My Shepherd Will Supply My Need


Performance Notes:

  • The following article is written by Alfred V. Fedak and taken from Reformed Worship.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is rightfully considered the father of English hymnody. Psalm 23 is the best known and best loved of all the psalms. And RESIGNATION, a nineteenth-century tune from southern Appalachia, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies ever composed. All three—poet, psalm, and music—unite in this hymn to give us a new vision of the providence of God.

Isaac Watts, the English Congregational minister, theologian, and writer, was a prolific hymnodist who penned about six hundred sacred songs, forever changing the course of English-language hymnody. Apparently he began writing hymns in his youth, when one day, returning home from church and complaining about the poor quality of the metrical psalms that had been sung at that morning's worship, he was challenged by his father to "Try… to produce something better." He did, and Watts's hymns still appear in every hymnal. (The Psalter Hymnal includes 10; Rejoice in the Lord, 33!)

"My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" dates from Watts's 1719 collection, Psalms of David, and concludes with his remarkable interpretation of the psalm's last verse: "No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home."

The tune RESIGNATION, by an unknown composer, first appeared in the 1835 hymnbook Southern Harmony, a collection of church music from the rural American south. The melody is disarmingly simple. Like much folk music, it is entirely pentatonic—that is, it uses only a five-note scale analogous to the black keys on the piano. The formal pattern of the tune is AA-BA; the first, second, and final phrases are identical. And every phrase comes to rest on the tonic, or key-note. For all this simplicity, RESIGNATION is still an eloquent piece of music. It is the perfect vehicle to carry Watts's paraphrase straight to the heart.

Perhaps the most effective way to introduce this hymn is also the most authentic to the spirit and history of the music. Have a soloist—a person with a clear, pleasant, natural voice—sing the first stanza simply and directly, without accompaniment. On stanza 2, the choir may sing in unison, still unaccompanied. By stanza 3, the congregation will want to join in. For those of us who play and hear hymns on the organ week after week, unaccompanied unison hymn singing can be a powerfully moving experience.

When you do perform this hymn with accompaniment, though, the organist or pianist should take special care to play the spirit of the words. A clean legato is best here; try not to let the jagged bass line "bump." When the congregation is comfortable with the hymn, you may wish to try the alternate free harmonization that is included with this article. It is meant to be played on the final stanza.

There are many choral settings of "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." Probably the best known is the highly recommended setting by the late Virgil Thomson (Belwin-Mills), available in several voicings (again, be sure to check the texts and adapt where necessary.)

Several attractive organ settings are also available. Gilbert Martin's prelude in Hammer's second Bristol Collection of 1975, and David Schack's setting in his Augsburg publication Preludes on Ten Hymntunes are listed in the Ringerwole bibliography. Besides these, Belwin-Mills publishes New Jersey composer Louie White's Reflections on Southern Hymntunes, which includes a lovely canonic arrangement, and Carl Schalk has a prelude on RESIGNATION in volume 36 of the Concordia Hymn Prelude Series . Enterprising organists will locate still more.

Many handbell arrangements also exist for choirs who wish to ring the hymn. Look for pieces by Dick Averre (Presser), Douglas Wagner (Sacred Music Press), David Schwoebel (Lorenz, with C instrument), and even an arrangement for handbell solo by Wall (published by Jeffers), complete with accompaniment cassette!

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 23:1-3
st. 2 = Ps. 23:4-5
st. 3 = Ps. 23:6

Psalm 23 has inspired numerous paraphrases and hymn texts, including this text by Isaac Watts. Watts included it in his large 1719 collection of psalm paraphrases, The Psalms of David Imitated.

Tune Information:

RESIGNATION is another of the anonymous tunes from the shape-note hymnal tradition in the Southern United States; William Walker included it in his Southern Harmony (1835) set to Watts' text. That association of text and tune has been maintained in many hymnals and anthems, including a famous choral setting by Virgil Thompson.

Like so many American folk tunes, RESIGNATION is pentatonic. This rounded bar form tune (AABA) has a sturdy harmonization. Sing in unison or harmony.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, RESIGNATION/CONSOLATION

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Busarow, Donald. All Praise to You, Eternal God. Augsburg 11-9076 [1980]
  • Fedak, Alfred V. 25 More Harmonizations. Selah 160-729 [1998]
Psalm 23
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  • Words: The Words are in the Public Domain; you do not need permission to project or reprint the Words.
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