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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee…

After some weeks with no voice, my song is once again rising in the morning. Going on six weeks without a voice in the midst of a monastic community that sings its prayer has been both vexing and illuminating. Being forced to face the music, as it were, without hope of making any in the near future, is good for a pastoral musician. I can hear the voices of each member of the community, from the nearly breathless whisper of the woman behind me, to the rich baritone of the Augustinian on my left, to the slightly off key, but purposeful alto of the woman next to me. It’s also given me a richer sense of how the singers, the melody and the text entwine and support one another to not just make music, but to pray with affect and effect.

Morning prayer on Friday opened with Holy, Holy, Holy - it’s the first time since the end of September that I’ve been able to sing to the end of the hymn. All thy works shall praise thy name, indeed!

The text is from Reginald Huber, written just prior to his death in 1826 specifically to be used for worship on Trinity Sunday; the tune was composed for this text by John Bacchus Dykes more than 30 years later. Dykes dubbed the tune “Nicaea” for the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) where the doctrine of the Trinity was affirmed - and out of which grew the Nicene creed many of us still proclaim. The tune draws from one of the ancient psalm tones (the 5th tone) - the opening triad of the hymn is identical to the initium (the first notes that lead into each verse) of the tone. Some commentators want to tie the use of this tone with its triad to the Trinity - but I'm dubious since the trifold nature of the opening is not unique to the 5th psalm tone.

This version draws very loosely on the Huber/Dykes hymn, but in some ways digs deeply into the same tradition of antiphonal psalmody that Dykes was exploring. The violin opening drew me in…

For those of you preaching on Remembrance Day, or those of us celebrating the sacred spaces of liturgy on this feast of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, or those hearing about the prudent keepers of the light - what traditions are you recalling and recasting with music in your communities today? Share your riches with us....


  1. Without question, this is and will always be my favourite hymn. Thank you for sharing it today.

  2. This was quite different for me! Today, we had a mixture: two anthems based on the Gospel reading (the children sang "Give Me Oil in My Lamp" and the adults "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning"); Prelude, Introit, and Postlude were three versions of "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," which I associate with Advent, but our Music Minister says Bach wrote for a couple of Sundays earlier in the year; and, because it was our Stewardship dedication Sunday, the congregational hymns were based on history and covenant, including "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". It was a wonderful day of music, I hope you all had the same.


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