St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre
The Lord my God my shepherd is
Hymn 663, The Hymnal 1982
The text of Hymn 663, “The Lord my God my shepherd is,” a paraphrase of the beloved Psalm 23, was written in 1953 by F. Bland Tucker (1895 – 1984) just prior to major surgery to remove a tumor in his left lung. The surgery was fraught with risk, leading to an uncertain prognosis. Shortly after completing this poem, Dr. Tucker entered the hospital for the surgery. But preliminary X-rays showed what his doctors called “a dramatic and remarkable change.” The tumor had shrunk to such a significant degree that surgery was considered unnecessary, although a period of extensive rest and treatment was prescribed. The tune Crimond is named for the village of Crimond in northeastern Scotland, north of Aberdeen. The melody has been attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836 – 1887), the daughter of the Rev’d Dr. Alexander Irvine, minister of the Crimond Parish Church from 1855 to 1884. The tune eventually came to be associated with another older paraphrase of Psalm 23 and became especially popular in England after World War II, undoubtedly due to its first usage in two royal services: the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) in Westminster Abbey in November 1947 and the silver wedding anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (parents of Queen Elizabeth II) in St. Paul’s Cathedral in April 1948. Sir John Colville, Private Secretary to Princess Elizabeth at the time of her marriage, records the following:
“One of Princess Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, Lady Margaret Egerton (1911 – 1984), endowed with a beautiful voice, had been wont to sing a metrical psalm, “The Lord’s my Shepherd” (Crimond), in the heather at Balmoral and had taught the two princesses a little-known descant. Lady Margaret, tunefully accompanied by the two princesses (Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret), therefore sang it to Sir William McKie (1901 – 1984), the Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey, who took down the notes in musical shorthand and taught it to the Abbey Choir. On the wedding day nobody was more surprised than the composer of the descant, W. Baird Ross (1871 – 1950), who, far away in Stirling, listened to the service on his radio. Since then both the metrical psalm to the tune Crimond and the descant have been consistently popular in churches throughout the British Isles and the Commonwealth.”
The first time I recall hearing this hymn was as a 12-year-old in 1973 watching a live TV broadcast of the wedding of Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, in Westminster Abbey. Even then I was so taken by the beautiful tune and the descant sung on the final verse by the boys of the Choir, though I never knew the fascinating story behind that descant until years later. To this day, it is one of my very favorite settings of Psalm 23. We sing it frequently at St. Stephen’s, and almost always with the final verse descant, and I always make a point of telling the story about its connection to Queen Elizabeth to my singers and choristers.
Source: The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Raymond F. Glover, editor; published by The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York, © 1984.
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