Music Notes for March 19, 2023

Hymn of the Day: “Amazing Grace” ELW 779
Text: John Newton (1725–1807)
Tune: NEW BRITAIN, W. Walker, Southern Harmony (1835); Edwin O. Excell (1851-1921)

Making his way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in Book I of Olney Hymns (1779), John Newton got to hymn #41, titled it "Faith's Review and Expectation," and cited 1 Chronicles 17:16-17: "Then King David went in and Sat before the LORD, and said, 'Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my houe that you have brought me thus far? And even this was a small thing in your sight O God; you have also spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come You regard me as someone of high rank, O LORD God! " That evoked "Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!)." Here again is Newton's "sweet sound" as in "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds", but even more the astonishment at grace: "You regard me as someone of high rank, O Lord." That astonishment accounts in part for the many translations, adaptations, and the widely ubiquitous spread of this hymn, but, paradoxically, the spread has made it so commonplace and so related to a general miasma of niceness that the shock of Newton's awareness is often lost, Our nervousness about Newton's word "wretch" points to the loss and to our attempts to shield ourselves from the shock, though a look at Newton's biography or plumbing the depths of one's own being or just encountering the daily news makes "wretch" the right word. The meaning is deeper, however. The issue is the "wretched" human state that Paul is wrestling with in Romans 7:24, where the law of sin and death requires rescue. Paul's "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" is Newton's "amazing grace," and the distance from wretch to high rank expresses the incredulity.

Newton wrote six stanzas. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, like most hymnals prints the first four. The fifth stanza, though often joined to this hymn, is not by Newton. It is an anonymous "traveling refrain" that was first appended as stanza 10 to nine stanzas of "Jerusalem, my happy home." By the end of the ninetend century it seems to have been used as the final stanza for "Amazing grace."

Sometimes called AMAZING GRACE because of its close association now with this hymn, the tune, NEW BRITAIN (which is also known by many other names), is a hardy pentatonic shape-note tune. It was first joined to "Amazing grace" in William Walker’s The Southern Harmony (New Haven, 1835), but the tune appeared earlier with different names and different texts in other books, the earliest in slightly different versions as ST. MARY'S and GALLAHER. Edwin O. Excel in his Coronation Hymns (1910) standardized the tune to the form we now have in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Edwin Othello Excell was born in Ohio, the son of a German Reformed pastor.

He worked as a bricklayer and construction worker, loved to sing, began to conduct singing schools, and in the 1870s was converted in a Methodist revival where he was leading the music. He studied at normal schools-nineteenth-century teacher training institutions. After moving to Chicago in 1883, Excell became a Sunday school leader, helped found the International Sunday School Lessons, began his own publishing company, wrote over two thousand tunes, and edited almost ninety hymn collections.

Offertory Anthem: Flocks in Pastures Green Abiding, J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Flocks in Pastures Green Abiding is a melody (also known as Sheep May Safely Graze) from Bach's Hunting Cantata BWV 208, written in 1713 and later arranged by Stanley Roper for organ and choir. Today the flutes add a delightful dimension. Many thanks to Carole Smith and Suzanne Tsitsibellis for their flute playing!

Flocks in pastures green abiding, safely with their shepherd rest. Cooled by waters gently gliding.
With the food of life he feeds them, to the fold He gently leads them, there to dwell forever blest.

Opening Voluntary: Aus de Tiefe (Forty Days and Forty Nights), June Dixon

The melody, AUS DE TIEFE (also called HEINLEIN) was published as a setting for Christoph Schwamlein's text based on Psalm 130, "Aus der Tiefe rufe ich" ("Out of the Depths I Cry"). In that songbook the tune was attributed to "M. H.," initials that are generally accepted to refer to Martin Herbst (1654-1681). Herbst was educated in theology and philosophy at the universities of Altdorf and Jena. In 1680 he became rector of the gymnasium (high school) and pastor of St. Andrew Church in Eisleben. The following year he died of the plague

June Dixon is an Australian church organist, composer and teacher.

Closing Voluntary: Southwell, J. Bert Carlson (1937-2017)

The tune, SOUTHWELL is found in many hymnals and most often paired with the text “Lord Jesus, think on me,” by Synesius of Cyrene, Bishop of Ptolemais. The tune was composed by William Daman (1540-1591), a foreign composer resident in England. There are a few conflicting reports on his origins, but contemporary London records describe him as an Italian from Lucca, Italy who arrived in England circa 1566 as a servant of Sir Thomas Sackville. In 1576 he became a recorder player at the Court of Elizabeth I.

Pastor Carlson ministered to many congregations for over 50 years in NJ, PA and IN. He was also an accomplished musician and published composer.