Singing CH4 - 10 years on...

Alan Tavener takes a tour of CH4.

It’s ten years already since Church Hymnary Fourth Edition – “CH4” for short – started to appear in the pews of the Church of Scotland.  I wonder how it’s been going down?  Perhaps it’s time to take a return visit to its contents and see what opportunities are still waiting to be tapped…

As a church musician nurtured in the Anglican tradition, Church Hymnary Third Edition – or “CH3” for short – did appeal to my intellectual and liturgical sensitivities.  But CH4 has opened up many new opportunities for the Congregation that I serve at Jordanhill Parish Church.  I hope the same might already be true for you – and maybe my tour of CH4 will provide you with some helpful pointers…

I see CH4 as a golden opportunity to build on the enthusiastic congregational singing I’ve encountered in the non-Episcopal, Reformed churches of Scotland.  This is something to be treasured and seems to be the envy of some other Christian denominations!  But we know it was not always so.  The early Reformers vowed to hand over to the people the singing of divine worship, but sadly their zeal also led to the demise of musical education and decay of any church musical culture.  For many generations congregations survived on an extremely limited diet of psalm tunes.

At a local level the 1800s saw the advent of hymn-singing (and the introduction of organs) into Scottish Reformed Churches.  Eventually the General Assembly commissioned the Church Hymnary which was published in 1898.  The General Editor was the English composer and academic, Sir John Stainer, whose reputation in church music was well-established through his significant role in the realisation of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and St Paul’s Cathedral Chant Book (1878), as well as the composition of the oratorio The Crucifixion (1887).  The Church Hymnary was intended to be used in parallel with the metrical psalter, which was integrated into the revised hymnary published in 1929 under the title Church Hymnary Revised with Scottish Metrical Psalms – Revised Church Hymnary, or “RCH” for short.  CH3 seems to have been introduced in 1973 on the premise that ‘bolder’ church choirs would lead reluctant congregations through pastures very new – hymn tunes specially-composed by the leading Scottish composers of the day who, in many cases, displayed little understanding of what the person in the pew could actually sing.  Sounds all too much like an echo of the early Reformation practice of thrusting newly-invented psalm-tunes on unsuspecting congregations!

All of that’s now history, and CH4 is here to stay for the foreseeable – but how much of it do ministers, choirs, congregations explore?  Certainly it presents hymns as we know them, some even ‘rescued’ from RCH.  Others were already popular through BBC TV’s Songs of Praise which transcended ecumenical ‘divides’.  And long after the practice had been adopted in Germany and England (think Martin Luther and Vaughan Williams) other hymns even draw on native folksong – enough to have John Knox turning in his grave!

In 1906 Percy Dearmer approached the self-confessed agnostic son of a Vicar and avid collector and ‘rescuer’ of English folksong, Ralph Vaughan Williams, to be his joint editor of the English Hymnal.

His collecting activity extended to trawling the world of Tudor church music, and two psalm tunes composed by Thomas Tallis for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter can be found at 719 (the basis of Vaughan Williams’s celebrated string orchestral Fantasia), and the celebrated Canon at 808.  Perhaps you heard these after browsing Rebecca’s blog?  Any choir of the most modest aspirations will enjoy singing the Canon in two (or maybe more) parts – even better leading its congregation in like manner!

Perhaps at the taking up of the Offering for a change?  Vaughan Williams’s collecting activities influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal and we have many examples of his work as an arranger of English folk song in CH4, including the tunes Shipston (226) and Kingsfold (291, words 540)

But the early Reformers in Scotland passed over popular tunes of the day – what if these were to evoke ‘profane’ thoughts?...  Also, the early metrical psalms (like all Scripture) were to be held in such reverence that the psalm tunes should not be practised at home – after all, the mind would be taken up with practising and not worshipping God…  So non-religious words were created to permit private study of the tunes.  And today it’s possible that the very musical strand in CH4 that divides congregational opinion is the inclusion of Scottish folk/traditional melody.  It’s my guess that this might be due more to Scotland’s folk/traditional scene being very much a ‘living tradition’ in its own right (to an extent that England’s and Germany’s are not), rather than the concern of evoking ‘profane’ thoughts...  Be that as it may, we are offered not only the Skye (600) but also the Iona (730) Boat Tune, and MacPherson’s Rant (88), Bonnie George Campbell (441 – I find that verse one makes for a particularly effective post-Sermon Ascription of Praise), Ye Banks and Braes, and Kelvingrove (where I find there is greater coherence when sung in duple time).  Ae Fond Kiss is brought into commission in a most effective way, appropriately as a corporate ‘parting’ song (786), and the Eriskay Love Lilt provides a short Hymn for Healing (782), and is also very appropriate as an Intercessionary Response.  And CH4 doesn’t stop at Scottish traditional tunes – check out 173, 266, 330, 691, 729, to name a few!

Metrical psalmody, the bedrock of Scottish Reformed worship, finds expression in CH4 through a sizeable selection from the 1929 Scottish Psalter, as well as more recent versifications.  The musical settings are also drawn variously from the 1929 as well as the 17th century Scottish psalters.  Add worldwide sources (such as 30, 43, 54ii, 60 , 67, 94) and contemporary settings and arrangements (such as 33, 65, 83, 86, 91) and we have a rich variety, without precedent.

And there is much, much more: CH4 presents a truly diverse resource.  Congregations clamouring for a ‘jolly good sing’ surely shall be satisfied, and sung expression of the most contemporary sentiments and attitudes is offered (such as 165, 204, 689).  CH3 introduced to Church of Scotland congregations a sung setting of the Communion Service through the music of Kenneth Leighton, and those seeking deep spiritual succour will find CH3’s liturgical scope has been further enriched by contributions from Roman Catholic composer James MacMillan (648, 651, 653) which enjoy wide and ecumenical currency.  Indeed the Church catholic and worldwide is at the heart of CH4: there are Ukrainian traditional chants (766 and 776), the latter a setting of Kyrie eleison (‘Lord, have mercy’).

(incorrectly credited to Jacque Berthier)

This corporate response to the Prayers of Confession is particularly satisfying where a choir/congregation is well-endowed with sonorous bass voices!  John Bell offers a simple responsorial setting (777), effective accompanied or unaccompanied – but for congregations where the singing of those Greek words is a bridge too far, I refer you back to James MacMillan (647) or a setting of South African origin (781) – more about this in a while…

Drawing further on CH4 as a rich source not only of traditional hymnody but also liturgical participation, Alleluia responses are to be found in abundance – ideal for a the corporate response to the Reading of God’s Word.  Moods range widely to suit all seasons – Easter is being particularly well provided for (428 refrain, 431, 753), and 752 offers a more restrained alternative for the more ‘sombre’ seasons.  There’s a versatile Celtic setting (346), and for Pentecost try 779 to Zimbabwean traditional music.  My congregation has taken 751 to its heart.   Most can be Cantor-led, or by the shortest of inventive cues from the organ, piano, or any melodic instrument.  Incidentally, if you are trawling your CH4 indices, don’t overlook Hallelujah settings as well! (such as 766 and 767).

We’ve already been reminded in passing that CH4 breaks new ground for a Scottish hymnary by including ‘world’ music.  From ‘gathering’ sentiments (757, 773) to ‘parting’ statements (800,

803 ) – from intercessionary responses (805) to Amens (824, 825) – South Africa provides fresh source material for Scottish congregations.  Meanwhile, traditionalists will be delighted to see the return of the ‘Threefold Amen’ (819) rescued from RCH, and confident, competent church choirs will relish the Amen settings of Orlando Gibbons (821) and William Smith (823), two composers for the Anglican Church.  And choirs and congregations who can master the 2-part singing of Tallis’s canon as suggested earlier will welcome 822.  All corners of the globe are represented in CH4: Blessings from China (787, with effective descant), the Caribbean (789, another canon) and Guatamala (798) – ‘Glory to God’ from Peru (762) offering a Christmastide Post-Sermon Ascription of Praise (as do both the Taizé (760) and Iona (761) Communities).

These two significant sources of ‘new’ material add further to CH4’s richness and variety.  The ecumenical Taizé Community was founded in 1940, and its music is often characterised by repetition of simple chant-like phrases, as well as the singing in simple canon (see the MP3s and Podcasts page of the website).  They are particularly appropriate interleaved with Prayers of Intercession (775, 793, 794, 801).  So too are the often Celtic-based songs (754, 758, 759) associated with the Iona Community – also ecumenical and founded in 1938.  Wild Goose Publications is the Community’s music and worship resources arm.

To sum up, CH4 allows singing congregations to widen their role in Divine Worship.  Before long I‘ll follow up on this overview with practical pointers which I have found to have ‘taken off’ with my congregation.  Meantime, if I can help in any way to encourage you to achieve that, please do get in touch.  I hope this brief (and very incomplete) tour encourages you to leaf through the entirety of CH4.  In the process I hope that your appetite is whetted.

Alan Tavener read music at the University of Oxford where he was awarded the Heberden Organ Scholarship to Brasenose College. As Director of Music at Strathclyde University, Alan combined teaching and research with the promotion of a professional concert series and the formation and direction of a wide range of student choirs, orchestras and ensembles, including Strathclyde University Chamber Choir.  As Director of Music at Jordanhill Parish Church in Glasgow, he formed and directs a community choir, a children’s choir and an ecumenical liturgical choir, and has recorded a CD of organ works. Together with Rebecca Tavener, in 1982 Alan founded Cappella Nova, the award-winning professional vocal ensemble which has established an unrivalled reputation as champions of Scotland’s unique treasury of early vocal music.