Great British Hymnwriters Songs of Praise


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Great British Hymnwriters

Graham Kendrick tells Sean Fletcher about his contemporary anthem Shine, Jesus, Shine, and Pam Rhodes talks to Timothy Dudley Smith and Bernadette Farrell.


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Prepare yourselves for a musical treat,

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as we tell the stories behind some of our best-loved hymns,

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old and new. And talk to the modern hymn writers,

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following in the footsteps of the greats.

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Welcome to Songs Of Praise.

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This week's programme is all about hymnody, the art of hymn writing.

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And I meet one of Britain's

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greatest modern hymn writers, Graham Kendrick.

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Really, I suppose, my main influences

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are the Baptist hymn book and the Beatles.

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Pam Rhodes talks to Roman Catholic hymn writer Bernadette Farrell.

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The hymns have to challenge us,

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because to express the gospel in song

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means then we carry it with us into our lives.

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And we have some favourite hymns,

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including many from this magnificent building,

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the Royal Albert Hall in London.

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We begin with one by Isaac Watts,

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the man known as the father of English hymnody.

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Now, the great Charles Wesley is reported to have said

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he would've given up all of his own work

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just to have written this one piece we're about to hear now,

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sung by the 5,000-strong congregation

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at the Royal Albert Hall.

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I'm about to meet the modern hymn writer

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who changed the course of Christian music in the UK.

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Graham Kendrick was a trailblazer in the 1970s and '80s,

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but his own hymn-writing hero is from the 1800s,

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which is why I've come to Wesley's Chapel

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and the Museum of Methodism to meet Graham,

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whose music is sung by Christians all over the world.

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Whose work do you admire, in terms of hymn writers?

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Charles Wesley, I think, really, comes out for me, on top.

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They are outstanding, you know, hymns.

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Where would Christmas be without Hark The Herald Angels Sing?

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You know, these amazing... O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.

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They still resonate with us today.

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And I think the reason is because it's the same experience.

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You know, this man who lived several hundred years ago,

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had his experience of God,

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and people are still having that experience

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of meeting God for themselves and coming to faith.

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And it was said of Wesley, that when you sang one of his hymns,

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he was able to have you step into the story.

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So you were there with Jesus and the disciples,

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in Galilee, with the fishermen on the lake.

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He kind of, with his poetic gift, he could take you into the story,

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and make you feel like you were there, it was your experience.

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Now, we're about to hear Love Divine.

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What does that mean to you?

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Well, of course, many memories

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of weddings and even funerals where it's sung.

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It has that kind of classic, timeless feel about it.

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I particularly love the way it ends.

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In fact, I have here my very own Baptist Church Hymnal

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which I had when I was a child.

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It was given to me when I was seven years old.

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-It's in great condition.

-Yes.

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-You've been using it a lot?

-Probably should've been used more, I don't know.

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But I love the way the hymn lands on these words.

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"Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,

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"Till we cast our crowns before thee,

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"Lost in wonder, love and praise."

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I think in many ways,

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it sums up what I'm trying to do as a songwriter,

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and what Charles Wesley did a thousand times better than me,

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to just get us caught up in the wonder of God's love,

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and the wonder of who Christ is.

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Catholic hymn writer Bernadette Farrell began composing in the 1970s

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to try to bridge the gap between traditional hymns

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and the changing tastes of modern, young Christians like herself.

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And as Pam Rhodes has been finding out,

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young people continue to inspire her.

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PAM RHODES: Bernadette's hymns often reflect modern challenges,

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such as the protection of the environment and social justice.

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And she's a big admirer of

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the achievements of this inner-city school in South London.

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The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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It's a wonderful, diverse community

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of about 600 girls.

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There are nearly 50 languages spoken.

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And prayer is part of the rhythm of the community

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here in the school and also for big services over at the cathedral.

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# Share God's spirit today. #

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You write both the words and the music. How does that work for you?

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It's an interesting process and it varies a lot.

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Sometimes it takes a long time.

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Other times, you know, you're walking out of the door

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and you get an idea and have to write it down as quick as anything.

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Some people use computer programmes, but I find by the time I've switched

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it on, I've lost the idea,

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so I'm back in he Dark Ages with pencil and paper.

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I think, I reflect on the Scriptures,

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sometimes a melody will come,

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but I'm never satisfied until the text will stand alone

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without the melody.

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# There is nowhere on Earth... #

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What are you feeling as you write, is it spiritual?

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That varies enormously.

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Sometimes it's just sheer frustration!

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Other times, it's very much a focus on the community that I'm serving,

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and that I'm writing for.

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And I think if I can write for the local situation,

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then perhaps that will strike a chord occasionally

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with other people.

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# For you... #

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You write very singable melodies,

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but often the words are quite gritty, quite challenging.

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Should our hymns challenge us?

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The hymns have to challenge us

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because we're called as a community and we sing together.

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So, to express the gospel in song

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means then we carry it with us into our lives.

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How much does the reaction of people who sing your hymns matter to you?

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It's very humbling to hear from people

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who have connected with a hymn,

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or who have found that a song

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helps them through a particular journey in their lives.

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Just a few days ago, I heard from a friend

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who's a chaplain in a high-security jail

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and he leads the worship there.

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And he called to tell me that the first time he'd really heard the men

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singing out loud was in Christ Be Our Light.

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And I found that incredibly moving that people who've lost everything

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could still find a way to express their hope.

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And that's what it's about for me,

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that we can share and express our Christian hope.

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Our next hymn combines the poetry of William Blake

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with the uplifting music of Sir Hubert Parry.

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First performed in 1916,

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it was later adopted by the Suffragette movement.

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And in 1924, it became the anthem of the Women's Institute.

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Our next British hymn writer was awarded an OBE

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for services to hymnody, and his work is universally known.

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But as Pam Rhodes found out, he claims to be totally unmusical.

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Did you always want to be a hymn writer?

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No, because I thought it was a closed book to me.

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I love poetry and still do,

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but we were a very unmusical family.

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So, when I became a Christian, I would love to have written hymns,

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but thought it was a closed book to me because I had no music.

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So what did you do about providing music

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for the many texts you went on to write?

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Well, I owe a great deal to various people.

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To Michael Baughan, in particular,

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who wrote tunes for some of my early hymns.

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Hymns often read like prayers, don't they?

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Are they prayers, are they forms of worship?

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They're certainly forms of worship.

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I think it's the Roman Catholics who had a great saying,

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"The family that prays together stays together."

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And I say, "The family that sings together clings together."

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People sometimes say they learn more of their faith through their hymns

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than from what they hear in church.

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I don't really believe that, not if the preaching's any good,

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but I do think that because hymns are memorable,

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they can stick in the memory

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and come to people's mind when they need them.

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What is the first hymn that you ever wrote?

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I was reading a review copy of the new English Bible,

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I was editing a Christian magazine.

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And in that, reading Mary's song, the Magnificat, we have,

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"Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!"

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"Oh," I said, "That's verse."

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So I wrote a few verses on it, almost, you could say, for fun.

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A few weeks later, a friend of mine - who was beginning work on what was

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to become the Anglican Hymn Book, a brand-new hymn book -

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said to me, "Timothy, you're a literary sort of chap,

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"have you written any hymns?" So I explained, "No."

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Again, that could've been the end of it.

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But he went on and said,

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"Have you written any verse that might make a hymn?"

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"Well," I said, "I did write four little verses from the Magnificat,

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"I think I could find them."

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So, anyway, cutting a long story short, I found them, I showed them,

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he took them, they put them into their new book,

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and that was the beginning when I began to think that

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this might be a door that God was opening for me.

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So now, let's hear the hymn

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that launched Timothy's career as a great British hymn writer.

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Earlier this month, Christians came together

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for a weekend of workshops, seminars and services

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at City Gates Pentecostal Church in Ilford.

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Budding hymn writers were given tips

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by leading worship leaders from across the country.

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And you may recognise one or two familiar faces.

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We need to fill them with truth

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and we need to have a heart for the people of God.

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There's lots of things, really, that you could say

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that could help you write.

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Practise how to write phrases, practise how to be creative,

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so, practise how to describe things that you see.

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Think about how they sound, they smell, they taste,

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and just do that on a different piece of paper.

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And then as you begin to develop those skills,

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they can come in to you when you're writing.

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Your desire to develop musically has to be so strong

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that when you're doing it, it would override everything else.

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Pitfalls I found, and I fell into as well,

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trying to be like someone else.

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Sometimes, you don't realise.

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And speaking to so many writers myself on my journey,

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one of the things they do, they write what they feel.

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And then you try and copy them, and you can't.

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You're just not going to sound the same.

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If there's anything I would say, any advice I would give to new writers

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is just be yourself.

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If you find that you've hit a wall,

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or you find that people don't like a particular thing that you've done,

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you can stay down there or you can get up and try again.

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Make every syllable, every word count.

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And if people don't enjoy singing the song, just write a stronger one.

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Shared experience is massive, in terms of songwriting.

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And that's probably one of the things that we look to most,

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is not to write on your own, but to write together.

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And we love the co-write, it seems very popular at the minute,

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whether it's in the pop charts or whether it's in Christian music.

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It does mean you're less likely

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to end up with something that people don't like.

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Our next hymn is a famously successful collaboration

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from hymn writers, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.

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It was the first song they wrote together over 15 years ago,

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and remains their most popular.

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# Worship Christ, the Lord... #

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Earlier, modern hymn writer Graham Kendrick

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revealed how he was inspired by the work of Charles Wesley.

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Now, he gives us an insight into his own hymn writing

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including his modern classic, Shine, Jesus, Shine.

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I'm trying to take the ancient gospel and put it in songs,

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mixing experience and poetry and theology,

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and putting it in people's mouths,

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so they can sing the truth.

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You know, really, I suppose

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my main influences are the Baptist Hymn Book and the Beatles.

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And it was more that Beatles era,

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where I started to want to sing my faith.

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And I was discovering there was much more to worship

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than just standing up and singing hymns.

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There was more to be known in the spirit,

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there was more heart and passion and experience.

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I didn't feel I had much personal experience of God, you know.

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Well, I found...

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that personal experience in a much deeper way.

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And that was a trigger for songs

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which you would much more say, "That's a worship song.

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"That's not a song about God, that's a song to God."

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So, this is the '70s and '80s.

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What was happening in the church at the time?

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The '70s was a time of great sort of innovation in the church.

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People were experimenting with community,

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there was a lot of talk about

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experiencing God through the Holy Spirit,

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being filled with the Holy Spirits.

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# Gave your life to set me free... #

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Shine, Jesus, Shine - what do you remember about writing that?

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It was one of many songs. I certainly didn't spot

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there was anything special about it at the time.

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It was just three verses - it didn't have a chorus.

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And I remember trying it out, and getting very kind of... "Hmm..."

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But the chorus is the key part, isn't it?

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Exactly. It was underwhelming!

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You know, at that time, there was a great mood of a kind of rising hope,

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and a sense that, as Christians,

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we could really make a difference in the world.

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It was a sense of moving out.

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And so, I guess, the chorus just sort of fell together, you know.

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The phrase "Shine, Jesus, shine," I don't know where it came from,

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but it arrived at the right moment.

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And, you know, the chorus unfolded

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probably in quite a short period of time.

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The verses probably took me hours and hours, but the chorus

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came together quite quickly, and there it was.

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It wasn't until I started to use it that I noticed how people

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were kind responding to it, as a prayer.

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"Shine, Jesus, shine," so it's like a verb.

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You know, "Jesus - the light of the world."

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Then, it's all about action.

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"Fill this land with the Father's glory.

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"Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire.

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"Flow, river, flow, flood the nation..."

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Not just the nation, but "the nations, with grace and mercy.

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"Send forth your word and let there be light."

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It's all about action.

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And that was where we were at at the time.

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And so, it became an anthem for the rising church movements.

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# Storms of life may brew... #

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We'll hear Shine, Jesus, Shine in a moment,

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but first an update on a brand-new hymn writer

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we featured on Songs Of Praise before Christmas.

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Andrew Gardiner is a Baptist minister from Plymouth

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and has been writing his first hymns while battling cancer.

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Andrew's most recent worship song is I Am Held By You.

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# It's the only place to be

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# What I once knew by faith... #

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And the good news is,

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this month it reached the top of the religious UK iTunes chart.

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Next week, the Reverend Kate Bottley brushes up on her first aid skills

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with St John Ambulance,

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and discovers their origins in the ancient religious order of St John.

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And JB Gill meets a remarkable Good Samaritan.

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But now, we return to the Royal Albert Hall

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and the Big Sing orchestra raising the roof

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with Graham Kendrick's wonderful hymn Shine, Jesus, Shine.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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In a programme celebrating Britain's greatest hymnwriters, modern legend Graham Kendrick tells Sean Fletcher about the story behind his contemporary anthem Shine, Jesus, Shine, and Pam Rhodes talks to the leading modern hymnwriters Timothy Dudley Smith and Bernadette Farrell.

At the Royal Albert Hall a congregation of 5,000 sing some of the country's favourite hymns.

Music: Love Divine from the Royal Albert Hall When I Survey the Wondrous Cross from the Royal Albert Hall Christ Be Our Light from All Saints Church Cheltenham And Did Those Feet (Jerusalem) from St John the Baptist Church, Tideswell Tell Out My Soul from the Royal Albert Hall In Christ Alone from St Patrick's Church, Dungannon Shine Jesus Shine from the Royal Albert Hall.