James K. A. Smith provides a nice little example of how the rhythm of a simple hymn tune can communicate a message consistent with the message of the lyrics and the ocasion of its use. In discussing the hymn tune used for the Advent hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (ALTE CATHOLISCHE KIRCHENGESANG), he astutely notes how the rhythmic construction creates a feeling of impatient anticipation. He concludes,
The notes are teaching us to wait, to experience the impatience of waiting (again!) for the Judge who is coming–who does “not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decision for the poor of the earth” (Is. 11:3-4).
I chose this to sing in our church yesterday as well, and as we were singing it, I had the same feeling.
Here is the hymn. See if you don’t agree:
Read the full essay: Fors Clavigera: Sonic Habits: Thoughts on an Advent Hymn