O God Beyond All Praising

Something to listen to while you read. Sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.

Tune Name: Thaxted

Alternate Hymn Titles: I Vow to Thee, My Country – All Earthly Things Above; Let Streams of Living Justice Flow Down Upon the Earth; O Spirit All-Embracing and Counselor All-Wise; O God, Show Mercy to Us, and Bless Us with Your Grace; Jerusalem the Golden, with Milk and Honey Blest!; We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God; As the Bread of Life Is Broken

Fun Fact: The anthem of the Rugby World Cup, World in Union (lyrics by Charlie Skarbek), uses the same tune as the hymn O God Beyond All Praising.

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Limitations needn’t dictate whether you are able to create something great.

English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), composer of the hymn tune Thaxted, wanted to be a concert pianist when he grew up. But Holst battled chronic health issues including asthma and severe neuritis in his hands. (Not a good thing for a concert pianist!)

So when life hands a musician lemons (or limitations), he becomes…a trombonist.

Holst took jobs as a trombonist (believing deep breathing helped his asthma) in touring bands and taught music at various schools to make ends meet. Through it all, and encouraged by fellow English composer and friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst composed music. Most of it was criticized during his life and labeled as “too austere”.

But buried inside the middle section of the Jupiter movement of the (now highly regarded) orchestral suite The Planets, he had written the gem of a melody. So when asked in 1921 to compose some music to fit Cecil Spring Rice’s patriotic poem I Vow to Thee My Country, Holst borrowed his own melody, extended it slightly to fit the text, and arranged it for unison voices with orchestra.
I Vow To Thee My Country Piano Sheet Music

In 1926, Holst harmonized I Vow to Thee My Country so it could be sung as a hymn and named the tune Thaxted after the English village where he lived most of his life. His friend Ralph Vaughan Williams included the new hymn in Songs of Praise and, over seventy years later, the hymn garnered attention when it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

In 1982, Michael Arnold Perry (1942-1996), an Anglican priest and British hymn-writer with over 300 hymn texts to his credit, decided to pen words with a more religious theme for Thaxted. Since Thaxted was such a stately tune, Perry capitalized on its grandiosity and focused his text on God’s majesty thus creating O God Beyond All Praising.

Perry may or may not have known of Holst’s lemons-to-lemonade history, but a portion of his text echos Holst’s experience. For those of us facing down our own bowls of lemons (I’m still in the process of squeezing mine), O God Beyond All Praising encourages and challenges us to praise God and overcome our barriers to create something lasting and meaningful.

And whether our tomorrows,
Be filled with good or ill,
We’ll triumph through our sorrows,
And rise to bless you still.