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Bring to the Lord a glad new song

by
17 May 2013

Ronald Corp reviews a new edition of A&M

Ancient and Modern: Hymns and songs for refreshing worship John Barnard, Gordon Giles, Anne Harrison, Stephen Rogers, Tim Ruffer, Christine Smith, editors
Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd £30 (Full Music Edition)
(978-1-84825-242-4)

HYMN books need to change with the times, and the old favourite Hymns Ancient and Modern, first published in 1861, has once again been transformed. Since 1861 there have been many editions, and the words Ancient and Modern featured only as a subtitle to the book published as Common Praise in 2000; Sing Praise followed in 2010.

The latest volume, a very fat one in bright-red covers, has the rather cumbersome full title Ancient and Modern: Hymns and songs for refreshing worship; but that title accurately reflects the editors' intentions, to provide a book that retains the greatest hymns of the past 700 years, but also to embrace the best of the recent and new material.

There are nearly 400 items here that are not in Common Praise, and these have been drawn from a variety of contemporary sources and traditions. With a total of 847 items, the volume is a little on the bulky size, but it is a wonderful treasure-store, reflecting the truly catholic tastes of today's congregations.

With an eye on communities, large and small, of worshippers, the book contains family-friendly music for all ages, and continues a trend established in Sing Praise of including short chant-like melodies from the Taizé and Iona communities for use in eucharistic, regular, or occasional services.

The Celtic Alleluia is here in various sections (Easter, Canticles. and Affirmations of Faith and Sending Out) but there are also the Kyries (Lord, have mercy) from the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman by James MacMillan.

In the case of the modern numbers, care has been taken to provide sensible accompaniments, some of which have been specially commissioned; and there are new descants to well-known hymns, to help revitalise the traditional repertory. Some accompaniments definitely call for piano rather than organ, including "Colours of day" (Light Up The Fire). Parry's Jerusalem appears both in its original form, with Blake's words, and an elaborate accompaniment, as well as in the section of Gathering Hymns, where it is married to words by Michael Perry ("Bring to the Lord a glad new song") and has a simplified accompaniment.

"Amazing grace" has a simplified vocal line, harmonised by John Barnard, but I am not sure that I agree with the rather intricate rhythmic notation that Anders Nyberg has chosen for the South African song Siyahamba ("We are marching in the light of God").

David Evans's "Be still, for the presence of the Lord" is here in two versions: one with accompaniment, and one suitable for four-part choir. Among the descants is Malcolm Archer's to Cwm Rhondda.

Following the Common Worship lectionary, the hymns are arranged seasonally; but the editors have provided significant sections focused on liturgical use. There are also useful collections of hymns for Marriage, Justice and Peace, Sorrow and Lament, Creation and the Environment, and the Church's Ministry and Mission. There are indexes to help choose hymns in every possible context, including a thematic index, a biblical index, and a list of hymns suitable for all-age worship. There are also suggestions of five hymns for every Sunday and major festival of the liturgical year, as defined in Common Worship.

Inevitably, in a book such as this, the more profound items rub shoulders with the prosaic. There is room for "He's got the whole world in his hand" and "This little light of mine", as well as John Ireland's Love Unknown, which appears three times to different words, and in two different keys. "While shepherds watched their flocks by night" comes with its traditional melody, as well as the tune we sing to "On Ilkla Moor baht 'at". The tune that we know as The Holly and the Ivy is given to a Christingle text by Basil Bridge ("It's rounded like an orange"), and another Christmas tune, the Sussex Carol, comes with words by Brian Wren suitable for a marriage service ("As man and woman we were made"). The hymn tune Bunessan, which we associate with the words "Morning has broken", is pressed into service for four sets of words, while the tune Highwood crops up five times.

The folk song O waly, waly comes with three different sets of words. So does the Londonderry Air, appearing in two guises, harmonised by Donald Davison and John Barnard.

There is only one available tune given for "Lead, kindly light", and that is Harris's Alberta; gone are the two others that appeared in previous volumes - by Purday (Sandon) and Dykes (Lux Benigna); but many other Victorian tunes have survived, including Richard Redhead's Petra for "Rock of Ages".

Crimond is here with Brother James's Air as alternative tunes to the familiar version of Psalm 23. The modern songs by Kendrick, Inwood, and Sydney Carter which have become standard favourites are joined by numbers by Maggi Dawn, Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, and Marty Haugen, among others.

A small number of plainsong tunes are retained, and are presented in unbarred quavers, although the familiar Advent hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel" is given in a four-square version.

I was surprised to find some hymns at a lower pitch than usual, including "Once in royal David's city", "Silent night", and "The first Nowell", the latter with a descant by David Iliff. I am also not yet used to seeing so many lines of text without capital letters. But, whatever quibble one might have about detail, this is a significant volume, and a tribute to its editors. 

The Revd Ronald Corp, an assistant priest at St Alban's, Holborn, in London, is a composer and conductor.

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