OUT of the Welsh valleys comes the sound of hymn-singing: the old tunes are getting a new lease of life. And it is the Church in Wales that has stepped into the gap left by the closure of so many chapels.
Indeed, word is spreading, and one of the principality’s best-known musical priests, the Revd Paul Bigmore, Vicar of Ynyshir, near Porth, has had to call in help to send out copies of his new hymn-book, which had its first public outing at St John the Baptist’s, Cardiff, with the blessing of the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan.
On that occasion, Fr Bigmore’s setting of the poem “In Expectation”, by Dr Rhondda James, was also sung in memory of those who died in the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago.
The idea for the book came out of a conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, who was lamenting that knowledge of the old hymns that they had both been brought up with was dying out so fast.
Fr Bigmore thinks that, for many unchurched people, the long-cherished words have had their day: they are simply not understood. But the tunes are still as rousing; and so he has written simple words that could help to keep them alive — but which are also direct and meaningful in themselves.
Eat, Meet, and Sing
NOW, there’s nothing many people hate more than being asked to sing an old hymn that’s been wantonly messed about with — I can think, for example, of a horror perpetrated on “Lift high the Cross”. It is much more honest, in my view, to start afresh, as Fr Bigmore has, particularly if you can turn evocative phrases as he does, and develop a devotional line of thought in a way that speaks to the heart.
Many of these tunes are well-known, and I hope the traditional words will be still be sung long into the future, too. But an example of one of the tunes that, to my mind, is on the verge of extinction is Jesus Loves Me, which now has the words: “Jesus come to us we pray, To the world you came to save. . .”
Then there are tunes that, I guess, you have to have been raised in a Welsh milieu to know, such as Rachie, used for “I bob un sydd ffyddlon”, and, I believe, sometimes for “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Fr Bigmore’s new words are an Easter hymn (of which there always seems to be a shortage as the season progresses), “Joyfully we praise him, Christ the risen Lord”.
And, as it’s nearly Christmas, to the tune Vienna he writes:
Shining stars will lead the way
Where the infant Jesus lies.
Shining brightly in the sky
To the place where love shall reign.
At the same time, Fr Bigmore is launching his Sing for Joy scheme. The idea is to relieve loneliness, rejection, isolation, and poverty by bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds once or twice a week to “Eat, Meet, and Sing”.
His book, Songs of Praise: The valleys sing, is available from Churches Together Bookshop, Windsor Place, Cardiff CF10 3BZ (029 2022 7736), for £10 plus postage. All proceeds go to the charity Dreams and Wishes, which supports children with life-threatening illnesses.
OUR back-page-interview question about being locked in a church with someone is asked, I always assume, in the spirit of Desert Island Discs, and answers need not be unduly confined by the harsh realities of life. I’ve often thought that that theatrical churchwoman Dame Sybil Thorndike would be an interesting choice.
Being laid low the other day, I finally got round to watching a DVD that I picked up for the price of a coffee in a West End shop during the summer. This 1933 film, Crime on the Hill (PG, originally A), stars Dame Sybil’s husband, the actor and director Lewis Casson (before he became Sir, but after he had won the MC), and asks that question that still haunts surprisingly many people: “Can a sleuthing vicar catch a cunning murderer before he kills again?”
This is scarcely a masterpiece of detection, aided as it is by one massive coincidence and a visit to Folkestone (filmed in Welwyn); but Casson as the properly attired vicar with his aura of unworldliness, his ancient church filled with feisty villagers, his message of repentance and hope beyond the grave, and a prodigious fête make it an escapist treat in these lean days for rural Anglicanism. Fleet Street provides a vein of comedy.
Network Distributing released it about a year ago. Heaven knows why no one sent us a free one. But we seem to have missed it in 1933, too.
Wot, no Eeyore?
GROVE booklets still come rolling off the presses, and one caught my eye recently. It was Praying with Your Temperament: Four prayer toolkits for Quiet Days and retreats (S137, £3.95 (CT Bookshop £3.55); 978-1-85174-973-7).
You are encouraged to reflect on whether you are a Tigger, an Owl, a Pooh, or a Rabbit. Jane Gibbs, a trained Myers-Briggs practitioner, explains it all further.