Monday, April 09, 2007

Another reason I gotta get this diss. done

I woke up early this morning, then fell asleep again and dreamed that I was at a used book sale at a university in the States. I got the idea to look through some old hymnals from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to see if I could find the tune to the Shansi Hymn that used to be sung on Shansi Day at Oberlin College. (That was the day they would announce which Oberlin graduates would be representatives to China.) The hymn, written by Herbert A. Youtz, was sung to the tune of "No. 541" in some mysterious hymnal which I haven't yet found. So I was looking through old hymnals for "No. 541" to see if the tune would fit the lyrics.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage was standing a few yards away looking at an old art book and talking to the seller about an oddity in something that the book said about an artist's life. I was going through hymnals, some of which didn't go up to 541, some of which skipped 541 (went from 540 to 542), then I came to one that had 541. I was having trouble singing the Shansi Hymn to the tune of 541 because I'm not very good at sight-reading, and Nicolas Cage said to me, "I didn't know you were interested in old hymnals, Jon."

"Oh, I'm trying to find the tune that fits a hymn that they used to sing on Shansi Day in the early 1900s, Nic."

"Oh," he said.

"But I'm not very good at sight reading, so I can't tell if this hymn fits the words."

"Oh, well give me a few lines and I'll try," he said. (He's quite the Renaissance man, you know.)

So I reeled off a few lines to the hymn:
Founded on the blood of martyrs,
See the walls of Shansi stand
Witness to a great devotion,
Tomb of an heroic band.

From the death of her slain Master,
Grows the Living Church today;
Through self-sacrifice of heroes
Comes the power of God alway.
So there Nicolas Cage and I were, digging through old hymnals, trying to find a hymn that would fit the lyrics to the Shansi Hymn. Then I suddenly felt I should wake up.

"But I want to stay asleep and see if Nicolas Cage and I find the right hymn," I said.

"Give it up, Jon," I said. "It's just a dream. Even if you find the hymnal, it might not be real."

"Oh--yeah. I guess so." So I woke up.

[Update, 6/26/07: Nic Cage never got back to me on this, but the amazing team of Ken Grossi (of the Oberlin Archives) and Mary Louise Van Dyke (Oberlin Library's resident hymnologist) solved the mystery of Tune No. 541 for me. From Ken's e-mail to me:
The title of the hymnal is "Church Hymns and Tunes," edited by Rev. Herbert B. Turner, D.D. and William F. Biddle (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1909). The book contains an Austrian Hymn with the Tune No. 541 at the top of the page. Mary Louise concluded that the tune for this song was also used for the words of the song on the Shansi Day Program (by Herbert Alden Youtz).
There you have it. I should be getting a copy of the tune in a few days, after which I'll let all you who are waiting with bated breath know what exactly "Austrian Hymn is. Oh! the supsense!]

[Update 2, same date:
That was quick! The tune turns out to be by Haydn; Hymn 541, "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken". Here's the tune (sorry, it's not a link to my singing...)]


susansinclair said...

I don't know, but it seems like a good sign when famous (and apparently really cool) people appear in your dreams to guide your research! In good news, I'm about to defend, and will be sending all good leftover mojo your way!

Jonathan Benda said...

I'm still waiting for Nick to e-mail me the information about Tune No. 541, though. Maybe he hasn't seen this post yet...

All the best on your defense! Wish I could be there to hear it. Any plans for a podcast? ;)

susansinclair said...

That's the second request...hmmm... I *do* promise lots of pix and highlights on the blog!