Clearing a backlog of copyright-free hymns from my music files.
I’ve just uploaded PDFs of 6 more copyright-free hymns to this Google Drive folder: “The Growing Light,” “A Hundred Years Hence,” “Peace, the Perfect Word,” “Prayer for This House,” “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute,” and “Turn Back.” Most of these hymns have appeared in UU hymnals.
Why copyright-free hymns? Because you don’t need a license, which smaller congregations may not be able to afford. Because you can do anything you want with them, including recording them, altering them, projecting lyrics and/or music, etc., etc. In this multiplatform age, we need more copyright-free hymns.
Of this batch of copyright-free hymns, you may be most interested in “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute.” Lovely words by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning author who was associated with the Brahmo Samaj, a South Asian spiritual movement which both was influenced by Anglo-American Unitarianism, and which had a powerful influence on Anglo-American Unitarianism. The music supplied for this text in Singing the Living Tradition is pleasant, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever actually sung it in congregational worship — it comes across as more of a choir anthem. I found two 19th century shape-note tunes that fit Tagore’s text reasonably well. I hope these two easy-to-sing tunes make it more likely that this lovely text is actually sung in worship.
Of the other hymns included here, “A Hundred Years Hence” is a feminist hymn; and both “Peace, the Perfect Word” and “Turn Back” are peace songs. Full information about tunes and texts is below the fold.
Now online: 87 total hymns, including 61 from the two current UU hymnals.
Growing Light, The — 345, Singing the Living Tradition
The text is by Samuel Longfellow, from his hymn “Eternal One, Thou Living God.” This version is from Hymns for Church and Home (American Unitarian Assoc., 1896), verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 in the original said: “We bless thee [i.e., God] for the growing light.” In Singing the Living Tradition, this is rendered as “With joy we claim the growing light.” The present version renders this, “May we now bless the growing light” (retaining “bless” while not adding “joy” or “claim”), thus hopefully staying closer to the original text. If you prefer, you could simply sing, “We bless God for the growing light.”
The tune is from Hymns for Church and Home (American Unitarian Assoc., 1896), where it is attributed to the Hamburger Musikalisches Handbuch (1690). The tune’s name is “Winchester New.”
Hundred Years Hence, A — not in hymnals
The text was taken from History of Woman Suffrage, vol. III, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al. (1886), p. 39n. Frances Dana Barker Gage wrote the poem c. 1851 for the Ohio Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio (this was the convention at which Sojourner Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech). I have changed the text slightly to remove gender-specific language; I release all such changes into the public domain.
The tune, an American folk hymn, was probably first printed in the shape-note hymnal Genuine Church Music (Winchester, Va., 1832). It appears as 334, “The Christian’s Farewell,” in The Southern Harmony (William Walker, 1854). The present arrangement is a public domain adaptation of the 1854 version.
Peace, the Perfect Word — 161, Singing the Living Tradition
The text is a poem by Caroline Miles Hill, as printed in The World’s Great Religious Poetry (Macmillan, 1923).
The tune, known as “Charlestown,” comes from Amos Pillbury’s United States Harmony (1799). The arrangement is from the “James Edition” of The Sacred Harp (1911); melody moved from tenor to soprano, and soprano part given to tenors.
The tune is #7876a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Prayer for This House — 1, Singing the Living Tradition
The text is the poem “Prayer for This House” by Louis Untemeyer, first published in This Singing World: An Anthology of Modern Poetry for Young People, ed. Louis Untemeyer (Harcourt Brace, 1923), p. 67. The wording and punctuation are exactly as they appear in the 1923 version.
The music is the hymn tune “Oldbridge,” by R. N. Quaile, 1905. This arrangement appeared in The Riverdale Hymnal, 1912.
There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute — 197, Singing the Living Tradition
The text is a poem by Rabindranath Tagore from his Love’s Gift and Crossing (Macmillan, 1918), p. 147. Tagore’s poem is in free verse, and required a few minor changes so that it would fit into a hymn tune with a regular meter: “Then amidst” for “Amidst”; “small” for “little”; in the last verse, “and then my life” for “and my life”. These changes are released into the public domain.
This text is set with two different tunes.
The first tune and arrangement, named “Still Better,” is by Israel Bradfield and J. L. Meggs (1869), and is taken from the 1911 James edition of The Sacred Harp.
The second tune and arrangement are from Amos Pillbury’s United States Harmony (1799), where it is named “Charleston.” The tune is #7876a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Turn Back — 120, Singing the Living Tradition
The text is by Clifford Bax, written for Gustav Holst’s motet on the tune Old 124th. The motet was published c. 1919, though apparently Bax wrote the text around 1916. The First World War undoubtedly influenced Bax’s poem, and this may be considered another hymn for peace. The text has been degenderized, and those minor alterations are released into the public domain.
The tune is by Louis Bourgeois, from the Genevan Psalter, and the arrangement comes from the English Hymnal (1906). Holst’s motet is now in the public domain, and could serve as a choir anthem. (Youtube video of the motet, but watch out for ads.)
The tune is #123a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.