In 1916, English composer and musician Walter Greatorex wrote his most well-known tune. He named it Woodlands – after one of the schoolhouses at the Gresham’s School where he was music director – and published it in the Public School Hymn Book in 1919.
Today we typically sing Greatorex’s tune with one of two jubilant hymn texts: Lift Up Your Hearts – an English hymn by Henry Montagu Butler which was first published in the Harrow School Hymn Book (1881) – or the more recent and more popular hymn Tell Out, My Soul.
Tell Out, My Soul was penned in 1961 by Anglican Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith, O.B.E. whose father instilled a love of poetry in him from a young age. One day while reading Mary’s Magnificat in the New English Bible, the bishop was inspired by the passage’s opening words in that edition: “Tell out, my soul.” Using that phrase as a springboard, he quickly penned the remaining hymn text. It was first published in Anglican Hymnbook (1965) matched with Michael Baughen’s tune Tidings but, in 1969, 100 Hymns for Today paired the text with Greatorex’s more dramatic tune Woodlands and a bold hymn was born. Timothy Dudley Smith later stated that Tell Out, My Soul was a “significant starting point” in his hymnwriting career which now spans over 50 years and over 400 hymns.
Late to the party, I didn’t discover Tell Out, My Soul (or Lift Up Your Hearts) until earlier this year. I had the same reaction to it as I did when I first heard O God Beyond All Praising (I Vow to Thee, My Country) – love at first sight – and I knew I had to write this piano arrangement. The subdued opening bars mirror Mary’s humility before it explodes into high-energy rhythms to reflect her joy and strength and the exuberant text of Tell Out, My Soul. I created the middle section using a familiar and much beloved church tune – Old Hundredth (Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow) – then returned again to the high-energy rhythms and, for good measure (pun intended), added an incredibly splashy ending for a fun, festive piece. But the best part? It’s not as difficult to play as it sounds. Enjoy!