I’ve mentioned it in other posts, I love a good Amen! I grew up in a church where you could usually expect an amen of some type at the end of every hymn. Obviously there was an amen at the end of every prayer as well. Therefore it is both familiar and comforting to have it there.
The online dictionary from Oxford Languages defines amen as an exclamation at the end of a prayer or hymn, meaning so be it. It is used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim practices. The word itself has a Biblical Hebrew origin. In Hebrew it mean to be reliable or dependable, to be faithful, and to have faith or believe. It then passed into Greek, and then Latin. According to Wikipedia, amen occurs 30 times in the Hebrew Bible. It was used to affirm the words of another speaker (1 Kings, 1:36), refer to the words of another speaker without affirmation (Nehemiah 5:13), and as a final amen to one’s own words.
One of my favorite Amens is at the end of The Lord Bless You and Keep You by Peter C. Lutkin. One of my tasks during composition lessons was to write an Amen sequence. That was an assignment I really enjoyed. However, it was harder than I thought it would be.
According to archive.courierpress.com, The United Methodist church began deleting some amens from their 1966 hymnal and then did so entirely in their 1989 hymnal. In 1990 the Presbyterian Hymnal also omitted them. Apparently the Southern Baptist hymnal never included them. According to David Eicher at pcusastore.com writes that prior to the 1861 publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern, hymns didn’t include a sung amen. The Protestant Reformation hymns also didn’t have an amen. Some scholars think the addition of the amen was an error and that there was no precendent for having it there.
I wrote several versions of my Amen sequence, took my favorite one, and published it with two different voicings.
I think the reason that Amens work musically is because of two factors. The first is familiarity. For me at least, it takes me back to childhood. The other reason that it works musically is the vowel sound “ah” at the beginning of the word. It is such a beautiful vowel; nice to listen to and easy to sing. While all of the scholarly reasons for not having it sung at the end of a hymn may be historically accurate, I still like them!
I Know Not How That Bethlehem’s Babe was written by Harry Webb Farrington and is in Public Domain. As with many of my hymn tunes, I used words from a hymn that I didn’t know and re-set them with my own preferences and personality. Harry Webb Farrington was an American author, hymn writer, preacher, and teacher. Farrington was born in 1879 in the Bahamas and then moved to Maryland. Harry Webb Farrington was raised in the Darlington United Methodist Church.
He worked for a while in a paper mill, then attended Lycoming College in Pennsylvania. He later graduated from Syracuse University in 1907 and continued his education at Boston and Harvard Universities. Farrington later became an ordained minister for the Methodist Church and served as pastor of Grace Methodist Church in New York City from 1920 to 1923. He died in 1930 after being paralyzed in an accident and was buried in Pine Lawn Cemetery in Long Island, NY. He wrote 30 or more hymns, including I Know Not How That Bethlehem’s Babe, Righteous Man of Galilee, and others.
The text describes the wonder of Jesus, from the manger birth through the resurrection. There is a sense of wonder and mystery, as well as celebration. When setting these words I focused on the celebration aspect. I did that by adding triangle, tambourine, and a rollicking melody in an easily singable range and four-part harmony.
If you would like to learn more about this piece click HERE, or send me a message.
My God Accept My Heart This Day was written by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894). According to songsandhymns.org he was born in Maldon Essex and raised in the Anglican church. He later converted to Catholicism. After residing in Canada for a while, he moved back to England. He then lived at the Convent of the Assumption at Sidmouth Devon until his death.
According to wikipedia.org he began his career as an author at the age of 25 with a poem named Jerusalem Regained. He later wrote The Roman Empire Under Constantine the Great. Bridges also wrote several hymns. One of the most well known hymns by Bridges is Crown Him with Many Crowns. I really like that one.
I found My God Accept My Heart This Day in Songs for Christian Worship (1950). What I liked most about it was the image of offering myself to God to be a part of God’s family. The hymn does not shy away from the fact that we are sinners and require God’s assistance to live a life that would be pleasing to God. I later learned that there is a 5th verse to this hymn that was not included in my hymnal. Verse 5 references the Holy Trinity. All Glory to the Father be, All glory to the Son. All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.
In this composition I considered not only a vocal range that would be accessible for nonprofessional singers but also a melody that reflects the lightness of heart one would enjoy after giving over their life to God. I really like a tune that sticks in your head or that you might hum as you leave worship. I think the flow of this piece accomplishes that.
Savior, Teach Me Day by Day was written by Jane Eliza Leeson in 1842 and it has been included in Hymns & Scenes of Childhood. It is considered a hymn of obedience to God.
Jane Eliza Leeson was born in 1807 or 1808 in Wilford England. She was christened at St. Mary’s Church in Nottingham and then converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult. She died on November 18, 1881 in Leamington, Warwickshire. Leeson was a prolific hymnwriter, published many collections of hymns, and published English translations of hymns that were originally written in Latin.
Savior, Teach Me Day by Day is currently in public domain. One of my favorite lines includes “loving Him who first loved me” which ends each stanza. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us” and this Bible scripture appears to be a primary source for the hymn. Other Biblical references are numerous. Hymnary.org lists quite a few. Matthew 11:29 makes reference to learning from God and John 14:15-18 offers instruction for obedience to the commandments of God. Both concepts are present in this hymn.
I chose to use the words and re-set the tune. It is set in the key of D, and within a range that is easy for most choirs and congregations, using 4-part harmony. I love congregational hymn singing so it was important to me that it didn’t feel uncomfortable for a congregation to sing. It can be sung a cappella or with piano accompaniment. I also added a 2 measure Amen at the end. As I have said before, I love an Amen at the end of a hymn. If you are interested, my version can be found here.
When I started composing choral music I spent time going through old hymnals (I have a lot of them) and picking hymns that I didn’t know, were in public domain, and I liked the words. That seemed like a good place to start. One hymn I discovered was This is the Light of Day by John Ellerton. I really liked that it was a description of the Sabbath. He included light, rest, peace, prayer, and first of days as the characteristics of Sabbath.
John Ellerton was born in London in 1826. He graduated from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1849 (B.A.) and 1854 (M.A.) and was ordained in the Church of England in 1851. Ellerton served in many capacities including Curate of Easebourne Sussex, Lecturer of St. Peters, Brighton, and Vicar of Crewe, Roding. He also worked as a hymnologist and wrote or translated about 80 hymns.
My favorite line is in verse one. O Dayspring, rise upon our night and chase the gloom away. I had to look up the word dayspring. The dictionary indicates that it is an archaic word for dawn. One source suggested that sunrise/dawn is a symbol of God’s intervention into our world. I think that fits well with this text. The other image that popped into my mind was a lighthouse. People often compare Jesus to a lighthouse that guides us to safety. The metaphor of night and gloom seems representational of all the chaos in our world that will be dispelled with the return of Jesus to our lives.
Interested in seeing the full hymn (my version)? Click HERE.