Blogger’s note: I updated this post in late 2013 with new hymns; here’s that updated version.
Listicle time! Here’s a quick and easy post that asks the question: what are my favorite Advent hymns? I’m glad you asked, me. (Comma in last sentence intentional.) In reverse order, here are my fave five:
A quiet, thoughtful piece about waiting for the Savior to arrive. John Foley wrote this, and the plaintive tone of the hymn excellently reflects the solemnity of the season.
Let me concede that the often-derided (often unfairly) Michael Joncas has this too fast-paced. I do not do it nearly this fast, because I do not want to kill my choir or cantor. But it’s a gorgeous piece with just a little bit of discordant sound. The verses, which have a range of more than an octave and a half, are choir only, but they contrast and complement each other well.
3. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
Duh. The haunting melody. The lyrics that cover Israel’s hope. The fact that everyone knows it and will sing it and it’s hard to get tired of it because you only do it four weeks a year max. But hey, how about doing it as a chant every once in a while? I like chant. In fact, if you like hearing a chanted version of it, there’s the below, and there’s also the good nuns of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, who have released an album with this one done all polyphony style.
I really like the version I posted, where kids’ voices pick up the (again) haunting melody of expectation. This one also has a happier alternate melody, but I don’t think it reflects the spirit of the season as well.
So you know how I’ve been talking about haunting melodies a lot in this one? Here’s my exception, and it’s my absolute favorite hymn. It’s an old French carol:
I think the reason I love this happy one is because there’s a little bit more knowledge and security in the idea that the Lord is coming. So I try to squish this one into every Advent Mass that I can, one time doing it as a meditation hymn and teaching it to the good-at-sight-reading cantor 10 minutes before Mass. (She nailed it.) It’s versatile, too: I’ve done this one blasting it out on the organ and quieter on the piano.
And here’s one I hate:
“Wake, O, Wake, and Sleep No Longer”
For something that came from Bach, I can’t believe how much this melody stinks. Well, that’s not fair. I’ve heard it used as a countermelody effectively, but otherwise, this is the epitome of the dreary, stodgy, boring melodies that characterize a terribly high amount of so-called “classic” hymns. In the embedded video, the organist is at least trying, but there’s only so much you can do here.