Heartsongs: Hymns by David A. Robb
Hymn text collection
Author David A. Robb
Released May 2000
Catalog no. 125-407 (soft-cover, 96 pp.)
Price $12.50 (U.S.)
David Robb's hymns are in more than ten denominational hymnals and supplements and other small collections, and his collected hymns are included in this book, Heartsongs. His home is in Dalton, Georgia.
"Heartsongs is a collection of 69 of the hymn texts of David A. Robb, pastor, music teacher, and minister of music. As he writes in his Preface, they cover every period of his adult life since being in the ministry. This collection touches on every season of the church year, and a glance at the scripture index shows that the texts are rich in biblical grounding.
Unlike a Richard Leach or a Brian Wren who works at the edge, as well as the center of hymnic diction, searching for ways to stretch its vocabulary, forms and rhythms, Robb works with classic hymnic diction. Some of his language echoes the word choices of an earlier generation of hymnwriters. 'With trembling bliss of eager hearts' (p. 72), for example, has a strong nineteenth-century flavor.
Yet he is by no means a traditionalist: the same hymn startled me with the phrase 'broken flesh' and its connection in the later verse with 'broken lives.' Even though 'Your love's travail restores our souls' (p. 74) uses older language, such as 'travail' and 'restores our souls,' it expresses the person of God in feminine imagery. His choice of diction reminds us that feminine language for God is very old in biblical and church traditions.
David Robb's hymns both comfort and disturb. The hymn 'Your will be done' (p. 75) uses the familiar phrase from the Lord's Prayer but will not let us accept violence as part of God's will:
Your will be done--not spikes in flesh,
nor horrors of the spear or thorn,
but grace to trust our cross with you,
awaiting resurrection morn.
Even though I sometimes find myself distanced by his traditional diction, Heartsongs uses language which is inclusive and explores living social concerns. His hymn 'I search for thoughts behind your eyes' is as striking and fresh as anything I have seen in recent memory, and its eloquence goes straight to the heart.
It is clear that David Robb is someone who listens carefully to the churches for whom he writes. He acknowledges the contributions of other writers and the work of the many composers who have set his words.
I enjoyed the ten-page section devoted to the genesis of each of the hymns. These pages opened a window into the life of David Robb, and they whetted my appetite for the hymns themselves.
I find Heartsongs a strong resource. As a working writer and musician, I look less for perfection or for the satisfaction of a set of critical parameters and more for words that will feed the congregation that nurtures me. I look for hymn texts that make my composer's heart quicken. David Robb's Heartsongs does both, and for that the collection merits praise and a place on many a bookshelf." --Andrew Donaldson in The Hymn, July 2001
Here are the finest fruits of a pastor-musician's long years of hymn writing. Every page is touched by the compassion of the author's varied ministries and reveals the flowering of his rich and deepening devotional life.
Most of these hymns are for singing in public worship. It is fitting that we sing them, for God has set our lives to music and the hymns are our response to God's music. The church envisioned in David Robb's hymns is the church of Pentecost, filled with God's power and might. With bread and wine and Holy Spirit, it nurtures us for God's intent, and arms us with godly nerve to challenge our culture's sin. It is a pilgrim church, establishing new colonies of Christians, outposts of love to meet new needs; it nourishes us, builds us up, and empowers us for mission. It shows Christ in the world for all to know.
What impresses me most in Robb's hymns is the sense they convey of the immediacy of God's presence, their confidence in sovereignty and loving providence. The Christian community today is continuous with the People of God in scripture, and God is as active in our century as in events recorded on the sacred page. We therefore are saints in our own time, our lives writing a contemporary Acts of the Apostles. With God's vision our dream, we are explorers, breaking new ground, taming the wilderness, the vanguard of the cutting edge of truth.
Yet the social evils we deplore spring from inward corruption, the same in ourselves as in others. Therefore we ask God to transform the base desires and ruinous emotions that control us: our cravings for things that God deplores, our obsession with ease and pleasure and wealth, our grasping for possessing. We confess our plundering and deforming of that which God has entrusted to our stewardship, our unwillingness to await our turn, our failure to share the hurts and stigmas of other members of the human family. The plenty that we enjoy obscures the needs of others and sets a distance between us and the poor.
So it is that we are driven to pray for a new beginning, for re-creation, for a new birth. In bold imagery Robb's beautiful "Your Love's Travail Restores Our Souls" sings of a new birthing from God's re-creative womb, and then the nurturing by grace until God's people take on the form of Christ.
Although Robb crafted his hymns in decades that saw radical changes in the complexion of American hymnody, his verses have not lost touch with the conservative tradition. What brings freshness and relevance to his work is the imagination with which he confronts the biblical material. Probing and fathoming and testing have extended his horizon and enlarged his compassion. Searching the thoughts behind God's eyes, he comes to wear God's hurt in his heart.
David Robb himself is one of those of quiet grace for which his own hymn gives thanks. He has given of himself in manifold ministries beyond the local church parish: as teacher in the public schools and also under his denomination's mission program, as chaplain and counselor, as activist in peace and anti-hunger causes, he has held appointments as minister of music, and has offered private instruction in piano, organ, and voice. Although semi-retired, he stays involved with the mission of the church.
His hymns have appeared in various collections and journals, and ten of them have won honors from The Hymn Society, the American Guild of Organists, and various denominations. And he continues writing.
--James W. May
Professor Emeritus, Liturgy and Church History,
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
Preface by David A. Robb
This edition of Heartsongs contains hymns from every period of my adult life since I have been in ministry. As I offer this collection to the church, I give utmost thanks to God, the Troubadour of the soul, who first gives the heartsong. The wellspring of inspiration flows from the heart of God to the heart of the poet, and becomes the heart of the hymn.
It usually takes labor to move from conception to delivery of a text, and many have served as midwives to the birthing of my hymns. I could not write and compose nearly so well without the support of my wife, my life partner in service and song. Ethel's input, from the earliest draft to the final proofreading, is invaluable. Our children, Michele Parks, Bruce Robb, and Renée Robb-Cohen, and sometimes their spouses, have provided guidance and encouragement, and given me a sense of how my hymns relate to the next generation.
Very special thanks goes to James May, who urged his seminarians to write for congregational song, and encouraged my writing with helpful suggestions for growth when some of my hymns were little more than stilted rhymed theology. He also introduced me to The Hymn Society when he led its Atlanta chapter. The Society has had a major formative influence in my life and my writings.
Nearly twenty years ago, Maureen O'Brien enabled a metamorphosis of my style into mostly contemporary and inclusive language. When I was her instrumental teacher, she was Director of Christian Formation at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Dalton. After her piano lesson, Ethel and I would invite her to join us for supper before her organ lesson; later, we would often share concerns and discuss theology well into the evening. Her manner of gentle critique and patient nudging did much to raise my awareness of how others hear hymns, and my pupil became my teacher.
For the last four years, D. McArthur Brantley, and his wife, Vicky, led the Dalton District of the United Methodist Church. They are both hymn-text writers, and we served as effective and local sounding-boards for one another's hymns. Recently, God has called a fellow Daltonian, Jan D. McGuire, to be a hymnographer. She studies piano, we offer mutual critique, and she and her family have entered into our family life.
Others who have offered valuable critique include Carl Daw, Jr., the late S. Paul and Mary A. Schilling, W. Thomas Smith, and Brian Wren. Rae E. Whitney, a faithful correspondent for many years, has an uncanny way of discovering the passages I have wrestled with, and often offers alternate constructions. Several musicians have written settings for these texts; some have given important critical interpretation also. The tunesmiths include Eleanor Buck, Austin Lovelace (who often sends suggestions by return mail), John H. Giesler, Brian Henklemann, Debbie Mayhew, Julia McGirt, William P. Rowan, Sue Mitchell Wallace, and Carlton R. Young. Sometimes their settings suggest dimensions in my hymns that I'd not anticipated.
The insights of Maureen O'Brien and Margaret Thompsen, who have written papers on my hymns, have helped me to grow poetically. So have those who have responded negatively to a hymn or to some specific expression. I would be remiss if I failed to thank the many congregations and choirs which have sung my hymns, giving me a keener feel for the texture of the text and tune. Church members have offered feedback from their personal experiences, and several, including Sandy Layman, Emma Long, Edith Paris, Susan Reeves, and Sharon Watkins, have offered insightful comments which have influenced the finished hymn.
Various people have encouraged me to write hymns for children. For the Love Feast, I wrote three companion texts in age-appropriate concepts and vocabulary for children, youth, and adults. In another instance, I fashioned a hymn first used for church celebrations into an interfaith Olympics hymn for all ages. And in a third case, I adapted a hymn for seminarians for use in a school, Sunday School, and Bible School teacher dedication service.
These hymns use inclusive language throughout in reference to humanity, and usually non-specific gender for Deity, with some exceptions for the historical Jesus. However, I hear the word Lord with American ears, and not as a titled English nobleman. Contemporary language and syntax is attempted in most cases, except for some carols. Early works that could not be adapted to this style are omitted. Some showing less poetic skill than others remain; their requests for use suggest that they speak to current needs. Many of these hymns are for general worship, appropriate throughout the Christian Year; several are for liturgical and seasonal emphases which are under-represented in many hymnals.
I began writing texts to continue the thought of a sermon in a commitment hymn where none existed in the hymnal at hand, and known tunes have usually served this purpose better. The same would be true for special celebratory services, which often attract members and friends who do not attend regularly. A tune frequently comes to mind as I work on a text, which helps ensure strict meter, and gives a better feel for accents, phrasing, cadence, diction, and shaping of corresponding lines in successive verses. Most of my hymn tunes in print can be obtained from this publisher. Others which I have typeset can be obtained by contacting me.
Although this is a text-only compilation, I have also listed hymn tune names (which can be found in a hymnal's metrical index). Tunes by various recent composers who have written for these texts are listed, and I hope publishers will seek them out. I apologize to composers for some tunes which I cannot locate.
Since no body of hymns is composed in a vacuum, I appreciate Selah Publishing Co. for permitting sufficient end-notes to give the context, genesis, and first intended use of all the hymns. These also allow me to credit the specific contributions of others. In one case, a statement from a young leader stayed with me for decades before it found expression in a hymn: "Fellowship is sharing experiences that teach us to care"--not a bad goal for hymnody also.
I hope these hymns will enrich your worship, and that you will join my prayer.
Lord, let your will be our vocation,
lived as song and sacrament.
David A. Robb, 1998
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