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Obituary: Dr Graham Maule

24 January 2020

Colin Ogilvie, Dailmore Photography

The Iona Community team write:

WHEN Dr Graham Maule passed from life to greater life on 29 December, aged 61, the world became a more silent place. He loved music, particularly singing, and — as an untrained vocalist with a captivatingly innocent voice — enabled and encouraged others to join the song in Britain and abroad.

He was born in 1958, and, having graduated in architecture from the University of Glasgow, he was within striking distance of his professional qualification; but he gave up that vocation because, in his own words, he “did not want to make bread out of stone”.

For seven years, he worked in voluntary and paid capacities as a youth worker, latterly for the Iona Community, where he became a close colleague and collaborator of the hymn-writer John Bell. Their early liturgical work developed in the context of monthly youth events in Glasgow, which attracted up to 400 young people. These always ended with an act of worship in which traditional music from the Southern Hemisphere and their own songs, written for specific events, enabled teenagers who had given up on church music to find their voice and sing in three- or four-part harmony without musical notation.

Some of these young people became founding members of the Wild Goose Worship Group, which, for 18 years, invested time and creativity in developing materials for participative liturgy that maximised congregational song, symbolic action, and shared reflection on scripture.

In conjunction with this group and its professional offspring, the Wild Goose Resource Group, John and Graham produced more than 30 volumes of songs, biblical reflections, and associated materials for worship.

Graham’s architectural skill, his appreciation of the hidden potentials of ecclesiastical buildings, and his innate creativity enabled him to become something of a liturgical pioneer, who developed what might be called congregational-performance liturgies, based on everything from the Tower of Babel to the Messianic Banquet via the Song of Songs. These all involved the creation of temporary structures with which participants interacted. Many such liturgies were first staged in Iona Abbey, and several of them have been used in places as distant as Canada and Romania.

Bell and Maule never wrote hymns or songs for competitions; they believed that expressed need, a lack of appropriate materials, or a spiritual insight should be the starting-point. Nor did they ever write specifically for publication. All their published and unpublished songs were vetted, amended, and sometimes rejected by the worship group that they led, and then “road-tested” in different contexts.

It was their conviction that religious songs for congregational use should not be personal devotional ditties, but texts to which the people of God could give their Amen. And because both men had been blessed by coming from households where folk melodies were sung to them from childhood, they enjoyed marrying such tunes to new texts — a practice that was regarded as anathema to the elite musical guardians of Scottish Presbyterianism, who never registered any objections when it came to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s penchant for folk tune as exhibited in The English Hymnal (1906), of which he was music editor.

Although Bell and Maule never advertised their wares, overseas publishers sought rights to represent them and, in most instances, translate their work into languages as diverse as Frisian and Japanese. Graham, who had a good business mind, oversaw this and deftly persuaded the suitors that, just as the texts were the products of several minds, so the translations had to be done co-operatively.

In 2011, Graham was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Edinburgh for his thesis “Sacerludus” (sacred game). It is a study of ritual as it pertains to performance art and liturgy, and is a testament to Graham’s deep conviction that the incarnation was about embodiment as much as theology.

But, in tribute after tribute paid to him after his death, gratitude has been overwhelmingly expressed for the sound of his own voice, his infectious enthusiasm for the song of the Christian community, and his conviction that words matter and therefore should be chosen wisely.

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