Most people know the joy of communal singing and a church, with its acoustic qualities, provides an ideal setting. Like a classic pop song a good hymn has a strong melody and rousing lyrics, with enough repetition for it to be memorable and easy to learn. The Church of England was quite late in embracing hymnody (the singing of hymns), with their first hymnal (book of hymns) only being approved and published in 1820. Choir and organ eventually replaced the minstrel band of old and led the congregation’s efforts.
Anglican hymnody became so widespread that every school assembly, public meeting, military ceremony and family gathering reverberated to the sound of (mostly) tuneful voices. The solemn hymn ‘Abide With Me’ (1847 lyrics: Lyte, 1861 tune: Monk) is even sung with gusto at major football and rugby matches.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) from Hampshire began the 200-year golden age of hymn-writing in English and Charles Wesley (1707-88) from Lincolnshire (brother of Methodist founder, John) made a vast contribution too, with around 6,500 poems. Some lyricists wrote their own music but many hymns are set to folk melodies or later compositions, e.g. ‘To Be A Pilgrim’ (1684 lyrics: Bunyan, 1906 tune: Vaughan Williams). Here it is sung by folk artiste Maddy Prior:-
(Image: Peter Burka at Flickr.com / CC BY-SA 2.0)