Monday, October 3, 2011

Writing a hit for the 18th century

Sunday's service set us a bit of a challenge. The lectionary gave us Exodus 20 as a reading but we couldn't find any decent hymns on the giving of the Ten Commandments. In googling, my wife Libby noticed that couplets from Isaac Watts' setting of the commandments for children fit the meter of the tune Old 100th. More googling revealed that an English translation of Luther's hymn  Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot (These are the holy ten commands) was in a similar meter.
Figuring out the meter of tunes and lyrics is an old skill that enables the matching of words to a myriad of different tunes--hymn books have indexes of tunes by meter in the back. Since working with Red Team, we have had lots of fun trying out well known hymns to different tunes. Paying attention to meter also means you can introduce a completely new hymn (the words) with comparative ease if you pair it with a well known tune.
So late into the night on Wednesday (music has to be in on Thursday morning) we struggled to combine a verse from Watts with a few lines from Luther. We filled in the gaps (see below)  
We ended up with a Frankenstein's monster of a hymn that would, I am sure, have been a big hit in the eighteenth century!


Ten Commandments
Tune: OLD 100, Words:  Watts, Luther, Slade

These are the holy ten commands
For Israel’s children from God’s hands
“I am the Lord, your only God,
who brought you out of servitude.

You shall have no more gods but Me
Before no idol bow your knee
Take not the name of God in vain:
Nor dare the Sabbath day profane.

To both your parents honor give
So in the land you long may live
No murder, no adultery
These are my laws, pay heed to me

No stealing. No dishonesty,
shun slander and duplicity
Do not desire your neighbors’ goods,
their spouses, homes, or livelihoods.

This law fulfilled in Christ, we’re free
To serve each other joyfully
LORD, grant us strength to follow You,
And give You praise in all we do.

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