MOST OF US at Christmastime like to sing the old favourites. Our Christmas worship would be incomplete without ‘Hark! The herald-angels sing’ or 'O come, all ye faithful’. Some of them have been sung for many centuries. ‘A great and mighty wonder’ is from an eighth-century original and ‘Unto us a boy is born’ from the fifteenth. By comparison, some, however traditional, are not in fact so very old. ‘Away in a manger’ first appeared in Philadelphia in 1885 and in Britain in 1905. We are also indebted to the United States for ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ and for ‘O little town of Bethlehem’. They both date from the middle of the nineteenth century; as does, for example, Mrs Alexander’s ‘Once in royal David’s city’, Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak mid-winter’, or Edward Caswell’s ‘See, amid the winter snow’. They are, perhaps not surprisingly, firmly Victorian.
It is worth remembering that we only have these ‘old favourites’ (old enough, at any rate, to be the carols we sang as children) because Christian worshippers were willing to embrace and sing them when they were new and unfamiliar; and indeed that is how all our hymnody has come down to us. My hope therefore is that, along with our traditional favourites (along with, not instead of) some congregations may like to ‘refresh their worship’ by adding something new. It may be easier if the tune is already known, and about half these 45 texts are here set to familar hymn tunes. I would plead with leaders of worship not to spring a new item on an unsuspecting congregation, but to give them a chance to learn and sing it by way of ‘rehearsal’, perhaps a week or two beforehand or informally before the Service begins. If however there is a choir or music group to give a lead, perhaps by singing the first verse, then surely most congregations will be happy to join in. This is, I know, all rather obvious; but I write it with feeling as I remember occasions when a totally unknown hymn of mine has been included in a Service where I am, for example, the visiting preacher. It is well-intended, perhaps as a courteous recognition of my presence there – but few things are more cringe-making for a hymn writer than to have to listen to embarrassed and faltering attempts to make sense of unfamiliar words and music!
Perhaps, too, this collection could find a place on top of the piano where families make music together. In Christian homes I believe this still happens more frequently than many might suppose.
The words ‘new, revised and enlarged edition’ indicate that a similar collection of thirty of my Christmas hymns, under the same title, was published by Canterbury Press some fifteen years ago and has been long out of print. It was originally conceived thanks to the encouragement of Dr Lionel Dakers, who also acted (since I am all but totally unmusical) as Music Editor. I am fortunate indeed that William Llewellyn was willing to take over; he builds on Lionel Dakers’ work in this new edition, while adding much that is new. William Llewellyn as Music Editor has now partnered me in seven similar collections and I am glad to record here my heartfelt thanks for his skill and friendship; as I thank also Mr Tim Ruffer, Head of Publishing at the Royal School of Church Music, and those contemporary composers whose music enhances this edition. The fifteen or so additional texts in this ‘enlarged edition’ are mostly from my Christmas cards of the last few years. I write a Christmas hymn or carol every year, and over time they mount up. They serve to wish my friends, as I wish all who use this collection, a Happy Christmas, filled with timeless ‘wonder, love and praise’ for the Father who sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Batten: O sing joyfully (ed. Morehen)
Stanford: Fantasia and Toccata in D minor, Op.57
Byrd: Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis for Verses - The Second Service
Archer: May wisdom and knowledge
Wesley: Dixit dominus
God so loved the world: A Passiontide Service.
Sumsion: A song of triumph
Wood: Out of the deep
Nicholson: Love divine
Gowers: Chester Lullaby
Karg-Elert: Erste Sonate fur Harmonium in B Minor, Op.36
Hymns for the Small Church (ed. Anderson & Llewellyn)
Gigout: Grand Choeur DialoguÃ© (arr. Walton), Organ and brass ensemble (Organ part)
Victoria: Ave Maria a 4
The Silver Collection Book One
Karg-Elert: Sonatinen fur Harmonium, Op.14
Sumsion: They that go down to the sea in ships
RSCM Devon Advent Carol Book (3rd edition)
Kelly: A Round of Carols
Voice for Life Songbook 1
Karg-Elert: Kaleidoscope, Op.144
Hewitt Jones: Born in Bethlehem
Stephens: Pied Beauty
How: Day by day
Bates: All the creatures of the wild (U/2-pt)
Ives: Ubi Caritas
Karg-Elert: 5 Miniaturen, Op.9
Bertalot: The Johannesburg Service (full)
Music for Common Worship I: Music for Sunday Services
Stanford: Communion Service in B flat (edited by Jeremy Dibble)
The Way of the Cross - A Passiontide sequence of words and music
Sumsion: Blessed are they
Holman: Magnificat and Nunc dimittis F minor
William Godfree: Requiem, Viola
Goss: I heard a voice from Heaven