Sunday, March 22nd, 2009...11:42 pm

I done wrote me a hymn

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It’s interesting how God works things together some times. If any of the following recent events did not happen to me, I probably would not have ended up writing a hymn.

1.) I recently purchased the Academic/Theological edition of Finale 2009, a music notation program from Make Music, Inc., which I wouldn’t have done unless I was made choir director of Christ Church of NC in January.

2.) I listened to the 1999 Christ Church Ministry Conference on “Poetic Knowledge” which is available from  I wouldn’t have done this unless my father in law, Marshall Joiner, hadn’t given me his old edition of the entire WordMP3 library.

3.) I then listened to several years of ACCS conferences in which Matt Whitling talked about the basics of poetry.

4.) One of the members of my church, David Stambaugh went out of town on the weekend of 03/15/09 and asked me to switch prayers with him.  (He was scheduled for the prayer of praise on 03/15 and I was scheduled for the prayer of thanksgiving on 03/29.)

When I received the request to take over the Prayer of Praise on 03/13, I decided to arrange my prayer in verse.  Most of the prayers you see in the Bible are poetry rather than prose, so I decided to take a stab at it.  To quote Adrian Monk, “Here’s what happened:”

Poetry: The discussion of poetry should begin with a disclaimer.  I have little experience writing and studying poetry, so I’m splashing around in the shallow end of the pool here.  I hope that it’s at least marginally better than Vogon poetry.  I set the poem in “Common Meter Doubled”  (8 lines per stanza of alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter).     There are 6 stanzas in the poem, eight lines each.  The first two lines of trimeter rhyme with each other and the last 2 lines of trimeter rhyme with each other.

The stanzas have a chiastic structure.  The first and last stanzas contain Jesus-as-bridegroom imagery. The first stanza dealing more with the establishment of the covenant; the last dealing with the consummation of the covenant.  The second and fifth stanzas are dominated by nature metaphors.  The second stanza dealing more with the attributes of God, the fifth dealing with the nature of the kingdom.  The third and fourth stanzas contrast the wicked and the righteous.  The cross is at the very center of the chiasm, being that which distinguishes the wicked from the righteous.  So without further ado, here’s the text:

Jehovah’s covenant is sure
His name is lifted high
By his own name he swore an oath
To Abram’s seed draw nigh
Those purchased by the blood of Christ
On whom thy favor rests
Predestined ere the dawn of time
The bridegroom’s prized bequest.

Transcendent yet incarnate Lord
Sublime in mystery
For who can know the ways of God
Unless revealed they be?
Unchanging as a mountain high
Or like a cedar tall
Yet like a river giving life
And hearing when we call.

Our enemies and yours decry
Your righteous name in vain
They blasphemously gnash their teeth
And mock you in disdain
They shriek, connive, conspire, and howl
In evil schemes they plot
Your cross, O Lord, has cast them down
And brought their plans to naught.

You save the wicked from the pit
You raise the dead to life
You vanquish sin and Satan to
Secure the Son a wife
The proud don’t understand thy pow’r
In weakness made complete
While elders take their crowns of gold
And lay them at your feet.

Your kingdom like the mustard seed
Grows slowly by design
As fam’lies, nations, tongues, and tribes
Are grafted to thy vine
While principalities and pow’rs
Against your saints inveigh
The order of Melchizedek
Grows stronger day by day.

Lord hasten consummation’s hour
When bridegroom shall return
To claim his chaste, unblemished bride
And make the serpent burn
The goats shall separated be
Expelled by thee for aye.
Thy sheep shall in thy fold abide
And death shall pass away.

Music: Early on in the process of composing the poem, I considered the idea of setting it as a hymn.  I think I started out in G major, but abandoned it pretty quickly to D major, primarily for range considerations based on how I wanted to write the tune.  Since the poem was iambic, I began the hymn with a pick-up note.  I did a little bit of tone painting (“name is lifted high“), but that’s hard to do when you’re setting six verses.

I tried to look at what the verses had in common.  I noticed that lines 5 and 6 of the vast majority of the verses were darker in content, so I dabbled in the relative minor (b minor) there.

I also needed to think of a name for the hymn tune.  This kind of stumped me, so I decided to name the tune “Stambaugh,” since this wouldn’t have happened unless David swapped prayer assignments with me.

The .PDF of the music can be found here.  I was also able to export audio files from Finale.  I saved the hymn as piano, string quartet, pipe organ, and choir (midi).  I also saved one track where each of the four voice parts (bass, tenor, alto, soprano) is isolated in the left channel so people can learn their part easier by adjusting the balance setting on the playback device (or removing the right earphone).  Enjoy!


1 Comment

  • I think that that might be the first legal note I’ve ever seen that mentioned beer …

    I like it! It reads really well. God is good, isn’t He?

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