During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week. For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week. The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown. This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.
Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster
Alleluia, Sing to Jesus!
Alleluia, sing to Jesus!
Alleluia, not as orphans
Alleluia, bread of angels,
Alleluia, King eternal,
Words: William Chatterton Dix
CCLI - 1073121
We have virtually come to the end of Eastertide as, after this Sunday, we look to the Ascension of Christ – Ascension Day being on this coming Thursday. This week’s hymn, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus, was originally intended to be sung at Ascensiontide as well as being written by a man of high churchmanship who considered that the Church of England didn’t have enough Communion hymns. The obvious reference to communion is left to the very last line: ‘In the Eucharistic Feast’. The references to Christ’s Ascension include ‘Thou within the veil has entered’ in verse four and ‘Though the cloud from sight received him’ in verse two. The next line in verse two, ‘When the forty days were o’er’ does the maths for us by counting the days from Easter to Ascension; and, if you think that Easter has been forgotten, have a good sing of the third and fourth lines in the first verse: ‘Alleluia, his the triumph, His the victory alone.’
The author of Alleluia! Sing to Jesus was William Chatterton Dix (1837-98). Born in Bristol, he became a manager of a marine insurance company in Glasgow. His prolific hymn writing was an activity for his spare time and also included As with Gladness Men of Old (Epiphany hymn or carol also regularly sung at Christmas) and To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise (a favourite Harvest hymn…apologies, I should have said my favourite harvest hymn as it isn’t everybody’s favourite). This week’s Hymn for the Week was first published in Dix’s Altar Songs in 1867, having been written during the previous year; it is probably worth reiterating that this hymn is a communion hymn, although certainly not one of the quiet ones. For us organists the line ‘Thunder like a mighty flood’ demands a blatantly obvious loud stop, often for our feet. Having said that though, the middle of the third verse is much gentler and the hymn tune so beautifully fits: ‘Intercessor, friend of sinners, Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me.’ The message of redemption taking us back to Easter and time also for us to look at the music.
The only tune sung to Alleluia! Sing to Jesus is Hyfrydol although a couple of other composers (including Samuel Sebastian Wesley – see last week) have tried. With its title being so obviously Welsh it will be no surprise to know that the tune’s composer, Rowland Huw Prichard* (1811-87), lived most of his life around Bala, a small market town in the Snowdonia National Park. One wonders if Hyfrydol was a bit of a one hit wonder though as the composer wrote this tune when he was twenty and then, sadly, nothing else of note. If you listen to the recording I have to confess though that the music for the last verse, both the descant and re-harmonisation on the organ, is mine. When I taught in Plymouth, a local councillor had written words extolling the virtues of the part of Plymouth in which the school had been built and he set the words to Hyfrydol. I can’t remember exactly what the occasion was, but the hymn was to be performed by the school choir and something spectacular needed to be added to show off the Choir; hence my own arranging of the music. This arrangement has been heard occasionally at Holy Trinity but I think that, even on its own, the contrast, drama and majesty contained in the original hymn is often enough. It always surprised me that, when the poll of favourite hymns at Holy Trinity was undertaken in 2017, the hymn was never even mentioned on the shortlist. Maybe as you listen, read and sing (some of it loudly), you may wonder why too.
(*Sometimes spelt ‘Pritchard’)
Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster
PS. If you know what THE Ascension Day hymn is you’ll be glad to know that we are leaving that for next Sunday: The Sunday after Ascension.