Modern hymns are rubbish

This is sort of a religion blog / rant (but it will touch on other things). Whilst I suggest it is about Northern Irish culture, for those who object to the misuse of slugger, here is Mick’s email address.I do not like modern hymns. Very many Protestant churches (except Free Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians and Independent Methodists) have lots of modern hymns. They are, almost without exception (there are a few exceptions) rubbish. Many seem to involve repeating the same line over and over again, sometimes with men and women singing different parts. Others involve words and music that do not really fit together; it is usually possible for really good singers to sing them and for them to sound good when a soloist sings them. When the folk in the pew try, however; especially those of us trying to stop our small children throwing things over the balcony (we sit upstairs) it is impossible. My personal pet hate, however, is when the writers of the songs cannot even be bothered to make the words rhyme. Rhyming being usually considered a part of sung verse.

There is one thing even worse than new hymns however. That is changing the words of old hymns because the language is “too old”. A few weeks ago in church we sang “Rock of Ages”. Now most will remember this as “Rock of Ages Cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee”. Clearly the “me” and “thee” rhyme. But no: in the new world order of Presbyterianism the thee has been banished and replaced with you. This clearly does not rhyme; in addition I suspect most people will understand that thee means you (albeit in the singular but that is a different discussion). Finally in the 1970s and 1980s when I was a child and teenager I cannot remember thee being in common usage; yet then it was acceptable in hymns now suddenly it is not.

Of course a lot of this nonsense is driven by some bizarre notion which afflicts many of the mainstream churches that somehow the reason people are not attending their churches is that they sing old fashioned hymns. As if suddenly: if modern hymns were introduced, the churches would be filled to bursting. Cynically I could point out that the churches that are growing, are often those which are more old fashioned.

To broaden this from religion; people often complain that modern pop music is rubbish and it was much better in “The Bygone Days of Yore.” Again this is true but that is because all the absolute dross from the 1960s to 1990s has (thankfully) been long forgotten. Exactly the same is true in hymns. Charles Wesley wrote over 200 hymns; we sing less than 20, presumably the good ones, the others having been consigned to the scrap heap.

There: religious rant over for a week or two anyway apart from a genuine question: Are Roman Catholic churches afflicted with the same (or similar) appalling modern hymns?

  • Mark McGregor

    Not that I think about hymns much but strangely the only one I ever find myself humming without realising is Cowper’s ‘God moves in a mysterious way’. Make of that what you will.

  • kensei

    There: religious rant over for a week or two anyway apart from a genuine question: Are Roman Catholic churches afflicted with the same (or similar) appalling modern hymns?

    We’re not always big on singing. I find that it varies from church to church: a lot don’t sing, some sing stuff I know, some sung new stuff. QUB Chaplaincy in particular had instruments and some “modern” stuff, IRC. Quality varied, as did singing quality, rather than being universally appalling.

    Anyway, the devil has all the best tunes 😉

  • Turgon

    Interesting Mr. McGregor,
    In reality the tunes are actually very important. Apparently most old hymn tunes were popular tunes of the day. Also of course some come from classic music. Be still my soul is Sibelius’ Finlandia, I came to Jesus fits to one of Vaughan Williams tunes, I vow to thee my country is the main theme of Holst’s Jupiter etc. etc. Interestingly also When I survey the wonderous cross fits to My Lagan Love

  • ulsterfan

    It is worth listening to the rubbish in order to get hold of a few wonderful modern hymns where the music is so appropriate with the words.

  • Mark McGregor


    Hope you don’t mind the liberty but I sent you an email.



    Actually, if I was being a pedant I’d point out that ‘thee’ is inapropriate since the bible still uses the archaic ‘thou’ which is the older form of the respectful ‘you’, just as other languages have ‘tu’ and ‘vous’.

  • Dewi

    Arglwydd Dyma fi – Lord, Here I am Enough to make u believe in rapture.

  • Dewi

    Kath ain’t bad Cwm Rhondda

  • harry

    i always loved the hymn “Jerusalem”, a bit strange coming from an irish republican.

  • Dewi

    Jerusalem It is a striking combination of of dark and light isn’t it. Wonderful.

  • Debbie


    Many of these new hymns now though are chants sung as verse which is used instead of prayer.(I don’t know much about other religions but in mass now especially before and after Eucharist the singing of the chant is nicer than saying it out loud or silently.) I suspect that is what the repetition is with these new hymns, a reinventing of the chant in religion, and maybe you aren’t used to it, because chanting may not be part and parcel of Prespyterianism – I really don’t know.

    I do agree with you though about the changing of the old language.

  • pauljames

    I was of the generation that had morning assembly at school which allowed for a few rousing hymns dependant on the repetoire of the music teacher. What I have noticed is the excruciating embarassment of funeral services where no-one nowadays knows the words or music of anything beyond the 23rd psalm. Then again God preserve us from the modern dross of “happy clappy”.

  • joeCanuck

    When I was still religious, one of the few things I liked about church was the hymn singing. I was even in the choir for a couple of years until my voice broke, disastrously – can no longer hold any tune. Bah.

  • gaelgannaire

    Thou shalt not bloggeth on the Sabat?

  • Damian O’Loan


    I suspect you might be interested to read Kant’s Critique of Judgement. I don’t agree with his argument, but it is the most incisive and breathtaking piece of philosophy I have ever read. It is an attempt to show how the effect of art on consciousness is in effect proof of the existence of God.

    It should be available on

    Were he correct, the issues you raise would be of critical importance for Christians.

  • getthefacts

    Turgon “I do not like modern hymns.”

    All hymns were modern in their day.

    This is one of the best by a modern hymn writer, Keith Getty from Northern Ireland.

    The Power of the Cross

    or this version

  • Turgon

    Of course there are good modern hymns. I like “How Deep the Father’s Love” and several others. Partly it was hyperbole to get debate started. However, a lot of modern ones are absolute rubbish. Most of the one’s we sang when I was a teenager have long been forgotten. Once Mission Praise was seen as cutting edge. There are hardly any of the 1980s new choruses still in common usage. Just as I am sure only a tiny minority of old hymns have survived.

    I freely admit to being rather old fashioned on this one. I am still at heart a dark suit, one hand holding the Third Edition Church Hymnary and other resolutely stuffed in pocket type.

    When we lived in England I loved going to the 9am service which was old fashioned CoE with the creed etc. If I were an RC I am sure I would be demanding the Latin mass.

  • Peter Brown

    As someone who was born into a middle of the road presbyterian church, went baptist (brethern with an organ!) for most of my schooldays and then back to presbyterian in my late teens I have to disagree somewhat with you on this one Turgon – worship like beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if the golden oldies are what does it for you that is fine but a few weeks ago my minster who you may not be surprised to hear is also a former lawyer quoted a rant like yours in a sermon on worship and probably deliberately left us under the misapprehension that it was about the modern worship which my own congregation has tried to embrace in balance with traditional hymns only at the end to reveal it was a contemporary view of those traditional hymns from the time of their writing.

    Some older hymns have stood the test of time and do not require the amendments which have been made to them in the new Irish Presbyterian Hymnal, others needed to be updated (one of my current favourites is the rewriting of Psalm 23 I will trust in you Alone for which i couldn;t find a video or audio link) and other modern hymns such as In Christ Alone (I may destroy the whole thread by attempting to post the link possible future classic if that isn’t am oxymoron. Many of the best traditional hymns ( I recall always particulrly liking When the Roll is Called up Yonder when we were baptist) are not sung by presbyterians at all!

    In summary worship is what the singer wants it to be and we shouldn;t forget that Jesus taught in parables that were relevant to his audience shouldn’t worship be relevant to the singer as well?

  • Turgon, Can I compare thee to Rev Ivan Foster, who preached…

    In the midst of the battles that our little church has gone through in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there was a living again, an experiencing again, a fellowshipping in the blessings and victories of the past. How real the psalmist’s prayers become! Little wonder our Presbyterian forefathers, in times of persecution in Scotland in the 17th century, loved to sing the psalms as they faced the fury of the enemy. They were living in the spirit of David and the battles of long ago. So too was Martin Luther when he sang out: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” Such hymns are falling into disfavour with today’s non-contending generation. They prefer the sentimental mish-mash of the modern hymn writer.

    source –

  • Rory

    Goodness me! A meeting of minds between Turgon and I. What serendipity.

    Listening to something or other on the radio today while I was preparing a birthday lunch party for the younger, madder daughter – I rememeber! – it was Clive James on the sublimity of Amy Winehouse and the difficulty she seemed to have in coping with her gift and of the difficulties encountered by a gangsta rap singer on whose sublimity (and gift) he chose to remain mute.

    I am yet recovering from lunch so I will attempt no essay on this matter but will say that, in my experience, that sense of the marrying of music with with pure joy in the western Christian canon can be found in the sung mass of the Roman, Orthodox and High Anglican Catholic rite, in the monastic chant of orders within those religions and, for sheer exuberant joy, in those Christian churches, of whatever denomination, that attract a black audience – even in the crazy, clearly exploitative ones that I have attended in London.

    Happy clappy music does invade RC churches as I have discovered at “b’s, d’s and m’s” and gives me no inclination to return to those places to quietly search the inadequacies of my stewardship of my soul.

    Having said all that above, I do find that the upraised voices of song of the poor and oppressed
    that allows them for a moment to transcend the awarness of their material misery is always very powerful. I think of the burial scenes in John Ford westerns of my youth – Shall we Gather at the River– when I would dearly wish that I was a Baptist (or some sort of a heathen) that I could share in such simple honest communion.

    But then I’m easy to please – for me Ella Fitzgerald with I Cover the Waterfront is about as sublime and as holy as it gets.

    Things are bad enough on the church music front but, even worse, I have encountered a tendency for people of no discernable talent to recite vile self composed verses at funerals and weddings and such of the order of-

    He was my dad
    and never got mad.
    It was not so bad
    that my dad was my dad

    But at least that is an improvement on some some dork doing the Stop all the clocks… crap which is enough to turn a Methodist to thoughts of strong drink.

  • Turgon

    Okay by force of argument you all have to an extent won me round.

    There are good modern hymns. I am sorry and in no way do I regard it as more holy but I am still a Third Edition (or maybe Revised Edition) Church Hymnary person. I am also a dark suit person. That is just my old fashioned thranness.

  • Dewi

    Turgon – thanks for precipitating a wonderful couple of hours on Youtube.

    Let’s go gospel!!!


  • PaddyReilly

    Congregational singing in rhyming couplets is almost by definition Protestant, since it was an innovation of Jan Hus which was continued by Martin Luther. Some hymns and carols of this type such as Adeste Fideles must be older, but they did not form part of the normal liturgy.

    Having said this, it has to be admitted that small Catholic congregations in English speaking areas do have hymns and hymbooks, but they do not waste excessive time on this activity. Congregational singing seems so imbued in the Protestant mind that it takes place even during royal wedding and funerals in St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, which have excellent choirs and do not need this pedestrian offering.

    Among the Anglicans it can be an appalling waste of time. For this we can sometimes blame the organist. One of my girlfriends was the daughter of an Anglican vicar who thought hymns should be fast and furious, while his organyddes thought they should be slow and pedestrian. He tried, unsuccessfully, to chivvy her on by singing faster. At times they would part company during Morning Prayer, and he would have sung the hymn, taken the collection, finished the collects and moved on to an ad hoc commination before she had finished the 7th verse.

    The Catholic Church does, on occasion, understand the value of brevity. Low Mass in Dublin was not meant to last longer than 20 minutes. In one parish I lived in the priest, who was above 80 at the time, had by a lifetime’s practise managed to reduce the Office to its true essentials. It was around this time that athletes were striving to accomplish the Five Minute Mile, and his orisons were nicknamed the Five Minute Mass.

    In my opinion the efforts of even small choirs in the Russian Orthodox tradition excels anything that Catholic or Protestant can offer:-

    I am told that Armenian singing is even better than Russian, but I have never heard it myself.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the Presbyterian metrical psalms. To hear a Scots Gaelic example of this, try

    and click on Dèanamaid Adhradh

  • Rory

    Let us please be sensible here. If we are to be religious on this matter then some profundity at least, please.

    A reverent audition of the Tantum Ergo and the Kyriea might help.

    You did fool me with this thread, Turgon. But it’s my own fault. I hadn’t stopped to consider that your concept of Christian church music was ahistorical and ignored anything that predated the 17th century. Adam Smith used a similar refusal to ignore what went before and yet remained in his otherwise quite good The Wealth of Nations. You know how it is with Smith – you love him because he started to think and then you hate him because he stopped.

  • willis


    I can only say that I find John Michael Talbot’s “Be not afraid” as moving as “Pie Jesu” or indeed “the Lord’s my shepherd”

  • Dewi

    PaddyReilly – Loved the Scottish stuff.

  • Rory

    All effort surely contains merit. So it is that it must be that anyone who who has had to endure a hearty rendering of Morning Has Broken must surely have considered that he was sufficiently moved by the Spirit to resist an overwhelming impulse to suicide.

  • Dewi

    “All effort surely contains merit.”

    That’s an interesting hypothesis Rory – but not, surely, a syllogism. All effort does not contain merit IMHO.

    In this context of modern hymns indeed many efforts contain no merit?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    the Harlem U2 clip is excellent.

  • Dewi

    Sammy – are we back together?



    I dont want to be uncharitable but you are an intelligent person, you go to Church every week to pray to a mysterious super-being who made the whole universe but wants to spend his time receiving your praise and adulation every week ……………. and you think that its odd that the hymns dont rhyme. I have to say that I can find a few odder things in all of that….but then I am too cynical


    The Gregorian chants, if considered hymns, are very addictive. As a Catholic I find the older the hymn the better, they are more pure and untinged. There must be a streak of direct line to God Protestantism within me regarding hymns. I like some of the Paisley stuff epecially his favourite hymn. I think it is called ‘O Lord/God Our Rock In Ages Past’ but this is probably the wrong title and is more than likely a modern hymn. Norn Iron/Ulster/Six county folk tend to like a lot of the same stuff when it comes to religious music. Some of the priests at masses I go to are starting to go down the traditional route and are singing/chanting some of the Mass which makes the service and worship a far more enlightening and holier experience. As I said I like a lot of the traditional Songs of Praise stuff but have NO time for the trendy ‘The Lord Loves You’ youth bands that have sprung up. They are stomach churning embarrassing.

  • DC

    Nothing like a good Orange gathering for an ole sing-song.

    How great thou art, now let us down that hill.

  • joeCanuck

    Thou shalt not bloggeth on the Sabat?

    If you meant Sabbath, I do believe that was yesterday (Saturn’s day).

  • Dewi

    I’ve written my will and insisted on the wonderfully dour Welsh hymn Llef to be sung at the funeral. Only trouble is that that I can only find a bunch of Aussies on Youtube to sing it tonight…..

    But there you go

  • Turgon

    You are correct. It is an old hymn called O God Our Help in Ages Past by Issac Watts. Unless you mean Rock of Ages by Augustus Toplady; as you may imagine from Mr. Toplady’s name it is also an old hymn.

  • Dewi

    DC – must admit I quite like that tune – could do with bass and drums though.

  • Harry Flashman

    I always loved “How Great Thou Art”, I almost looked forward to my own funeral just to be able to hear that being belted out as I slipped down the hole.

    Now of course since crossing over to the dark side I never will, it’ll be “la-illah la illallah” repeated over and over again, it’s just not the same really.

  • Gregory

    “i always loved the hymn “Jerusalem”, a bit strange coming from an irish republican.”

    Blake: Prophet Against Empire (Paperback)
    by David V. Erdman (Author)



    That’s the very one “O God Our Help In Ages Past”. For some reason I feel very drawn to it. I remember Paisley singing it quite often especially at the City Hall on a Friday afternoon when I was coming home from school. Now I wouldn’t be what you would call the biggest DUP/Free Presbyterian supporter but you have to give them their dues. They can knock out a quare good hymn when they want and seem very content in their Old Testament theology. I have NO problem with that and it’s not a bad thing sometimes but it’s just a pity the Dr Jackell/Mr Hyde in them came out more often than not.

  • PaddyReilly

    Aspergilla in Japan can be fun

    Those familiar with Classical Music may recognise the Troparion of the Cross, which features in the 1812 Opera.

    But the really authentic stuff is to be found a little closer to the Holy Land:-

  • Tom

    At the risk of interrupting this altogether fascinating thread with a nasty little bit of meta-wankery, but Turgon’s admission that he might expect some of Slugger’s readers to see this as only peripherally related to the site’s mission got me thinking.

    I’m trying to avoid turning this comment into a kind of saccharine bout of patronizing kumbaya, but I might as well just spit it out now and apologise later: this has been a wonderful exercise in showing this site’s ability to reach across a sectarian divide and prompt a sort of discussion that probably would be a lot more awkward if held at your typical NI office water cooler between those from various community backgrounds.

    I mean, self-identified republicans admitting to an artistic fondness towards alleged anthems of Britishness? A straightforward discussion of how the tradeoffs between modernity and tradition in the musical rites of both Protestants and Catholics, without any jibes about murderous themmuns and 14th century kings? Two pages of commentary without the appearance of the word MOPE? We even managed to work U2 in without catty political commentary.

    So, um, Turgon, good on ya.

    And, um another vote for “How Great Thou Art” being a great traditionalist masterpiece: for all its apparent durgery, there’s no denying its ability to make hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

  • USA

    All hymns are stupid and all religion is stupid.
    LVF loving Willie McRae playing hymms during the Drumcree protest to a bunch of Orange backwoodsmen with loyalist terrorists no doubt nearby.
    Says it all.
    We would all be better of without religion and all the crap songs that come with it.

  • Donnacha

    Yeah, right USA and the IRA used to gee themselves up for a good night’s bombing with a few verses of Hail, Queen of heaven or Soul of my Saviour. Wind your neck in and re-read the comment just above yours.

    Turgon, while I am a fan of some hymns (Jerusalem and How Great Thou Art for two that have been mentioned) I disagree entirely with your idea of singing a hymn to the tune of My Lagan Love. It’s absolutely fine as it is, needs no further adornment at all. Although having said that, were you aware that you can sing every one of Emily Dickinson’s poems to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas?

  • Danny O’Connor

    Turgon The purpose of hymns are to praise and worship God,so perhaps we should be less concerned whether we like them or not.The idea is to create an atmosphere of praise that is pleasing to God.
    We all have our own taste ,I like a lot of old and new,although there are ones I would be less likely to sing or play I think that to describe modern Hymns as rubbish is unfair.Fr Bob Dufford SJ has written some including “Be not afraid”Local artists like Robin Mark “All for Jesus” and “days of Elijah”Artists like Michael W Smith and Paul Baloche,Dana,Fr Liam Lawton.
    All these people are in their own way giving glory to God and I think you should not attempt to denegrade them.If they were written for your glory that would be different,you would be entitled to adjudicate ,but they weren’t -so you’re not.


    “LVF loving Willie McRae playing hymms during the Drumcree protest to a bunch of Orange backwoodsmen with loyalist terrorists no doubt nearby.”

    I always heard that at Orange Church Parades it was alleged that the sermons were always extra long as the preacher knew it was his only chance to speak to the congregation for the enxt 12 months.

    I am also unsure how anyone who has heard Willie McCrea sing would say they had ‘loved’ the experience ……………….. but then self-flagellation has always been a part of religion..

  • Prionsa Eoghan


    How drab your church services must be, almost as drab as my local Catholic one when the singers aren’t there. I have to confess that without a wee chant to keep the boredom at bay, and see the weans get involved, mass would be a lot drearier.

    I used to remember as a kid Rangers fans signing to us “You only sing in the chapul…………sing in the chaaaaaaaapul…….” The reality was different, embarrassed adults mumbling through hymms, leaving the priest to practically do it all perhaps with the aid of one auld virtuoso who was loud but rank rotten. Some modern Catholic churches have taken on elements similar to the happy clappy, Christian rock type of thing, one church is standing room only because of it. Some I have been to attending Communions, baptisms etc. have been quite good, some OTT. I much prefer a modern singer/organist with songs that we can all have a bash to, one or two have been sensational and help connect with the mass. Some of my favourites hymms include Ave Maria, the irrepressible walk with me o my lord. And a family favourite, faith of our fathers.


    There was a docu exploring the gospel roots in Gaelic choirs. They took a large group from one of the Presbyterian churches to Harlem and the southern US. Can’t remember if the premise was proved, but the music and linkage was sensational.

  • pauljames

    “If they were written for your glory that would be different,you would be entitled to adjudicate ,but they weren’t -so you’re not.”
    That creates a pleasing image of jehovah as Simon Cowell although I’m sure his trousers fit better.

  • Rory

    “…were you aware that you can sing every one of Emily Dickinson’s poems to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas?”

    Not before you told us, Donnacha, but now that you have I will dig up an anthology of Dickinson’s and have a go.

    As Stan Freeberg said in his rendition of The Yellow Rose of Texas, “‘preciate it, ‘purreciate it.” (Needs to be done in a down home Texan accent for full effect).


    I said that the merit was contained in the effort itself, not necessarily though in the product of that effort as I think we agree.

  • Eddie

    I do my Yoga meditation to a tape of Gregorian chants. I never go to church. What does that make me?

    At my funeral, I’ll probably have a tape of Van Morrison belting out his version of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and breaking off, as he does, half-way through to rave about listening to the wireless and Sidney Bechet on a Sunday afternoon in Hyndford Street. What does that make me?

    ps – Turgon seems to have a lot of time on his hands. Does he have blogsite of his own?

  • One of the most memorable hymns/chorus in Northern Ireland’s recent past has to be…
    Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
    Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts…

    sung by the Big Ian Choir,in a counting centre, after his voting results came in.

    Will we be spared this in the future?

  • Rory

    Hooray! it works, Donnacha. Try this one, guys:

    Because I could not stop for Death (712)
    by Emily Dickinson

    Because I could not stop for Death –
    He kindly stopped for me –
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste
    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too,
    For His Civility –

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess – in the Ring –
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
    We passed the Setting Sun –

    Or rather – He passed us –
    The Dews drew quivering and chill –
    For only Gossamer, my Gown –
    My Tippet – only Tulle –

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A Swelling of the Ground –
    The Roof was scarcely visible –
    The Cornice – in the Ground –

    Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
    Feels shorter than the Day
    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
    Were toward Eternity –

    Can’t you just envision John Wayne leading out a cavalry troop in Arizona as they lustily belt his out ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Church of the Resurrection on the cavehill road used to do a lot of that folky happy clappy stuff during the late 1980s and early 1990s. God it was awful. But I agree, it packed ’em in.

  • Nice one, Turgon-the-Wise.

    I drifted away from regular attendance many years since, but I am marked forever by several years as a chorister in the parish church. There’s still a frisson for me in so many of those lyrics: “Greenland’s icy mountains”; “O come, O come Emmanuel” and, of course, “St Patrick’s breastplate”. There’s a lot of heart-warming comfort (and, implicitly, the definition of English “nationalism”) in Hymns A&M;.

    A great hymn has poetry and music, which is why Blake’s (and Parry’s) Jerusalem should officially be the English national anthem (but, it’s not multee-kulchral, see whah-i-meen?). How many know that it is Blake’s preface to his Milton? Harold Wilson reckoned that the British Labour Party owed more to Methodism than Marxism: I would be even more restrictive, and suggest it was the final verse of Jerusalem that converted many to “socialism”.

    By the way, in the NI context, has anyone mentioned Mrs Fanny Alexander?

    Thanks to this thread, I shall take time today to re-read some of John Betjeman’s essays, starting with the ones on Sabine Baring-Gould and Isaac Watts ( inTrains and Buttered Toast).

    [On a different thought, does anyone technically-savvy know why typing something like “A&M;” automatically generates that intrusive semi-colon? And, more important, how to prevent it?]

  • Hogan

    As a fan of the red leather-backed Derry Hymnal (standard Catholic hymn book) i have to say attending church in England is like attending a Grade 7 singing exam, its all high-up and low-down vocal acrobatics. Thankfully i am a man of considerable musical talent and can cope, but for Joe-public i think its very inaccessable?

    I think our older hymns reflect on simpler folk-melodies, nothing emperical to back it up though, just a hunch.

  • Greenflag

    This Irish nationalist atheist has always enjoyed the following in roughly this order .

    1) Abide with me
    2) Jerusalem .
    3) Panis Angelicum
    4) Faith of our fathers
    5) Va Penseiro non sulli adorate (Nabucco)
    6) Credo (Latin High mass)
    7) Lobe Den Herrn ( German ‘Praise the lord’)
    8) Men of Harlech (not a hymn perhaps but easily heard by any God that may be listening )
    9) Battle Hymn of the Republic
    10)O Fortuna ( from Carl Orff’s profane collection ) 🙂

    ‘which is why Blake’s (and Parry’s) Jerusalem should officially be the English national anthem

    Not as long as Queenie and Co are around 🙂

  • jeremy

    just like to comment of the originality of this post.
    its a topic that i knew very little about and its been interesting to browse threw the comments.

    Good post.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Catholic Church does, on occasion, understand the value of brevity.’

    The Theatre Actors Guild in Dublin used to hold an Annual Retreat for it members during which the sinful thespians had to listen to a sermon for 10 minutes -before departing to sin again . On one memorable occassion the regular Jesuit was unable to make it and his place was taken by one who had not been made aware of the 10 minute ‘unofficial ‘rule. Considering himself endowed with a dramatic persona the missioner started off on the parable of the Prodigal Son (considering his audience an apt topic) . The late Cecil Sheridan (Abbey Actor) who had a stutter started to nod of to sleep after 15 minutes and after 30 minutes began to snore . Embarassed by the snores one of his colleagues poked him in the ribs . Cecil woke up with a start and said to his colleague . ‘What , What where am I -oh no jazus is he (the priest) still on the sermon -what is he on about now ?’ ‘ ‘Still the Prodigal Son ‘ said his colleague.

    ‘ Has th-th-th -th -th -th -that f****r not gone home yet ‘ replied the bould Cecil. Two or three pews in the church erupted in supressed laughter causing a few moments discomfiture to the man in the pulpit .

  • As I was now mowing the lawn, meditating (as one does), it occurred to me that I had omitted to mention the real spine-tingler: the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father, strong to save … For those in peril on the sea.

    It has been infinitely adapted by the US churches and armed services, but the original (and best) is by William Whiting, choir-master at Winchester School. John Bacchus Dykes’s magnificent, even chilling, Melita makes the mix perfect.

    In my chorister days, our seaside church traditionally did “The Harvest of the Sea” for Evensong at October’s Harvest Festival.

    The vast, urban barn of a Church would be filled with all those who would never be seen in the building for another twelvemonth (hatchings, matchings and dispatchings apart). Of course, since this was the 1950s, many, if not most, of the menfolk had war-service in the RN or Merchant Marine. There would be many damp eyes when the organist wound the bellows up to overdrive for the roaring final verse, if only because it was also sung for funerals of the fishermen.

  • USA

    Sing and praise all you like. An omnipotent being “God” does not exist.
    Try Humanism.

  • Malcolm,

    “As I was now mowing the lawn, meditating (as one does), it occurred to me that I had omitted to mention the real spine-tingler: the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father, strong to save … For those in peril on the sea.”

    What sort of lawn do you have, that would remind you of that hymn? 🙂

  • Greenflag


    ‘Try Humanism.’

    Any decent hymns in Humanism ?

    BTW some of us here are already atheists

  • d@\/e @ 04:49 PM:

    I would have you know there lurk all sorts of mysteries in the rampant verdure that I, loosely, term a “lawn”. For “meditating”, therefore substitute:

    Who didst brood
    Upon the chaos dark and rude,
    And bid its angry tumult cease,
    And give, for wild confusion, peace

    And, as for Greenflag @ 06:31 PM, as I’ve said before, I’m even agnostic about my agnosticism.

    That doesn’t stop me enjoying a good hymn, or even a her.

  • Greenflag

    malcolm redfellow ,

    ‘I’m even agnostic about my agnosticism.’

    On the other hand I’m absolutely certain of my skepticism but remain cynical of any tendencies towards cynicism !

    ‘That doesn’t stop me enjoying a good hymn, or even a her. ‘

    Reminds me of a certain cleric in a parish in Leinster who reputedly played both sides of the gender fence until he came down very firmly on the female side and ran off with a good looking secretary from the local creamery 🙂

    Good line though !

  • Greenflag

    malcom redfellow ,

    ‘it occurred to me that I had omitted to mention the real spine-tingler: the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father, strong to save … For those in peril on the sea. ‘

    On the subject of ‘war hymns’ the German ‘Ich hatt einen Kameraden’ is a hymn which could be sung by all soldiers in every war ever fought.

  • jen erik

    I agree about changing the wording of old hymns – not that I mind whether they rhyme overmuch, more that if I don’t pay close attention I find I’m singing something different than the pew behind.
    Sometimes I see the point of the alteration – words change their meaning over time – but some of the changes seem really trivial.

    And I really miss having a hymnbooks. They used to have the dates of the writers underneath the hymns. I whiled away many a hymn working out the lifespan of everyone on the page. (Not musical.)

    I wonder if hymns are like pop music in that the stuff that lasts is the best of each era, so you end up with a false impression of how good the old stuff was. I bet there were some terrible Victorian hymns.

  • ulsterfan

    All these posts and no one has mentioned the two most brilliant hymns——“Dear lord and father of mankind” and “O holy night”

    Three cheers for the Wesleys who have enriched the Language!!!!!

  • Surprised no one’s mentioned yet Nick Page’s excellent book – And Now Let’s Move into a Time of Nonsense: Why Worship Songs Are Failing the Church – complete with its devastating critique of much modern worship (that fits across the denominations) and his idea of a “lamb count”.

    Funny that very few music publishers would give permission for lyrics they controlled to be quoted in the book!

  • Donnacha

    Rory, glad to be of service. By the way, it also works with the tune to I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.
    Greeneflag, love that story about the sermon. Reminds me of a mass I served many, many moons ago and a famously verbose priest was giving an interminable sermon. He checked himself and said in mock self-deprecation: “I must draw to a close now as I see Ned Mythen checking his watch.”
    To which Mythen replied: “Tis not a watch I’d want for you father, tis a feckin calendar.”
    The rest of the mass was a blur.
    And to get back on topic I haven’t heard Ag Criost An Siol in years, but the gorgeous melody has stayed with me. Love it.

  • Dewi

    From a concert by the Recorder Ensemble of the Academy of Lifelong Learning, University of Delaware

    Calon Lan From some idiots in Deleware

  • Hello.
    You Have a great site.

  • Dewi

    Terribly frustrating that I can’t find Male Voice choirs singing this stuff.

  • Dewi

    Totally aside but my brother in law has writ a book:

    Rough Guide to Classic Novels It’s very good and pretty cheap – and I have an ackowledgment….don’t know why cos he didn’t listen to anythig I said!

  • Dewi

    Calon Lan from cerys – wonderful

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    surely there is no other country / principality (sorry cant resist it ) where hymns ( though not modern ones) are as central to popular culture as is the case in Wales.

  • Donnacha

    Tonga, Dewi. The place would drive you mental with the ringing of bells and the singing and the prayerology. Strarts about 4am on a Sunday and continues til about 1pm, thus depriving hungover heathens like me our much-needed sleep. The choirs tend to be fantastic too, with multi-layered harmonies. Sadly I can’t understand a word of it, but it sounds nice. So just like the Welsh hymns then…

  • PaddyReilly

    One remarkable hymn which needs a mention is that which may be familiar to many under the title of “Lord of all Hopefulness”. This is an ancient Irish canticle of quite remarkable antiquity:-

    sung to the air ‘Slane’, which refutes the otherwise persuasive rule that hymns in rhyming couplets are of Protestant origin. This is because it was written, in Irish, more than a millennium ago. I don’t suppose though that it was intended for inclusion in the Mass: it was probably set aside for more private devotion. The words are mostly of a simplicity that one would ordinarily consider trite, but they have the charm that some of them are comprehensible to Irish speakers even today:-

    Rop tussu m’athair,
    rob mé do mac-su;
    rop tussu lem-sa,
    rob misse lat-su.

    A modern Irish version can be heard sung by Enya’s sister, Máire Ní Bhreannain:-

  • Harry Flashman


    “All these posts and no one has mentioned the two most brilliant hymns——“Dear lord and father of mankind” and “O holy night””

    Well apart from all the much loved Christmas numbers how come no one mentions “Nearer My God to Thee”? Or am I the only one here who remembers the movie “A Night To Remember”? (In a similar vein I just watched “Zulu” on dvd and I think “Men of Harlech” is actually a hymn, sung to the same tune as “Bread of Heaven” if I’m not mistaken).

    And what about the glaring omission, the hymn to all slavers with a guilty conscience, “Amazing Grace”? Surely the most loved of all?

  • Dewi

    Paddy – wonderful again.

    Harry – Men of Harlech not a hymn and got it’s own tune. Not my favourite song to be honest.

    But young Charlotte as good as any

  • D.A.

    “However, a lot of modern ones are absolute rubbish. Most of the one’s we sang when I was a teenager have long been forgotten. Once Mission Praise was seen as cutting edge. There are hardly any of the 1980s new choruses still in common usage.”

    Which is, as you correctly say, because most of those written in the 1980s were dire. I think you’ll find that a lot of the stuff written in the past 10 or so years (e.g. the Keith Getty stuff, as mentioned previously) is much better, because the writers have actually tried to consider *theology* in them, rather than nice happy-clappy “I’ve got a holy tingle in my heart”-type feelings. (have to say that, IMHO, Graham Kendrick is one of the worst offenders here)

    Also, Mission Praise is only used by those congregations who are too scared to sing REALLY modern stuff, or who don’t have the musical skill to be able to perform it. It really does have some absolute dross in it, but many congregations think they are being very trendy by using it…

    Still, you should try the Hungarian Reformed Church, where the very newest song in their hymnbook is from about 1600, with the tunes being from almost the same era. Bizarrely, though, they actually have a Hungarian version of “I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship” – yes, sung to the tune of “Londonderry Air”.

    However, nothing can beat the sheer poetry of part of Paraphrase 21 (or somewhere around there – don’t have a copy on me at the moment) in the Presbyterian Church Hymnal 2.

    Regarding the Prodigal Son:

    “His father saw him from afar
    And all his bowels moved”.

  • D.A. @ 07:39 AM:

    Two quick thoughts:

    Any contact with Mission Praise makes book-burning almost acceptable to me.

    Would that Hungarian version of Londonderry Air/Air from the County Derry [eat your heart out, Gerry Anderson: you were a hundred years too late!] be in 3/4 or 4/4 time?

    If the latter, it’s more interesting, because it takes us back to Aislean an Oigfear, assumed to be composed by Rory Dall O’Cahan in the 17th or even 16th centuries. Could the melody have been another export with the Wild Geese?

    No, I’m not a know-all: just reading from this.

  • Turgon

    Ah yes Graham Kendrick. I know this is utterly unChristian but I cannot stand the drivel he produced. throughout my childhood people pronounced him another Frances Alexander or Charles Wesley.

    Harry Flashman,
    As an interesting aside which I am sure you know: the tune of Nearer my God to Thee is different in A Night to Remember than in the recent Titanic. The original in A Night is the one which was sung / played as the ship sank, though I like the new tune better on that one.

    Paraphrases, yes undoubtedly the best, better than hymns, much more Presbyterian.

    My favourites are O God of Bethel and Behold the Mountain of the Lord (I cannot remember which paraphrases they are and do not have a hymn book handy. On hymns O For a Closer Walk is very good.

  • Turgon @ 09:21 AM:

    Ah, but which version of Nearer my God to Thee?

    Anglicans would use likely John Bacchus Dykes’ Horbury. Others, especially Methodists, would probably prefer Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Proprior Dio.

    There is, of course, the other possibility: it was neither.

    The junior wireless officer, Harold Bride, was rescued by the Carpathia and was interviewed on arrival by the New York Times:

    I looked out. The boat deck was awash.

    From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what. Then there was Autumn. [Jack] Phillips ran aft, and that was the last I saw of him alive.

    Which would raise yet another problem: did he mean the waltz, Songe d’Automne or, as the NY Times thought, an episcopalian hymn?

    This last is the version popularised by Walter Lord:

    Bandmaster Hartley tapped his violin. The ragtime ended, and the strains of the Episcopal hymn Autumn flowed across the deck and drifted in the still night far out over the water.

    “Flowed” and “drifted”, indeed.

  • Rory

    And finally we must not forget Buddy Bare with Drop Kick me, Jesus, through the Goalposts of Life:

    although it is so self parodying that I long assumed it to be an effort by Kinky Friedman. So here is Kinky with They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore:

    and very few Christians either one might think.

  • There are some good modern hymns – what about “Tell Out My Soul”? Sure, most modern hymns are drivel; so were most older ones. The drivel is slowly forgotten and the best remain.

  • willowfield

    The pension issue is a UK one, not a NI one. It was be solved at a UK-level and not a NI-level.

    You can’t beat some of the old, stomping traditional hymns – many modern ones are awful – but I do admit to liking some of Graham Kendrick’s. I also like American gospel hymns.

    I suspect as someone who attends both Protestant (Church of Ireland) and RC church service, I am in a rather small minority, but it enables me to compare the styles of worship. When I first began to attend RC services, I have to say that the first thing that struck me was nothing to do with the Mass or any doctrinal differences, but it was the lack of hymn-singing – I was really quite taken aback at the passive nature of the service from the congregation’s point of view.

    Some other differences of note:

    Time-keeping: Protestants tend to arrive on time: many RCs continue to arrive after the service has begun (often ten or fifteen minutes late); there also seems to be less of a “definite” end to the RC service – sometimes a hymn is sung after the actual service has ended, for which some people remain while others leave.

    Timing: RC services tend to be later – say, noon – whereas Protestant services are usually around 10.30 or 11.

    Time: RC services are shorter.

    Dress: Protestants tend to dress more smartly; RCs less so (football tops are not uncommon).

    Demographics: the obvious one – Protestant congregations are older.

    Numbers: another obvious one – RC congregations are larger.

    Sunday School: there doesn’t seem to be any special provision for children in many RC churches (either by way of Sunday School or special “family” services), although I have noticed that in some churches they do seem to have some kind of Sunday-School-equivalent.

    Anonymity: it’s easy to be anonymous at an RC service where there seems to be less of a feeling of belonging to a parish or an organisation; whereas there is a feeling in Protestant churches that everyone is known to each other and to the minister.

    Overall, though, I have to admit that I much prefer a Church of Ireland service to a Roman Catholic one: and I think the hymn-singing is one of the main factors.

    If we could steal a few things from the RCs, though, I’d definitely have shorter, and later, services (which, I think, would help increase attendance – albeit only very, very marginally).

  • willowfield

    Excuse the first paragraph above – posted on wrong thread!

    PS. Didn’t realise Tell Out My Soul was modern – great hymn.

  • Rory @ 10:36 AM:

    “And finally …”

    No chance: we’re just getting warmed up here, ready for a trip to downtown Schlockville.

    Can we begin with a quick susurration of applause for all those worthy attempts to bring the Almighty into everyday life? Things like: The Wild Side of Life:

    I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels
    I might have known you’d never make a wife

    [Hank Thompson, shortly before being torpedoed by Kitty Wells.]

    Or, though not a hymn/son/doggerel, a personal choker, and you’d better believe it:

    Our little angel puppy sent by God

    (scroll down for the full horror — “sponsored by Purina Dog Chow”).

    This is closely matched by the “Toddlers’ Christian T-shirts” [Wear the Word! Share the Word!]:

    On the sixth day, God created puppies!

    Young Earthers might prefer the same caption, different image, celebrating dinosaurs.

    Then we might have time to consider all that subversive hymnal heresy pressed upon us by the well-meaning, but theologically-challenged. That’s a road to Calvary well-trodden by the likes of the Charismatic-heresy website.

    As for bad taste, Kinky Friedman is as nothing in comparison to Billy Connolly’s unfulfilled promise to write:

    My Granny Died In The Grotto At Lourdes Because A Hunchback Pushed Her In.

    In reality, and without venturing into South Park territory, there is something of a competition to write the ultimate Country and Western tear-jerker. Current opinion hold the late Steve Goodman’s You never even called me by my name as front-runner, with a verse that starts:

    Well, I was drunk the day my mother got out of prison…

    For our purposes here, the key text is:

    Well, I’ve heard my name a few times in your phone book … Hello, hello..
    And I’ve seen it on signs where I’ve played,
    But the only time I know
    I’ll hear “David Allan Coe”
    Is when Jesus has his final judgement day.

    Enough, already.

  • D.A.


    “Would that Hungarian version of Londonderry Air/Air from the County Derry [eat your heart out, Gerry Anderson: you were a hundred years too late!] be in 3/4 or 4/4 time?”

    Just the normal time which anyone else would use – which is 4/4 time if I’m not mistaken.

    The only difference is that most Hungarians can reach the high note. 😉

    Still, makes a nice change to sing something which isn’t in a minor key. Man, is Hungarian music depressing…

  • Dewi

    Pantyfedwen No1
    A little strange that the No 1 Welsh hymn as polled by S4C is modern (if 1967 is modern that is). We sang it at sister’s wedding – wonderful. Do these tunes get around – like do you sing it over there?

    Can’t find a clip – terrible shame.

  • Rory

    Thank you for sharing with me the profound insights offered by the Charismatic Heresy website, Malcolm. However having watched The Blues Brothers many, many times (and more often than not in a state of spiritual ecstasy amid joss sticks burning incense) I am well aware, from the Rawhide scene, that it is sometimes imperative to surrender theological purity in song to the greater necessity of simple survival.

  • Rory

    Dress: Protestants tend to dress more smartly; RCs less so…”

    While I have no objection to you commenting upon your observations, Willowfield, I am afraid that my tailor is rather less sanguine and you may soon be receiving a stern letter from his solicitor.

  • Dewi

    Not a hymn but if you are ever hundreds of miles from home and want cheering up try this:


    Can’t stop sobbing……

  • Dewi
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  • Not a hymn but if you are ever hundreds of miles from home and want cheering up try this:


    You should join a male voice choir and then you could get to sing Myfanwy yourself. Or better yet, When I Survey to the Morte Christe tune; holding the baseline down in that is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.

  • I like to listen hymns.

  • the digger notes