Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hymns and Arias

Hymns and Arias
I have to admit to pinching the title of this post from Max Boyce’s song of the same title where he sing’s ‘And they were singing hymns and arias, Land of my Father, Ar Hyd a Nos, and as you might have already worked out I want to share some thoughts on the hymns part of this.

I have been following for some time now discussions in the Methodist Recorder about one line in one hymn which seems to cause a lot of people difficulty and all sorts of suggestions have been made about leaving the verse out of changing the words and to be honest I would not favour either suggestion but then I have no problem with seeing the wrath of God satisfied.

In this week’s Methodist Recorder there are two letters about hymns that I found quite interesting. The first one was about the choice of tune for a particular hymn and the other was about the words of a different hymn and I find myself at odds with both letter writers.

The first hymn is Glorious Things of thee are spoken which is usually sung to the tune ‘Austria’ and the writer is suggesting a change to another tune because of the militaristic tone of ‘Austria’. I think it carries the words far better for me that ‘Lux Eoi’ and wonder if the objection may be more because the tune ‘Austria’ was also the German National Anthem – ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Allies’.
The second hymn is ‘How great thou art’ and the writer of the letter is questioning the line ‘And when I think that God His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die I scarce can take it in’ and is in particular questioning why if God sent Him to die he didn’t let Herod finish the job when Jesus was a baby. Now I am not sure how that might have worked given the amount of prophecy about the coming of Jesus and of how he was likely to die – by His stripes we are healed etc.

I have to admit to be a little curmudgeonly when it comes to hymns and tunes – I am sorry I am not very keen on changing words when the result is that they do not scan and present problems for many of our  congregations who know the words sometimes without opening their hymn books. At one church I preach at there was a lady who I never saw open her hymnbook and I felt a challenge to find a hymn that she had to open her book to sing every time I went there.

There are also in my opinion some hymns that you cannot really change the tune to as it is almost as if tune and words were written to complement each other and of course many hymns were. Fanny Crosby’s great hymn ‘Blessed Assurance’ was written after a friend had played her some music.

I remember playing at a service once where the preacher requested a tune change to ‘Abide with me’ and unlike the old joke I am an organist you can negotiate with so I went along with it. Unfortunately the tune change did not work at all well and meant that the rest of the service however good or bad the elements were did not register with a congregation who were very upset at the change of tune.

We have a hymn tomorrow morning and the set tune in Singing the Faith is not the tune that I have normally heard this particular hymn sung to – could be quite interesting if the preacher goes with that tune – I will of course offer my advice but will go with the preacher’s wishes. The hymn for those who may be interested is ‘Christ triumphant ever reigning’ which I am used to singing and playing to the tune ‘Christ Triumphant’ however in Singing the Faith it is set to ‘Guiting Power’. I have to be honest I think I prefer the tune that is not in StF.

Maybe readers have a view on this!



At school, I adored singing the hymn using 'Austria' as the tune. We learnt it, we sang it with gusto and it stuck in my memory.

So when I became a preacher and I saw it in HAP, I jumped for joy and have used it several times. It is a hymn like Blessed Assurance, that for me, is linked inextricably to the tune and should not be changed under any circumstances. Now if that makes me a stick in the mud then so be it.

In recent times, I wondered why I loved the tune so much. I knew it was an anthem and I knew that it was associated with a country my father disliked immensely because of the war, but that was his problem [with the war and the German people]. Imagine my surprise then, when I conducted a family research activity after watching the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? I found that my father's Great Grandfather was in fact, German!

Now, when I sing Glorious Things,I sing it [the tune] with pride for a man who fought for this country and with reverence for a God who fought to save us all.

Perhaps the person in question by writing their letter is simply projecting their angst against a nation who do not wish to be associated with C20 historical events any further?

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