Thursday, July 1, 2010

Praise Him, Praise Him...

One of the pleasures I anticipate each year in worship at our annual General Conference is great congregational singing — hundreds of voices raised in praise, singing out loudly in tune and in harmony. It is an experience I seldom have any other time in the year because my local congregation is so small and elsewhere there seems to be an aversion to hymns, or perhaps a growing inability to actually sing.

At least some of the hymns will be from the English hymn tradition of the last three centuries. Some years ago I started collecting CDs of hymns and anthems — some of which I discover on Amazon have become scarce and consequently rather valuable. Here are three that I very much like that are still available and reasonably priced:

"A Vaughan Williams Hymnal" is a collection of hymns to music by my favorite twentieth century composer. Among them the most familiar may be  "He Who Would Valiant Be" with words taken from John Bunyan and "For All the Saints" to Williams' tune Sine Nomine. Less familiar, at least to me, is this by John Henry Newman:
Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as he has died.

Simply to his grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the Holy, Him the Strong.

Adoration ay be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Amen.
Another collection of twentieth century hymns is the first in a series by the Choir of Wells Cathedral, "Christ Triumphant: Great Hymn Tunes of the 20th Century". It has words from many periods but the music is by modern composers, including several by Vaughan Williams. There is here another with words by Newman, "Lead, Kindly Light":
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling goom;
Lead Thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path but now
Lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hast blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er craig and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Parish Anthems, by the Clare College Chapel Choir was intended to encourage churches without much choral firepower. It includes very good anthems that can be sung by small choirs. I particularly like Richard Farrant's setting of "Lord for Thy Tender Mercy's Sake":
Lord for Thy tender mercy's sake
Lay not our sins to our charge;
But forgive that is past,
And give us grace to amend our sinful lives;
To decline from sin, and incline to virtue,
That we may walk in an upright heart,
Before Thee this day and evermore.
There is in the musical heritage of the Christian faith a lot of very good stuff that we could use in worship to the praise of God.