By Beth Donze
Setting a familiar church tune to new lyrics is the challenge of a unique contest being mounted by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in anticipation of the city’s 300th birthday.
The Tricentennial of New Orleans Hymn Competition invites sacred music lovers to compose original lyrics for use as an entrance or recessional hymn. The winning piece will be sung during the city’s celebratory liturgies beginning in January 2018.
“We have had a lot of interest from musicians, but also interest from schools offering this to their students as a project,” said Betty-Ann Hickey, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship and a contest coordinator.
“We have also heard from average people sitting in the pews who are seeing this as an opportunity to engage in the celebration and put their creativity and faith into action,” Hickey added.
The victorious composer will receive a one-time award of $750. While New Orleans’ tricentennial year does not formally kick off until January, the reimagined hymn will be made available to parishes two months earlier – in November – so congregants can familiarize themselves with the new lyrics.
“Parishes are going to be encouraged to use it, so we’re looking for something that’s going to be engaging to your average person in the pew,” Hickey said. “We’re not looking for a new piece of music; we’re looking for new words for a much beloved and very familiar hymn tune.”
Hymns named for their tunes
Submitted hymns must be at least four verses in length. Lyricists are encouraged to set their original wording to one of the following hymn tunes, none of which is bound by copyright restrictions:
➤ MCKEE – CM (COMMON METER – 86 86)
➤ ST. ANN – CM (COMMON METER – 86 86)
➤ CORONATION – CM WITH REPEATS – 86 86 86
➤ DUKE STREET – LM (LONG METER – 88 88)
➤ AURELIA – 7 6 7 6 D
➤ ELLECOMBE – 7 6 7 6 D
➤ DIX – 77 77 77
➤ ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR – 77 77 D
➤ IN BABILONE – 8 7 8 7 D
➤ NETTLETON – 8 7 8 7 D
➤ ASSURANCE – 9 10 9 9 WITH REFRAIN
Hickey said some members of the public, reading the names above, might understandably be confused, given that most people use a hymn’s lyrics to name it. However, a hymn’s technical name is attached to its tune and not to its lyrics. The latter are subject to change over time and often are altered to accommodate the needs of different faiths.
“In the back of most hymnals you will find an index of these hymn tune names. It directs you to the page in the hymnal where you will find the text that is attached to that particular hymn tune,” Hickey explained.
For example, the hymn tune named AURELIA – 7676D is more commonly known to Catholics as “The Church’s One Foundation.” The hymn tune DUKE STREET – LM is associated with its more familiar moniker of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
Lyrical guidelines left vague
Competition submissions set to other tunes will not be rejected, and entrants also are welcome to compose their own music. However, Hickey said the point of the competition is to work with a tune that is as familiar and easy to sing as possible.
Contest coordinators intentionally left guidelines for lyrical content vague in the hope that participants will use their own creativity to craft an original and hopeful hymn.
“It will have to have something to do with the city of New Orleans, of course, but how explicit that will be will be left up to the judges’ expectations,” Hickey said.
Lyricists also are being encouraged to incorporate the two other languages of the local church – Spanish and Vietnamese – into their hymn’s verses. French also is acceptable, given that language’s connections to the city’s beginnings. Hickey said the archdiocese has resources to provide translations should entrants be unable to provide them.
Universal appeal sought
Staff from the archdiocese’s Office of Worship and Office of Evangelization, who initiated the contest, decided to solicit hymns suitable for singing at either the beginning or end of Mass – rather than at Offertory or Communion – so the winning piece might be used in Catholic, ecumenical and interfaith settings, Hickey said.
“We want it to be something we can offer to other denominations and religions so they can join us in this common prayer,” she said.
A seven-judge panel of priests, men and women religious, laypeople and non-Catholics will determine the winning hymn, which will become the property of the archdiocese. If it catches on, there is a chance it might garner the interest of a publisher of sacred music, Hickey said.
“The hymn ‘Gift of Finest Wheat’ was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in observance of the United States’ bicentennial,” she noted. “So you never know what’s going to come of this. It may be something that we only use this year, or it may be something we will be singing decades from now.”
All entries must be received by Oct. 2 and submitted without the author’s name on the manuscript. The author’s name should be included only on the attached submission letter. Numbers will be assigned to each text to ensure judging is anonymous. In the event a suitable winner is not found, no prize will be awarded.
To download complete competition guidelines, visit worship.arch-no.org (click on the “Tricentennial Hymn Competition” tab) or nolacatholic.org (click on the “Tricentennial” tab). Entries may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Archdiocese of New Orleans Tricentennial Hymn Competition, 1000 Howard Ave., Suite 913, New Orleans, LA 70113.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.