The royal wedding drew many comments from here and overseas saying how pleasing it was to hear the couple had chosen such well-loved hymns to celebrate their marriage.
The ancient walls of Westminster Abbey will reverberate to the sound of some of the most popular hymns written for a congregation to sing.
A minority of the musical elite are always sniffy about popular hymns forgetting they are popular because the tunes and the words have such a widespread appeal to ordinary folk – they communicate an electricity that runs deep into the very essence of our souls.
As The Reverend Rowland Hill, pastor of the Surrey Chapel in London said in the early 19th century “The Devil Should Not Have All The Best Tunes”
So here is a purely personal choice of hymns that always make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end
A much loved English hymn, for obvious reasons, Jerusalem, as sung at the royal wedding.
Jerusalem, a favourite at Last Night of the Proms, the Women’s Institute and weddings.
It was written as a piece of verse by William Blake, the visionary printmaker, painter and poet around the start of the 19th century and was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus visited Glastonbury.
Later a rousing tune was composed in 1916 by Sir Hubert Hastings Parry.
Left/liberal trendy clerics hate it (too patriotic) so full marks to William and Kate for ignoring them
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, words by American Quaker poet John Whittier.
The Brewing of Soma is the Whittier poem (1872) from which the hymn is taken. Soma was a sacred ritual drink in Vedic religion, going back to Proto-Indo-Iranian times (ca. 2000 BC), possibly with hallucinogenic properties.
The storyline is of Vedic priests brewing and drinking Soma in an attempt to experience divinity. It describes the whole population getting drunk on Soma. It compares this to Christians’ use of “music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or lift men up to heaven!” But all in vain—it is mere intoxication.
Whittier ends by describing the true method for contact with the divine, as practised by Quakers: Sober lives dedicated to doing God’s will, seeking silence and selflessness in order to hear the “still, small voice” described in I Kings 19:11-13 as the authentic voice of God, rather than earthquake, wind or fire.
And a modern hymn, very popular in many English churches
Shine Jesus Shine has become the most popular modern hymn of the last decade in the UK and is now sung all over the world. It deposed ‘Jerusalem’ from the BBC’s Songs of Praise Top Ten Hymns survey and consistently appears as one of the top songs in the CCL (Church Copyright Licence) chart both in the UK and USA.
In a recent interview the composer Graham Kendrick said:
“This song is a prayer for revival. A songwriter can give people words to voice something which is already in their hearts but which they don’t have the words or the tune to express, and I think ‘Shine Jesus shine’ caught a moment when people were beginning to believe once again that an impact could be made on a whole nation.”
Guide me O thou Great Redeemer was also heard at Westminster Abbey but here it is sung in a Welsh chapel
The rousing words of ‘Guide me, O thou great redeemer’ – better known today as the Welsh rugby anthem Bread of Heaven – is the first to be performed on the wedding day.
Prince William of Wales is also the vice-royal patron of the Welsh Rugby Union.
The hymn was also sung at the funeral service of William’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and at a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, so it may have bitter sweet memories for the prince.
It is also associated with Welsh Male Voice Choirs and Eisteddfods as it was originally written in Welsh by Methodist preacher William Williams in the 18th century
And, for me, the most moving of all – Abide with Me sung at the annual Festival of Remembrance
“Abide with Me” was written by Henry Francis Lyte. He wrote it in 1847 while he lay dying from tuberculosis; he survived only a further three weeks after its completion.
The hymn is a prayer for God to remain present with the speaker throughout life, through trials, and through death. That is why it has such resonance with service men and women and their loved ones.
No doubt others would make different choices. No problem – it’s a free world thanks to to those willing to die to defend it….