This is one of my favourite hymn-tune combinations – when I played it through for the first time I could barely sing, such was the effect on me.
I am a confirmed Tolkien geek – I have been reading The Lord of the Rings almost constantly for twenty years now, quote it as ‘my apochrypha’, and am constantly discovering new depths in Tolkien’s creation.
The marriage of William William’s fabulously vivid lyrics with Howard Shore’s Fellowship Theme feels predestined: to me, Frodo is singing as he walks to Mount Doom.
To make the parallels clearer:
‘this barren land’ – Middle Earth to Mordor
‘bread of Heaven’ – Lembas
‘the Crystal Fountain’ – a future in Valinor
‘fire and cloudy pillar’ – Mt Doom
‘the verge of Jordan’ – crossing Anduin
‘death of death’/’hell’s destruction’ – Sauron defeated
And just to spoil the mood:
While there are bundles of great hymn-lyrics lumbered with rotten old tunes, that is not the case with Stuart K Hine's translation of How Great Thou Art.
So why the new tune? Well, this was the song that kicked off this project (and if we don't count the, possibly copied, Amazing Grace/House of the Rising Sun crossover, my very first attempt). I wasn't thinking, "How Great Thou Art could really do with something to make it more singable," – it just happened.
But, once it had happened, I noticed that there are some subtly different shades of meaning which this tune manages to bring out.
Londonderry Air, linked for ever with 'Danny Boy' (although it predates those lyrics), reminds us subconsciously of the love, loss, and death which fill that song.
Hence, provides an opportunity to praise God in spite of heartache; to look above troubles into eternity. The hymn's traditional Swedish tune, with its triumphant, rip-roaring dynamics, cannot do the same.
First hymn, and something in the manner of a dedication for this project.
The original Dylan song – a biting satire on the theology of empire (amongst other things) – is not exactly the most worshipful backdrop to Fanny Crosby's lyrics, but it is great to sing.
I'm not going to pretend that I had any great purpose in joining these two pieces together, but I like the counterposition where lyrics full of the goodness of the Gospel sit on a melody warning against the injustice and waste that is bound to abound when we take that Gospel and use it as a tool of power or a justification of our selfishnesses.
A few years ago, I discovered that Amazing Grace fitted the tune of House of the Rising Sun. I was quite chuffed with myself, not only because it made very familiar lyrics much more enjoyable to sing, but also because through the new melody, their meaning gained depth.
House of the Rising Sun is about a lost soul, regretful about pretty much everything. Amazing Grace, written by ex-slaver John Newton, is very much the song of such a lost soul who, unaccountably, has been accepted by God. The subconscious relationship I had with the melody brought huge depth and life to the well-known words.
After a couple of years of having but this one arrow in my quiver, I finally got around to investigating whether other such hymn-melody marriages could be made. I now have over 30. Read on …
My Granma (my Mum's mum) died last week. In many ways it's more a
relief than a tragedy, since she's been nearly-gone since February (she
was very much looking forward to our Wedding Celebration and kind of
faded immediately afterwards), but nevertheless, she's gone – we'll never hear her singing Sospan Bach or asking for a nice cup of tea or offering us a Bounty bar again.
I got the chance to make friends with Granma over the last couple of summers; I was teaching English near her flat and would pop in and get her reminiscing about things I never knew about her (eg. life in a village in Wales, the chap whose marriage proposal she turned down etc.etc.).
We'd often read poetry together – usually with me saying the first line and her completing the verse out of long-lost childhood memory. This is the beginning of one of her favourites:
ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.
Part IV. (c)
Report on the bits of Middle-Earth which Tolkien's characters failed to reach.
But seriously, have a look at this AWESOME map of the regions south of Gondor and Mordor, as imagined by a fan. Each culture even retains distinct nomenclature:
[click for very impressive large version]
It all rather puts to shame my rather puny efforts to delve into the anthropology of Middle Earth's wisdom traditions. I take my hat off to the fella.
The Golden Era. Great, great footage, if cricket's your thing.
WG Grace, Ranjitsinhji, Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman, Len Hutton.
Cricket. Marvellous, isn't it?