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100 years ago: Hymns and comic songs

24 July 2015

July 23rd, 1915

COMIC songs, according to the Bishop of Birmingham [Henry Russell Wakefield], are an immense solace to our men at the Front, and, on the same authority, we learn that soldiers who revel most in comic songs have a keen relish for hymn-tunes. This set us wondering whether there is any relation between the two types of music. The explanation might possibly be that both of them are songs to be sung, but it is necessary to go a little deeper. Is it not that, from the point of view of music, the hymn-tunes that are popular are of the same type as the comic songs, and are sung in much the same way, with dash and go, and with a maximum of noise? We put in a plea for the cultivation of a better musical taste, if not in the direction of songs that are comic without vulgarity, at least in the direction of hymn-tunes that are worthy to be sung. Too many of those in use are associated with quite good words, and, solely through their association — say, for the last forty years — have continued to be adopted by hymnal after hymnal, till they have become established. In the present condition of Church music the attempt to oust a bad tune that has become familiar and is cherished for association sake and to substitute a good melody is to essay an almost hopeless task, and for the present the popular hymn-tune divides the honours with the comic song, with which it has a close affinity.


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