This powerful Ascension hymn written in 1739 has stood the test of time. Its author, gifted hymn writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788), wrote about nine thousand hymns, many of which are still sung today. Of the ten stanzas Wesley originally wrote for this hymn, only five appear in most hymnals today. The rising melody in the first half of each line leads beautifully into the Alleluia that ends it. I love hymns that have repetition—like the repeated Alleluias—because they allow even the very young to join in. Try singing this hymn antiphonally—one group sings the first half of each line and another group (or everyone) sings the Alleluias. This hymn includes much of what we celebrate at Ascension—Christ’s saving work on earth, his intercession for us, and his calling us to rule with him in eternity. “Hail the Day” can be used well in any worship service that emphasizes Christ’s rule.
Strong organ accompaniment with vigor and a lively tempo is good for singing this Welsh tune. If trumpets can be used with organ, that will surely add to the celebrative tone of the hymn. S. Drummond Wolff’s setting arranged for brass quartet and organ in Three Hymns of Praise for Eastertide (Concordia) makes a great conclusion to the prelude when this is the opening hymn of the service. Using the brass to also accompany the singing adds great festivity to the service.
Hermann Schroeder’s brief organ arrangement in The Parish Organist—Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity (Concordia) would also make an excellent ending to an organ prelude or postlude.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 51)
Annetta Vander Lugt
Considered to be the most popular of all Ascension texts in English-language worship, "Hail the Day" was written by Charles Wesley in ten stanzas and published in his Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). Thomas Cotterill altered the text and published his version in Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1820); the "alleluias" wereadded in George White's Hymns and Introits (1852). Included here with further alterations are original stanzas 1, 2, 4, 6, and 10.
"Hail the Day" sings out its "alleluias" forChrist's triumphal entry into glory after he accomplished his saving work on earth (st. 1-2) and forChrist's work of interceding and preparing a place forhis people (st. 3-4). The text concludes by hailing the great day when we shall rule with Christ (st. 5).
LLANFAIR is usually attributed to Welsh singer Robert Williams, whose manuscript, dated July 14, 1817, included the tune. Williams lived on the island of Anglesey. A basket weaver with great innate musical ability, Williams, who was blind, could write out a tune after hearing it just once. He sang hymns at public occasions and was a composer of hymn tunes.
LLANFAIR was first published with a harmonization by John Roberts in John Parry's Peroriaeth Hyfryd (Sweet Music) (1837). The tune has been associated with the Wesley/Cotterill text since its publication with the text in The English Hymnal (1906). LLANFAIR is actually a common Welsh name, but some scholars believe that in this case the tune's name refers to the Montgomery County village in Wales where Williams was born.
A rounded bar form(AABA) tune, LLANFAIR features the common Welsh device of building a melody on the tones of the tonic triad. The tune is in a major key (not all Welsh tunes are in minor keys!). The melismas give fitting shape to the "alleluias." Use brisk accompaniment forthis cheerful tune.
Several members of the Wesley family are significant figures in the history of English hymnody, and none more so than Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley (b. Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, 1707; d. Marylebone, London, England, 1788) was the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, who educated him when he was young. After attending Westminster School, he studied at Christ Church College, Oxford. It was there that he and George Whitefield formed the Oxford "Holy Club," which Wesley's brother John soon joined. Their purpose was to study the Bible in a disciplined manner, to improve Christian worship and the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and to help the needy. Because of their methods for observing the Christian life, they earned the name “Methodists.”
Charles Wesley was ordained a minister in the Church of England in 1735 but found spiritual conditions in the church deplorable. Charles and John served briefly as missionaries to the British colony in Georgia. Enroute they came upon a group of Moravian missionaries, whose spirituality impressed the Wesleys. They returned to England, and, strongly influenced by the ministry of the Moravians, both Charles and John had conversion experiences in 1738 (see more on this below). The brothers began preaching at revival meetings, often outdoors. These meetings were pivotal in the mid-eighteenth-century "Great Awakening" in England.
Though neither Charles nor John Wesley ever left the Church of England themselves, they are the founders of Methodism. Charles wrote some sixty-five hundred hymns, which were published in sixty-four volumes during his lifetime; these include Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1741), Hymns on the Lord's Supper ( 1745), Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1753), and Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780). Charles's hymns are famous for their frequent quotations and allusions from the Bible, for their creedal orthodoxy and their subjective expression of Christian living, and for their use of some forty-five different meters, which inspired new hymn tunes in England. Numerous hymn texts by Wesley are standard entries in most modern hymnals.
Thomas Cotterill (b. Cannock, Staffordshire, England, 1779; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1823) studied at St. John's College, Cambridge, England, and became an Anglican clergyman. A central figure in the dispute about the propriety of singing hymns, Cotterill published a popular collection of hymns (including many of his own as well as alterations of other hymns), Selection of Psalms and Hymns in 1810. But when he tried to introduce a later edition of this book in Sheffield in 1819, his congregation protested. Many believed strongly that the Church of England should maintain its tradition of exclusive psalm singing. In a church court the Archbishop of York and Cotterill reached a compromise: the later edition of Selection was withdrawn, and Cotterill was invited to submit a new edition forthe archbishop's approval. The new edition was published in 1820 and approved as the first hymnal forthe Anglican church of that region. Cotterill's suppressed book, however, set the pattern for Anglican hymnals forthe next generation, and many of its hymns are still found in modern hymnals.
Robert Williams (b. Mynydd Ithel, Anglesey, Wales, 1781; d. Mynydd Ithel, 1821) lived on the island of Anglesey. A basket weaver with great innate musical ability, Williams, who was blind, could write out a tune after hearing it just once. He sang hymns at public occasions and was a composer of hymn tunes.