Firmly I believe and truly hymns should never need rehearsing…admittedly that doesn’t scan as well as the original, and is only half true, but we stand by it. The choir is always going to rehearse the hymns, if only to knock the harmonies into place and take the corners off of their singing, but we have just spent our evening since retruning from that rehearsal ironing out hymn melodies and that shouldn’t be necessary. This is because, as you’ve likely guessed, practicing the hymn tunes isn’t a luxury the congregation have on Sunday morning.
We admit we were mostly hammering out these melodies because we were in the choir and knew we’d have to lead confidently from the stalls. The fact is though, that we remember the frustration of being musically-minded congregants and being landed with an awkward hymn. We wanted to sing it, and we wanted to get it right, because for us the music is as much a part of our worship as the Eucharist.
There’s a chance of course that the congregation will recognise these hymns, which we found unwieldy, but we’re not sure.
‘If you’re wondering,’ said our conductor this evening, ‘why so many of the hymns are unfamiliar, it’s because we’re observing the feast of Mark the Evangelist, and we’ve never done that before.’
Our conductor is well-established at church. If he is calling these hymns unfamiliar then they jolly well are as far as we’re concerned, and it’s gratifying to know that we’re all muddling along together.
As ever with these things, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation; with the advent of our new rector, we are, as the saying here goes, moving ‘higher up the candle.’ We don’t mind; we like to think we make rather good High Anglicans in the Catholic tradition, taking our queue from those women in Barbara Pym who are almost, but not quite, Catholic. It does mean though that we are unearthing from the New English Hymnal a lot of music that we’re fairly sure hasn’t seen the light of day in many, many years. It is an old joke among the congregation that you can always tell in advance the hymns you will have on Sunday by remembering the hymns sung on that Sunday the year previous. This becomes difficult when we start observing feasts we haven’t acknowledged before.
We don’t really mind; in some ways we quite like the challenge. We would, however, like the chance to apologise in advance to any singers in the congregation who find the music unusually awkward to sing. We don’t pick the hymns, we just sing them.