Local amateur singer Rik Ludlow takes a look back at our Hymnathon, which took place at the Cathedral on Saturday 18 May 2019 to raise funds for our tour to Lourdes.
As a young child, words meant little – I had scarcely started to talk before I started school. My earliest memories of church and Sunday Service were of sitting through seemingly endless periods of voices droning on…. and on….and on…. with endless dull, unintelligible and meaningless words. Ladies in large hats sat with glazed expressions clutching their even larger handbags whilst I tried to find interest in the wood-grain of the pews as I sat waiting for the 'good bits'. Eventually my patient purgatory period would be rewarded. The large hats would shuffle to their feet and I’d be left sat on the pew surrounded by a crush of bodies, ‘Sunday Best’ coats and handbags. The glorious sound of the church organ would start… Yes - a HIM! This was what made it worthwhile….all the grown ups would sing the same tune several times, and some of the men would sing a different tune that seemed to fit….I would sit and soak it up. Then on to more purgatory and voices droning. After the service, I’d be keen to get straight home and to the toy box. There, I had a dark brown and cream recorder….I could sit in the playroom and play the tunes I had just learned until called for dinner.
It was many years later that I learned that my pre-school apparent inability to talk but ability to play hymn tunes on my recorder was considered unusual – Hallelujah for the power of hymns! I remember working out that a HIM usually referred to a man called Jesus… but sometimes people sang about a 'Mary' but this was also a HIM, even though the Mary in my infant class at school was a 'HER'. This left me confused well into my infant school life. One day our teacher taught us that we must ask “Why” if unsure of anything. I am told that this prompted me to exit from my almost mute state and ask my first question. I asked about HIMs and HERs….to be told that the church HIM had a WHY in it. Hymns (with a y) it was, from then on, words started to make more sense, and the WHY helped me to think about the meanings of the words…. Quite a revelation!
My love of hymns has remained strong over the past six decades: As a church then Cathedral Chorister they became my 'bread and butter' (the anthems were the 'cake'!), and one of the few benefits of eventually losing my treble abilities was that I could at last sing “that other tune that the men sang” and I began to appreciate more fully the rich harmonies embedded in so many hymn tunes.
Now, the words of the Christian liturgy lend a therapeutic value in their regular and predictable repetition. The joy, however, comes from the HYMNS, just as it did 60 or so years on.
The opportunity to attend my first ever Hymnathon courtesy of Nottingham Cathedral was irresistible: 18th May 2019 is in my diary as a full day of joy, thinking about the ‘why’ in each hymn. Alex, Ellie and their relay teams of singers, organists and instrumentalists provided a fabulous ‘Cook’s Tour’ through hymns ancient, modern and revised, with most of the long-established favourites along with many (for me) new, previously undiscovered gems, such as ‘It is well with my soul’.
The selection ranged from the rich Victorian harmonies through to the rock’n’roll, ‘happy clappy’ modernist evangelical.
The format of the day was great: The daytime sessions consisted of several ‘Juke Box hymn collections’, where punters like myself were free to request their favourites for a suitable contribution to the Choir Lourdes fund, either at the time or via online ‘advanced sponsorship’. These were interspersed with related organ interludes from the organists including Robert Gower and Peter Siepmann, and some simply stunning a cappella quartet slots – ‘Amazing Grace’ sung by Alex, Ellie and two of their choir scholars was simply delicious!
The ‘a cappella’ treatment of several hymns, such as ‘Love Divine, all hopes excelling’ with just 4 singers, allowed the full richness of the 4-part harmony to be heard and appreciated. So much of this can be drowned when the organ is used to support, lead or deafen! ‘Panis Angelicus’ sung a cappella by the quartet was like liquid gold. Several of the choir slots included superb descant verses, with the final verse of ‘Crown Him with many crowns’ standing out. Ellie’s Youth Choir really proved their worth, with some very young children singing their hearts out and clearly uplifted by their immersive
experience. My only disappointment was that the Cathedral was not packed with hymn-lovers throughout the afternoon; the musicians and the music were worthy and deserving of more support.
The evening event made up for this, with the Cathedral well-filled with an appreciative audience, the congregation swelling the sounds of the choir for the ‘participation’ hymns to make a glorious sound, supported by the addition of singers from local choirs. To hear many hundreds of voices uplifted in harmony to the glory of God, and be surrounded by that sea of sound, has to be one of the great experiences of Christian worship.
The end result – I understand the event raised a useful sum towards the Choir trip to Lourdes. My ‘discretionary spend’ budget for the quarter was exceeded and I was hoarse for at least a week (about the same recovery time as my legs needed from my last marathon). Many participants will, like myself, now be aware of other musical gems in the hymn repertoire, and I would like to think that the event allowed many participants to think about the meanings of the lyrics in many of the hymns – the ‘why’ we believe.
Download a copy of the Gala Concert Programme, which included music by W. A. Mozart, Alex Patterson, and Stormzy.