Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hymn coming good

After a week of negative postings, time for a cheerier word. Two really good moments in church this morning:

First, there was a moment or two of perfect silence - apart from the quiet organ music which seemed, miraculously, to have hushed even the most insistent noise-makers - before the service began, as if all there were holding their breath in anticipation. (Actually, there were two further minutes of silent prayer in mid-sermon, but this was somehow less miraculous)

And secondly, the first hymn. We sang Wesley's O for a thousand tongues to sing.... to the tune Lyngham - a tune I first sang 45 years ago at choral camp to these words:

There was an auld Seceder Cat,
And it was unco gray;
It brocht a moose into the hoose
Upon the Sabbath day:
They took it to the Sess-i-on,
Wha it rebukit sore,
And made it promise faithfully
To do the same no more.

We were told at the time that these words were used so that choirs practising on weekdays could learn their parts without singing holy words, and we bellowed them with glee. Thing about this tune is the absolute need for the men to com in strongly without the upper parts at the last line, which is repeated several times in imitation till it all comes triumphantly together at the end.

Now, in our wee church we are somewhat short of men, especially since the eighty-something tenor decided we didn't give him enough to do and took himself off to the kirk, so this hymn could have been a sad failure. But what was joyous was the way that having faltered somewhat in the first verse the men there got steam up by the second verse and by the end of the hymn were giving it laldy. And it was all the more joyous because it was so unexpected.

So there you are. A great tune, seriously old-fashioned, and words full of poetic diction and curtailed syllables (to fit the scansion) - but a great result. And suddenly I felt at one with the world and in complete accord with my fellow-worshippers. Guess I'm in the right church, huh?


  1. in light of earlier posts, could you just clarify:

    do you like the words? ... every verse?

    (I grant the tune is fun)

  2. No, I don't! But what was interesting was that I was so enjoying the general participation in the tune that I might as well have been singing the alternative words - which rather makes for ABF's point of view.

  3. Correction:

    Line three should read -
    It brocht a moose intae the kirk

    I bellowed this on many occasions as well - great tune!

  4. I very much wish we had been singing your words in verse... 4 was it? We must try it next time and see who complains.

  5. So next time let's omit the offending verse. It's pretty long anyway and actually I seem to recall even more verses . . .

  6. Verse 4?
    "He breaks the pow'r of canceled sin,
    He sets the pris'ner free;
    His blood can make the foulest clean;
    His blood availed for me."

    Offending words? ... Do episcopalians have a different verse four or am I less easily offended?

  7. AHM - you're quite right. I copied the verse from a website, as i couldn't remember all of it, but I do now.
    David - It might be an idea if I simply deplore the mangling of the language to fit the metre, and leave the theology to Kimberly ...

  8. Hmm...I'm also puzzled, wondering how verse four could be offensive. One of my very favorite hymns!

  9. Verse 4 in our hymnbook:
    "He speaks; and, list'ning to his voice,
    new life the dead receive,
    the mournful broken hearts rejoice,
    the humble poor believe."

    Quite apart from the awful poetic diction, how do you feel about the humble poor these days? Are they ... well ... humble enough, do you think?

  10. Oh that's verse five in my hymnal! I think the 'humble poor' ought to be interpreted in the context of Wesley's work and well-know respect for and among the poor. He certainly wasn't a moralist and rejected the concept of the 'idle poor'. In fact he propagated the idea that vice descended from above and spirituality ascended from below.

  11. What kind of poor? I'd always assumed it was the "poor in spirit" as in "blessed are the...". Fits with the immediately preceding bit - as in "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted".

    However, it illustrates the difficulty caused by changes in language (and attitudes) that makes singing some hymns tricky - which is, at least in part, a point made in your original post.

  12. Yes, I had also always assumed it was about the 'poor in spirit'. But I can see the point being made.