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Sing, My Soul
The Hymns of David Ashley White

Hymn tune collection

Composer David Ashley White
Foreword by Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Released June 1996
Catalog no. 125-026 (Spiral-bound, 96 pp.)
Price $15.00 (U.S.)

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Hymn texts come alive with music, and they really do come alive when those tuens are by David Ashley White. You know White's music through his best-selling anthems with many different publishers. Or you might know his hymns that appear in The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal), The United Methodist Hymnal, New Songs of Rejoicing, and elsewhere. Here in this collection are hymns that you and your congregation will sing for years. White's fine sense of melodic line, harmony, and rhythm is found in these hymns, as is his gift of choosing wonderful texts. Over 60 hymns. Foreword by Carl P. Daw, Jr.

"In 1977, the publication of the supplemental hymnal Ecumenical Praise served notice to church musicians that the boundaries of congregational song would never be quite the same again. Melodies and settings by such composers not usually associated with hymn composition as William Albright, Charles Wuorinen, Samuel Alder, Ned Rorem, and Charles Ives, together with any number of somewhat more traditional composers, pushed the parameters of congregational song beyond what was then considered possible, acceptable, and practical for congregational use.

Most of these newer hymn tunes never made their way into the hymnals, much less the basic repertoire, of the mainline churches (a few have) in the past two decades. Yet their very existence helped create an environment in which the musical boundaries of congregational song were viewed by composers and by some congregations as wider and broader than they had ever imagined. Largely as a result of this pioneering effort, the writing of new hymn tunes became almost a matter of course, and collections of new hymn tunes began to appear with regularity. It is another question as to just how far the parameters of congregational song can be stretched before they become impractical and unrealistic for congregational use. But each new collection of hymn tunes which has appeared since Ecumenical Praise continues to attempt to discover that point.

This collection of 68 new tunes by David Ashley White--who since 1977 has taught at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and is Professor of Theory and Composition and Director of Graduate Studies there--is one of the latest of these volumes.

The composer describes his efforts as "eclectic," reflecting a variety of newer styles including the use of "modality, additive harmonies, ostinatos, shifting meters, etc." The tunes are set to texts by such well-known writers as John Bennett, Fred Pratt Green, Gracia Grindal, Richard Leach, and Rae E. Whitney, among others. The texts of Carl P. Daw, Jr., who wrote the Foreword, comprise almost one-fourth of the collection. The volume contains a topical index, an index of authors and sources of texts, a metrical index of tunes, an index of tune names, a brief comment on the background of each tune name, an index of first lines, together with a listing of published anthems by White based on a number of these tunes.

Among the most accessible tunes, which I found particularly attractive and which could be sung quite readily by most congregations, are these: Brewer, set to Carl P. Daw, Jr.'s, text "We have come at Christ's own bidding"; Christ Church, Houston, to Albert F. Bayly's text "When the morning stars together"; Expectation, set to Daw's, "For the coming of the Savior"; Herbert, set to George Herbert's "King of glory, King of peace"; Mt. Calm, set to Daw's, "O day of peace that dimly shines"; Palmer Church, set to a text from the Bangor Antiphoner, translated by John Mason Neale, "Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord"; and Fifth Day, set to Phineas Fletcher's "Drop, drop, slow tears."
Other tunes venture farther afield and would push congregations a good bit beyond what many would find acceptable. At what point some tunes exceed not just what is possible but what is reasonable and comfortable for most congregations will vary with the congregation. Some tunes seem to suggest that they might have been conceived as "choir hymns," that is, hymns whose successful realization in performance implies a level of musical sophistication somewhat beyond the normal boundaries of congregational song. Margaret, set to "Come, pure hearts, in sweetest measure" and which reflects in an uncanny way the spirit and mood of Ned Rorem's setting of the same text found in Ecumenical Praise, would be one of a number of examples.

Composers seeking new or different models for hymn composition will find this collection of particular interest. Selah Publishing Co. has done a service in making these new hymn tunes available. They are an important part of the increasing activity among composers who see the writing of congregational hymns as an important and significant challenge." --The Hymn, January 1998

"David Ashley White is, of course, one of the most prolific and more frequently-performed composers of church music. His consummate technique allows him to adapt many styles of writing (now High Edwardian, now Houston Charismatic, now lean harmonies, now lush post-Romanticism), and these remarkable tunes both testify to that and luxuriate in its application. This is a splendid collection." --Journal of the Association and Anglican Musicians, September 1998

To make hymns is to remember and reenact the primal patterns of creation. A text without music is like a body without breath, and a melody without words is like an uncaught wind. Their separate potentials are fully realized only when they come together-when words are animated by music, when tune is fleshed out by text.

As some people seem never to change or age and keep the same circle of friends all their lives, so some hymns continue to thrive with unaltered texts and established tunes in customary contexts. But most human beings adapt sooner or later to altered circumstances, and these new situations often prove both welcome and reviving. Much the same is true of hymns, as over half the examples in this collection testify. Just as the changes in our lives cause us to reflect and consider who we really are, so the experience of singing a familiar text to a new tune can reveal unexpected insights and fresh appreciation of its worth.

David Ashley White is a true master of bringing new life to texts whose choice of tunes may have seem settled. By recasting the rhythms and melodic patterns supporting an already-known text, he offers a kind of "second wind," a reinvigorating and renewing affirmation of something we had taken for granted. Unlike some attempted makeovers, his alternative tunes carry within them subtle but convincing correspondences with the structure, tone, or content of the text-usually with aspects unnoticeable in former settings. The experience of singing a known text to one of his new tunes often results in both an "ah" and an "aha."

Such a response is no less common in his tunes for new and unfamiliar texts. Again, this sense of rightness derives largely from a careful matching of tone, rhythm, and structure between words and music. But beyond the singer's awareness of appropriateness lies an almost subliminal aura of trustworthiness, a sense of musical honesty. Ironically, the directness, clarity, and apparent inevitability of his melodies conceal considerable ingenuity and sophistication in the harmonizations. Like any true artist, he uses his art to conceal his artfulness.

Because my texts have frequently been among those fortunate enough to be graced by one of his settings, it is a special pleasure for me to able to introduce this long-awaited collection of David's hymn tunes. Even people who have seen many of these works in a piecemeal way over the years will find new treasures here, and anyone who is discovering his music for the first time may well be overwhelmed by delight.

Carl P. Daw, Jr.

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