how long, O Lord

…must we endure Hymns Ancient and Miserable?

Even for Pentecost half the hymns are grim.

Still, a double dose of Come Holy Ghost and O thou who camest should make up for a great deal.

17 thoughts on “how long, O Lord

  1. I was brought up Hymns A&M, moving then onto A&M revised. When I was introduced to 100 Hymns and its sequel, I realised there were some real gems in A&M / A&MR. This created a real dilema in my mind when I was introduced to the English Hymnal (and its revised edition) upon my discovery of St Mary’s.

    In general, the hymns are not grim, it is the how we use them. As a visitor to a church in England, I realised what the issue was, they are played too slow.

    Over twenty years at St Mary’s (one particular assistant organist – now sadly deceased – had two speeds for hymns – fast and express), recent St Mary’s broadcasts – the BBC like hymns to be faster than the norm – and a two recent visits to Salt Lake City, when I had the chance to head the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – made me realise the issue is the speed the hymns are played.

    In my opinion the two hymns you quote are regularly played too slowly, which makes them really dreary. Played at a reasonable speed, or even a touch “too” fast is ideal in my mind.

    I have a passion for plainsong, however again I have heard wonderful performances; and some dire performances – reason for it being dire – sung far too slow!

  2. The bulk of St Paul’s has even less love for the Miserable …. perhaps we need a fourth hymn book….

  3. And you’ll not have them too slow in at least one of your flocks! Not if your irascible shepherd has anything to do with it …

  4. I can safely say the hymns will not be too slow in any of my flocks! Neither organists (nor dreaded CDs) like to dawdle.

    The trouble I have with A&M has more to do with theology than tunes. But I’ll admit to being terribly hard to please with hymns — and then going against all my own principles for a few idiosyncratic favourites.

  5. It is, ISTM, at least partly numbers singing. The big congregational hymns work with big congregations. Four singers, five also rans and half a dozen more-or-less-know-it-and-will-try-parts-of-it do not cut the mustard. There are of course things in A & M which are not in that category – George Herbert, John Bunyan, et al., can be sung solo, or by a few voices.

    I know this – I can’t sing, and when my car was off the road for five weeks during some of the nastiest weather this last January, I determined that I would NOT be downhearted on the last mile walk home at the end of a seven hour cleaning day, a walk which concluded the hour and a half long journey that takes 15 mins. in my car. I waited until I was out of earshot of the retreating bus, before launching into ‘Who would true valour see…’ and it all worked fine. It might not have been precisely tuneful, but it would have been tuneful if only I could sing, and it remained cheering and rousing, and comforting even when wet jeans stuck to my legs, and I felt vaguely linked with St Paul singing in prison, and I determinedly counted my blessings, since I was not beaten, or in prison, and indeed would shortly be dry, and eventually be fed…. until I encountered a neighbour walking out of the murk towards me one night.

  6. Did you know that there is a Provincial Grant which gives you half the price of new hymn books? (See Malcolm Bett). Or if you have the CCL you can print anything on your pew sheets. All the churches I’ve been in had Ancient and Ancient and we have got new ones. I was brought up on NEH and hated Ancient and Ancienter. We got people to buy a book in memory of a loved one, claimed back half the money and it cost us next to nothing.

    ps I would recommend Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New which has a children’s section, taize and mass settings in the back. I think there is a newer version which I don’t know but you can get taster cds. You get the best of the old ones, some lovely catholic, communion and Marian ones not in A&A, and you get some of the good modern ones.

  7. Rosemary — was said neighbour a hobgoblin or foul fiend?

    Ruth — thanks. The congregation that has A&M bought new hymnals twice recently (but before I came): once to get Mission Praise (help!) and the other time to get Common Ground, so I haven’t dared. But I didn’t know about the provincial grant. Maybe someday.

  8. I THINK the neighbour was a hobgoblin, though with traces of the foul fiend.

    Kimberly, said congregation rather enjoys collecting new hymn books. It does like the better traditional hymns, but I must admit that two of the four worship leaders never use A & M and one uses it occasionally, which I think reflects the general taste of the congregation. It/we acquired Common Ground first, but it is simply too short of material to contain all we wanted, and Mission Praise, which somebody must have known, was FAT and we got it in the teeth of passive clergy opposition. We wanted a very fat hymn book. We really are a rather naughty and greedy congregation, and we like singing a lot. (And the past organist only got to pick the hymns when the worship was taken by the priest….)

  9. I’m quite a fan of the Hymns Old and New stable of hymnbooks, especially the Complete Anglican and the One Chrch, One Faith, One Lord one.

    But then, I’m a devotee of hymn books and have a larger collection of them than any one person really needs. But I use them all!! (If only for those moments when people ring up and say “Do you know where to find….”)

  10. I think I may prefer hymns even faster than Stewart. One of the things I still haven’t gotten used to in the UK is the slower speed of hymns. Six years in and it’s still a shock to the system. At least, for the hymns I know. Lots of the one’s over here I’m not familiar with so don’t know the different.

    Rosemary – I love your story, as another non-singer who loves to sing, I often indulge in tuneless warbling in solitary moments.

  11. Elizabeth – We need to discuss hymm speeds further on Saturday. But definitely not as a prelude to the spped of our walk in the bluebells.

  12. I thought of this post today when the hymns at church brought me to tears – for all the wrong reasons – and gave Justin the giggles. Dreadful. Truly dreadful – dreadful tunes, dreadful words and dreadfully slow.

    I think we have the same hymn book as Rev Ruth, which does offer lots of good choices, but sadly, the ones that are chosen from it are too often far too grim and dirge-like (partly because they are played too slowly, like Stewart said) or happy-clappy (though, remarkably, even those can sound dirge-like in the hands of the wrong congregation).

  13. this tiny little post seems to have tapped a nerve.

    An interesting exercise might be to keep track of all the hymns sung in worship for a month, and ask: ‘how many of these actually help us to worship?’

  14. Hymns Old and new have brought out an ecumaniacal version “One Church, one Faith one Lord” which also has the Common worship propers (all reading + collects and post communions) bound in. Not only updates the hymnody but means the sunday sheet can be used for notices rather than liturgical material. My lot courtesy of our ecumaniacal relationships are musing (in choir vestrys and places where they sing) about getting CH4 to replace Common Ground and Ancient & More Ancient. At least its got some decent psalmody. Its seasonal provision is a tad limited, tho.

  15. Re: hobgoblins and fiends, esp. in connection with the speed of hymns – does Mrs Beamish still stalk the earth?

  16. Mrs Beamish is alive and well, and helping newer members of the congregation discover their inner Anglican. I dare say she may make an appearance at Bloggers and Bluebells.

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