The Hymn Society Bulletin
Strengthened for Service, 100 years of the English Hymnal 1906-2006, review by Michael Garland
New English Praise, A supplement to the New English Hymnal, review by John Barnard
The Everlasting Hills, Hymns from the Isle of Man, review by Ian Sharp
CD Review: The Complete New English Hymnal review by John Barnard
Evangelicals, Hymns and Songs: Which Way Now? by Martin Leckebusch
The past half-century has seen a seismic shift in the worship patterns of many congregations across the whole spectrum of churchmanship in the United Kingdom. At the risk of generalising and thereby indulging in a vast over-simplification, it could be argued that in the more formal and ‘high’ churches, this has probably been most clearly felt in terms of updated liturgical language and in the gradual move away from sizeable choirs containing a mixture of all four voices; but in 'low' and evangelical churches, there has also been a substantial change in the repertoire of music used by the typical congregation at their main act of worship. With the constant ebb and flow of both people and ideas between congregations, it is impossible to identify fixed boundaries between the different constituencies, and therefore the changes which affect one part of the body of Christ are bound to affect other parts. For this reason, what has happened in the evangelical wing of the church in terms of hymnody has affected other congregations as well; and the influence works both ways. Nor is any one denomination an island: church music (using the term in the broadest sense) has often served to cross boundaries which theologians and liturgists have failed to breach (or may even have reinforced).
From sandwiches to songs
Little more than a generation ago, a typical Sunday service in an evangelical church would often consist of what has been termed the ‘hymn sandwich’. This derogatory term indicates the practice at its worst: it speaks of an underlying attitude which says, in effect, ‘The congregation has done nothing for ten minutes; better get them singing again before they all go to sleep.’ At the very nadir of the experience, half a dozen badly-chosen hymns would serve as a kind of punctuation between the more ‘significant’ elements of the service: the sermon, the prayers of intercession, the Bible readings and perhaps also the notices. However, this pattern had not survived without reason, and it could be utilised far more skilfully. If the hymns were chosen well, to tie in with the overall theme of the service and to reflect and explore ideas raised by the readings and the sermon, they could add greatly to the worshippers’ understanding and give appropriate vehicles for response. A hymn which was chosen to say what the congregation most needed to say at that point in the service could be a useful contribution to the whole. But the main point is: the pattern was well established. I recall a comment by a Methodist writer some twenty or thirty years ago, to the effect that her grandmother (who was born in the middle of the nineteenth century) would have found great comfort from the familiarity of Methodist worship, which still retained in the 1970s the same basic shape it had had in the Victorian era. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for a church with a mission to the modern and postmodern worlds is, of course, a different question.
By then, though, the ground was shifting. The nineteen-fifties saw the start of a major new phenomenon, arising out of youth culture but ultimately destined to leave little in the Western world unchanged. Its first great leader was an American named Elvis Aaron Presley. Its first great British leaders were John, Paul, George and Ringo, collectively known as the Beatles. The phenomenon was pop music. The church was not completely divorced from the movement: especially in the USA, a number of the stars of those early years grew up in God-fearing families and had roots in gospel music, whether the traditional hymnody of the white churches or the more emotional styles and spirituals of the black. Nor was the Church unaffected by this movement; gradually the idea took hold that if anyone could pick up a guitar, learn a few chords and sing, then Christians could do it, too. So people began to write songs for Christian use: simple songs, usually with a single stanza and a straightforward melody. Often the content was either a personal expression of devotion or faith (‘I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice’, Laurie Klein, 1978; ‘Jesus, name above all names’, Naida Hearn, 1974), or a short passage of Scripture, typically from the Psalms (‘This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made’, Les Garrett, 1967).
Two significant influences on this new genre should be noted. The first is the pop culture which, in large part, had spawned the new song movement. The dominant form in pop music was the love song: sometimes the songs were of unrequited love, sometimes confessions of adoration to some individual, sometimes just the sheer sentiment of being ‘in love’. And many of the worship songs which were written in the seventies and beyond took not only the form of a pop song, but a large helping of its content as well.
Over against this potentially negative influence, there was a movement growing within the church. By the late seventies and early eighties, the charismatic movement was gaining ground. The old forms and structures which had provided comfort for generations of Methodists and their grandchildren suddenly seemed inadequate to many people. New, informal groups were springing up, and even the older denominations had to recognize that something fresh was happening. Although some people were unsettled and even hurt by the things which happened, and although there were, perhaps inevitably, mistakes and excesses, the charismatics had arrived in many a congregation. The effects of this movement touched numerous strands of church life, and by the late 1980s it could be asserted that mainstream evangelical Christianity in Britain was charismatic.
Put the two together, and the results are potent in their impact on worship styles. The new move of the Holy Spirit nudged the church to re-evaluate forms of Christianity which had placed an undue emphasis on right belief and to recognize that right living was also critical. Many people found a new closeness to God, a new depth of love for their Saviour, a new strength to serve him; and in the songs of the era, new ways to express their devotion. The old sandwiches of hymnody were starting to look stale; the directness and simplicity of the modern song was like a breath of fresh air by comparison.
Church services began to change shape. Whereas once the dominant free-church model had been a mixture of hymns interspersed with other items, there was a shift towards the use of songs instead of hymns, with longer ‘times of worship’ when three, four or more songs would be sung one after another without interruptions. Often the same song was sung more than once; in some congregations, three or four times became the norm. After an extended period of singing, there might then be readings and a sermon; sometimes there would be a shorter period of song after this. Instead of just piano and organ, a variety of instruments came into vogue, and music groups became the leaders in worship.
At its best, the new worship could be fresher, freer, more intimate and more genuine; at its worst, more individualistic, more insular and more egocentric. For the revitalised devotion prompted by the Spirit of God could either be channelled towards radical discipleship, or sidetracked into personal indulgence; and if the songs sung by Christians adopted not only the form of pop music but the content as well, then the prime expression of faith would easily become ‘a love song to Jesus’ as one popular song of the time put it. The content of pop music, the love song, played too easily into one of the endemic weaknesses of the evangelical understanding of Christianity: the over- emphasis of personal devotion to God and the consequent reduced priority given to the broader issues of discipleship. The worship songs of a generation both fed from and contributed to the imbalance which elevated personal holiness and relegated social holiness - and it was almost certainly in the evangelical parts of the church that this tendency was least recognised and checked.
Rewriting the menu
As the typical evangelical congregation shifted from being hymn-oriented to being song-oriented, and perhaps reflected that new outlook in its altered services and longer times of uninterrupted singing, there were two significant consequences with regard to hymnody. First, a congregation can only maintain real familiarity with a certain quantity of worships material, and what is used only sporadically will soon become unfamiliar and will no longer be treasured. So it was that expanding song repertoires led to shrinking hymn repertoires. Evangelical churches which would once have drawn widely from a particular hymn book began to retrench to the core material, often to the more general material, with which they were most familiar. Hymns whose legitimacy and authority came in part from their place in ‘our hymn book’, and which could therefore be called on if a particular theme needed expressing in worship, were lost; it was the best-known which kept their place.
Secondly, these congregations looked almost exclusively to the song world for new material, and therefore remained largely ignorant of what was happening elsewhere, in the world of hymns. The work of the Dunblane group, of Kaan and Cosnett, of Pratt Green and Gaunt - to say nothing of contemporary American or Australian writers - has gone almost completely unnoticed by most British evangelicals. Even the Jubilate group, whose roots are predominantly evangelical Anglicanism and who made major contributions with Youth Praise, Psalm Praise, Hymns for Today’s Church and more, are little known within the tradition from which they came. Timothy Dudley-Smith’s ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord’ and ‘Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided’ are more widely known, but that is probably a reflection of the fact that they have entered the core repertoire of hymnody; most of Dudley-Smith’s other texts are yet to be discovered by many evangelicals.
The shift in material used by the evangelical church can be illustrated by looking at the books which have gained broad acceptance over the past twenty-five years or so. During that time, three significant non-denominational collections have emerged and become widely used: Mission Praise (1983, first published in connection with the Mission England outreach programme); Songs of Fellowship (1985, integrated words edition of books 1, 2 and 3 plus Hymns of Fellowship); and The Source (1998, volume 1). Each has gone far beyond the single-volume original, which in the case of the first two were quite slim paperbacks; these have instead become almost brands of songbook. In each case, the book in question has contained a mixture of songs and hymns; it is instructive to look in more detail at what is included.
The books published under the banner of The Source are not untypical. The product range comprises various books, of which only the main three will be examined here; separate collections known as Christmas Source, Easter Source, Celtic Source and Kidsource are available, as are a variety of musical selections for particular instruments and several recordings of material from the books. The publisher is Kevin Mayhew; the big-name selling point is that the compiler is Graham Kendrick, of whom more later.
Volume 1 (1998) contains 610 items, of which around one in ten could really be counted as hymns in the traditional sense. Many of these are the familiar items which one would expect to find in almost any hymnal, whether denominational or not: ‘Abide with me’ is here, as is ‘At the name of Jesus’. ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds’ can be found; so can ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’, ‘Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us’, ‘O Jesus, I have promised’, ‘O worship the King’, ‘The church’s one foundation’ and ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’. Isaac Watts is also represented by ‘Joy to the world’, one of a half-dozen staple Christmas hymns; these range from ‘Silent night’ to ‘Once in royal David’s city’. Charles Wesley also has half a dozen items, among them ‘And can it be that I should gain’, ‘O thou who earnest from above’ and ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’. One distinctive feature is the noticeable influence of gospel songs: Fanny Crosby’s ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done’ is found here, as are ‘O God of burning, cleansing flame’, ‘I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene’ and ‘The old rugged cross’. The traditional language of these older texts has been retained, with none losing ‘thou’ forms. Contemporary hymnody is represented by only two items, the best-known of Dudley-Smith’s work as mentioned earlier.
The Source 2 followed only three years later; with 480 items including some 75 in the traditional hymn style, the proportion of hymns which it carries is half as high again as its predecessor. The selection largely builds on the patterns established in the first book: there are three more Watts texts and five more by Charles Wesley, plus his brother John’s translation of ‘Jesus, thy blood and righteousness’. Other German sources are well represented: besides Joachim Neander’s two best-known texts we have ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’, ‘O sacred head, once wounded’ and ‘When morning gilds the skies’.
William Cowper makes an appearance with four texts, including ‘Jesus, where’er thy people meet’ and ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’; the latter, with its vivid imagery, clearly sits comfortably alongside items in the gospel song mode. Other standard hymn writers appearing here include Frederick William Faber, William Walsham How, John Newton and Thomas Kelly. There are three of James Montgomery’s hymns, including ‘On this assembled host’ (paired with a new tune, BEAVERWOOD by Linda Mawson). For most of these writers, it takes only a moderate knowledge of hymnody to guess which of their work is included. There is another handful from the gospel song genre, and a further seven or eight Christmas hymns. Contributions from writers alive during the twentieth century are not numerous, but Katie Barclay Wilkinson’s ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour’ and Frank Houghton’s ‘Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour’ each win a place, along with two texts each by Fred Pratt Green and Martin Leckebusch and one by Michael Saward.
One interesting departure is the introduction of some adaptations of older hymn texts. Mention has already been made of a new setting for Montgomery; ‘Before the throne of God above’ is included with the tune by Vikki Cook which is finding its way into a number of newer books. The other adaptations are ‘Jesus, the joy of loving hearts’, where Kendrick has written new music for six-line verses and where the last two lines of each verse are repeated; and ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me’ which occurs in two versions, the traditional (to TOPLADY) and the Kendrick (no change to the stanzas but a new tune with a refrain).
So to The Source 3 (2005), a collection of around 600 items of which just under a tenth are hymns. As with The Source 2, we are offered a handful of old texts set to new tunes. ‘The head that once was crowned with thorns’ was in volume 2 to ST MAGNUS; in volume 3 it appears again with music by Lucy Bunce, who has also contributed a new tune for ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds’ with slight amendments to the words. Kendrick, too, has taken an old hymn (‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’, which was in volume 1) and provided a new tune. Such adaptations will certainly not be to everyone’s taste; but it could be argued that they might make good words which have stood the test of time accessible to a new generation.
Contemporary hymn writers fare better than before in this volume. Once again there are several of Martin Leckebusch’s texts: it would be fair to say that he is a writer published by Kevin Mayhew, but also fair to point out that these three volumes contain nothing by Michael Forster, also a Mayhew author and a prolific writer; though often not on the themes which appeal to evangelicals. Saward and Dudley-Smith are found again in this volume; so too, though for the first time, are Fred Kaan, Alan Gaunt and Elizabeth Cosnett; and there are a number of pieces from the Iona / John Bell / Graham Maule stable, including both shorter songs and four hymns: ‘As if you were not there’; ‘Christ’s is the world’ (often known as ‘A touching place’); ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’; and ‘The love of God comes close’.
Similar results could be gleaned from the other popular books. For example, Songs of Fellowship 3 (2003) has around 45 hymns among its 540 items; spirituals, Iona material, and old words adapted for new music (including ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ with a refrain and a new tune) are all represented. Modern authors include Pratt Green (‘For the fruits of his creation’), Kaan (‘For the healing of the nations’) and Christopher Idle (‘When you prayed beneath the trees’). Also included are ‘Lord of the dance’, ‘One more step along the world I go’ and ‘When I needed a neighbour’, all by Sydney Carter, and Jan Struther’s ‘When a knight won his spurs’; though whether these last four betray the compilers' awareness of contemporary developments in hymnody or merely their own ages is an unanswered question.
Threads and trends
Today’s British evangelicals are, in general, more aligned to the song world than to the hymn world. They are still respectfully aware of their musical heritage, but have reverted to a subset of the best-known hymns, in some places almost as a supplement to the main diet of songs; on occasions, it could be felt that the inclusion of a hymn in a service is a kind of tokenism. Yet there are signs that people are searching for more, and are rediscovering hidden treasures from the past: witness the new tunes being composed for traditional hymns, in an attempt to blend proven riches from former generations into the current worship patterns of the church. The same phenomenon can be seen (albeit in a different form) in the recent resurgence of interest in what is termed ‘Celtic spirituality’.
Songs have evolved over the period. Where the earliest songs would often be very short (but sung several times), there has been a gradual move towards songs with multiple stanzas. Sometimes these stanzas have consisted of variations of one another, as in Kendrick’s ‘Let me have my way among you, do not strive, do not strive’ (1977): the following verses are ‘We’ll let you have your way among us, we’ll not strive…’ ‘Let my peace rule within your hearts, do not strive…’ and ‘We’ll let your peace rule within our hearts, we'll not strive…’ This is essentially a very simple formula, and the same pattern can be found in various other songs; but this example serves to illustrate one of the ways a song can work. It is not a linear exploration of a theme, leading from an opening thought to a logical conclusion; it is more of a meditation of call and response, focusing on a single idea until - ideally - both the minds and the emotions of the worshippers are engaged. The songs of Taizé and Iona can also perform the same function; and when used wisely they can help to make a service more rounded, providing additional points of contact between the worshippers and the Lord, and between members of the congregation.
Other strengths of the song genre include the potential to use more ordinary language; a writer who is not constrained by the hymn writer's traditional disciplines of rhyme and metre will have a wider vocabulary at their disposal. It is sad, therefore, that the language of songs has tended to be rather narrow, as has their subject matter. There has been an emphasis on the personal over the corporate; on the private implications of faith, rather than the social; on praise offered in God’s house rather than discipleship pursued in God’s world; on victory over difficulties rather than grace to endure hardships. Some songwriters are addressing these weaknesses. Consider these lines by Stuart Townend (from ‘We have sung our songs of victory’, 1997):
Lord, we know your heart is broken
by the evil that you see,
and you've stayed your hand of judgement
for you plan to set men free.
But the land is still in darkness,
and we’ve fled from what is right;
we have failed the silent children
who will never see the light.
This is the language of lament, and is to be welcomed. Kendrick, too, has been at the forefront of exploring new directions; his song ‘Who can sound the depths of sorrow’ (1988), like the Townend song, recognises the scandal of abortion; while ‘Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair’ (1993) touches on many issues, including fair trade, land rights, war and environmental concerns: ‘Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear, / cities for sanctuary, freedoms to share. / Peace to the killing fields, scorched earth to green / Christ for the bitterness, his cross for the pain.’ Songs such as these are rightly becoming established in the life of the church.
Such songs also demonstrate a further stage in the maturing of the worship song: the move to multiple stanzas using a single, repeated melody and exploring a theme in greater depth. A good early example which has become well established is Kendrick’s ‘From heaven you came, helpless babe’ (1983), often known by its title ‘The servant King’. One could ask: is this a song or a hymn? It has several verses and a definite progression of thought, like a hymn; its metre and rhythm are more flexible, like a song. There are probably no other tunes to which it can be sung, nor any other words which fit that tune, and this too is more characteristic of songs than of hymns. But whatever labels we attach to it, it remains a powerful piece of writing and our repertoire is the richer for it. A similar strength of writing is found in some of Kendrick’s other work, and also in items such as Townend’s ‘How deep the Father’s love for us’ (1995) and his 2001 collaboration with Keith Getty, ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, a song which has rapidly found a place in the BBC Songs of Praise “top ten” favourites’ list. It is interesting that while both Townend and Getty are established songwriters who regularly write both words and music, when they work in partnership (of which ‘In Christ alone’ was the first occasion) Townend concentrates on the words and Getty on the music: there is real value in this way of working, with each person doing only what they do best. This, too, is something the song world at large has yet to learn from the hymn world.
Some significant questions still await attention. The issues of inclusive language have yet to influence all songwriters even in relation to human beings; evangelicals are likely to resist moves away from male images for God out of deep convictions. Questions of inter-faith material are not even on the agenda. A few writers are still using 'thou' forms; and evangelical songwriters are too quick to copy biblical vocabulary and imagery into their songs without recognising that in a post-Christian society these images do not carry any real resonance with many in today’s congregations. A trenchant critique of this tendency is found in Nick Page’s book And now lets move into a time of nonsense: why worship songs are failing the church. Page also argues in his book against a return to traditional hymns; but he has admitted recently that at the time he wrote the book he, too, was unaware of many of the recent developments in hymnody.
The shape of things to come?
As the song genre develops, the pendulum seems to be swinging slightly back towards hymn forms. The writing of Watts, Wesley, Montgomery and Neale may have had its heyday, but it has stood the test of time and still has much to offer. Writers such as Dudley-Smith and the Jubilate group have shown that it is still possible to write lucid, thoughtful hymn texts from an evangelical perspective in today’s church; among the songwriters, Kendrick and Townend have led the way towards a new style of thoughtful song with good theological content and accessible language. Perhaps the shape of things to come will be best expressed in a marriage of old and new, a style which is neither traditional hymnody nor shallow worship songs, and with which twenty-first century Christians will be able to celebrate and express their faith. There is, after all, room in the kingdom of God for a store which contains both old and new treasures.
1. Authentic Books, 2004
Playing For Hymns: A View From the Keyboard by Ian Sharp
The request to play came late on Saturday night. ‘It’s only a hymn sandwich’, said the vicar, by way of apologising for the Sunday service. The choice was simple; either me, or recorded music. On this occasion I was able to play, but it left me with a question. What are the advantages of having a real live musician playing for worship? And does the player of ‘the hymns’ need any special skills and insights? My brief remarks concern the role of the solo instrumentalist, for the responsibilities of the ensemble musician, although significant, are of a different order.
There are several aspects of applied musicianship to be considered. One would hope that the keyboard musician would be able to cope with the actual notes, and to provide an accompaniment that is technically accurate. But merely playing through the music, verse by verse, is not usually sufficient to support and encourage congregational singing. To interpret the written notes one requires not only a fluent technique but also an understanding of local liturgical practice. There are conventions about accompanying hymns and worship songs which require the player be an instant arranger and improviser, sometimes leading and sometimes supporting, and always being alert to the exigencies of time, place and personnel. (Not to mention those scary times when the printed music has gone missing and one is still expected to provide an accompaniment, by a combination of empathy, ear and luck!)
Here are just some of the basic practicalities which need to be addressed by a keyboard musician when playing for hymns and worship songs:
What is the best key for the singers?
Not always the one printed in the hymnbook. Too high, and the singers soon wilt; too low, and the music sounds lifeless.
What tempo to adopt?
This is determined by the numbers singing and the particular circumstances of the act of worship. Too fast, and the singers can't keep up; too slow, and they run out of breath.
How should the tune be introduced?
Usually the opening few bars, but the standard play-over of a line does not always work with tunes which are more songlike or lyrical in style.
What is the best interpretation of the hymn as a whole and of individual sections of it?
All interpretations should be linked to the meaning of the words and to the local circumstances.
Is the player to lead or to accompany?
Sometimes it is best to be assertive, and sometimes to be discreet; and sometimes to change from one style of playing to the other as the hymn is sung.
Some potential pitfalls
- As one plays, the pages of the book can be turned by a gentle breeze from Heaven, or, worse still, the copy can descend on one's hands as one is playing!
- Sometimes the singing can be so indistinct that in a long hymn one can lose the sense of which verse is which. Which is worse, to play one verse too few or one too many?
- Inadvertently, one can play a tune which turns out to be a metric misfit for the words. (Beware of SLANE!)
- The instrument can develop mischievous tricks which it plays on the unsuspecting accompanist at unpredictable moments during the singing!
All those involved with the playing and singing of hymns and worship songs will recognise these situations and will have plenty of their own experiences to draw on. Above all, a keyboard instrument needs to be played musically, for it must simulate the act of breathing in order to accompany the nuances of singing. It is essential for the player to listen carefully at all times, difficult as this might be. In my opinion it is best not to sing as one plays, but, rather, to internalise the words and their meaning.
Plenty of practical help for church musicians is available. Local organists’ courses often provide valuable opportunities for players to work alongside experienced players. The Royal School of Church Music is currently developing new programmes specially designed for The Musician in Church (church music skills and leadership). Janette Cooper’s publications, The Reluctant Organist (RSCM) and Hymn tunes for the reluctant organist (OUP), and Anne Marsden Thomas’s Organ Practice Guide are useful practical guides. The recent articles on ‘How do we promote good standards of hymn singing’ in Hymn Society Bulletins 242 and 243 illustrate that the Society continues to take this aspect of its work very seriously. Good practice ran be observed and heard at Hymn Society Conferences. But at the end of the day there is really no substitute for a beginner player actually having a go at accompanying a group of singers. This can be terrifying at first, so it would be kind to arrange a fairly informal gathering for a first encounter with the challenges of being a real accompanist.
Keyboard musicians are often fairly visible in a church, and an additional function of their work can be to offer advice and information about the choice of music for weddings, funerals and memorial services, special services, and about the repertoire generally. Of the many information sources available to church musicians the RSCM’s quarterly publication, Sunday by Sunday, is, as it claims, ‘a weekly guide for all who plan and lead worship’, pointing the way to a large choice of hymns and songs as well as songs for children and music from the Taizé, Iona and world music traditions. This valuable resource is updated regularly and draws on material from nearly 200 publications.
There is now a product on the market which has the facility to play the accompaniments of over 2750 UK hymn tunes and worship songs ‘at the touch of a button’, karaoke-style. Advertised as ‘Assistant Organist Available - the ultimate solution for your music accompaniment needs’, it is an instance of the versatility of modern audio technology and is doubtless most welcome in those situations where instrumentalists are in short supply. As its promoters claim, it is convenient, portable, self-contained and ready, willing and able to provide perfect music accompaniment and it never takes a vacation! Not surprisingly, Ruth Gledhill’s article in The Times of 27 April 2006 was headed ‘Karaoke machine brings harmony to the Sunday service’. Such a system doubtless has its uses (as did barrel organs in previous generations) but there is still plenty of scope for real people to play for hymns and songs in worship. Keyboard musicians, as opposed to keyboard machines, are well placed to add two important qualities to their work, namely empathy and spirituality. Karaoke machines, however well-programmed, cannot play with devotion and with understanding of local situations. They cannot think for themselves or breathe the spirit of devotion into the singing. They cannot plan and prepare worship in which congregational song enriches the experience of all those taking part.
Of course, any accompaniment, whether live or recorded is, in one sense, of little consequence by itself, for it merely supports something of much greater significance. And in the context of liturgical practice we do well to note the words of St. Augustine that we should be moved by the thing which is sung, not by the singing itself. But although an accompaniment should be self-effacing, it should not be taken for granted, and neither should the accompanist. Just as machines need the occasional servicing, so an accompanist will thrive with just the occasional word of thanks, not at every verse end, but perhaps at every year end.
For sometime now the Society has been publishing a variety of information on its web-site. For those of our members who do not have access to the web and those who have not yet looked here is a taste of just one project:
‘70 Treasures’: The Birth of a Hymn Based Project by David R. Wright
There are at least five good reasons for placing seminal articles from the Hymn Society Bulletin onto the Hymn Society website www. hymnsocietygbi.org.uk Significant articles are referred to in several places in all the hymnbook ‘companions’ - but hardly anyone ever finds old copies of the bulletins. All Bulletins are in print - in theory at least - but hardly anyone ever buys back numbers. Only a small number of libraries subscribe - and hardly anyone finds the earlier volumes. And memories of the early years of the Hymn Society are no longer living memories. Above all, the web makes the articles accessible worldwide. Yet only a short while ago, hardly anyone was thinking about placing articles from past decades on the web. This article tells the story of how it happened.
Recently, the Royal Geographical Society launched its major ‘Unlocking the Archives’ project: an excellent concept, but it had a big grant. I began to wonder whether the Hymn Society could launch a similar project with its archive of articles, but without extra money. Then on BBC TV, Dan Cruikshank set out to find the world’s ‘80 treasures’. Could this be a model for the Hymn Society to find its own ‘70 treasures’ to celebrate its 70th birthday? Could this be done by finding eight volunteers to comb through each decade of the Bulletin? Our Webmistress welcomed the idea, and in July 2005 the committee gave a hesitant welcome, provided eight volunteers could be found. Cautious voices wisely counselled us to place only eight articles, not 70, on the web to mark the 70th birthday, but we could list 70 articles, and maybe - just maybe - more articles might be added later.
Three days later, the news that there were indeed eight willing volunteers drawn from committee members was greeted with some surprise. The project had been agreed, organised and launched during the three days of the Chester conference. Each volunteer agreed to read up to 40 issues of the Bulletin and select the best ten articles, making 70 articles in all. (For those worried about why eight decades only provide 70 years, our president took 1936-9 and this author took the current half-decade).
It was not all plain sailing. At one time 18 problems were identified and the project nearly collapsed. But the cheerful enthusiasm of the Hymn Society webmistress persuaded us to continue: we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Gillian Warson. Each of the eight members of the team worked in a distinctive, even idiosyncratic manner. I had never before tried to co-ordinate Hymn Society members and it was, as they say, a ‘steep learning curve’. If it all seems straightforward in retrospect, it wasn’t. But a steep hymnological curve can become a hymn-prayer: ‘…the steep and rugged pathway,/may we tread rejoicingly’.
To cut a long story short, we did ‘tread rejoicingly’ on our steep learning curve, most of the time, at least. And during this work, valuable discoveries were being made. For example, we rediscovered an excellent article published for the 50th anniversary, which gave an ‘eyewitness’ account of the early years - far more vivid than anything that could be written today. (Bulletin 166, pp94-98, Jan 1986) Another discovery was that the idea of republishing key articles from past bulletins had been discussed over fifty years ago.
And so, by Advent 2005, the list of 70 articles was achieved and agreed, and the process of placing the list and the top 8 articles on the web was beginning. More than that, some members of the editorial team offered their own precis of their findings. The ‘30s and ‘40s are already well summarised in the article mentioned above; here are extracts from the reports on three other decades:
1950s - précis by Rev. G Deans
Throughout the 1950s, the towering figure of Dr Erik Routley features prominently as the mainstay of the Hymn Society’s Bulletin. If I had to select only one article from the 1950s for re-publication it would be one of his contributions. His article in the Spring edition for 1953, ‘What makes a good hymn?’ (which was originally an illustrated talk, broadcast on the BBC Home Service in 1952) seems to me to have a timeless quality, and is still of great relevance over fifty years after it was first given. The text is reprinted in Bulletin 63 (Volume 3, Number 6, (Spring 1953), 90-96.). Scottish contributions appear more prominently in the 1950s than is the case today. The Welsh dimension is significantly under-represented, and the Irish apparently non-existent.
I was intrigued to find that the idea of re-publishing key articles has already a precedent from the 1950s! In the Minutes of the Executive Meeting printed in the Bulletin for September 1951, it is reported that “Mr Bunn spoke on ‘A Re-print of Bulletin Articles’ and described a collection of notable articles he had extracted from past Bulletins to re-print in book form. He stated that the collection had been submitted in the first place to Sir John Murray, who said he was afraid that the appeal of the collection would not be wide enough as so little was written by, or about Anglicans, and he regretted he was unable to publish, mainly on these grounds. Mr Bunn stated that the collection was now with the Lutterworth Press, and was still under consideration. He was thanked by the Committee for his work in this connection.” (September 1951, p 261). I wonder what became of this proposal?
1980s - précis by Canon Michael Saward
Much space in the Bulletins in the 1980s was taken up with reviews, conference reports, and discussion of individual hymns. Much less space was given to discussion about the actual construction of hymns - the root of hymnody. Thus I regard the most valuable article from the 1980s as the one which handles this vital area. Timothy Dudley- Smith's article ‘What makes a good hymn text?’ asks the fundamental question facing all would-be authors of hymns. This article both informs and challenges us in a way rarely to be found.
1990s - precis by Rev. G Wrayford
The Bulletins for the 1990s reflect the concern at various levels with language (inclusive, or not), and the ongoing discussion over the nature and quality of worship songs. The latter had obviously come to stay, but were they a development from the ‘hymn explosion’, or an entirely different genre, with their roots in the choruses of earlier generations? Hymnological research continued, with detailed analyses, and excellent lectures at Conferences produced long articles in the Bulletin - but for this project I have selected shorter articles.
This project has also given the opportunity to try to sum up the past and present achievements of the Hymn Society and its Bulletin over its first 70 years in the Introduction to this project. Here it is, as it appears on the Hymn Society website:
Introduction to the 70 Treasures Project
by David R Wright
The purpose of this e-publication of articles from the Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland is:
- to fulfil the 4 aims of The Hymn Society
- to make our collected wisdom available worldwide
- to raise the profile of hymns and of The Hymn Society
- to celebrate the 70th birthday of The Hymn Society.
These bulletins provide a unique record of the story of hymns and hymnbooks - but very few people have had access to these articles until now. By placing key articles from each decade on the website, we have made them available to people throughout the world.
The selection of articles for re-publication has been undertaken by eight members of the Hymn Society, one member for each decade. Every member of this editorial team has had an ‘embarras de richesses’ from which to choose. We have chosen concise articles, on major themes of continuing relevance but there are many other articles which deserve to be republished. We may add more articles at a later date, so please revisit this website from time to time.
The project also gives an opportunity to reflect on the distinctiveness and strengths of the Bulletin. The Hymn Society has been very fortunate in its choice of editors: they have shown wisdom and discernment, firm faith and broad sympathies, and the rare gift of not taking themselves too seriously. The current editor - a Methodist - was appointed in 2004; he is only the fifth editor in 70 years. The first editor was from the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian); two editors were from the Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church); one was from the Church of England.
Articles in the Bulletin have covered a wide variety of topics, as the selection on this website illustrates. Many articles defy classification. Indeed, the unexpected nature of the contents of each issue is one of the joys of receiving the Bulletin four times a year. Among the types of article can be found the following broad categories:
- study of a well-known hymn writer;
- research into little-known or forgotten hymn writers;
- study of hymns of a small denomination (eg Moravians; Plymouth Brethren);
- ‘where are hymns going?’ - from conservative and liberal perspectives;
- the process of hymn writing;
- ‘hymns on my travels’ - word-pictures of the variety of contexts and styles in which hymns are sung;
- controversial issues in hymnody;
- hymns as literature;
- revision of hymn words;
- hymns in an international context;
- hymn tunes: composers, mysteries, and principles.
There are also reviews, obituaries, and conference reports. We all hope you find these articles interesting and helpful.
Strengthen for Service, 100 years of the English Hymnal 1906 - 2006, Edited by Alan Luff. Canterbury Press, Norwich. ISBN 1-85311- 662-9, £19.99.
I had my first encounter with The English Hymnal when I was admitted as a chorister in my parish church. With its unmistakeable green cover the book was easily spotted on our music desks and it was an important source of reference when deficiencies in A&M Revised, the book in regular use, were realised by our choirmaster. It was to The English Hymnal that we turned for DOWN AMPNEY and SINE NOMINE on Whitsunday and at All Saints tide respectively, or for the superior harmonisation of HELMSLEY for use with the great Advent hymn ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending.’ When the first fifty years of The English Hymnal was marked in 1956, the writer of an article in The Methodist Recorder observed that the book had hugely enriched the worship of the church - ‘It has knowledge, scholarship, and catholicity. If this book was first put into the choir stalls as a source of alternative tunes, it won its way by the greatness and variety of the hymns it contains.’ Now, another fifty years on we celebrate the centenary of this notable hymnbook with a collection of twenty-one essays by leading musicians, historians and enthusiasts of hymnody. The title, ‘Strengthen for Service’, as the Dean of Hereford reminds us in the introduction, derives from the fine Eucharistic hymn of that name from the Liturgy of Malabar. Michael Tavinor speaks of the powerful link between worship and daily life which this hymn makes and suggests that it also characterises the way in which The English Hymnal has sought to serve church and liturgy during the past century.
It is sometimes suggested that collections of essays can suffer from a failure to maintain a consistently high quality throughout, but here, Alan Luff is to be congratulated for bringing together such a distinguished team and encouraging them in their areas of interest and expertise. Their different skills and insights bring much richness to the book and, although inevitably some of the material overlaps, we are very much in their debt for their assessment of the history and theology of this famous green book and of its lasting contribution to the music and worship of the church. The length of the essays varies quite considerably and one is sometimes left wanting more on several of the subjects raised. Of the lengthier contributions the opening essay on the Birth and Background of The English Hymnal by Donald Gray makes for fascinating and compulsive reading. Those who enjoyed reading the fine biography of Percy Dearmer by the same author (See Bulletin 227: p166) will realise that he is well able to deal with this subject which gives us a glimpse into the genesis of the English Hymnal and reminds us of the less than warm welcome its appearance received, not so much by a hostile press as in the case of the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, but by leading churchmen of the day. As the Dean of Christ Church Oxford advised - ‘I am quite sure that the hymns on St Mary and some of the Saints are bound to cause great trouble.’ One senses that Dearmer and his team thought that notoriety was a selling point but in reality the Committee was forced to modify its stance. If the words of some hymns were a stumbling block to many, the music throughout the book was enthusiastically received. The choice of Ralph Vaughan Williams as Musical Editor was inspired and had this happy association not been made, the church as a whole would undoubtedly be the poorer. Concerned to provide the best music from many different backgrounds and sources as well as promoting the English folk-song, Vaughan Williams sought and used the best of Welsh traditional tunes, French diocesan tunes, German Chorale melodies and tunes from a variety of metrical psalters. Nor must we forget the substantial collection of plainsong hymns which account for just under one sixth of the entire collection. John Harper deals at length with this latter topic in his chapter on Liturgical and Musical Roots in The English Hymnal. The penultimate essay by Ian Bradley on ‘The Chamber of Horrors’ a description applied by Vaughan Williams to ‘the appendix of additional tunes which do not fit into the general scheme of the book’ shows his dislike of modern (Victorian) tunes but suggests too that he did not always get his own way! One wonders why so much was dismissed or ignored. Not one tune by Stainer for example finds a place in the English Hymnal though Vaughan Williams was known to admire IN MEMORIAM and he had a soft spot for DOMINUS REGIT ME and may well have included this had there not been copyright difficulties.
With the passing of one hundred years it is easy to forget just how innovative the English Hymnal was and many hymns which are now firmly part of the standard repertoire were making their first appearance at the start of the 20th century. ‘He who would valiant be’ (shorn of its hobgoblin) made its debut in the English Hymnal as did Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak mid-winter’ with its specially commissioned tune by Gustav Holst. From America a further two Christmas hymns appeared in ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ and ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ while the verses of John Greenleaf Whittier were introduced to Anglican congregations for the first time including ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’.
Inevitably, some space and attention in Strengthen for Service is given to the successors of the English Hymnal and of the English Hymnal school including Songs of Praise and The Oxford Book of Carols. The energy and enthusiasm of Percy Dearmer and his colleagues in all of these enterprises is worthy of note and is well reflected and recorded in this major collection of essays. We have good reason to be grateful to all the contributors to Strengthen for Service (several Hymn Society members among them, we proudly note) for helping to illuminate the story of The English Hymnal, and for sharing such valuable insights on the contents of a book that has had such a major influence on congregational song in the past century.
New English Praise, A supplement to the New English Hymnal, Canterbury Press, Norwich. Full Music edition £15 (ISBN 1-85311-724- 2); Melody edition £9 (ISBN 1-85311-730-7); Organ edition - spiral- bound £25 (ISBN 1-85311-735-8). Grant of 25% available for orders of 20 copies or more on application to the Canterbury Press
New English Praise, published as part of the centenary celebrations for the English Hymnal, acts as a supplement to the New English Hymnal of 1986. Its 101 items divide almost exactly into two halves: a supplement of hymns, and liturgical material responding to the provisions of Common Worship.
In this latter section there are 27 responsorial psalms and canticles and the editors having wisely concluded that it was impractical to provide settings for the whole range of psalms prescribed in the new lectionary. They have made an excellent selection to complement the material in the New English Hymnal. An index gives guidance for the full three-year cycle. One is pleased to welcome the work of Colin Mawby, particularly his setting of psalm 150, not new, but now made readily available. For the rest there is liturgical material for the major seasons and festivals, gospel acclamations, and simple mass settings: Martin Shaw’s Anglican Folk Mass to the Prayer Book text, and Gregory Murray adapted for the Common Worship 2000 text. Neither is an exciting choice. There is also a composite mass which uses Schubert’s simple Sanctus (Heilig, heilig, heilig), but the many changes made to this in order to get an English text to fit go well beyond what the music can stand.
The hymn section of New English Praise is something of a hotchpotch as the preface readily admits. It aims to fill liturgical gaps, re-introduce certain hymns omitted from the New English Hymnal, make available hymns long since known and loved in other Christian traditions, provide tunes for texts appearing in the New English Hymnal for which in the meantime newer tunes have become well established, and to offer some genuinely new material, although there is in fact little of this.
Sadly the overall impression is of a collection stuck in the past, belatedly trying to catch up with what others have been doing for years, and preferring on balance to reintroduce the old rather than recapture some of the excitement of the 1906 English Hymnal by offering imaginative new texts and tunes.
The gap-filling material includes five hymns in the monastic tradition, two of them for the season of Lent. All are in long metre, already overused in the New English Hymnal (whose index lists 68 LM tunes) to which a further four are added here. None is as distinctive as Barry Rose’s beautiful CROSS DEEP which surely deserves wider currency. (See Broadcast Praise 11).
Hymns from the English Hymnal re-introduced here are ‘Hark, my soul, it is the Lord’ (ST. BEES), ‘Fierce raged the tempest’ (ST. AELRED) and ‘When rising from the bed of death’ (THIRD MODE MELODY), which has presumably been included to save the tune from falling out of use, now that COE FEN has largely displaced it for ‘How shall I sing that majesty?’ None of these texts seems worth reviving, and Vaughan Williams would not have been pleased to see J.B. Dykes’s tunes given this new lease of life.
As for older hymns, largely from other traditions and thus far resisted by the English Hymnal and its successors, several appear here: ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘And can it be’ (SAGINA), ‘Come labour on’, (ORA LABORA), ‘Great is thy faithfulness’, ‘Hail redeemer, king divine’, ‘I vow to thee, my country’ (THAXTED), ‘In heavenly love abiding’ (PENLAN), ‘Lift high the cross’ (CRUCIFER), and ‘See amid the winter’s snow’ (HUMILITY).
More recent hymns that have become well-established throughout the hymn-singing world include: ‘Every star shall sing a carol’, ‘I come with joy to meet my Lord’ (ST. BOTOLPH), ‘For the fruits of his creation’ (EAST ACKLAM), ‘Christ triumphant’ (GUITING POWER), ‘Be still, for the presence of the Lord’, ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’ (SCHONSTER HERR JESU), and ‘Lord for the years your love has kept and guided’. A few others, whilst not new, have yet to establish themselves fully, and one welcomes their further exposure here. I would highlight Fred Pratt Green’s ‘When in our music God is glorified’, Michael Perry’s ‘How shall they hear the word of God’ and Robert Willis’s ‘The kingdom is upon you’. There is virtually nothing to appeal to children, but I warmly commend the inclusion of Margaret Old’s ‘Spirit of God, unseen as the wind’ to the SKYE BOAT SONG - perfect for all-age worship. There is also one Iona hymn: ‘Will you come and follow me?’ (KELVINGROVE).
As for texts that I believe to be published for the first time in a major collection I am much drawn to James Quinn’s ‘Now from the heavens descending’, Keith Pound’s ‘Christ the prisoner’ and Robert Willis’s ‘Earth’s fragile beauties’.
Moving on to tunes, I heartily welcome Ken Naylor’s COE FEN for ‘How shall I sing that majesty’, Maurice Bevan’s CORVEDALE for ‘There's a wideness in God’s mercy’ and Richard Shepherd’s SCAMPSTON for ‘Sing choirs of heaven’. Quite why the editors felt we also needed that tired tune DIES DOMENICA (Dykes again!) for ‘We need thee, heavenly Father’ I cannot imagine. The space would have been far better used for Malcolm Archer’s glorious REDLAND to ‘King of glory, king of peace’, now over 20 years old and still - disgracefully - largely unknown. (See Hymns for Today’s Church 603 or Sing Glory! 178B). William Ferguson’s LADYWELL appears for the first time in an English Hymnal compilation, but its breezy self-confidence is inappropriate for Percy Dearmer’s ‘And didst thou travel light?’ to which it is set.
Some tunes appear in choral settings from which it would be hard for an accompanist of limited skills to work out what to play, for instance ‘Be still, for the presence of the Lord’. This needed a simple accompaniment alongside Martin How’s choral arrangement. (Many players will not even attempt Francis Jackson’s last verse setting of his own EAST ACKLAM but anyone who does should be warned of two errors in bar 10.)
The pitch of tunes tends to be higher than some would wish - there are plenty of top Es - and KING DIVINE in A major (with its B#s and E#s) is not user-friendly. A semitone lower, this would have been easier both to sing and to play.
‘The post-war surge in hymn-writing has not been ignored, but we regard much of it as poor in quality and ephemeral in expression’ declared the preface to the New English Hymnal. That highly contentious stand has largely been maintained in New English Praise such that, in both books taken together, the texts of Albert Bayly, Sydney Carter, Brian Foley, Fred Pratt Green, Christopher Idle, Fred Kaan, James Quinn, Timothy Dudley-Smith and Brian Wren provide just 23 hymns. The work of Elizabeth Cosnett, Carl Daw, Alan Gaunt, Martin Leckebusch, Thomas Troeger and Paul Wigmore, to name some very distinguished writers, is entirely unrepresented.
This matters, because the very constituency to which the English Hymnal and its successors appeals is the one where ephemeral worship songs are most likely to be rejected and where high quality material of our own age would most likely find a home if only people knew it existed and had ready access to it.
To summarise, those who wish to use the liturgical material of New English Praise will want this collection in any case. The hymn section will largely provide material that they already have on bits of paper, but is to that extent useful. Production, presentation and proof-reading standards are very high. Choir directors and accompanists should not hesitate to acquire a copy of the spiral-bound edition which, though expensive, is indispensable.
The Everlasting Hills. Hymns from the Isle of Man, (ed) Fenella Bazin. Research Report 12, Musica Manniae 3, 2006, Centre for Manx Studies, University of Liverpool. (£19.00) ISSN:0937 546959; ISBN: 1899338-11-X.
This is a scholarly edition of 250 hymn tunes by composers who are Manx or who have strong connections with the Isle of Man, plus a further 39 hymns with texts only. This latter section includes 13 texts by John Ellerton (1826-1893) who was educated at King William’s College, Castletown, but who spend the rest of his life away from the Island. The editor, Dr Fenella Bazin, prefaces the collection with an extensive survey of the sources of the texts and tunes (published and in manuscript), the composers, the musical styles, and the performance practices which relate to this field. The appendices and indexes give the sources and full documentation for all the material, enabling the book to be used both as a scholarly resource and as a practical hymn book. The volume is spiral bound to facilitate use on music stands, but does weigh nearly a kilo! The musical arrangements reflect the many trends in congregational song in British hymnody, and range from four-part settings (e.g. an ‘unattributed’ tune with some imitative part-writing, BUCKLEY (No.29), to ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’) to unison settings with piano accompaniment.
The hymns are arranged in alphabetical order of the title of the tune, and the index of first lines enables each text to be found with ease. The title of the book, ‘The Everlasting Hills’, is taken from William Mylcraine’s ‘May we be kind and gentle, gracious Saviour’ (No. 199), sung to the tune SHARNBROOK, also by the author, and published in 1991. Some of the hymns in the collection are relatively familiar to the general hymn singer, such as THE MANX FISHERMEN’S EVENING HYMN (No.137), words by William Henry Gill (1839-1922), set to an arrangement by him of a traditional secular tune. (See J.R. Watson’s comments in An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (2002, p.356) for further information.) Gill, who was born in Sicily and educated at King William’s College, worked in London for most of his life. A great devotee of Manx music, he was responsible for the publication of Manx National Songs (1896). The harvest of the sea and the land is never far away from his thoughts, as in v.3 of this hymn:
Our wives and children we commend to Thee;
For them we plough the land and plough the deep,
For them by day the golden corn we reap,
By night the silver harvest of the sea.
Gill is also the author of the tune and words (eight verses plus one in the Manx language) of THE NATIONAL ANTHEM (Arrane Vannin) (No.222). Inevitably, a collection such as this includes several tunes and texts with national connections. For example, ELLAN VANNIN [No.65], text by the actress, Eliza Craven Green, music composed by J. Townsend of Manchester (fl.1854), became the Island’s unofficial national anthem. It speaks of ‘My own dear Elian Vannin, / With its green hills by the sea.’ The editor makes the useful observation that the tune, to the metre, 18.104.22.168.D, is suitable for a number of other texts.
The book's footnotes often give fascinating insights into life on the Island. JENNY VEG (No. 113), ‘A day without a night when the sun will shine so bright’, was notated by the 70-year-old Robert Callin in 1930, in memory of the time when as a child he was taken seriously ill after catching cold at an Anniversary Day. ‘Jenny Veg’ called at his house and sang this song to him. Fortunately, he recovered. We learn that MANXLAND FOR CHRIST! (No. 139), words and music by John Pollock, was written specially as the Convention Song for the 17th British National Christian Endeavour Convention held in Douglas in 1907. ‘Manxland for Christ! - from the cot to the palace! / ‘Manxland for Christ!’ - Pass the watchword along, / Till from her mountains, her glens and her valleys, / Manxland united shall join in our song. / Rally, Endeavourers! etc.’ (v.4) A stirring message indeed for all the members of Manxland united!
The volume as whole is a fitting testimony to the varied and vibrant musical heritage of the Isle of Man. John Wesley was impressed with what he heard there in 1781: ‘I was agreeably surprised. I have not heard better singing either at Bristol or Lincoln. Many, both men and women, have admirable voices; and they sing with good judgement. Who would have expected this in the Isle of Man?’ In the Foreword to the present collection the current Bishop of Sodor and Man pays tribute to the vibrant Methodist tradition of the Isle of Man, and a former Bishop made the perceptive comment that ‘the Manx people are naturally musical with a long tradition of the love of music as a means of expression of their deepest and instinctive religious feelings. They are innately a religious people.’ The publication of The Everlasting Hills will be welcomed by scholars and practical musicians alike, and its appeal will be no means be confined to those who have a connection, however tenuous, with Mona’s Isle.
The Complete New English Hymnal Priory Records (This continues John Barnard’s review of this set of CDS. The final review will appear in the next issue of the Bulletin).
Volume 9 The Choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury/Benjamin Nicholas PRCD 709
The disc gets off to an excellent start with ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven’ sung to Ferguson’s distinguished tune CUDDESDON. It is a shame that we do not hear it more often. Here and in several other hymns of praise (such as ‘Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!’ And ‘O worship the king’) the choir sings with a verve reminiscent of St. Mary’s Warwick. Sadly though, the much smaller number of boys at Tewkesbury - just 13 - produces a less well blended sound, with one or two boys’ voices sticking out somewhat. The compensation is their total commitment to the task in hand.
A feature of the performances on this CD is the use of unaccompanied singing for complete hymns - and these are well chosen: ‘Father see thy children’ (GHENT), ‘Ah, holy Jesu, how hast thou offended?’ (HERZLIEBSTER JESU), ‘A great and mighty wonder’ (ES IST EIN ROS ENTSPRUNGEN), ‘O thou who through this holy week’ (CHESHIRE), and ‘Jesu, grant me this, I pray’ (SONG 13). The extremely slow speed for the last of these strikes me as overdone, with each verse lasting 50 seconds!
I was pleased to hear ‘Glory, love and praise and honour’ to Francis Westbrook’s splendid BENIFOLD. On the other hand I regret that the editors of NEH did not see fit to include Robert Gower’s distinguished BLEA MOOR for ‘Christ upon the mountain peak’, because CHRISTUS IST ERSTANDEN is a poor substitute. (NEH tends to prefer its composers dead!)
Overall this disc seems a touch short on highlights, but equally there are few tedious hymns. There are some descants and last verse reharmonisations - I particularly enjoyed some harmonic twists to the final verses of EVERTON and COELITES PLAUDANT. Organist Carleton Etherington’s descant and reharmonisation of LLANFAIR for ‘Hail the day that sees him rise’ bestrides the line between excitement and the limit of good taste. I’ll happily give him the benefit of the doubt for some lovely accompaniment at the organ throughout the disc.
Volume 10 The Choir of Truro Cathedral/Andrew Nethsingha PRCD 710
The choir of Truro Cathedral has in recent years gained a high reputation for itself under three distinguished music directors: David Briggs, Andrew Nethsingha and now Robert Sharpe. So I approached this volume with high expectations, which have largely been met. The singing is unfailingly well blended and beautifully phrased with excellent diction, and the men make a particularly lovely sound, not least in ‘Day of wrath and doom impending’ (DIES IRAE) which is an unexpected highlight of the recording. Only ten boys take part, illness having felled no fewer than eight trebles at the time of recording, and one occasionally wishes for a bigger sound from the treble line. Nonetheless one would never have guessed that their numbers were so few, and they sing the descants fearlessly and with distinction. (Organist Christopher Gray offers an excellent one for UNIVERSITY, and Geoffrey Morgan treats us to an exciting reharmonisation of LOVE UNKNOWN with harmonies that would likely have pleased John Ireland himself.) The quieter hymns show the choir at its very best; but the Easter hymns ‘The strife is o’er’ and ‘Come, ye faithful, raise the strain’ (to AVE VIRGO VIRGINUM) are no less impressive. Familiar hymns include ‘Immortal invisible’, all ten verses of ‘The God of Abraham praise’ - about five too many! - And ‘Jesus shall reign’, sung of course to TRURO.
Volume 11 The Choir of Wakefield Cathedral/Jonathan Bielby PRCD 711
Wakefield Cathedral seems to have drawn the short straw in terms of repertoire, for there are few really well-known hymns on this disc and several tunes (such as EATINGTON, ALL SOULS, HUDDERSFIELD, OLD 120th, STABAT MATER, EPWORTH, HOLYROOD) that do not seem to me to deserve a place in a living repertoire. The choir does its best, but some of these hymns are irredeemably uninteresting; and one or two of the boys tend to sing on the underside of the note. Under Jonathan Bielby’s direction the performances are carefully prepared, and admirably accompanied by Louise Marsh. There are descants by Geoffrey Shaw and Alan Gray, and last verse harmonisations by Harrison Oxley and Alwyn Surplice - all are models of how this sort of thing should be done.
Volume 12 The Choir of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral/James Thomas PRCD 712
If volume 11 seems short on well-known items, the reverse is true here. ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’ (VENI EMMANUEL), ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’ (MENDELSSOHN), ‘Come, ye faithful, raise the strain’ (NEANDER), ‘For all the saints’ (SINE NOMINE of course), ‘Love’s redeeming work is done’, (SAVANNAH), ‘We have a gospel to proclaim (FULDA), ‘Immortal love for ever full’ (BISHOPTHORPE) and ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’ (THORNBURY) are amongst the plums to grace this recording. ‘Brightest and best of the sons of the morning’ is sung to WESSEX, an excellent tune by Alwyn Surplice, former organist of Winchester Cathedral, and the programme notes promise us MARLBOROUGH GATE by the distinguished young organist and conductor Wayne Marshall for ‘Beyond all mortal praise’. But the tune actually recorded is the alternative DOLPHIN STREET. Under James Thomas’s clear-sighted direction and accompanied with aplomb by Michael Bawtree, the choir makes a pleasing sound and seems to relish this very enjoyable selection of hymns.
Volume 13 The Choir of Sheffield Cathedral/Neil Taylor PRCD 713
This is another excellent CD in the series. The girl choristers and men make an enthusiastic and well-focused sound in a wide selection of hymns as well as two of thirteen responsorial psalms included in NEH. Speeds tend to be swift, as in ‘Christ is the world's true light’ (RINKART), ‘Wake, O wake’ (WACHET AUF) and ‘O God our help in ages past’ (ST. ANNE) and throughout the singing fizzes with conviction. ‘Jesu, the very thought is sweet!’, sung unaccompanied to the Mode 1 melody JESU DULCIS, offers delectable contrast to the more rousing items, and in similar vein the innocuous Lenten hymn ‘Lord, in this thy mercy’s day’ (ST. PHILIP) is exquisitely performed. Edward Bairstow’s final verse harmonisation of EBENEZER is an acquired taste (and not quite mine!), but all of us can revel in this exciting singing of Percy Buck’s MARTINS to ‘Sing alleluia forth ye saints on high’. Overall this volume is a bit short on popular hymns, but the commitment of all participants makes it an impressive disc nonetheless. Neil Taylor is to be congratulated on these standards. Peter Heginbotham accompanies on the organ.
Volume 14 The Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge/Sarah MacDonald PRCD 714
In terms of choral blend allied to excellent diction and detailed preparation this recording is amongst the very best in the series; and there are plenty of familiar hymns here, such as ‘Ye holy angels bright’ (DARWALL’S 148th), ‘Jesus lives’ (ST. ALBINUS), ‘Alleluia, sing to Jesus’ (HYFRYDOL), ‘As with gladness’ (DIX) and ‘Come, O long-expected Jesus’ (CROSS OF JESUS). ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ is sung to HOLLINGSIDE rather than ABERYSTWYTH, and ‘When all thy mercies’ to BELGRAVE rather than CONTEMPLATION.
Whether listeners will want a recording of Merbecke’s Order for Holy Communion, Rite B, I cannot judge, but it takes over ten minutes - as does Psalm 22, sung to plainsong for the Maundy Thursday liturgy. This latter is given an organ accompaniment which I found distracting in its harmonic range. I also had reservations over the changed harmonies to LONDON NEW and FARLEY CASTLE which would have been better left alone, whilst responding favourably to a beautifully conceived descant and choral harmonisation for the final verse of ‘Blest are the pure in heart’ (FRANCONIA) by Alan Howard, a tenor in the choir. Sarah MacDonald, who directs, contributes two lovely descants; and sensitive organ playing emerges from the hands of organ scholars Daveth Clark and Timothy Morgan.
Volume 15 The Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral/ Mervyn Cousins PRCD 715
After the many volumes of this series made in buildings with limited resonance, the lively acoustic of Liverpool’s Roman Catholic cathedral provides a considerable contrast. The choir of men and boys produce a full-throated sound, yet it is beautifully blended and only very occasionally do the high altos come through too forcefully on the higher notes of unison verses. Richard Lea on the organ does not hold back in louder hymns, and the effect of the trumpet blazing out during ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ is undoubtedly thrilling.
The recording includes short versicle/response/collect sequences for the major Christian festivals, followed by a suitable hymn. These are attractive, and many listeners will appreciate the variety they provide.
Familiar hymns include ‘Crown him with many crowns’, (DIADEMATA), ‘The Lord's my shepherd’ (CRIMOND with W. Baird Ross’s much loved descant), ‘All my hope on God is founded’ (MICHAEL) and ‘Praise to the holiest in the height’ (GERONTIUS).
Under Mervyn Cousins’ inspired direction the choir sings with total conviction throughout, and all in all this must count as one of the considerable successes of the series.
Volume 16 The Choir of King's School, Canterbury/Howard Ionascu PRCD 716
This recording was made in Sandwich Parish Church with Matthew Martin at the organ. The choir of girls and boys sings with commendable freshness, even if very occasionally there is a raw sound from the unison boys on a high note. (Having said that, I must particularly commend the tenors who sound excellent throughout, not least in the beautiful Bach harmonisation of INNSBRUCK.)
The performances are well prepared, but there is for my taste too little excitement in the air. The more familiar and joyful hymns survive well enough, but I longed in hymns such as ‘All for Jesus!’ for more of the verve displayed in ‘Come, let us join our cheerful songs’. Often it is a simple matter of speed. ST. CROSS is a pretty deadly tune anyway, but sung this slowly it drags on interminably. STOCKPORT and ST. COLUMBA would also have benefited from a more flowing tempo. Some good descants by John Scott, Matthew Martin and Howard Ionascu adorn several hymns, and I was pleased to hear Michael Fleming’s wonderful tune PALACE GREEN so well sung, whilst regretting that only one of five verses is offered in harmony.
Sadly the arrangement of PERSONENT HODIE printed in New English Hymnal does not begin to match up to the familiar Holst setting with its marching bass. The CD includes good performances of ‘Angel voices ever singing’, ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’, ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ and ‘The head that once was crowned with thorns’.
A Wordsworth - Benson - Dearmer conundrum
The delightful treat provided for us by Alan Luff, with the last Bulletin (Occasional Paper No 7, second series) raises a small problem, which I offer in the spirit of that paper.
The problem is found by comparing page 9 of the Occasional Paper (page 121 of Songs of Praise Discussed, 1953) with the following extract from E.F.Benson’s childhood reminiscences, As We Were (Longmans, 1932). He is talking about the singing of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth's hymns at family prayers in the Chancery at Lincoln:
One of them for instance, an ode in honour of the day of St. Philip and St. James, was better avoided. It began -
‘Let us emulate the names Of St. Philip and St. James,’ and it became known that some of the children had composed a somewhat similar opening for another apostolic feast, and were heard chanting—
‘Let us try and be as good As St, Simon and St. Jude.’
It was wiser therefore to sing something else on the feast of St. Philip and St. James, for fear of giving rise to deplorable levity. Among the questions that occur to me are these:
- Is there in fact a hymn containing the first couplet? Benson clearly states that there is - but was not above embroidering a good story.
- If indeed there is, who is quoting correctly the first line of the quatrain: Benson or Dearmer?
- If there is such a hymn, what is the first verse ? I cannot find any reference in Julian.
- When Dearmer writes of a printed source was he (tongue characteristically in cheek) referring from memory to this paragraph in Benson's book, published the year before?
- Is the second couplet the invention of the Benson children, as E.F.Benson states?
To sum up, is the whole thing a fiction, with Dearmer perhaps following Benson? Or is there a printed source (‘Q’, perhaps?) behind them both. The quatrain itself, especially in the Benson form, has sufficient charm for me to believe it could have found a place in a Victorian hymnal!
Has any member, perhaps one who has access to the complete hymns of Christopher Wordsworth (perhaps The Holy Year 1862?) any light to throw on this?
By way of tailpiece, I add a further couplet which the Church Times quoted some years ago as recalled by Donald Coggan:
O blessed Saint Bartholomew,
I wish that more of thee we knew…
Having personally vouched for the fact that the bells of Southwell Minster chime out the hymn tune SOUTHWELL at appropriate times; that ST BOLTOLPH may occasionally be heard from the belfries of churches of that dedication; and that even ST ANNE is played at Southampton’s Town Hall in (anachronistic) honour of Isaac Watts, I wondered what further examples can be authenticated. Has anyone made a list?
So when my son told me that he and his family were holidaying at Brixham in Devon, I asked him to check out the church there for any signs or sounds of EVENTIDE, to commemorate Henry Francis Lyte and ‘Abide with me’. (One American hymn-book ‘Companion’ locates this as ‘Brixton’; that is interesting but incorrect.)
Anyway, Jonathan’s research proved inconclusive; but he did report hearing the opening bars of ST ANDREW OF CRETE, the Dykes tune for ‘Christian, dost thou see them on the holy ground’, pealing out merrily at 11 o’clock each morning - presumably the traditional time for Mattins. Have other members noticed such phenomena? Five o’clock would appear to have no great sacred significance, but LEOMINSTER (as in ‘Make me a captive, Lord’) seems to be a favourite at that time. Or, since the hooter went at 6.00 pm, perhaps it was the original ‘eleventh hour’ for the last-chance labourers in the vineyard?
Peter Millam has written to inform us of an article in Quest, the journal of the Queen’s English Society which may be of interest to members. This concerns English Poetry and Poems. It can be found in the Spring edition, 2006, No. 91.
Since our esteemed Executive President has deemed it appropriate to introduce highly controversial matter into these columns, it seems fair to allow a brief response. Few would wish to deny the charismatic skills of Sir Stanley Matthews, albeit within a limited area (like a one-armed pianist of genius). It was another Stanley, Mortensen, however, who ensured that Blackpool won the famous ‘Matthews final’ of 1953; and it can be argued that Tom Finney (who could play on both wings) was more use to his national side. And that Sir Bobby Charlton was also more value to his team than the erratic, tragic George Best. Again, who will ever equal the amazing strike rate for England (goals per game) of Jimmy Greaves?
Staying on our theme but moving down the hierarchy, our sister- and-brother journal, The Hymn, in North America has been rightly taken to task by our Executive Vice-President for neglecting Wales in a recent survey. What, then, can we say about the unsurpassed John Charles, head and shoulders in more ways than one above all predecessors, contemporaries and successors?
When it comes to real football, however, played and supported by local humankind as distinct from the money-and-media-driven industry of the Premiership, let me enter a plea for George Brown of Bromley. He scored more that 500 times for his club including one hundred goals in a single season; also gracing his county, national and Olympic Games Great Britain teams. He found the back of the net at Wembley (dear old Wembley!) in the first-ever Amateur Cup Final played there, in 1944 when the hymn explosion was not even a distant dream and the latest sensation was ‘How great thou art’. But for the war years, George’s record would have been even more impressive. Following the success of my booklet Real Hymns, Real Hymn Books (Grove Books, 2000) watch out for the forthcoming Real Football, Real Football Clubs. Bromley, of course, play at Hayes Lane. Just up the road, Hayes Lane Baptist Church has just purchased its new copies of Praise! Praise indeed where it is due.
John Barnard, a secondary school language teacher by profession, has been active in church music throughout his life, and is currently Director of Music at John Keble Church, Mill Hill. He is more widely known as a composer and arranger of liturgical music, most particularly of hymn tunes.
Michael Garland has been Treasurer of the Hymn Society for the past six years. He is currently Vicar of St Mary’s Charlton Kings in the Diocese of Gloucester and Assistant Area Dean of Cheltenham.
Christopher Idle is a past editor of the Bulletin and a widely published hymn writer.
Martin Leckebusch was born in the early 1960s and brought up a Methodist. He has belonged to various churches including Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal and Baptist congregations, but always within the evangelical and charismatic traditions. He writes hymn texts in traditional styles but is keen to expand the language of hymnody and to build bridges between the worlds of hymns and songs.
Ian Sharp is Emeritus Senior Fellow in Church Music, Liverpool Hope University.
Timothy Dudley-Smith is an honorary vice-president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland and a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He was published c.300 hymn texts in four single author collections, now subsumed into a larger collected edition, A House of Praise. In 2003 he was awarded an OBE ‘for services to hymnody’.
David R Wright was a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and was a committee member of the Hymn Society 1999-2005.
The Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland
Honorary President: The Archbishop of Canterbury
Executive President: Alan Gaunt
Executive Vice-President: Alan Luff
Editor: Andrew Pratt
Elizabeth Cosnett and Ian Sharp
Secretary: Robert Canham
Treasurer: Michael Garland
Registered Charity No. 248225
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