Hymn of the Week: June 26, 2022
by the Rev. Brooke Myers,
- How are Sunday Hymns chosen?
- Who gets to do the choosing?
- And this week's hymn:
My Song is Love Unknown, Hymnal #458
Have you ever wondered how the hymns you sing on Sunday are selected and by whom? Perhaps you suppose the senior priest’s favorites are well represented. Maybe you think the parish musician would have significant input, or the Music/Liturgy committee. Or you might assume there is guidance from the diocese or the national church. And you might surmise that the seasons of the Church Year and the Sunday readings have parts to play in which hymns are chosen. Maybe you’ve never given this a thought in your life. But if you have, you might be interested in the resources that exist to assist in the selection of hymns.
The accompaniment editions of The Hymnal 1982, Wonder Love and Praise, Voices Found, and My Heart Sings Out all have several indexes: scriptural, topical and liturgical. In addition to these resources, one might consult one or more of the following: on-line at www.oremus.org/hymnal; the Liturgical Music series published by Church Publishing; and the Episcopal Musician’s Handbook published by The Living Church Foundation. I’m certain there are many more such as these that are published by other denominations. Without such resources the task of choosing Sunday hymns would be daunting for most clergy and church musicians.
Who gets to choose? According to Title II, Canon 5 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution: “…the [senior] Member of the Clergy shall have final authority in the administration of matters pertaining to music. In fulfilling this responsibility the Member of the Clergy shall seek assistance from persons skilled in music. Together they shall see that music is appropriate to the context in which it is used.” So, clearly, the clergy person in charge has the final say. I suspect that some clergy delegate this task to the parish musician, or to a committee. And some probably share it with others. And then there are others who pretty much fully exercise their prerogative and choose the hymns themselves. (I, myself, before retiring, rested happily in the third group, but endeavored to invite input from both musicians and committees.)
So now to the task at hand: The hymn I have selected for this week’s column is #458, My Song Is Love Unknown; words by Samuel Crossman (1624-1683), music by John Ireland (1879-1962). The reason for this choice lies in the opening lines of the sixth stanza: “In life, no house, no home my Lord on earth might have.” It just so happens that this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Luke 9:51-62, contains these words of Jesus: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” This scriptural reference in the text makes this hymn a natural choice for the third Sunday After Pentecost, Year C. Most of the resources mentioned above recommend it.
Samuel Crossman, an English Priest in turbulent times sided with the Puritans in their struggle against the more catholic Anglicans. He picked the wrong side, and was expelled from the Church of England in 1662. However, he was later reinstated and went on to become a royal chaplain and a cathedral dean. He, like his contemporary George Herbert, was a part of a group of “mystical” poets. He published My Song Is Love Unknown as part of a larger collection of poems in 1664. This text is especially appropriate for Holy Week services because it takes us through Jesus’s passion and death.
John Ireland was an English church organist, choir director, composer and teacher of music. Though he took an interest in his young female students, he was a frustrated and closeted gay man. He was described “as self-critical, introspective…, haunted by memories of a sad childhood." In addition to his tune Love Unknown, Ireland is remembered for his piano and vocal chamber music and for a piano concerto.
There is a lovely King’s College, Cambridge, rendition of this hymn on YouTube: