Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hymn Troubles

Do you have a beloved church hymn that most people have difficulty singing? I grew up singing "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" Seriously, people -- just look at that title! What kind of hymn starts with the word "and"? But I sang it enthusiastically as a child because it was the "theme song," if you will, of a church in Atlanta where our family went to Family Bible Camp each summer. And all my little camp friends were there each year, and we all sang the words (which we quickly memorized) even though they were convoluted and didn't always make much sense to us. Here are a few examples:

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood?
Died he for me, who caused His pain, for me, who Him, to death pursued?


Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast-bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray! I rose, the dungeon flamed with light!


Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.

They're exciting words, and we loved singing them, but ohmygoodness, the tune is a pain! It leaps and jumps all over the place. In the new hymnal, the editors actually (finally) changed a bit of the melody line to match what singers had been doing for years, because the line as written was just awful.

If you want to hear the tune, click here

Don't get me wrong; I love that old hymn, and I don't have any trouble with the tune because I grew up with it. But our congregation finds it quite challenging, and they sing quietly, confused by its leaping lines. The chorus is another story -- it's wonderful and rousing.

Tonight I flipped through the hymnal and wondered this: are there any other hymns with the same meter? If you don't know this, it's so helpful: hymns with identical meter can mix-and-match words and tunes. Since "And Can It Be" has a meter called L.M.D. ("Long Meter Doubled"), and there are several other hymns with that meter also, technically speaking, I should be able to sing the text of "And Can It Be?" with those tunes! Tralalal! I was so excited!

Yes. You can sing the words of "And Can It Be?" to the tune of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and "He Leadeth Me." Those are perfectly singable tunes. (Phew!!) Interestingly, you can also sing the words to the tune of "Jerusalem" (of Chariots of Fire fame), if you want a swanky arrangement. And ... you can also use the tune "How Shall The Young Direct Their Way?" which is quite fun and lively. Who would've thought?

And if you're a real hymn weirdo, like me, here's another option for you, but I must beat-around-the-bush first. If you've ever watched the lovely movie The Railway Children with Michael Kitchen, you may remember the birthday song the family sings to Roberta. It's a lovely tune in a minor key. The tune is "St. Patrick's Breastplate," and it's in our hymnal (#104). Go look it up and give it a whirl. I adore that tune, although it's also quirky. But guess what? "And Can It Be" is also compatible with that tune! I was delighted with this find.

For a while I've wanted a more modern, singable version of "And Can It Be?" Most of the text is truly wonderful, rich words of salvation from a person stunned by God's love. "Amazing Love! How can it be? That Thou my God, shouldst die for me?!" I'm not enough of a song-writer to craft such a new addition to hymnody. But with our meter-matching, I found a lovely pairing in #560. The tune name is "Fort Lauderdale." (Strangely, it's listed under the L.M.D. meters in our church's hymnal edition, but not in my older edition at home.) 

And this pairing of text and tune is really perfect. If you're able (and it's harder than one would think!) sit down and play #560 in the Trinity Hymnal (if you have it) and sing the words to "And Can It Be?" It's worth the effort. And thanks for reading all this, if you got this far.

Image result for trinity hymnal


  1. I love the tune of "And Can it Be." I played it in church last Sunday and was struck by the volume and enthusiasm of the congregation's singing.

  2. I love And Can It Be too. Bob and I had it at our wedding. But can't imagine singing it to any tune except the traditional Sagina. Fortunately it's a favourite with many UK churches. If you visit Dorset, let me know and we will sing it on Sunday just for you! PS I know all the other hymns and tunes you mention except "sweet hour of prayer". I shall have to look that one up. Perhaps that's a USA favourite...

  3. Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed that hymn! Reminds me of the years I attended a Nazarene church in Massachusetts. Thank you.

  4. The tune is "married" to the hymn! We sometimes sing it by the piano, and we use the tune for other hymns.
    "My chains fell off! My heart was free!"


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