Old 100 x 4

I remembered reading somewhere that the Pilgrims liked the tune to “Old Hundredth” because it was lively — not the modernized, plain vanilla, 4/4 version found in most hymnals these days, but the original version that trips up modern singers on the last line because of the change in rhythm. I convinced Amy that we should sing the original version in the intergenerational Thanksgiving service this past Sunday — sure enough, at the 9:30 service all of us (including me!) got tripped up on the rhythm of the last line. At the 11:00 service, I was smart enough to warn people to watch out for that last line, and we sang it without a hitch.

Later I realized I should have created a half-sheet insert of the sheet music for the order of service. Even though fewer and fewer people read music these days, there are still enough music readers that they could have helped keep everyone else on track. (Plus when you provide an insert, it can serve as a teaching and outreach tool — music readers might take it home and learn one of the harmony parts to the music.) Since someone else might actually use such an insert, below is a link to a PDF. The text is a common humanist version of words by Isaac Watts: “From all that dwell below the skies, / Let songs of hope and faith arise, / Let peace, good will on earth be sung, / Through every land by every tongue.”

Old Hundredth (original form).

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, sings their doxology to Old Hundredth every week — but they use different versions of the tune, including the original version above, and a version by Susan Conant with more modern harmonies and even more interesting rhythms. If you’re going to sing the same thing every week, you might as well make it interesting! In that spirit, here’s yet another version of Old Hundredth — William Walker’s arrangement of Old Hundredth from The Southern Harmony (1835), laid out in classic shape-note fashion on a half-sheet size suitable for an insert into an order of service:

Old Hundredth arr. by William Walker.

2 thoughts on “Old 100 x 4

  1. Paul Oakley

    I have a soft spot for Old Hundredth. I grew up fundamentalist. Of the sort that didn’t like to do (or admit to doing) anything in worship that could too easily be seen as coming out of the period before the Second Great Awakening. So we didn’t use the doxology in regular worship services. Rather we frequently would use it as the last word of the closing exercises after Sunday School.

    After worship, everyone was dismissed to Sunday School, then, after classes, we all came back together for a closing prayer followed by either the doxology or other similarly succinct worship music (“Glory Be to the Father” in a couple of different tunes or “I See Jesus” or “I’m on the Rock” as frequent alternates to “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow”), before heading home to Sunday dinner.

    We used the Trinitarian language, of course, but the simpler version of the Old Hundredth tune found at #371 in Singing the Living Tradition. 4/4 time with every note of the melody a quarter note, except our hymnal added a fermata over the note ending each of the four phrases. With a congregation in full voice and strong four-part harmony, voices plumbing the rich depths of each chord before moving on, sometimes a cappella, sometimes accompanied by the organ or piano, somehow it felt majestic and very worshipful.

    A lot of the music my childhood church used is supremely unsatisfying to me today, even without the theologically problematic words. But this is music I actually miss. Neither my home congregation nor my teaching congregation uses a doxology – Old Hundredth or otherwise…

  2. Dan

    Paul @ 1 — Thanks for the story about some of the music you grew up with. And yeah, there is something really satisfying about singing Old Hundredth in full harmony, and really taking your time with it. Even singing the melody line in unison sounds pretty darned good, as it did in the Palo Alto church this past Sunday. There’s a reason why Old Hundredth has lasted for nearly half a millennium….

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