To High Places By Narrow Roads

A hymn composed in 1841 by poet, actress, and hymn writer Sarah Flower Adams, Nearer My God to Thee was arranged about seven or eight years ago by a Mormon named James Stevens, the then-artisitc director of a men's acapella vocal group at Brigham Young University, BYU Vocal Point. Stevens added a chorus of Latin background vocals, using the Vulgate, or Ecclesiastical, Latin pronunciation, the pronunciation used in the Catholic Church liturgy and in modern spoken Latin. It's closer in sound to modern Italian than to classical Latin. For example, in the line "Caelitus Mihi Viries," "Caelitus" is pronounced "Chaelitus" rather than "Kaelitus," and "Viries" as "Viries" rather than "Wieries." That might sound like a difference only a nerd could love, and perhaps that's correct. On the other hand, it displays an in-depth knowledge of a faith not his own that the marks the composer (to me, at least) as a person both learned and interesting.

In this season of Advent, I'll let anyone who's interested surrender to an unexpected arrangement of a 19th Century hymn, one both modern and yet, in many ways, classic.

The English translation of the Latin lyrics: "At the moment of death/My strength is from heaven/God helping, nothing should be feared/Forever/Direct us, O Lord/To high places by narrow roads/Such is the path to the stars/Ever upward."

This particular video has been viewed (to date) over 28 million times. I guess even the non-religious appreciate the very human yearning for the transcendent, at least when it's expressed so well.

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