Occasional papers of The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland


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Newly published by The Hymn Society

Suitable for Singing? An Exploration of the Hymns of the Book of Revelation - by Graham D.S. Deans

The Book of Revelation is perhaps not the most obvious Biblical source of inspiration for hymn writers but in this paper Graham Deans demonstrates how seven of the eight hymns contained within its text have provided fertile material for Christian versifiers both ancient and modern.

Quoting Christina Rossetti’s statement that in this last book of the Bible, ‘Heaven is revealed to earth as the home-land of music’, Dr Deans intriguingly suggests that Revelation functions in a similar way to a dramatic musical, as a text interspersed with songs which reinforce and re-emphasize its message. While emphasizing the heavenly origin of Revelation’s hymns, he demonstrates that they are not escapist or purely ethereal but distinctly relevant to the here and now and a source of sustenance and encouragement to the faithful in times of danger and crisis.

A high proportion of the hymns identified as being inspired by passages in Revelation are by contemporary hymn writers, including two British figures strongly associated with the Hymn Society, Timothy Dudley-Smith and Christopher Idle. It is also good to be reminded of how much of Revelation finds its way into the choruses of The Messiah.

This is an interesting and original paper on a topic that does not usually attract the attention of hymnologists. I have to say that my favourite hymn based on Revelation remains ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ which seems to me to come from the most poetic and affirma­tive passage of this sometimes rather forbidding, not to say perplexing, part of the New Testament canon. But it is good to be reminded of how Watts, Bonar and Heber were inspired by other passages in it to produce some of their finest and most oft-sung hymns.

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Hymns and War - J.R. Watson

This occasional paper will be very interesting to members of our Society and to our friends in America, Canada and Europe, with whom we share much of our history. It deals with war as an inevitable aspect of national life in a fallen world and comes at in the year when we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War and we hear almost daily appalling news from many countries about military action and the threat of war.

This is an academic paper which you may well recognize as ‘Vintage J.R. Watson’. Alongside the impeccable scholarship, with all the footnotes present and correct, there is also something here both complex and very humane. The opening pages tackle head-on the apparent discrepancy between the teaching and example of Jesus and the recognition that Christians have a duty to fight evil wherever they find it. There are also other images and themes, often paradoxical, which recur in different contexts or simply stick in the reader’s mind. These include the image of Jesus on the cross both as victim and victor; the distinction between war as metaphor and the reality of actual battlefields; the relation between war, politics and injustice; and the ways in which we understand or misunderstand language.

Best of all is the conclusion. Professor Watson’s final paragraphs, followed by his choice to print in full Canon Rosalind Brown’s hymn, ‘Once we had dreams, dreams of a new beginning’, surprised me for a moment, but I quickly realized that they were perfectly in place. Our world is still fallen and we still have hope.

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The Cambridge Carol Book - Gordon Giles

There is an argument that the British Christmas was, for many years, hugely shaped by two men: Prince Albert (1819-61) and Charles Dickens (1812-70). The former is credited with popularising Christmas trees in British homes; the royal household had followed this German tradition for some years, but it was after Albert’s marriage to Queen Victoria that the habit became widespread. As for the latter, the influence of his writing on Britain’s literature, social conscience and customs is considerable: the poignant story and memorable characters of tales like A Christmas Carol continue to resonate.

Yet this paper demolishes any such theory by introducing a third key figure: George Ratcliffe Woodward. Gordon Giles shows how the compiler of The Cambridge Carol Book resuscitated an older tradition, placing carols for various seasons into the hands and voices of church musicians and choirs. He argues that without this influence we would not have the rich tradition of carols and Christmas music known and loved by many, both inside and beyond the church.

There is no intention here to put Woodward and his fellow-compilers on a pedestal. Having set the scene, the author comments on each item in their collection, exposing both the quaint idiosyncracies which permeate it and the paucity of its direct influence; for it is both remarkable and inevitable how little there has stood the test of time. Woodward showed a need that could be met; it was for others to meet that need more effectively, as Gordon Giles explains so well.

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Faith, Hymns and Poetry - Timothy Dudley-Smith

This Occasional Paper is an expanded version of a lecture given by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith at the Hymn Society’s 2013 Conference. It contains all the elements that Dudley-Smith’s readers and singers have come to expect: clarity of thought, rigorous enquiry, an ability to stir the imagination, a certain delightful humour.

In a frank discussion of attempts to include in hymn books poets that should never have been there, the essay nails its colours firmly to the mast: ‘it does seem best’, the author writes, ‘that if a hymn text is to be sung with integrity, it should come from a writer who can sing it in the same way.’ The author argues that the presence of Shelley and Hardy in Songs of Praise does a disservice to their memory; although this essay is never authoritarian.

To lovers of Dudley-Smith’s hymns, this Occasional Paper will be a delight. His appreciation of A.E. Housman, for example, is the admira­tion of one craftsman for another: ‘mark the natural word-order, the single emphatic inversion, the precision of stress and metre’. But the reader will also find here something of the inner mind of the hymns, reflected in his personal choices. These are an indication of the influ­ences and loves that help to drive his hymnody – Alice Meynell, Walter de la Mare, Robert Louis Stevenson. These are the stuff of Dudley-Smith’s dreams: if only they could have had faith and written hymns!

Connoisseurs of humour will find much to interest them here, from A.A. Milne’s parody of the National Anthem to Housman’s ‘Hallelujah Hannah’. These moments lighten what is a profoundly serious and revealing essay, which all lovers of hymns – and of poetry – will find stimulating, and enjoy reading.

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Worshipping Caretakers: the Creation and our Stewardship of it in Hymnody - Alan Hall

It is not unusual, these days, to be overwhelmed with articles concerning the plight of our planet, environmental issues and global warming. These are always thought-provoking, and the very real threat to the natural world calls for a response from Christians, not only in their praise for the beauties of creation, but in their responsibilities as stewards of all that is given to us by God our creator.

In this thorough and searching exploration, Alan Hall starts by reminding us that since earliest times, hymns have been sung praising the beauties of creation. However, he points out that simply to sing All things bright and beautiful is to ignore the ‘enormous suffering and waste in the natural world'.

Rather than abandoning worshippers to a diet of empty words, Alan Hall opens a deep discussion with God as both creator and redeemer. He explores hymns from many Christian traditions, and in several languages, which draw attention to the urgent need for Christians to grapple with some of the difficulties of today's environmental concerns.

Whilst Alan Hall discusses well-known texts, he offers a fresh perspective on many of these, placing them within their historical and cultural context. Furthermore he brings the discussion right up to date, quoting texts by present-day hymn writers all with a view to offering new insights into this complex subject. This is a fascinating booklet is sure to broaden the horizons of all interested readers.

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Occasional Papers from the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland

First Series from £2.00

Occasional Papers 1 No. 1
The Constituents of a Good Hymn
by W. T. Cairns (1939)

Occasional Papers 1 No. 2
Reality in Worship
by Frederick John Gillman, (1939)

Occasional Papers 1 No. 3
Music in Hymnody
by Millar Patrick (1945)

Occasional Papers 1 No. 4
The Hymn Writers of Bristol
by K. L. Parry (1946)

Second Series from £2.50

Occasional Papers 2 No. 1
Looking at Hymn Tunes: The Objective Factors
by John Wilson (1991)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 2
Susanna and Catherine Winkworth
by Peter Skrine (1992)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 3
Hymns and an Orthodox Dissenter: in Commemoration of Bernard Lord Manning 1892-1941
by Clyde Binfield (1992)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 4
A Hymn Book Survey 1980 - 1993
by Donald Webster (1994)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 5
John Darwall and the 148th Metre
by John Wilson (2002)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 6
A Hymn Book Survey 1993-2003
by Alan Luff (2003)

Occasional Papers 2 No. 7
The Wit and Wisdom of Percy Dearmer
by Alan Luff (2006)

Third Series from £3.50

Occasional Papers 3 No. 1
Snakes and Ladders - A Hymn Writer's Reflections
by Timothy Dudley-Smith (2008)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 2
What do Hymns Say About Daily Work?
by David R. Wright (2009)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 3
Revealing Hidden Wisdom - Women Finding a Voice in Hymnody
by June Boyce-Tillman (2010)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 4
Redefining the Hymn: The Performative Context
by Katherine Jenkins with an extended introduction by Rhidian Griffiths (2010)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 5
‘Race Shall Thy Works Praise Unto Race': The Development of Metrical Psalmody in Scotland
by Graham S. Deans (2011)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 6
Hymns Ancient & Modern 1861 - 2013: Its Rise, Development and Influence
by James Dickinson (2013)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 7
Worshipping Caretakers: The Creation and our Stewardship of it in Hymnody
by Alan Hall (2014)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 8
Faith, Hymns and Poetry
by Timothy Dudley-Smith (2016)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 9
The Cambridge Carol Book
by Gordon Giles (2017)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 10
Hymns and War
by J.R. Watson. (2018)

Occasional Papers 3 No. 11
Hymns of the Book of Revelation
by Graham DS Deans (2019)

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