How Can I Keep from Singing?

How Can I Keep from Singing?” is an odd hymn. The title phrase gives the impression of a wide-eyed universalist anthem of feel-good hope. This is probably the reason it didn’t make it past the eagle eyes of the Psalter Hymnal’s editors and that it has been sung by New Age artists like Enya.

But a deeper look shows a hymn that recognizes both the struggles of life and the hope of faith in Christ. It’s really a lovely text.

The music is a different story. It’s awfully sprightly, which is probably why my wife hates it. I don’t mind the tune’s happy energy, as long as it’s sung with some muscle and not too fast. But I’ve also been playing with a new arrangement of the song that brings out the lament of the verses with a minor harmonization, switching to a major key when the refrain proclaims confidently, “No storm can shake my inmost calm.”

I wouldn’t propose my version as definitive, but a fresh new reading of a classic is never a bad thing, right? PDF, MP3.

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4 Responses to How Can I Keep from Singing?

  1. Amy says:

    Because my opinions made it into the third paragraph, no further comments from me are needed. Or are(n’t) they?

  2. gregscheer says:

    Dear, you know I’m always interested in hearing you elaborate on your opinions…

  3. Martin says:

    This hymn didn’t make it into my childhood church’s hymnal, nor is it in the Baptist hymnal my parents use. But we sing it a lot in our Mennonite/Church of the Brethren congregation, and I had the pleasure one recent Sunday as fill-in pianist to play it. Over Thanksgiving my parents visited, and my dad, who has unexpectedly taken over as choir director at his church, heard me practicing the song on the piano at home. He was quite taken with it and a few days later I scanned the music for him and sent him a PDF.

    I love the hymn, but I’ve heard terrible versions on YouTube–ones that sound overly lush, too slow, or even triumphalist. The arrangement we use is very plain, like the musical equivalent of a Quaker meetinghouse. Maybe Amy’s issue is not the hymn itself but the arrangements she’s heard and sung?

    Yours is interesting. I especially like the verses that trend toward “lament.” For me, though, the refrain comes on too strong. Can’t we just stay minor? 🙂

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