David Rogers Posted June 24, 2011 Share Posted June 24, 2011 Holy Horrors Sometime in 2004, BBC Radio 4 conducted a survey from a thousand people of their regular 8.10 am Sunday Worship audience. The aim was to identify which three hymns were most disliked. An interesting test is for a reader to jot down his or her pet hates before continuing. After doing so, I myself was slightly surprised at the result of the survey. ‘All things bright…..’ and ‘Lord of the Dance’ were at the top of the list. Royal Oak is a fine English folk song that deserves a good set of words and musically it surely cannot be faulted. W.H. Monk’s more familiar tune is not easy to sing well. There are many leaps and the chromatics call for careful tuning so it rarely gets the performance it deserves. The hymn’s text is shallow to the point of being untrue. All things are not beautiful and life is tough for many. True, the last verse preaches thankfulness but otherwise the theological content is nil. Could it be that congregations and respondents to the survey object to singing what is in effect a lie and for that reason they dislike the hymn? Sydney Carter’s well-known adaptation calls for a controlled, accented dance rhythm; it rarely gets it especially when it is included as one of the six ubiquitous wedding hymns that nowadays do the rounds. The message in Carter’s text, it seems, not to appeal to many. The inclusion of the ‘Shine’ thing in the list offers hope for public taste. Clearly this ditty showed itself for what it is: semi-literate, pseudo-pop coupled to and weak theology. Not surprisingly it hardly survived a decade. Sadly, though, thousands went crazy over it in the 1970s. I haven’t been asked to play it for years, so haven’t made use of the comment occasionally employed by one colleague who simply says: “I don’t play that”. Maybe we should say this more often. It’s worth noting that all three cited tunes use the verse-refrain format. Seven years on where do we stand? What are the current hates? Mutual agreement is unlikely but most would surely join me in condemning ‘The Peace Channel’ as among the worst pieces of versification since C. Frances Alexander mangled St Patrick’s Breastplate. Initially in the 1960s ‘Be Still’ was innocuous, but extreme repetition has certainly invoked contempt for me. Is this not the crux of the whole issue: that over-familiarity breeds not just indifference but real dislike unless the material has integrity? Those who select from our fine hymn-tune heritage have been responsible for unimaginative, over-repetition. The result is regrettable. David Rogers Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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