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In the Back of the Hymnal

Few things are as frustrating as finding a good hymn text like “Take Up Your Cross” in your hymnal or missal and realizing, “Rats! My community doesn’t know this tune, and there’s no time to teach it.”

That’s the first step in finding a different tune for the good text you’ve found.

A lot of people don’t know there’s an answer to this dilemma in the back of their hymnal. Or in a different hymnal. Many music directors collect different hymnals. You’ll see why.

First of all, it’s useful to know that hymn tunes have their own names, such as NETTLETON, NEW BRITAIN, FINLANDIA or LAND OF REST. They’re usually listed in small caps. The tune name may appear at the top of the music or at the bottom. Sometimes the name has special meaning for the composer (who can call a tune anything), or the name has become attached to it through long usage. Ralph Vaughn Williams called one of his most famous tunes SINE NOMINE as a little liturgical in-joke: the Latin means “NO NAME.” (We know it better by the title of its William W. How text: “For All the Saints.”)

Every hymn tune has a meter. You may have noticed a string of numbers after a tune’s name and wondered what that’s all about. That’s the number of syllables in each line. For example, you’ll see NETTLETON 87 87 D. That means it has 8 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second line, 8 in the third line, and 7 in the fourth line. The D means that pattern is doubled in each verse.

That’s the first step in finding a different tune—one your assembly already knows—for the good text you’ve found.

MD Ridge
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Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go

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