The author, Nahum Tate, worked with his friend, Nicholas Brady, to bring about quite revolutionary changes to the style of hymn singing used in their day — the 17th century. They knew that many church members were displeased with the chant-style settings of Psalms, and so they wrote and published some hymns of their own.
While shepherds watched their flocks by night (Cornish Gallery Hymn) - Cantate Domino
Although the new hymns were opposed at first by some, they were soon given royal endorsement by William and Mary of England and gradually were accepted by congregations. The hymn book was called New Version Psaltery. The above carol, however, is the only song from that book still used today. Congregational singing consisted of versified psalms.
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In Tate and his collaborator Nicholas Brady published a new version of the psalms, and While Shepherds Watched first appeared in a supplement to that work. Tate paraphrased the story of the nativity found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses , sticking closely to the Biblical words.
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At that time it was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung in the Anglican Church, and so it remained until I have searched YouTube in vain for the final verse descant I remember from school. Sadly the trio gave their farewell performance last year. Lyrics licensed by LyricFind.
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