For a long while, I’ve disliked “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Here’s why:
That half step has put a stamp on the tune that says “Made in 1868″. It it’s like listening to a Kanye West song, hearing the auto-tune, and knowing immediately that it was “Made in 2008″.
Normally, there’s not a problem with older things – in fact, many older things are glorious because they seem to bear the weight of history (in a good way) – but 19th Century American hymn tunes haven’t aged well.
It’s a shame, too, because the text for the hymn, written by the great American preacher Phillips Brooks, is glorious.
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
Last year, I heard Sarah McLachlan’s slight edit of the tune and immediately caught a new vision for the hymn.
You can purchase the mp3 at AmazonMP3.
McLachlan wasn’t the first to do it – my wife has an arrangement in a Christmas piano book she’s had since she was a child that has eliminated the rogue sharp – but she’s probably the most well known on a broader scale.
A change of a half step has breathed new life into a tired, old tune. I wrote out a quick arrangement for our church and have included it below for anyone who is interested.