The Story of the Virtual Hymn “O Day Full of Grace”
During Lent of 2020, churches around the world suspended liturgies as a pandemic spread its way around the entire globe, sending people around the world into isolation. Current communities of the faithful had never had to consider faith-life without very regular assemblies for worship. Church musicians had spent their entire efforts “bringing together” – to develop, nurture and encourage a powerful instrument: the assembly at song.
As the world arrived at Easter, many Cantors (Church musicians) were somewhat in a state of shock that we would be going through Holy Week without these gatherings. Many had adapted to new methods of encouraging worship to continue – aided by technology, but nevertheless in isolation, without the ability to accomplish corporate singing.
On Easter Sunday, the Episcopal Church released its video of the hymn “The Strife is O’er” which was put together in a short time span. It was very moving, and encouraging to many: to see the church singing together – young voices, older voices, instruments – over 800 people responded with pent-up energy and desire to once again sing together – even if in isolation. This inspired Lutherans to follow their example.
In early May, a plan was proposed to Jim Rindelaub (Executive Director, ALCM) by David Cherwien (ALCM member, Cantor, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, and Artistic Director, National Lutheran Choir). The proposal was that ALCM, with its very congregational-song-centric 1,700-person membership, could launch a similar thing for Lutherans to use in their virtual liturgies on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020. The National Lutheran Choir could help provide what was needed to launch this effort.
ALCM researched the company that helped produce the Episcopal Easter Hymn, and inquired about a project for Lutherans. Kory Caudill, President of Inside Music Nashville, was happy to take this on. Funding was found by ALCM through the generosity of Pauline and John Kiltinen. Cherwien and the National Lutheran Choir scrambled over one weekend to produce the arrangement and the initial 8 voice and organ parts with which others could create submissions. The initial hope was for at least 400 participants. (This number was surpassed by over 900)
The Hymn “O Day Full of Grace” was chosen, a hymn known to most Lutherans. This choice was solidified by a letter the ALCM membership received from very active and longtime friend, board-member Norma Aamodt-Nelson. The letter was sharing the news of her entering hospice; the end-of-life time for her due to cancer. In this letter she quoted the final stanza “When we on our final journey go, ….we’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow . . .”
The arrangement had to be simple, with a very predictable introduction and interludes as to indicate clearly the point at which to breathe and sing in time. Two stanzas were arranged for 4-part high and 4-part low voices (one for each), the standard hymnal harmonization was included, and a unison with descant final stanza. Instrumental parts (kept simple as to encourage all ages) were also created and made available.
The invitation net was cast as wide as possible – including internationally. In the end there were over 1,300 video submissions – 960 singers, 364 instrumentalists. Kory Caudill of Nashville received these, and within one week his company edited them all together, to release in various formats for churches to include in their virtual worship materials for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.
Soli deo gloria
Produced with deep gratitude to hymn setting arranger David Cherwien, the National Lutheran Choir,
and Lutheran Summer Music for their partnership in sharing musical and technical resources.
Made possible through the generous financial support of Pauline and John Kiltinen.