the difference between conjunct motion (connected with step-wise motion), and the disjunct motion (not connected with leaping motions) helps to keep the piece interesting. To cover all of the information on Vaughn Williams, one could write a separate essay that ranges anywhere from 10-20 pages, but his range in the world of hymnody is somewhat shorter conversation.
Being one of few composers who understood hymns, Vaughn Williams focused much of his attention on the tunes and congregational singing. Evidence of this can be found in several different places, including the fact that he collected folk songs, edited The English Hymnal, wrote prospectively about folk songs and congregational singing, and the most prominent piece of evidence, is the hymn tune he composed and placed in his composition, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The tune is based off the third mode and is rightly called the “Third Mode Melody.” Born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, to a Lutheran Vicar, Vaughn Williams was raised mostly by his mother in Leith Hill Place, which was a family home in the Hills of Surry. Vaughn Williams was forced to move there because of the sudden death of his father in 1875 (Only three years after his birth). An interesting family lineage is found with Vaughn Williams, in that his great uncle was none other than Charles Darwin. Though Vaughn Williams was born into an upper middle class family, he always worked hard for his Democratic and Egalitarian ideas in which he strongly believed in. In his younger years, Vaughn Williams studied piano, but was never very good, so he picked up the violin which he describes as his “musical salvation.” Studying at the Royal College of Music, Vaughn Williams had the opportunity to work with several prominent people including C. Hubert H. Parry, and Charles V. Stanford, and eventually he began studying in Germany with Max Bruch, and in Paris with Maurice Ravel. During his time at the Royal College of Music, Vaughn Williams became friends with an influential person in his composition life, one Mr. Gustav Holst. Though his compositional skills grew slowly, Vaughn Williams eventually had a career that merged into several different areas in his life. Vaughn Williams thought music to be very important, and believed that musical choices, including hymn choices, were “moral matters.”
(1) Blest be the God of Israel
who comes to set us free
and raises new hope for us:
a Branch from David's tree.
So have the prophets long declared
that with a mighty arm
God would turn back our enemies
and all who wish us harm.
(2) With promised mercy will God still
the covenant recall:
the oath once sworn to Abraham,
from foes to save us all;
that we might worship without fear
and offer lives of praise,
in holiness and righteousness
before God all our days.
(3) My child, as prophet of the Lord,
you will prepare the way,
to tell God's people they are saved
from sin's eternal sway.
Then shall God's mercy from on high
shine forth and never cease
to drive away the gloom of death
and lead us into peace.
My Take on the Hymn:
To me, this hymn shows us the promise that is given to us through the birth of Christ, but it also shows us the things that we have been charged with doing here on Earth. The first verse tells us of all the things Christ will do, being that he will save us from our times of trial, and he will set us free from the bonds of sin, but into the second verse, we are reminded that we as humans have made a covenant with God. I often question why God is so merciful to us, and the answer always boils down to this, his undying love for us. Why does he give us this love? That is a question that only God knows the answer to, but I am thankful for it each and every day. Our covenant with God reminds us of the things that God has asked us to do in order that he will remain loving us till the end of days. Finally, the last verse, which is all about the things that God has asked us to do throughout each and every day of our lives. Christ asks us to share the good news of God and to give of our time and our talents so that God’s love may be seen throughout the world. Christ is coming, but it is our job to prepare the world for his arrival, so that when he is here, the world will be ready for him. We can all take part in this by preparing a place for Christ in our hearts. I challenge everyone (myself included), take ten minutes a day to reflect on how you can open your heart to Christ’s call. Whether it be on the drive to or from work, or the first thing you do in the morning, or even if you are sitting on the treadmill at the gym, try and find the ten minutes in your day to spend thinking of how you can worship Christ. Merry Christmas to everyone, and happy holidays!
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a recording of this hymn. I will see if I can place one on here sometime in the near future.
"Ralph Vaughan Williams." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"FOREST GREEN." Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"Carl P. Daw." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"Blessed Be the God of Israel." Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
"Blest Be the God of Israel." Oremus Hymnal:. Hope Publishing, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.