215. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

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1 While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around.

2 "Fear not," said he for mighty dread
had seized their troubled mind
"glad tidings of great joy I bring
to you and all mankind.

3 "To you, in David's town, this day
is born of David's line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord;
and this shall be the sign:

4 "The heavenly babe you there shall find
to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes
and in a manger laid."

5 Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly
appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus
addressed their joyful song:

6 "All glory be to God on high,
and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests
goodwill shall never cease."

Text Information
First Line: While shepherds watched their flocks by night
Title: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Versifier: Nahum Tate (1700, alt.)
Meter: CM
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Scripture: ;
Topic: Biblical Names & Places: David; Songs for Children: Bible Songs; Angels (1 more...)
Tune Information
Composer (desc.): Alan Gray (1923)
Meter: CM
Key: F Major
Source: T. Este's The Whole Book of Psalmes, 1592

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Luke 2:8-9
st. 2 = Luke 2:9-10
st. 3 = Luke 2:11-12
st. 4 = Luke 2:12
st. 5 = Luke 2:13
st. 6 = Luke 2:14

The story of the shepherds and the angels is told in this famous paraphrase of Luke 2:8-14 by Nahum Tate (b. Dublin, Ireland, 1652; d. Southwark, London, England, 1715). It was first published in 1700 in a supplement to the New Version of the Psalms by Tate and Nicholas Brady. Tate's straightforward telling of the nativity story is an example of paraphrasing at its best: poetry that conveys the text well without undue liberties or additions and is easy to understand and sing. Adopted by virtually all hymnals since its writing, this narrative song simply tells the Christmas gospel as the shepherds heard it. A similarly narrative song based on the same gospel text is at 339.

Although born in Ireland, Tate spent all of his adult life in London, where he was known primarily as a playwright and poet. Most of his dramas were not original plays but adaptations of the works of others. Honored by being named poet laureate in 1692, Tate wrote poetry celebrating important national events. He was also appointed the official royal historian in 1702. Intemperate throughout his life, Tate died while living at the Suffolk House, a refuge for debtors in London, In the history of church music Tate and Brady are known for their New Version (1696), which replaced the "Old Version" of Sternhold and Hopkins published by John Day in 1562. Reprinted frequently and supplemented with some hymns, the new versification became the standard psalter of the Church of England and influenced psalmody well into the nineteenth century.

Liturgical Use:
Christmas; stanza 5 makes an excellent doxology for the two Sundays following Christmas.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

WINCHESTER OLD is a famous common-meter psalm tune, presumably arranged by George Kirbye (b. Suffolk, England, c. 1560; d. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, 1634) from a melody in Christopher Tye's Acts of the Apostles and published in T. Este's The Whole Book of Psalmes (1592) set to Psalm 84. Kirbye was responsible for most of the harmonizations in that psalter. A musician at the estate of Sir Robert Jermyn near Bury St. Edmunds, Kirbye apparently also served as church warden of the local St. Mary's Church and composed several volumes of madrigals that were very popular in his time.

WINCHESTER OLD has been associated with Nahum Tate's Christmas text ever since it was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). The tune title refers to Winchester, an ancient town in Hampshire, England. The song could be sung as a miniature oratorio, with the choir doing the narration (st. 1, 2a, 5), a soloist singing the angel's words (st. 2-4), and on the final stanza (st. 6) the entire congregation becoming the "throng of angels" and the choir singing descant–with all the stops pulled out!

--Psalter Hymnal handbook

Audio recording: Piano Harmony (auto-generated)
MIDI file: MIDI Preview
(Faith Alive Christian Resources)
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