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Click to go to home page.Brethren, We Have Met to Worship:
A Study In Banjo Diversity

Written by Paul Race for Creek Don't Rise™
and School Of The Rock™

This tune is easy to play both on four-string and five-string banjos. This song is a classic, not because of its lyrics, but because of the haunting tune, attributed to William Moore, and first published in 1829. The tune has its own name, "Holy Manna," which has been paired with other lyrics in days past.

The melody is classic Celtic-American pentatonic, like countless other early American songs, especially those favored by the Singing Schools of the Sacred Harp movement, as well as many shape-note hymnals. The easy way to discern this is that the entire tune can be played on the black keys of the piano, not that hymn-books usually put the song in the key of F#.

Because it requires only a one-octave range, the song lends itself well to singing in several keys. Modern hymnbooks that include it are likely to put the song in Ab, but it works well in G, F, E, or even D.

About Separate Tune Names - Nearly a thousand of the old hymn tunes have their own names. (In fact the hymnbook industry is so used to that convention that when a new song is included, they give the tune a separate name and index it with other tunes that follow the same pattern.)

In the early days of modern hymnody, the lyricist would often write a poem to one of a couple dozen common lyric patterns. Then congregations would try the lyrics out against any of the dozen or more popular hymn tunes that would fit that pattern. In most cases, one or two combinations would stick.

The fact that this tune name reflects the lyrics of "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship" implies that the two were associated early, perhaps as soon as the tune was written (apparently ten years after the lyrics). That said, it's probable that the lyrics to "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship" were sung to other tunes before the tune "Holy Manna" was published.

About the Lyric Pattern -These lyrics were originally written as a poem in Trochaic Heptameter. That means there are seven "feet," each of which contains an accented pulse followed by an unaccented pulse. Hymnbook publishers divide these pulses up differently, calling it an 8.7.8.7 D. pattern, meaning there are four lines with 8, 7, 8, and 7 syllables respectively, with the accent on the first pulse of each pair.

So if you were an organist or songleader a century ago, and someone asked you to do this song in church, and you didn't know how to play the "Holy Manna" tune, you could look through the hymnbook for a more familiar tune that used this pattern.

One tune that does is "Hyfrydol," the tune usually used for "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." So a century ago, your songleader or organist may have paired the lyrics for "Brethren We have Met to Worship" to "Hyfrydol" or to any of fourteen other popular 8.7.8.7 D. tunes. Conversely, there were over two dozen hymn lyrics that might have been paired with the tune "Holy Manna."

Of course, if you did that today, people would think you were "cheating," or trying to be clever. Come to think of it, though, I need another song for a Christmas project - maybe I'll try pairing the lyrics for "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" with the "Holy Manna" tune. I probably wouldn't be the first.

Sheet Music

We PDF'd a page from an old hymnal for another project, and it is readable enough for most purposes. Right-click here to download the page.

Tablatures

I've played this on a number of instruments over the years. Recently a reader asked if I had a tab for it on 4-string banjo. She wasn't certain which of the two most common tunings (tenor - ADGC or Irish - EADG) she needed, so I figured I'd do it for both, on the most likey key for each instrument. Of course, it's also a "piece of cake" on 5-string, so I transcribed that as well.

Note: When I give stringed instrument tunings, I do what most professional string players do and start with the string closest to your toes. Certain communities often use the reverse. For example, a tenor banjo or guitar player may say he uses CGDA tuning, where I would call it ADGC tuning. But we're really saying the same thing. Try not to lose sleep over it.

After sending the ADGC and EADG tablatures to the reader, she confessed that she really wanted to play Bluegrass eventually and was hoping to get an Appalachian sound out this song. So I told her to tune her banjo to DBGD (like a Bluegrass banjo without a 5th string). And I wrote a version that is more or less the 5-string tablature without the fifth string chiming in at the end of every second and fourth beat.

Finally, since I had already tabs for the most and least common 4-string tunings, I figured I'd add "Chicago" tuning (which is the same as the highest four strings on guitar) and for "Plectrum" tuning (which is the oldest 4-string banjo tuning). Along with Tenor (ADGC) and Irish (EADG) tunings, Chicago (EBGD) and Plectrum (DBGC) tunings are also popular on tenor guitar, so this exercise does double duty for that instrument.

Tablature for Irish Banjo, Mandolin, or Octiave Mandolin (EADG) - Irish-style banjo can be played on 4-, 5-, and even 6-string banjos. But the most traditional Irish banjo parts tend to be played on 4-string banjos that are tuned an octave down from mandolin. These rose to popularity in the mid-1900s after the tenor banjo (below) migrated to Ireland and was retuned to allow greater range (especially lower notes) They tend to be 17 or 19-fret banjos, generally played with a flatpick.

In response to my reader's original request, I created very simple Folk arrangments that could be fingerpicked or flatpicked, both in D and in G. Because of the tuning, the same tablature can be used for mandolin and octave mandolin.

  • Arranged for Irish Banjo, Mandolin, or Octave Mandolin (EADG) in the Key of D:

    • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

  • Arranged for Irish Banjo, Mandolin, or Octave Mandolin (EADG) in the Key of G:

    • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Alternatively, you can download all of the Irish banjo files for this song by right clicking here.

Tablature for Tenor Banjo or Tenor Guitar (ADGC) - Tenor banjo evolved from Plectrum banjo (below) in the early 1900s to help Jazz banjo players play many keys easily. The neck also shortened from the Plectrum banjo's 22 frets to 17 or 19 frets to make chording complex chords easier.

Tenor banjo borrowed viola tunings, so it is tuned in straight fifths (ADGC). Players usually strum them with flatpicks: whole cords with the melody on the highest note. (We don't do that in the arrangements below, however, since the reader obviously wanted a folk or Appalachian style of arrangement).

By the late 1920s, many Jazz orchestras wanted their banjo players to be able to double on guitar. So "tenor guitars," full-sized guitars with four strings, were developed. In fact, "jazz guitar," as we know it today, traces to jazz banjo players who made this transition.

Today, tenor banjo is still considered a Jazz instrument, whereas tenor guitar is played in many different styles. Tenor guitar has also accumulated several different tunings, a few of which - to traditionalists' regret - have migrated back to Tenor banjo.

The most popular tuning for both instruments is still the old viola tuning (ADGC), but we have added tablature for the other tunings you may encounter as well.

In keeping with the readers' request and the "folk-tune" nature of the melody, I created very simple Folk arrangments in F and in G for traditional Tenor tuning (ADGC), and G only for all the rest.

  • Arranged for Tenor Banjo or Tenor Guitar (ADGC) in the Key of F:

    • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

  • Arranged for Tenor Banjo or Tenor Guitar (ADGC) in the Key of G:

    • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

    • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Tablature for Tenor Banjo or Guitar in Open G tuning (DBGD) - This is actually the most common 5-string banjo tuning these days (minus the fifth string of course), but it's relatively rare on 4-sring banjos or tenor guitars. I added this tablature because the reader eventually confessed that she wanted to migrate to 5-string, so there was no point in having her learn a chord structure she'd have to relearn eventually. In addtion, this is by far the easist tuning for this song.

  • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Tablature for Plectrum Banjo or Guitar in DBGC tuning - This is the oldest 4-string banjo tuning, based on what used to be the standard 5-string banjo tuning. When banjos started to be used for Jazz, the fifth/drone string got in the way, so it was dropped. But the DBGC tuning was retained for a time, along with the 22-fret scale length. This makes plectrum banjos very easy to play in keys like G or C, but relatively difficult to play in all the other keys that Jazz demanded. For that reason, they were eventually eclipsed by "tenor banjos" with shorter necks and viola (ADGC) tuning. But some of the old 22-fret instruments are still around, and some folks still play in "plectrum" (DBGC) tuning.

  • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Tablature for Tenor Banjo or Guitar in Chicago (EBGD) tuning - To "true" tenor banjo (Jazz) players, there is probably no greater abomination than guitar players who pick up a tenor banjo and tune it like the highest four strings of a guitar.

  • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Alternatively, you can download all of the Tenor Banjo and Guitar files for this song by right clicking here.

Tablature for 5-String Banjo (DBGDg) - On 5-string banjo tuned to G tuning, there is one very good way to play this. I did syncopate the melody a little bit, so I could play the low E in measures 1, 5, etc. by hammering on, without breaking the overall pattern of my banjo roll. MOST tabs would put the H below the tab line to indicate where you "hammer," but my software won't do that, so I put an H underneath the low E on the music staff. You'll see what I mean. (If you're not sure what "hammering on" means, check out Lesson 3 of our "Beginning Five-String Folk Banjo" tutorial.

  • To download the tablature in PDF format, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of this part with the melody being played on hammered dulcimer, right click here.

  • To download an mp3 of the banjo part only, right click here.

Alternatively, you can download all of the 5-String Banjo files for this song by right clicking here.

Appalachian Dulcimer - We found a nice Appalachian dulcimer tab in the of D. It's Wayne Seymour's Tab from Mel Bay's Dulcimer Sessions. Click here to jump to that page.

Lyrics - The lyrics, attributed to George Atkins, were first published in 1819.


Brethren, we have met to worship,
And adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power,
While we try to preach the word?
All is vain, unless the Spirit
Of the Holy One come down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Brethren, see poor sinners round you,
Trembling on the brink of woe;
Death is coming, hell is moving;
Can you bear to let them go?
See our fathers, see our mothers,
And our children sinking down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Sisters, will you join and help us?
Moses' sisters aided him;
Will you help the trembling mourners,
Who are struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the Savior,
Tell him that he will be found;
Sisters, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.

Is there here a trembling jailer,
Seeking grace and filled with fears?
Is there here a weeping Mary,
Pouring forth a flood of tears?
Brethren, join your cries to help them;
Sisters, let your prayers abound;
Pray, O! pray, that holy manna
May be scattered all around.

Let us love our God supremely,
Let us love each other too;
Let us love and pray for sinners,
Till our God makes all things new
Then he'll call us home to heaven,
At his table we'll sit down.
Christ will gird himself and serve us
With sweet manna all around.

Conclusion

Though we know who wrote the lyrics above, and we know that the tune was first attributed to William Moore in 1929, the tune itself is part of a heritage that includes hundreds of other old pentatonic tunes. Have a great time with it.

And please stay in touch!

    - Paul Race Click to see Paul's music home page Click to contact Paul through this page. Click to see Paul's music blog page Click to visit the Creek Don't Rise discussion forum. Click to learn about our Momma Don't Low Newsletter. Click to see Paul's music page on Facebook Click to see Paul's YouTube Channel.

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