How Shall I Sing that Majesty

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 whilst on holiday from Lancaster University.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of a Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

How Shall I Sing that Majesty

How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.

Enlighten with faith's light my heart,
inflame it with love's fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
They sing, because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun
there alleluias be.

How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.

 Words: John Mason

Tune: Coe Fen
Music: Ken Naylor

CCLI - 1073121









Hymn Commentary 

This week’s Hymn for the Week is perhaps not the most well-known hymn but it is well liked by choirs who get to appreciate the majestically developing melody that accompanies these visionary words.  John Mason (1646?-94) wrote the words to How shall I sing that majesty.  I couldn’t find a date of writing for these words but suffice to say that the close of his life equates with his ability to create pictures in words:

“One night, about a month before his death, he had a vision of the Lord Jesus, wearing on His head a glorious crown, and with a look of unutterable majesty in His face. Of this vision he spoke; and preached a Sermon called The Midnight Cry, in which he proclaimed the near approach of Christ's Second Advent. A report spread that this Advent would take place at Water-Stratford itself, and crowds gathered there from the surrounding villages. Furniture and provisions were brought in, and every corner of the house and village occupied. Most extraordinary scenes occurred, singing and leaping and dancing. The excitement had scarcely died out when the old man passed away (1694), still testifying that he had seen the Lord, and that it was time for the nation to tremble, and for Christians to trim their lamps. His last words were, “I am full of the loving kindness of the Lord." 

(Rev. H. Leigh Bennett, M.A.)

The tune that is set to How shall I sing that majesty in Holy Trinity’s hymnal, Common Praise, is Coe Fen.  Coe Fen itself is a semi-rural meadowland area to the east of the River Cam in Cambridge.  It lies at the back of Peterhouse College to the north, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and The Leys School to the south.  On a personal note I enjoyed a term singing in the Peterhouse College Chapel Choir whilst teacher training in a college on the outskirts of Cambridge but, more importantly for now, is that the  composer of the tune, Kenneth Nicholson Naylor (1931-91), was the Director of Music at The Leys School mentioned above.  The tune is perhaps typical of earlier 20th century melodies which have a gloriously sweeping shape (just in the same way that Elgar is said to have followed the outline of the Malvern Hills), each phrase gradually getting higher so that the musical climax is reached three quarters of the way through each verse.  In the same way, as you read and listen to the wonderfully descriptive words, you realise that the highpoint of each verse starts three quarters of the way!

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

Anthem for the Week

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