Preparing for Worship – Jeff Brummel.
When I was 16 years old, I decided it was time to be baptized. I had already been serving Trinity Baptist in Springfield, Oregon, as pianist for about a year, and felt the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit to make public my decision of faith.
As the youth director agreed to play guitar on the invitation hymn that Sunday night, I stood in the back of the sanctuary, nervous. When I looked down at the page and noticed how short the song was, I realized that I better get a move on. The hymn that day was “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” There really was “no turning back” at that point. I guess one could say I had a liturgically sensitive spirit from the beginning.
It’s been over 26 years since I made that decision, and I am sorry to admit that I had never really studied the origins of the hymn we sang that day.
This past Tuesday afternoon, I was at the Sanctuary organ preparing for Sunday’s services. I was looking at hymn number 497, recalling our past together and getting ready to pull out some stops when I suddenly stopped and thought, I must delve deeper into the background of today’s hymn. I didn’t get very far regarding a writer, composer or story, as the piece is mostly of an anonymous genesis. So, I got to work.
The hymn tune and text come to us from India’s northeastern state of Assam, which you will notice is the tune name for the hymn. The text comes to us from the Garo Christians, who are from the Tibeto-Burman ethnic group and live in the Assam region.
I was curious as to how I could set today’s hymn for the organ using an informed ethnomusicological approach, so I turned to study Assamese musical culture. Some Assamese instruments include drums, flutes, a sustained drone instrument called a Shruti and a reed sounding instrument called a Pepa. What was interesting among some recordings I heard was the use of two-part vocal harmony. The Assamese are so musical!
Today you will hear some Assamese sounds represented on the organ. Listen for the sounds of the drum in the pedal, the Shruti drone, the oboe, which will represent the Pepa, and the flutes in two-part harmony.
I already had a special connection to today’s hymn through the momentous occasion of my baptism. Now, my short study has endeared me to the culture and place of Assam.