Our third course of anticipated rejection is a new tune for “Blest are the Innocents” by Sylvia Dunstan. This text is about the Slaughter of the Innocents, when Herod killed every male under two in the hopes of killing Jesus, the prophesied King. So it’s no upbeat ditty, to be sure.
According to an article in Reformed Worship, Dunstan wrote the text with the 10.10.10.10 tune SLANE (“Be Thou My Vision”) in mind. The editors of Reformed Worship, who are also the editors of Faith Alive’s new hymnal, feel that SLANE’s positive associations will be in tension with the grim subject matter of the text. In the RW article they suggested using SLANE in a minor key arrangement.
I stayed pretty close to SLANE in my new tune. It’s in C minor, which is the relative minor key to SLANE’s Eb major. It has four phrases in 3/4 time that unfold similarly to SLANE. It’s mostly pentatonic, which is what gives SLANE its folk flavor. The main difference is that I never let my melody peak on the high Eb in the third phrase. This might sound like a small deal, but pentatonic melodies are all about the shape of the line. Letting a melody slowly blossom to the highest note of the scale is a way of really making a melody soar. (Keith Getty, I know what you’re doing.) I decided that for a text of this nature, never quite reaching the melodic goal would convey the brokenness of the subject matter. It’s a subtle touch, but I think it works.