September 20, 2012

Finnish Patriotism, Christian Hymns And One Trumpeter's Mom (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 9/19/12, NPR)

"Be Still My Soul," above, is the leadoff track from the new album. Perhaps you've heard the song before? It's a fairly popular Christian hymn: "Be still my soul, for God is on your side," it begins. But it's also quite likely that if you have heard this tune before, it had different lyrics -- or even no lyrics at all.

The original melody comes from a small section of composer Jean Sibelius' piece Finlandia, written in 1899. Since it was commissioned for a Finnish pride event when Finland was seeking independence from Russia, it has assumed a place in the Finnish national imagination. In 1941, there were words added to the "hymn" section, beginning, "Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning." That hymn is now an unofficial national anthem in Finland, akin to "America, The Beautiful" in this country.

Obviously, those aren't the only words which go with this melody. "This Is My Song" is another popular rendition, and curiously, the lyrics carry a message of overarching holy governance (above any nationalistic concerns such as, say, Finnish pride): "This is my song, O God of all the nations / A song of peace for lands afar and mine." An NPR Music colleague says he used to sing this melody as "I Sought The Lord" as a kid in church. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are plenty of other lyrics -- sectarian and secular -- that go with the "Finlandia Hymn."

"Be Still My Soul" is just one of those versions. 

Posted by at September 20, 2012 9:08 PM

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