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Advent 2009: “While Shepherds Watched,” Frank Moore Jeffrey

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 12, 2009

“While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down and glory shown around. ‘Fear not,’ said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds, ‘good tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.'” This carol has always been one of my favorites as far as the words go, but I’ve never cared for the music — it seems too bouncy and upbeat just at the point where there should be dread and trouble. For that reason I’ll be interested in anybody’s reaction to this alternate musical setting by Frank Moore Jeffrey (1855-1942) which was printed in the Juvenile Instructor in December, 1915.

I haven’t found much personal detail about the life of Frank Moore Jeffrey. He wasn’t LDS. He seems to have dabbled at least a little in multiple art forms — poetry and painting as well as musical composition. A number of his hymns and Christmas carols appear(ed) in Methodist songbooks.




4 Comments »

  1. Thanks for unearthing this little-known tune. It’s in a style that is a little out-moded these days, its chromaticism redolent of the barbershop quartet. Still, it is an interesting tune, well-constructed, with a nice contrasting third line.

    The chorus is I think the least successful part, a little bit goofy, the tune reminding one of “But if, by a still small voice he calls” from I’ll go Where You Want Me to Go.

    There are many other settings of this hymn text, the most widespread being the hymn tune Winchester Old, although it was originally pared with the tune Christmas (also known as Siroe, in reference to the Handel opera from which the tune was adapted).

    For some interesting early settings, check out the listening clips on this recording.

    Comment by Bill — November 12, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  2. Incidentally, the third line does as good a job as any of the settings I can think of at overcoming your objections — the harmonic changes are contrasting enough to provide a frisson of fear and dread (although this doesn’t really do anything for verses 2 & 3, a hazard of strophic stettings) before the return in the fourth line to the opening melody (someone forgot a courtesy natural for the last chord of the third line).

    Comment by Bill — November 12, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  3. Thanks, Bill, for the links and especially for commenting on my feeling of disconnect between music and words in that line (I’m so musically naive that I hadn’t thought about that point in the 2nd and 3rd verses, where the usual music does fit).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 12, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  4. Bill, thanks for the link to the recording of this hymn and the others. I loved listening to all of them.

    Comment by Maurine — November 12, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

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