Saturday, March 11, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 6

Hymns set to folk tunes

Folk tunes have always been a popular choice for hymn composers, and have been used throughout the Church’s history. In the early 20th century, during a general revival of interest in folk music, dance and customs, there was a renewed interest in using these tunes in church. Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ collection of hymns, “The English Hymnal” is particularly rich in these, and often rescued tunes which might have been lost, like “Kingsfold” the tune to which “I heard the voice of Jesus say” is often sung. Hymn writers were much more sniffy about using the popular music of urban populations, such as the music-hall. They left that to the Salvation Army and other missionary minded organisations. The trend for setting hymns to folk tunes continues to be popular. John Bell and other members of the Iona Community have used many traditional tunes for their hymns.

This tune was collected by Vaughan Williams at Kingsfold in Sussex. The words of the hymn are by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), a Free Church minister from Scotland, who wrote many hymns. Ironically his own church frowned on non-Biblical texts being sung in church, so it’s unlikely he was able to use them when he led worship there. The hymn draws on imagery from the Gospels; Jesus invitation to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11.28), the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4.1-42) and his declaration that he is “the Light of the World”. (John 9.5).

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one,
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me; your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.

  • This hymn invites us to listen to the voice of Jesus. What do you think he might be saying to you today?

And here's a more modern folk tune hymn - The Summons, by John Bell, a member of the Iona Community.

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