January 15, 2009

hymn backgrounds - "How Great Thou Art"

this Sunday, the song opening the worship at Grace Presbyterian will be "How Great Thou Art". I was already familiar with the recent history of this song: one of the most popular Gospel songs of the 20th century, popularized during the height of the Billy Graham Crusades. As I was scouring the internet to find the lyrics to place in Power Point, I found a little bit more about the background, which is quite fascinating.

Briefly, it was originally a poem by a Swedish minister, written during the late 19th century. It was later picked up by churches and sung to a traditional Swedish folk tune. In the 1920s, a missionary in Eastern Europe, Stuart Kine, heard the song and "translated" it into English. I put that in scare quotes because it is a rough rendering and rethinking of the original text. It was then picked up by Edwin Orr, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, in the late 1940s. From there, it was passed along to Manna Music, Inc., who purchased the publishing rights from Stuart Kine.

The song covers a number of themes--of creation and redemption--and then returns to the refrain as a moment of reflection upon the truths just sung. What is most fascinating are two verses that have been translated into English, but have never appeared in a hymnal that I have come across. I find them interesting because these verses go off into different themes not covered in the other verses. I believe that if sung in its entirety--all 6 verses--there would be way too much to ponder. This lack of thematic directness differentiates "How Great Thou Art" from hymns, in the strictest sense, and drops it into the category of Gospel Song.

This Sunday we will sing just 2 verses of the 4 printed in the Trinity Hymnal. I picked these as they are in my opinion the most concise, keeping this song as to the point as possible. The arrangement is a version of Paul Baloche's recent recording of the tune; I have posted a video for it below, along with a few links to further information on the history of the song and the many men that it took to bring it to the present form we sing today.


1 comment:

Peggy Chen said...

we had this song at our wedding! i think we sang two verses in chinese or something like that.