42 Astoundingly Useful Scripts and Automations for the Macintosh

How Great Thou Art

Then sings my soul…

Jerry Stratton, April 8, 2020

How Great Thou Art

How Great Thou Art is not specifically an Easter hymn, but it is a hymn of both infinity and rebirth. “I see the stars” was written by someone who knew what the stars were—a near infinity of worlds spread throughout a vast and unimaginable universe. “I hear the rolling thunder”’ evokes the spring and early summer storms that literally replenish the earth with the power of lightning.

The Swedish author, Carl Boberg, confirms this interpretation:

It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon there was thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared.

The second verse is our yearning to wander the replenished earth after a hard winter, to hear the birds sing again, and to climb the again-accessible mountains to see the green and flowing nature in all its grandeur. It’s especially poignant after our weeks of voluntary isolation. I expect there’s going to be a lot of travel soon, and a lot of thankfulness on seeing new and wonderful places and people.

The third and fourth are the cross and resurrection, which are probably why this is a popular hymn at Easter.

According to Boberg’s relatives, the song is also a reworking of Psalm 8, and that’s hard to deny:

    • When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
    • What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

This song is so incredibly well-known that I had assumed, and I suspect many other people do, that it’s been around forever. But in fact it’s a relatively recent hymn. Written in 1885 (in Swedish), it wasn’t translated into English until 1925, and the modern translation with the lyrics about stars and thunder until 1949. So while it sounds old, it incorporates our modern understanding of the world.

It also means that the lyrics and melody that we most commonly use are still under copyright protection. It doesn’t even appear in the old hymnals I have—it wasn’t written when Gospel Hymns came out and hadn’t been translated into English when Hymns of Praise came out.

The original Swedish folk melody that Carl Boberg set the lyrics to are in the public domain, however, and that’s what I’m using here.

I’ve broken this into both the treble and bass clef. The melody is simple enough that it could be done with nothing but grouped notes—throughout all four lines the note durations are the same—but breaking the clefs out makes it easy to use different instruments in GarageBand.

  • $ ~/bin/piano [ bass.txt ] treble.txt

The same method that works for playing different lines together in the piano script also works for playing different files together. Simple code and smart data, as Eric Raymond writes. It’s a good thing.

After splicing the melodies together in GarageBand—in this case, I went for a grand piano for the treble clef, a deep organ for the bass clef, and an acoustic guitar solo for the second verse and chorus—it’s easy enough to make a slide show in iPhoto.

Here’s the treble clef:

# O Store Gud (Treble clef to How Great Thou Art)

--key B-
andante

                   8 "F -D" "F -D" "F -D" | 4 "-D. -B." 8 "F -D" "F -D" "F -D" "G E" "G E"
4 "E -B" "G -B" 8 R "G -B" "G -B=" "G -C" | 4 "F. -C." 8 "F -C" "F -D" "F -D" "E -C" "E -C"
       2 "-D -B" 8 R "F -D" "F -D" "F -D" | 4 "-D. -B." 8 "F -D" "F -D" "F -D" "G E" "G E"
4 "E -B" "G -B" 8 R "G -B" "G -B=" "G -C" | 4 "F. -C." 8 "F -C" "F -D" "F -D" "E -C" "E -C"
       2 "-D -B" 8 R "F -D" "F -D" "B -D" | 4 "D. -D." 8 "C -D" "B -D" "A -D" "B -D" "G -C+"
        2 "F -D" 8 R "B -D" "B -D" "A -C" | 2 "-C -A" 8 R "E -A" "G -A" "F -A"
       2 "-D -B" 8 R "F -D" "F -D" "B -D" | 4 "D. -D." 8 "C -D" "B -D" "A -D" "B -D" "G E"
           2 "F -D" 8 R "B F" "A F" "B F" | 4 "C. F." 8 "D F" 4 "+E. G." 8 "A E"
                            2 "B -D" 8 R

And the bass clef:

# O Store Gud (Bass clef to How Great Thou Art)

--key B-
andante
-
               8 "B -B" "B -B" "B -B" | 4 "F. -B." 8 "F -B" "B -B" "B -B" "B E" "B E"
4 "G C" "G C" 8 R "G E" "F -D" "E -C" | 4 "F. -A." 8 "F -A" "F -B" "G -B" "G -C" "F -A"
    2 "F -B" 8 R "B -B" "B -B" "B -B" | 4 "F. -B." 8 "F -B" "B -B" "B -B" "B E" "B E"
4 "G C" "G C" 8 R "G E" "F -D" "E -C" | 4 "F. -A." 8 "F -A" "F -B" "G -B" "G -C" "F -A"
    2 "F -B" 8 R "B -B" "B -B" "B -B" | 4 "F. -B." 8 "F+ -B" "G -B" "F -B" "G -B" "E= -B"
     2 "F -B" 8 R "F -B" "F -B" "F F" | 2 "F F" 8 R "F -F" "F -F" "F -F"
    2 "F -B" 8 R "B -B" "B -B" "B -B" | 4 "F. -B." 8 "F+ -A" "G -G" "F -D" "G G" "B E"
     2 "B -B" 8 R "B -D" "C E" "B -D" | 4 "A. -C." 8 "B -B" 4 [B C] E. 8 F
                        2 "B -B" 8 R
    • When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
    • And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
    • Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
    • And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"
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