Saturday, May 2, 2009

While Shepherds Watched

        "In 1700, Tate and Brady published A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms. This was a collection of sixteen hymns for the Church of England. The only Christmas hymn included in the collection was  Tate's, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Curiously enough, it  is the only hymn of the "Supplement" which is in use today.
       Nahum Tate was a friend and literary associate of the poet Dryden. In 1690 the title of Poet Laureate was conferred upon him by King William III. Although this Christmas hymn is not the best of his poems, all his contributions to the New Version of the Psalms were received with favor in England.
       While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks was originally written for one of the oldest and most beautiful of English hymn-tunes. The tune was first published in 1592 by Thomas Este, in his Whole Book of Psalms. It had long been a favorite when Tate wrote his verses for it. In England Este's hymn-tune is known as "Winchester Old".
       There are two melodies for Tate's hymn which are, perhaps, better known in America than Este's hymn-tune. One is Willis' carol-tune. It Came upon the Midnight Clear (page 15) ; the other is an adaptation from Handel, Ring Out, Bells, Your Joyous Song (page 25). These may be used if preferred to the original, "Winchester Old"."  Kvamme

 While Shepherds Watched

While Shepherds watched their flocks by
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

"Fear not," said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

"To you, in David's town, this day
Is born, of David's line,
The Saviour, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:

"The heavenly babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swaddling bands,
And in a manger laid."

Thus spake the seraph; and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song:

"All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease."

by Nahum Tate (1652-1715)

Sheet music of "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" for caroling parties.

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