Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What is a Hymn Writer?

The other day, someone mentioned that I have "written a lot of beautiful music". I was touched by the comment, which was made in a kind and genuine way. But I was also amused, since I have never written even one measure of music.

Yes, I am a hymn writer, but no, that does not mean that I write hymn tunes. In fact, in the world of hymns, the word "hymn" refers specifically to the words. And the word "tune" refers specifically to the, you guessed it, tune.

Now there are some very versatile hymn writers out there who write both the hymn and the tune. But I am on the "lyrics" or "poetry" end of things, not the "notes" and "score" end of things. So I am glad to collaborate with tune writers, both ancient and modern.

It is kind of like this. Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern were a song writing team. Oscar wrote the words and Jerome Kern wrote the music--both of them, fabulous and beyond compare. You know lots of their songs. Oscar's words and Kern's music. Later, Oscar Hammerstein II teamed up with Richard Rogers. Again, Oscar wrote the words, and Richard Rogers wrote the music. You know lots of their songs. Oscar's words and Rogers' music. In some way, my writing the words is like what Oscar did. But not at all like what Kern and Rogers did.

Another way of saying it is that George Gershwin wrote the music, but Ira Gershwin wrote the words.

By contrast, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin wroth BOTH the words and the music. I wish I had the gift, in hymn writing, to create the tunes as well as the words. But that is not my gift.

So as I say, I have collaborated with the tune writers. Some of them long gone to their eternal rest (but as the songwriter said, 'the melody lingers on'). So I have written words to go with familiar tunes by some of the greats, like Sir Arthur Sullivan whose tune ST GERTRUDE is best known as the tune that goes with the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" the hymn (words) written by Sabine Baring Gould for a children's Sunday School processional.

I've also written hymns that are paired with tunes by wonderfully creative living sacred musicians such as John Ferguson, Glenn Rudolph, John Dixon, Glenn Osborne, Dorothy Frisch and many more.

So when you hear hymn think words.

That is what I write.

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