The celebration of All Saints Day is a tradition that dates back to the 9th century, and the Church enjoys a repertoire of beautiful hymns, some of which were written by saints themselves, for the occasion.
In addition to more traditional hymns, for a new perspective on the feast day, we’ve found a number of unique reworkings of some of the most famous All Saints Day hymns. The lyrics are the same, but the music is much different than the standard choral hymn.
It’s not uncommon for a hymn to be associated with several melodies, which reflect the music of each composer’s respective period. Here we bring you a modern look at hymns, with artists from all sorts of genres uplifting their craft in praise of the Lord.
1. “For All The Saints” – Dan Haseltine
Written by the Anglican Bishop William Walsham How in 1864, “For All the Saints” has been a popular hymn ever since. The tune was written as a processional hymn for All Saints Day. It was sung to the melody known as “SARUM” until 1906 when it was published in a different hymnal. At that point the melody was replaced by a new one from Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Dan Haseltine, who recorded his own version in 2015, follows the Vaughan Williams melody, albeit vaguely. Haseltine turned the tune into a laid back song that feels like it was meant for traveling. This is especially fitting, as some of Vaughan Williams’ most famous pieces were published as “Songs of Travel.”
2. “Sing with All the Saints in Glory” – Chris Wittington
“Sing with All the Saints in Glory” is an epic hymn that is often played to the tune of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy.” It has appeared in hymnals of all Christian denominations since it was written, in 1873. The text was written by William J. Irons, a priest of the Church of England. While he has a few hymns under his belt, Irons is most well known for his published 19th-century sermons.
Wittington’s arrangement veers far from Beethoven’s famous melody. It is marked by a bouncing rhythm and a rocking pace. The mandolin and violins only add to the unique nature of this rocking hymn.
3. “Awake O Sleeper” – Morning Star
“Awake O Sleeper” is a 20th-century hymn from Episcopal Minister Rev. Francis Bland Tucker. The text was not composed as a hymn, but commissioned as the text of a choral anthem. The song was not published until 1982, when it became a hit in the pews. It is based on Ephesians 5:14 and other portions of Paul’s letter.
Morning Star puts on a much different rendition of the hymn, with a full band accompaniment. The song still has some choral aspects, with the background singer supporting the lead. This version, however, dips into prog-rock territory with ripping guitar solos placed throughout the piece.
4. “Rock of Ages” – Jimmy Needham
This 18th-century hymn was written by the Reformed Anglican minister the Reverend Augustus Toplady. It was first published in The Gospel Magazine, where it was received so well that it was quickly published in hymnals the same year.
There is a popular story of how the hymn came to be, although some argue it’s not true. The claim asserts that Toplady became caught in a storm while traveling through the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills, in England. Taking shelter in a gap of the gorge, Toplady was suddenly struck with the opening verses, which he jotted down while protecting his pad from the rain.
We’ve gushed on and on about what a great song Jimmy Needham made from this famous hymn. Click here to read more.
5. “When The Saints Go Marching In” – Louis Armstrong
No list of All Saints Day hymns would be complete without “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and no artist is more famous for the tune than Louis Armstrong. The tune is an African-American spiritual that evolved for use in church during the 20th-century. The original versions of the song were slow and stately, but it soon became an up-tempo, big band favorite.
The song is very much associated with New Orleans, and not least of all because of Louis Armstrong. His New Orleans-style treatment of the piece has become the standard way to play it, with instruments improvising around the melody played by the trumpet.
Fun Fact: Some people believe that the connection between New Orleans and “When the Saints Go Marching In” was the impetus behind the New Orleans Saints’ name. In actuality, the team chose the name of the Saints because the team was formed on All Saints Day, 1966.
6. “Litany of the Saints” – Matt Maher
The Litany of the Saints is a given for All Saints Day. It is a prayer as old as the Catholic Church itself. It is a prayer to the Triune God that calls for intercessions from the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the martyrs. It is most commonly sung at the Easter Vigil, at baptisms, for the election of a new pope, and on All Saints Day.
Matt Maher’s treatment of the Litany is one of the straightest on this list. He livens it up a little with modern instrumentation, but he maintains the heart of the hymn. He even worked with a chorus for the responsorial sections.