Monthly Archives: June 2017

Music for the Day of Pentecost

“Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”

Chancel Ringers

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…  Acts 2:1

 

The words of this sung prayer are among the most passionate in the history of hymnody. This devotional poetry is the work of George Croly (1780-1860), an Irish Anglican minister who moved from Ireland to London to pursue a literary career in poetry, novels, history and biography.

In 1835 Croly accepted the challenge to reopen a church in one of the worst slum areas of London.  The church had been closed for over a century, but through his personal charisma and dynamic preaching, he attracted large crowds to St. Stephen’s Church. Croly prepared a new hymnal for his congregation and published it as Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” first appeared  there under the title “Holiness Desired.” It is the only hymn by Croly to have survived.

Frederick Atkinson (1841-1897) wrote the tune MORECAMBE, named after a town in England. MORECAMBE is well suited for “Spirit of God…” In the first stanza, a descending melody accompanies the words, “descend upon my heart.” Then an ascending melody in the third line allows the words “mighty as thou art” to blossom. This rising figure also works well with the text of the other stanzas.

The final three notes of the melody, all on the same pitch, do not end on the customary home tone, but on the third of the scale.  Concluding the melody this way leaves a floating quality to the ending of each stanza, reminiscent of the hovering of the descending Dove, one of the metaphors of the Spirit.

This handbell arrangement by Valerie Stephenson uses special techniques such as ‘let vibrate,’ in flowing sections of the harmony, which  bring to mind the blowing wind of the spirit on Pentecost; ‘echo’ possibly representing the pulsing of the heart, and ‘shake’ representing the mighty God.

 

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