While I was working on creating hymn accompaniments for our summer worship services (when we won’t have a live musician for several Sundays), I discovered a very useful online resource. The Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary has hundreds of classic, copyright-free hymn tunes in a variety of formats. Not all formats are available for all hymns, but the hymns I looked at generally had the following:
- MIDI files with four-part harmony (which allows you to listen to the hymn)
- a score in PDF format
- a score in one or more of the common music-authoring formats (Noteworthy, Finale, etc.)
Some hymn tunes also had partial scores, and scores in more than one key. The one canon/round I looked at (Tallis’s Canon) also had MIDI files of the melody sung as a round.
(This could be a useful resource for worship leaders who don’t read music, but who want to know what a tune sounds like. All you have to do is find the name of the tune — in the hymnal I use, Singing the Living Tradition, the tune name is in small type at the lower right of the hymn — and play the MIDI file on your computer. The only downside is that the Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary does not include newer, copyright-protected, hymn tunes. So forget tunes written after 1922.)
What I wanted from the hymnary were the MIDI files, to use as a starting point for making less mechanical hymn accompaniments. Straight out of the box, the MIDI files sound as tacky as they usually do. But you can easily modify a MIDI file to make it sound much better. I downloaded the MIDI file to my Mac and dragged it into GarageBand. From there, I altered the type of instrument (e.g., changing it from the crummy default electronic organ sound to a less offensive “cathedral” organ sound), and played with the note durations and note velocities where necessary to make it sound less mechanical. I also checked the harmony parts, and corrected them to correspond with what’s in our hymnal. Since I’m a perfectionist, I added about half a beat at the end of each verse so the congregation can take a big breath before going on to the next verse; and I altered the last verse so that the final notes are held for an extra measure or so. Of course I looped the hymn to wind up with the correct number of repetitions of the melody (whatever the number of verses, plus once through at the beginning).
The final result of an afternoon’s work is a CD with inoffensive accompaniments for eight hymns, plus Old Hundredth for the doxology. That will be enough to get us through the summer. And if I can free up another afternoon, I might just produce another eight hymn accompaniments.
Update: I finished all the hymn tunes requested by our worship committee, added a few hymn tunes that I might want to use someday, and burned everything to a CD. If you’re from a small congregation and could use such a CD, mail a letter on your congregation’s letterhead and a self-addressed CD mailer with sufficient postage to me, and I’ll burn a CD and mail it back to the congregation address on the letterhead. Sorry, I don’t have time to burn CDs for individuals — congregations only, please. Mail your request to Dan Harper, First Unitarian Church, 71 8th St., New Bedford, MA 02740. Note that I’ll be out of the office from June 18 through August 15.
Below is the list of what’s on the CD, referenced to the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. Updated 7 June 2007 with one or two additional hymns:
Trk-No.-Tune Name (verses, time) — Hymn Title-
01.-001 Oldbridge (4 vv. 1:46) — May Nothing Evil Cross This Door
02.-012 Truro (4 vv. 1:46) — O Life That Maketh All Things New
03.-021 Dix (4 vv. 1:53) — For the Beauty of the Earth
04.-029 Hymn to Joy (3vv. 2:16) — Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
05.-038 Bunessan (3 vv. 2:08) — Morning Has Broken
06.-088 Tallis’s Canon (2 vv. 1:05) — Calm Soul of All Things
07.-095 Biko (4 vv. 2:47) — There Is More Love Somewhere
08.-108 Singing (3 vv. 2:42) — My Life Flows on in Endless Song
09.-114 St. Gertrude (3 vv.3:58) — Forward through the Ages
10.-115 Cwm Rhondda (4 vv. 2:36) — God of Grace and God of Glory
11.-139 In Babilone (3 vv. 2:28) — Wonders Still the World Shall Witness
12.-140 Hyfrodol (3 vv. 3:07) — Hail the Glorious Golden City
13.-149 Lift Every Voice (3 vv. 3:02) — Lift Every Voice and Sing
14.-166 Hyfrodol (2 vv. 2:20) — Years Are Coming
15.-187 Far Off Lands (3 vv. 2:17) — It Sounds Along the Ages
16. Pilgrimage (round: tune played once as intro, once in unison with bass ostinato part*, three times as round except bass part only twice 1:47) — Come, Come, Whoever You Are
17.-200 Ein Feste Burg (2 vv. 2:28) — A Mighty Fortress
18.-205 Amazing Grace (3 vv. 2:47) — Amazing Grace
19.-330 Tallis’s Canon (3 vv. 1:04) — The Arching Sky of Morning Glows
20.-327 Hymn to Joy (2 vv. 1:42) — Joy, Thou Goddess
21.-371 Old Hundredth (1 v. 0:40) — Doxologies
22.-xxx Listen Listen Listen (repeated chant 1:17) — Not in hymnal**
Other hymns that can be sung to these tunes:
11.-189 In Babilone (3 vv. 2:28) — Light of Ages and of Nations
12.-207 Hyfrodol (3 vv. 3:07) — Earth Was Given As a Garden
17.-303 Ein Feste Burg (2 vv. 2:28) — We Are the Earth Upright and Proud
Scott Wells and I are plotting about how to get these online, and I’ll let you know if and when that happens.
* Bass ostinato part for #188 — Words are as follows:
“Though we’ve broken our vows a thousand times.”
Words taken from the same Rumi poem that provided the words to the main tune.
** Tunes and words to “Listen Listen Listen” written by Paramahansa Yogananda. Words as follows:
“Listen listen listen to my heart’s song
Listen listen listen to my heart’s song
I will never forget you, I will never forsake you
I will never forsake you, I will never forget you.”
I’ll ask you to put these online — but I’d also be glad to help you package these in a way so they take less bandwidth. This could be very useful to many people.
Scott — Let’s talk via email, and see what we can do….
I like the midi to Garageband trick. Now I wish I could do it on my PC.
James — [Sound of heavy breathing through a respirator mask.] James. Search your feelings. Come over to the Mac side.