Easter is in less than two weeks, which means that the activities of church music programs are reaching a fever pitch: this Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. It's easy to get overwhelmed by anxiety (the choir will never sing that anthem properly) or self-pity (everyone else gets a four-day weekend, and I'm stuck at the church to play one hundred and seven services), but these liturgies are also among the most rewarding of the year.
There are often fringe benefits, as well. This year, for example, is the first that we'll be using the hymn "Hail thee, festival day" in a service. To the worldwide community of Anglican musicians, this may seem odd, but the hymn doesn't seem to have caught on in Canadian parishes. Of the three hymnals I've used in my career (for those who care: the 1938 Book of Common Praise, the 1965 Anglican Hymn Book, and the 1998 Common Praise), none include any version of the hymn. The only hymnal in common use in Canada which includes it, in fact, is the thirty-five-year-old joint Anglican-United Church hymnal; this, of course, is the same book that gave us such delights as "God of concrete, God of steel / God of piston and of wheel", so most churches leave it on the shelf.
This unfortunate state of affairs, unfortunately, is rather typical in church music. Every new hymnal reveals its true flaws only after a few years of continuous use - some of the once-promising new inclusions become old and tired, and you begin to sorely miss the older selections that were left out. There's no reason, of course, why you can't include materials from older hymnals by printing bulletin inserts, but this takes work and planning; far easier just to pick the second-best choice (or third-best, or eleventh-best) and learn to live with it. Yet, take a look at the words to "Hail thee, festival day" (warning: hideous MIDI soundtrack) - this has more meat to it, theologically, than almost anything else you might sing Easter morning. And the tune, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is superb. I'm looking forward to this enormously.