21st Century Hymn Writers Songs of Praise


21st Century Hymn Writers

Aled Jones introduces a feast of hymns by some of today's writers, and discovers what makes a modern classic. Hymns include Christ Triumphant.


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A hymn means literally "a song of praise",

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and as such, they've been around for millennia.

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But hymns in the form that we recognise them today

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came about in the 17th century, through Isaac Watts,

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known as "the father of English hymnody".

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Since then the hymn has become one of the great treasures

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of the English-speaking world.

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Thanks in part to organisations like the Royal School of Church Music,

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based here at Sarum College in Salisbury,

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the British hymn-writing tradition is still alive, well,

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and thriving in the 21st century.

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Tonight, join in with congregations from all over the country,

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to sing traditional hymns and tunes written and arranged over the last five decades.

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And some of today's distinguished hymn writers and composers share the secrets of their craft.

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Our first hymn combines words by Anglican vicar Michael Saward

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and a tune by schoolmaster and composer John Barnard.

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They're both prolific hymn-writers,

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but their most famous work is truly a triumph of their combined arts.

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It sounds as fresh today as when it was written back in the 1980s.

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That tune is named after the pretty Cotswold village of Guiting Power,

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and in fact, you could travel round Britain

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and recognise many tunes as place names.

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Hymn writers are often very conscious of the community in which they live.

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Very often it'll be a church that will inspire somebody to write a hymn

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and then that can extend through to the village or town or wherever.

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It's a wonderful feeling to be in a congregation singing a hymn.

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The emotional response, the words and music, two art forms coming together.

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I think it's something that's very special to me.

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I think it's very important always to be encouraging new music in church,

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in all its shapes and forms, and all its different styles.

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There are, of course, some wonderful traditional hymns

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and it's important that we keep these going and we continue to use those,

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but at the same time we should be looking to new influences,

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new styles, new hymn-writers to support the worship of today.

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Hymn-writer Brigid Pailthorpe's 2003 hymn, Living In The Light,

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was set to a tune by Peter Moger.

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Now precentor of York Minster, when Pam Rhodes met Peter during Advent 2003,

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he was then vicar of the Huntingdonshire town of Godmanchester.

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'I try to work at integrating music with ministry.'

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Earlier this year I was asked to write a tune

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for a new set of hymn words - the hymn, Living In The Light.

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And having sat down at the piano and written the tune,

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I realised that this embodied much of what it felt like

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to be in this place of Godmanchester, and so that's the name I gave the tune.

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It's important that people have a sense of belonging,

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that they know where they can be truly at home.

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And I think the church has a lot to offer here,

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in that it can be a real home, a spiritual home for people,

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a place where they know they can be accepted for who they are,

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and where they can be fully part of things, part of God's family of the church.

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OBOE PLAYS

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In the early 20th century, composers Ralph Vaughan Williams

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and Gustav Holst went on walking tours around the English countryside.

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As they travelled, they sought out and collected the traditional folk songs

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which are now more famous as the tunes to some of our best-loved hymns.

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Hymn-writer John Bell also sets new words

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to the traditional folk music of his native Scotland.

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A folk tune gives you the possibility of using language

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which a formal Victorian hymn tune - or that style of music -

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just does not let you use.

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And the 20th, 21st centuries are full of things that never happened

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in the Victorian era, whether it's nuclear war or money laundering

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or that kind of stuff. These should be able to be sung about,

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if God is God of the whole world, and not just the nice churchy parts of it.

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Years ago, my colleague and I were working in Iona Abbey, leading a week,

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and the healing service at that time was on the Wednesday night.

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And we knew there weren't many hymns about healing.

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There was a couple who'd lost a child, there was someone who'd been the victim of abuse,

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and I suppose knowing we had a limit to the number of hymns about healing,

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and realising that these people's experiences

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were not caught up in the words we'd normally sing,

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gave us the kind of impetus to write a new song on this subject.

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John Bell is one of today's most published hymn writers.

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But as well as the prolific professionals,

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many people just write hymns for the love of it.

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I got into hymn-writing really with the help of my wife, Elaine.

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Because in retirement she took to writing poetry.

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Elaine and I are members of the Methodist Church in Shepshed.

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As a Methodist,

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obviously have a great affection for the work of Charles Wesley,

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and owe a great debt to him.

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Obviously I don't presume to supplant anything of that sort,

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but clearly language has moved on,

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and I would hope to build on the foundation he's laid

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and perhaps insert a few new ideas that more easily commends itself

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to a present-day narration in the 21st century.

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# Welcome truth! But little caring

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# Whence it come... #

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In writing hymns, I'm trying to avoid saying what's already been well said,

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and probably better than I could manage.

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And my aim is to use language which is clear, concise,

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free of jargon, and maybe with a touch of poetry as well.

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The good hymn is, in a sense, a prayer with music.

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To that extent, it combines two elements,

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and it has the great advantage that it involves the congregation

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in a very direct way, in a user-friendly way.

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So, as a tool for worship, it's very important indeed.

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For more than 250 years,

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Charles Wesley's immortal words "love divine, all loves excelling"

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have inspired many musical settings, and, of course, we all have a favourite.

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There's his own choice of tune, by his contemporary, Henry Purcell,

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and the 19th-century one by John Stainer, called Love Divine.

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And of course the early 20th-century classic, Blaenwern.

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So here's a new arrangement of all three of them,

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by the 21st-century composer, Malcolm Archer.

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Malcolm Archer has been director of music

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at several of England's great cathedrals.

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And his talent for arranging pieces for young singers is put to good use

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in his present role, at Winchester College.

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There's always new texts being written,

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and there's always new music to be written.

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One should never stifle that flow of inspiration.

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And you never know when a new gem is going to be composed,

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and each generation will produce its great music,

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as it has for years and years and years.

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In a sense, there shouldn't be a battle between ancient and modern,

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if all composers are writing music which is accessible

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and which people enjoy singing.

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I think that's a very important starting point for me.

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I always want to write music which I feel will stand the test of time, hopefully,

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and which people will want to perform and want to sing.

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And Malcolm's tune to our next hymn is rapidly becoming a favourite.

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As well as being home to the Royal School of Church Music,

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Sarum College is also a Christian ecumenical centre,

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where people of all faith backgrounds can research and study.

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Despite its Anglican roots,

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the Royal School of Church Music is an ecumenical organisation,

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and we work very closely with a range of different traditions.

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I suppose we've exemplified this in our Sing Praise, a new hymn book,

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which tries to draw in on all those different traditions.

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When Methodism began, hymn singing was very important.

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Also, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are some very important hymn-writers.

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Bernadette Farrell does a tremendous job

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in writing music and hymns for the Roman Catholic Church.

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# There's someone who knows me... #

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'Sometimes people say to me, "I didn't know you were still alive!"

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'Sometimes they say, "I was expecting an older lady with white hair in a bun!"

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'For me, music is a language of faith.

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'We've all got the reign of God inside us.'

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We all want to see a world

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where people no longer die of hunger and war,

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where everyone has an equal chance.

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But do we wait for someone else to make that happen?

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Writing is part of my response to the Scriptures

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and the Scriptures are full of the reign of God.

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We need all the gifts that God's given us to bring that reign about.

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There's one 21st-century composer whose music is everywhere at Christmas time.

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John Rutter and his fellow Cambridge-based composer,

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Sir David Willcocks, edited Carols For Choirs,

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one of the best-loved resources for churches and schools

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to learn both new and old words and music.

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I think that the institutions

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and tradition of the Christian Church have inspired far more people

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than those who would just call themselves card-carrying Christians.

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In England, our worshipping history

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is one that goes back to, for goodness' sake, 597 or earlier.

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It's woven into the fabric of our lives and our thinking.

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I was one of actually the last generations to have a morning assembly at school,

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so knocking around in my mind

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is a repertoire of, I suppose, 200 or 300 hymns, psalms, prayers,

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passages from the Bible, which are just part of my mental furniture

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which will only be erased by senility or death.

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They're just there, they're part of me.

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The churches that are everywhere to be seen in our landscape

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are just part of my life.

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And nothing seemed more natural to me than to write for the church

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that I was baptised into, and that I grew up in.

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I wanted to write music that would reach out.

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Music that even might now and again have a tune in it!

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And that's something that's now far, far easier to do

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in the concert world, in the 21st century.

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I think composers starting out now have a much more favourable climate,

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if they want to be accessible and approachable.

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It was not so when I started out,

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and so most of my working life has been devoted to writing music,

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a lot of it vocal and choral, that can be done by non-professionals.

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And that's fine.

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Although John Rutter is known in some circles as Mr Christmas,

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pieces such as this timeless blessing delight choirs, audiences

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and congregations alike, at any time of year.

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# Amen. #

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It's only right that we leave the last word

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to one of the greatest hymn-writers of the 21st century -

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that's retired bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith, who now lives here in Salisbury.

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He's responsible for more than 300 hymns,

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including Lord Of The Years, and one of my favourites, Tell Out, My Soul.

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When Mary had been told by the angel that, though unmarried,

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she was going to be the mother of the saviour,

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she bursts into this song or meditation,

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in which she glorifies God

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and thanks him for this, and accepts the privilege that she's been given,

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and meditates on how God is choosing the humble people of the Earth

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to bring the saviour of mankind.

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Next week, my special guest is keyboard legend Rick Wakeman.

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Rick tells me how his faith has survived the ups and downs

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of a rock'n'roll life, and performs some of his favourite hymns,

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including his famous arrangement of Morning Has Broken.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Aled Jones introduces a feast of traditional hymns by some of today's hymn writers, and discovers what makes a modern classic. Hymns include Christ Triumphant and Tell Out, My Soul.


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