Thursday, April 10, 2008
A Hymnophile's Discovery
We've all had the experience of stumbling across a gem while looking for or at something else. Another Anglican blogger, who chooses not to reveal his proper name (I assume it's a "he" but I could be mistaken), includes this YouTube selection on the page that explains the blog's name: Hills of the North. I'll let you go there for the details.
I haven't been able to quit playing the thing since I first looked at it 24 hours ago! The text is strong--poetic without being obscure, artful without being cloying. It is most appropriate for Advent--the first Sunday thereof to be precise--but is certainly not inappropriate at other times. The tune (composed specifically for this text by Martin Shaw) is straightforward without being pedantic or trite. It has a breadth and sweep that I find quite winning.
When I traveled in England three years ago I was exposed to several hymns, both texts and tunes, that I was not familiar with. This surprised me somewhat, as I have always rather fancied myself a "collector" of hymns. (I especially fell in love with "How shall I sing that majesty..." sung to Coe Fen.) I later discovered that many of these "finds" were included in either (or both) the New English Hymnal and/or a paperback volume called Lambeth Praise. Sure enough, "Hills of the North" appears in the latter and I was able to pull it off the shelf and go right to the piano for a play-through.
The video is from St Asaph's Cathedral in Wales, recorded at an event that is evidently part of a BBC series called Songs of Praise. Nearly as moving as the hymn itself is the sight of the faces of the people singing it. They were, as we say, "into it." Now I realize that this was no ordinary Sunday congregation (though how I wish mine sang like that!); the cathedral was packed with what I imagine was a self-selected group of people who enjoy singing hymns, and were not there out of habit or obligation or because somebody made them come. But still ... there is such joy, and the illusion, at least, of a significant strand of social fabric that is captured by the vision of a God who is busy redeeming and restoring His universe through Christ, the kingdom of Heaven breaking in from all four points on the compass, and who don't mind singing about it. God bless them.