Swapping Tunes

On numerous occasions I’ve wanted people to sing a text that is new to them.   Rather than have them simultaneously deal with a new text and an unfamiliar melody, I’ve chosen a melody that they already know.  At other times I’ve chosen a different tune for a song that they already know to keep it fresh.  An index that can be found in most hymn books is called the Metrical Index. It is arranged in this manner:

Long Meter 8.8.8.8

Songs in this category have eight syllables in each line of song.  For example, the familiar text by Thomas Ken known as The Doxology fits this category:

     Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
     Praise Him all creatures here below;
     Praise Him above ye heav’nly host.
     Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Among the other tunes with eight syllables per line, you’ll find HAMBURG and DUKE STREET.  The former is the melody of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and the latter is the melody associated with “Jesus Shall Reign.”  Hence, the Doxolgy could be sung to either of these melodies.  However the melody for “When I Survey” is too pensive for the exuberant text, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  I have found that “When I Survey” fits well with “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris.  However, the latter is not permitted under copyright law.

Common Meter 8.6.8.6

A well-known song in this category is “Amazing Grace.”  The song, “O for a Thousand Tongues” sung to the tune AZMON has the same meter.   However, a buoyant text like
“O for a Thousand Tongues” doesn’t really go well with the melody of “Amazing Grace.”   The tune ST. ANNE, the melody associated with “O God Our Help in Ages Past” would be a better match.

8.7.8.7

A well-known hymn in this category is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”   John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” also wrote a great song of benediction.  I really wanted to use this text and found it could be sung quite easily to CONVERSE, the melody associated with
“What a Friend.”

     May the grace of Christ our Savior,
     And the Father’s boundless love,
     With the Holy Spirit’s favor rest upon us from above.
     Thus may we abide in union with each other and the Lord;
     And possess in sweet communion joys which earth cannot afford.

Sometimes I’m surprised to hear combinations of secular songs and sacred texts.   Here are some that I’ve heard:

     “The Bells of St. Mary” with “The Lion of Judah”
     “Now Is the Hour” with “Search Me, O God”
     “It’s a Small World” with “He’s the Lord of the Earth and the Lord of the Sea.”
     “Theme” from Gilligan’s Island with “Amazing Grace”
     “Theme” by Stephen Foster with “Friendship with Jesus, Fellowship Divine”
     “Edelweiss” with “Praise the Lord”

The later is not permitted under copyright law. Before using a copyrighted tune with a familiar text, it’s good to check to see if this possible.   For example, I wanted to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to “Mary’s Boy Child” and was disappointed to find that the words of this, like several others, are inextricably linked to the original text.  I could spend hours swapping tunes in the manner described above.  All you need is a hymn book with a metrical index. You also need an index of tunes unless you know the names of the tunes.

1,659 thoughts on “Swapping Tunes”

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