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Behind the Scenes of GUNNAR ("My Song is Love Unknown")

by Chuck King, Pastor of Music and Worship, College Church in Wheaton, IL
reprinted from “Knowing the Score,” Vol 17, No 26, April 8, 2009. Printed by permission.

It is generally the words of a new hymn that will grab my attention. In only a few instances is this effective introduction tied specifically to a melody. So, many of  the hymns we have been looking at this year first reached me as texts, as poetry.

For that reason, in my dreams every hymnal compilation would be also available as a book of texts only.

The extent of my hymnody is fairly limited, really. It is a bonus in my vocation that I have the leisure and the responsibility to look for and evaluate lots of music for use in worship. I have no idea how often my ignorance either benefits me or hinders us as a congregation. But in this special week of the church year, I want to tell you the story of my favorite ignorance.

I first read the text in The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing, 1990). I was literally left breathless when I encountered them for the first time. How could I have been in the church for over 40 years and never have sung them? Or even read them? There they were, without music, a powerful devotional poem, presented without music, on a page in a hymnal.

The proposed tune was familiar to me, but it requires the repetition of the final line of each stanza. That didn’t work for me. I was too uninformed to know that there was another tune, written for this text, in wide use among some worship traditions, and almost exclusively so in England. I just didn’t know.

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So, I asked our friend Ed Childs if he knew of or had a setting of this hymn. And to my very great pleasure, on Good Friday 1999 our congregation was the first to sing the tune GUNNAR, with the words of a 17th century poem that speaks as clearly today as it did when first written.

“My Song Is Love Unknown” (GUNNAR) was published that year, and is now sung in many churches across our
country. For many of those churches, as for College Church, this is the tune of “My Song Is Love Unknown.” Thankfully, in this matter, ignorance truly was bliss.

My Song Is Love Unknown
(Samuel Crossman, 1664;
rev. in Hymns for Today’s Church, 1982)

My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love for me;
love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be:
But who am I, that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from heaven’s throne salvation to bestow;
but they refused,
and none the longed-for Christ would know:
This is my friend, my friend indeed,
who at my need his life did spend.

Sometimes the crowd his way
and his sweet praises sing,
resounding all the day hosannas to their king:
Then “crucify” is all their breath,
and for his death they thirst and cry.

Why, what has my Lord done
to cause this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
and gave the blind their sight:
What injuries! Yet these are why
the Lord most high so cruelly dies.

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With angry shouts they have
my dear Lord done away;
a murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay!
Yet willingly he bears the shame
that through his name all might be free.

Here might I stay and sing of him my soul adores;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like yours!
This is my friend in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

coverListen to a sample of this text/tune here.

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SATB/TTBB/SSAA
Arranged by Edwin T. Childs
Published by MorningStar Music Publishers
$1.50
Octavo

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

5 Responses to Behind the Scenes of GUNNAR ("My Song is Love Unknown")

  1. I do like that hymn tune for the text in "Hymns of Grace and Glory" (isn't that the hymnal Faith Free uses?). I went back and forth for what we'd use on our album.

  2. I sang this along with Chuck (and others!) on Friday. :-) Personally, it is my favorite tune to sing it to.

  3. It has been a number of years since I have been in Greenville…about 14 I'd say. They could have changed their hymn book…but this title I gave is the one they used when I was there (I have a copy as part of my collection, with the church name on the fly leaf–straight from the hands of Mike Barrett's wife =) ). I wish I had a copy of the psalter they used. I really enjoyed that.

    <abbr>Diane Heeney’s last blog post: “Open Your Mouth, and Close Your Eyes…”</abbr>

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