Hymn of the Week: June 5, 2022
by Ed Hanson, Music Director
Calvary Episcopal Church, Columbia
Hymn #511 “Holy Spirit, ever living”
One of my favorite “modern” (meaning 20th Century) hymn tunes is “Abbot’s Leigh,” by the English cleric and composer Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907-1992). It was composed in 1941, during World War II, and it’s a tune that has been married to many texts over the years. It’s rather angular but still very singable. Mr. Taylor served the church as both a priest and a musician in many capacities. His positions included being a producer in the religious broadcasting department of the BBC (1939 – 1953), chaplain of the Royal School of Church Music (1953 – 1958), vicar of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire (1958 – 1969), and precentor of Salisbury Cathedral (1969 – 1975). The tune “Abbot’s Leigh” appears three times in our Hymnal 1982; other settings of it are #379, “God is Love, let heaven adore him”, and #523, “Glorious things of thee are spoken”.
Being someone who is fascinated with tunes and texts that get matched together, I often check out the meter listing, found after each hymn on the bottom right corner. “Abbot’s Leigh” has this meter: 87. 87. D. This abbreviation means that the first phrase has 8 syllables, and the second has 7. This pattern repeats for the third and fourth phrases. The “D” means that the pattern is then doubled. See if this makes sense as you read the first verse of #511:
Holy Spirit, ever living
As the Church’s very life;
Holy Spirit, ever striving
Through her in a ceaseless strife;
Holy Spirit, ever forming
In the Church the mind of Christ;
Thee we praise with endless worship
For thy fruits and gifts unpriced.
I hoped I’ve piqued your interest in discovering more about hymn meters. Since “Abbot’s Leigh” has this particular meter, other poetry that has this same meter could be matched to the hymn tune. Check out #379, “God is Love, let heaven adore him”. It’s actually words by the same poet as #511, Timothy Rees (1874 – 1939).
Another possibility, of course, is for you to write your own poetry to match a favorite hymn tune of yours! You can learn more about hymn meters on Wikipedia; the site can tell you all about the various abbreviations and what they mean.
Have a delightful and curious season of Pentecost!