A Thing or Two About a Tune or Two: Sacred and Secular

El Greco

El Greco

Good Friday certainly isn’t the most “fun” Friday of the year, but it is probably the most important one. It’s super easy to be seduced by the glitz and glamor of Christmas, but Christians must remember the real meat and potatoes of our faith is embedded in the events that are observed during Holy Week, leading up to the crucifixion and then the resurrection of Christ. Without Good Friday and Easter, there really isn’t a reason for Christianity.

As the daughter of church musicians, I spent a lot of time in church. A LOT of time. I can’t say that Good Friday was amongst my favorite holidays. First of all, it’s not a “celebrated” holiday, it’s an “observed” holiday (a terminology that greatly confused me as a child). We didn’t even get the day off from school. My parents had to pull me out of school to “observe” the day. And observing the holiday meant spending several hours at the interdenominational Good Friday service listening to the retelling of the Good Friday story. The hours my parents required my sisters and I to spend at church increased as we aged, so as I neared adulthood I was spending THREE WHOLE HOURS forced to reflect upon my mortality and sinful nature. What a drag!

In my adulthood, I have come to really appreciate Good Friday and the Good Friday service. It is an excellent time to sit down and reflect, which is something most people don’t have the luxury of doing during their busy lives. Christians and non-Christians alike would benefit from taking time to reflect, repent, and rejoice this weekend.

On this Good “Fun” Friday, I would like to offer a thing or two about a tune that means a lot to the sacred and the secular: J.S. Bach’s “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded“.

Here it is performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

It is perhaps one of the most recognizable tunes from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and it is certainly one of my favorites. Based on a Latin poem, “Salve mundi salutare”, it was translated into German and later into English. The music was originally written by Hans Leo Hassler for a secular love song and was later arranged by Bach. Bach also used the same melody but with different words for his “Christmas Oratorio”.

Other secular artists Peter, Paul & Mary recorded “Because all Men are Brothers” which is set to the same tune.

And Paul Simon based his secular song “American Tune” on the hymn which also explores themes of isolation, weariness, and struggle.

I hope you get a chance to reflect, repent, and rejoice this weekend.

Check back every Friday for more A Thing or Two about a Tune or Two (or “TOTAATOT”, as we like to call it – it’s chaistic!). Don’t forget to follow Refinersfire on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter. Let’s spread the word about great music!


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