Hymns for All Reasons Songs of Praise


Hymns for All Reasons

Pam Rhodes introduces congregational hymns that reflect every human experience and emotion, plus performances from Willard White and Russell Watson.


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Transcript


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"No-one can be called friendless who has God

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"and the companionship of good books,"

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said the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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And if you delve into the covers

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of just some of the thousands of books here at Leeds Central Library,

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you'll find they're companions which tell stories

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of every human experience, emotion and aspiration.

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The whole of life is on those shelves.

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But if I had to choose just one book

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in which I can find all of that,

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plus plenty of good questions along with some even better answers,

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then the one I would choose is this,

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a hymn book.

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This week, hymnologist Gordon Giles,

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his parishioners at St Mary Magdalene in Enfield

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and congregations from all over the country

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with a selection of traditional hymns

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we can turn to whatever the reason.

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For me, it's the reasons why hymn words were written

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that's most fascinating.

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For example, take this special collection here at Leeds Library

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of Jewish books, many of them on Hebrew psalms.

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Without the Psalms, we probably wouldn't have any hymns.

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The Psalms have been described as the hymn book of the Jewish Bible.

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And the Israelites, before and during exile, sang Psalms.

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And, of course, the Psalms reflected every emotion

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that they could possibly have, from terror, to joy, to excitement.

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BLUES MUSIC

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In Babylon, as exiles,

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they sang, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"

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So, we have the complete range of emotions in the Psalms

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and some of these Psalms are a bit like the blues, really.

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You know, wanting to express their great disappointment

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and sadness about, you know, what was going on to them.

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MUSIC

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17th-century hymn-writer Nahum Tate

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certainly had a lot of ups and downs in his life

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because he went from being Poet Laureate

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to dying in a debtor's refuge.

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He found great inspiration in those ancient Psalms.

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Like Psalm 34 on which he based our opening hymn,

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sung for us now by the congregation of Coventry Cathedral.

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I've been writing articles and books on hymns for a few years now.

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With the Bible Reading Fellowship,

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with the Royal School of Church Music and with the Hymn Society, as well.

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Because I love hymns and they just fascinate me

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and I love singing hymns and I love writing about them

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and learning about them because they contain so much information,

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so much theology, so much prayer and so much love in hymns.

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People often say that St Augustine wrote that,

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anyone who sings, prays twice.

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It's debatable whether St Augustine actually said that

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but nevertheless, it's a great line and it's true.

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So to sing, is to pray twice.

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But it occurred to me in some of the work I've been doing over the years

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that a prayer written after a hymn

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kind of makes it that you are praying thrice, three times.

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You have praying, you have singing

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and then you have praying after singing.

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Our next hymn is sung by a West Yorkshire congregation,

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gathered together for praise and prayer at Halifax Minster.

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Well, the words of that him were written by a young American woman,

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Love Maria Willis, who joined the ranks of many women,

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writing hymns on both sides of the Atlantic

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around the time of Queen Victoria's reign.

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MUSIC

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Another woman hymn-writer who we might think of

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was Catherine Winkworth, who you may not have heard of,

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but she was responsible for translating many of the German hymns

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that we now sing and love.

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Now Thank We All Our God, for example.

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Cecil Frances Alexander, who was known as Fanny,

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she was a great hymn-writer of the 19th-century,

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and wrote a set of hymns for children based on the creed,

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of which, some hymns we still sing.

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There Is A Green Hill Far Away

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was based on the part of the creed about the crucifixion.

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All Things Bright And Beautiful,

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which we know and love still, was about creation.

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Once In Royal David's City was about the birth of Christ

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and these hymns are still very much with us.

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They were written for children so that they might learn

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the stories of the Bible and the tenets of the faith.

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Charlotte Elliott, who wrote Just As I Am,

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was an invalid for much of her life.

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When Charlotte was ill, she met a man called Louis Mallan,

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and when she was having a crisis with her faith, as she was being ill,

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she asked him, "How, how can I come to God?"

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He said, "Just come to God as you are."

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And she remembered that phrase

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and built it into this very famous hymn, a much-loved him,

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which I think we can all sing from the heart,

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"Just, Jesus, I come to you as I am."

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And that's how, of course, Christ calls us.

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He doesn't call us to be anything else other than who we really are.

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Charlotte's brother, who was a vicar,

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later acknowledged that this one hymn she wrote

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touched more hearts than he had in a lifetime of ministry.

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This version of Just As I Am,

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set to the simple folk tune, Saffron Walden,

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featured in our School Choir of the Year competition in 2011.

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And it's sung by the High School of Glasgow,

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which this year went on to win Senior Choir of the Year.

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So it seems that hymns can be a kind of spiritual first-aid kit

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for when we're feeling at our lowest.

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But, in fact, the very definition of the word "hymn"

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is "song of praise".

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MUSIC

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I like hymns that rises up, not suppresses it.

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Good music, good hymns, good words and good singing.

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A good tune.

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Something that is easy to follow, everybody can join in.

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Singing is a very communal act.

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And when the whole church is singing together,

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it moves you from a very personal space

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into the body of Christ, a common place.

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We sing together familiar hymns, we say together familiar words

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and then those words remain with us

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and those tunes remain with us throughout the week

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as a great encouragement and as a great inspiration.

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It just uplifts you so greatly.

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And then you go home

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and remember those people that you were singing it with.

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Singing with other people.

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That's part of the pleasure to me, is doing it with other people.

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And singing in parts and feeling the harmony.

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When the congregation is singing it,

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you can feel the spirit coming down to you

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to pull you up, to inspire you.

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There are few hymns more stirring than

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Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven.

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And it's sung now

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by the congregation of St Anne's Roman Catholic Cathedral

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just next door to the library here in Leeds.

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MUSIC

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Anger is considered to be one of the seven deadly sins.

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And its links to war, crime and all forms of oppression

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are only too obvious.

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MUSIC

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Back in the 17th century, it was William Congreve,

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who was a playwright born not so far from this city of Leeds,

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who coined the famous phrase,

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"Music has charms to soothe the savage breast."

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MUSIC

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And that was never more true

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than when one of the most emotive of all Christian music traditions,

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the spiritual,

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was born out of the violence and cruelty of the slave trade.

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MUSIC

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Slave Christianity,

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and the spirituals which were born within slave Christianity,

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are really protest songs.

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They're songs by slaves attempting to resist the tyranny of slavery

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and calling on God to deliver them.

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So we shouldn't just interpret them as nice music.

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They go beyond nice music. They are songs of resistance.

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And that's how we should sing them

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And that's how we should celebrate them.

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MUSIC

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It was very important to them

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that they held onto stories that gave them a sense of hope.

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And we know from the spirituals

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that songs about Moses and God's deliverance of the Hebrew people,

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songs about Joshua, the battle of Jericho,

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these images of God as a warrior defeating oppressive regimes

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were songs they could hold onto

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because they gave them a sense of hope.

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MUSIC

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And from the spirituals inspired by that desperate struggle

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came, in turn, the uplifting and vibrant traditions

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of jazz and swing.

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# When Israel was in Egypt's land

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# Let my people go

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# Oppressed so hard

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# They could not stand

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# Let my people go

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# Go down

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# Moses

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# Way down in Egypt's land

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# Tell old Pharaoh

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# To let my people go

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# The Lord told Moses what to do

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# Let my people go

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# Bring the oppressed children through

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# Let my people go

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# Go down Moses

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# Way down in Egypt's land

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# Tell old Pharaoh

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# To let my people go

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# As Israel stood by the water side

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# Let my people go

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# At God's command it did divide

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# Let my people go

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# Go down, Moses

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# Way down in Egypt's land

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# Tell old Pharaoh

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# To let my people go

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# When they reach the other shore

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# Let my people go

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# They sang a song of triumph o'er

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# Let my people go

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# Go down, Moses

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# Way down in Egypt's land

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# Tell old Pharaoh

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# To let my people go

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# Let my people go

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# Let my people go

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# Let

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# My people

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# Go! #

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It is a powerful combination when modern-day human challenges

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and experience are expressed in raw, down-to-earth language

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and then paired with a beautiful traditional folk melody.

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One of our most prolific hymn-writers, John Bell,

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is a master at capturing our emotions in this way,

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like the pain, the guilt, the need for forgiveness

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that often follows awful tragedy.

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That's something the congregation at the cathedral

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in the Scottish city of Dunblane understand all too well.

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That melody, Ye Banks And Braes, is named after a song

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written by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.

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He's one of the greats of literature

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immortalised here in the library's ornate tiled hall.

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Robbie Burns lived hard and died young, aged only 37.

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Well, of course, it is only natural to fear illness and death,

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which is what singer Russell Watson had to do in his late 30s

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at the height of his career.

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# When I am down

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# And oh my soul so weary

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# When troubles come

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# And my heart burdened be...#

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It started with a vocal problem.

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I had polyps on my vocal chords.

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And at the time, career threatening, which,

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probably was bad enough at that point.

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But it was only a year or so later

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that that was kind of superseded by, erm, a brain tumour.

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I kind of had the operation, thought it was a success,

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only to find out 12, 18 months later that the tumour hadn't gone.

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But it had come back bigger and stronger than before.

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People often say, "Do you believe in God?"

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Well, I must believe in God because, at that particular point,

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I remember actually saying to God, "OK, I've had enough.

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"Come and get me."

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I think it's made me a more focused person.

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I think it's made me a more appreciative human being

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of who and what is around me.

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I don't generally now take things for granted.

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And I'm still doing what I love.

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I'm still performing and I'm still singing

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and thank God for that.

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Abide With Me is one of the most moving examples

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of a Christian facing his own mortality.

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Henry Francis Lyte penned these words shortly before he died

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and composer William Monk wrote Eventide,

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the tune ever associated with these words

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in memory of his three-year-old daughter.

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May Christ, our God, abide with us

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that we may rest happy and blessed

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by the assurance of his loving kindness towards us,

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that he may point us to the skies, where he dwells in glory forever.

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And the blessing of God Almighty,

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the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

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be among you and remain with you always.

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Amen.

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The writer of our last him, Fanny Crosby, was profoundly blind

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and yet she was still able to write about 8,000 hymn texts.

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Sometimes, two or three a day

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and always expressing her sense of reassurance and trust in God.

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So, as we take our leave of Yorkshire

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with a final hymn from Halifax Minster,

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we are assured that whatever challenges we face,

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nothing should stop us singing his praise.

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Later this year, we plan to announce the UK's top ten hymns.

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But to find out what they are, we need you to cast your vote.

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Go to the Songs Of Praise website,

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look at the list of 100 familiar hymns and choose your favourite.

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It's as easy as that.

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And the ten most popular will be revealed

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and sung by 5,000 people at the Big Sing in the Royal Albert Hall.

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Next week, I'll be introducing

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a selection of hymns for all occasions.

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Not just baptisms, weddings and funerals

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but national events and celebrations, too.

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