Monday, October 22, 2012

The Longevity of Music

This Post is really for me - so I remember this stuff ...

I happened across a book at the local library:  Favourite Hymns – 2000 Years of Magnificat by Marjorie Reeves and Jenny Worsley, and was amazed to learn that some of the hymns I have learned over my lifetime were composed hundreds of years ago.

St Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226) the author of, All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sin, Alleluya, alleluia!

Martin Rinkart (1586 – 1649) wrote: Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices.  This thanksgiving hymn was written in Germany following the terrible days of the Thirty Years War, of apocalyptic horsemen, plague, famine and ravaging armies.  Easy to see why the thanks was required.  I wonder when they teach hymns in religious schools, that they never think to impart some of the history behind the song.  To me this always seemed one of the most boring hymns to choose.

Frederick Oakley (1802 -1880) brought us one of my favourites, when it is sung in Latin of course:  Adeste Fideles.  It is of course more well known in it’s English Translation: O Come, All Ye Faithful.    The book authors tell us that it has an obscure history and that it may have been French or German in origin.

It is followed by what must be one of the most universally known hymns, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton (1725 – 1807).  A song of hope, expressing the coming of the gift of grace, it brings its light to the world.  Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.    John Newton  is featured in the film same name – Amazing Grace.  His story is pretty amazing, the ups and downs and extremities of his life from a religious adolescence to the slave trade, eventually becoming a priest for the last 17 years of his life, and it was during this time that he wrote 280 hymns for the Olney hymn-book.

When I happened across Favourite Hymns, it was William Blake’s (1757 – 1827) Jerusalem that I went in search of.  This is not a song that I’ve learned, but one that has become known to me through modern media.  A favourite of Princess Diana’s, it seems like the second national anthem of England.  This piece was inspired by the legend that Joseph of Arimathea had brought Jesus as a boy to Glastonbury in England.  Originally written as a poem, it was put to music during the First World War by Hubert Parry, as a celebration of the cause of women’s suffrage in 1916.  No wonder then, that it later became the anthem of the WI – the Women’s Institute – check out the movie Calendar Girls to see more of the WI.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of Fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

In 1818 in the tiny church of Oberndorf on Christmas Eve, Silent Night was sung for the first time accompanied by a guitar.  Words written by assistant priest, Joseph Mohr and set to music (originally for the organ) by Franz Gruber.  Urban myth is that mice had chewed through cords in the organ – whatever happened, the organ had broken down and it was the repair man who carried the tune out into the world.

Abide with Me, was set to the music Eventide by William Henry Monk.  The words from Henry Francis Lyte (1793 – 1847), who also wrote Praise my soul, the King of heaven’, have become a tradition hymn for funerals.  Old fashioned I may be, but I love this hymn that so many reject as morbid, in favour of more modern funerals with popular music.  I think it’s the last line that moves me most.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, they victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou my cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

Another I could never really understand why it was frequently chosen for church services (but probably because it’s an easy one for a congregation) is from John Henry Newman (1801 – 90).  Picked up by many different denominations of believer’s this is one that I imagine my grandparents and great grandparents would have also sung.  To me it is always sung very stoically – perhaps that’s why it doesn’t resonate with me as much.  Perhaps it is because I don’t really accept these statements of belief.

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

I’ve included the next one, because it was written by a woman – Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, Nee Humphries (1818 -95).  Unusual for her time I think, she wrote hymns for little children, most being written before she married at the age of 32.  Here’s the one we sing today, from her pen, and now understanding it’s history, I can see that it is a ‘teaching’ song.

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed:
Mary was that Mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

She also wrote:  All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.
O little town of Bethlehem, first came to England in 1906 and I imagine it would have been one the childhood hymns of my father.  Written by an American bishop, Phillips Brooks (1835 – 93), over the years it has had several different musical settings.
Another woman gave us a song immortalised by Cat Stevens.  Morning has broken, written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881 – 1965).  This woman began writing at the age of 5 and she wrote children’s stories.
From my teenage years came the much more ‘modern’ and jazzy songs.  I loved the Sunday Youth Service where a full rock band and choir were featured – it’s probably the only thing that kept me going to church as long as I did – the music.  Written by Sydney Carter (b. 1915-), Lord of the Dance was originally a folk song written in 1963 before being picked up by school choirs.  Reeves and Worsley, tell that ‘by 1969, it had arrived in the hymn-books’.    For me it arrived in 1973 at secondary school.

Dance then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

And the last song in the book that resonates with me is from Sebastian Temple (1928 -97).  Make me a Channel of your Peace, puts the prayer of St Francis to music.  Reading about his life, he seems to me like he might be a reincarnation of John Newton.  A similar life path of ups, downs and extremities, be began life a Roman Catholic in South Africa, becoming an expert on South African affairs; he later became a Scientologist and then returned to his Catholic faith living out his life as a Franciscan Monk.  It was a favourite of Princess Diana and sung at her funeral.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

O Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your hope.
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there’ sadness ever joy.

Make me a channel of your peace.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In giving to all men that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.

So through music and this book of Favourite Hymns, I tell a little bit about the journey of my life.  I hope you will enjoy reading this book and find some of your own history again through the music that has been present in your life.