Saturday, 4 July 2015

Crimond (continued)

The memorial windows in Crimond Church commemorate Jessie Seymour Irvine, composer of the tune CRIMOND, set to the words of Psalm 23 (The Lord's my shepherd).

But as I hinted in my last post, there is more to it than this simple statement. 

The 23rd Psalm?

For a start, the tune was not originally composed for these words. When it first appeared (in 1872 in a book called The Northern Psalter) the only words given were the following:

Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life:
grant us that way to know,
that truth to keep, that life to win,
whose joys eternal flow.

This is the last verse of a hymn that begins 'Thou art the Way, to thee alone from sin and death we flee’, with words by G W Doane. The fact that The Northern Psalter only printed the last verse with CRIMOND seems to suggest that these words were only given as a suggestion, and that choirs were free to use any texts that fitted the music. As the rhythm of the tune is in Common Metre, that could include a large number of hymns.

It was the Glasgow Orpheus Choir that first sang CRIMOND to the words of The Lord's my shepherd. They made a recording of this pairing of words and music (see the link in my last post) which helped fix the association in the mind of the public. This was also reinforced by the fact that our present Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) had The Lord's my shepherd at her wedding in 1947, sung to the tune CRIMOND.

Nowadays the tune is so closely associated with these words that it is rarely sung to any others. (There is, however, another tune that is often used for The Lord's my shepherd: it's called BROTHER JAMES'S AIR.)

Did Jessie Irvine write CRIMOND?

In Crimond itself, there is no suggestion that anyone other than Jessie Seymour Irvine might be the composer of the tune. But when it was first published in The Northern Psalter it was attributed to David Grant (1833-1893); and no-one, up to and including the time of the Royal Wedding in 1947, questioned this attribution.

Grant was one of a group who were engaged in collecting and editing Scottish hymn-music. A tobacconist by trade, he was also Precentor (leader of music) at a church in Aberdeen, and a composer whose works included a hymn-tune called RALEIGH, in honour of the man who introduced smoking to Britain. The group was led by William Carnie, a journalist; other people involved in the project included the precentor of Crimond church, William Clubb. The fruit of their labours was The Northern Psalter, a hymn-book that proved extremely popular and sold tens of thousands of copies.

CRIMOND was, as I have mentioned, one of the tunes included in this hymn-book. As David Grant was from Aberdeen there is no obvious reason for selecting the name CRIMOND: according to one version of the history, it was chosen in honour of William Clubb.

The Northern Psalter was published in 1872, but it was not till the 1940s that anyone publicly made the claim that CRIMOND was composed by Jessie Irvine. At about the time that Princess Elizabeth was getting married, the Revd Dr Millar Patrick wrote an article in the Bulletin of the Hymn Society in which he claimed that Jessie Irvine, not David Grant, was the composer. He based his claim on a letter written in 1911 by Jessie's sister Anna, which had recently come to light. In this letter (addressed to Robert Monteith, minister at Crimond from 1909) Anna states that the tune was by Jessie, but Grant had provided the harmony.

The truth is far from clear. On the one hand, Grant's name was given as the composer for decades without being challenged. On the other, Anna Irvine's letter cannot be completely discounted (though William Clubb, for one, believed that she was confusing CRIMOND with another tune by Jessie Irvine called BALLANTINE). Certainly Irvine had stronger links to the town of Crimond than Grant.

But in Crimond itself they are sure: it was Jessie Seymour Irvine who wrote the tune.

List of ministers of Crimond, including Alexander Irvine, father of Jessie Irvine. Note also Robert Taylor Monteith, to whom Anna Irvine wrote her letter attributing CRIMOND to Jessie.


  1. "The Lord's My Shepherd" is, as metrical psalms go, a pretty poor example. It was omitted from A&M, with the poetically superiod "The King of Love my Shepherd is" in its place. And then it was combined with Crimond, and used for the royal wedding, with the result that it has been used at easily half of all church weddings since. I don't like Hymns for Today's Church much, but they did propose a workable alternative in the same metre: "The Lord my Shepherd rules my life; and gives me all I need". Thank you so much for starting the website - I look forward to reading the book.

  2. Robert, you are so right about the words for 'The Lord's my Shepherd'. They are not really suitable for singing as a hymn, and it is almost impossible to make both musical and verbal sense out of 'He makes me down to lie/In pastures green...' If you listen to the historic recording by the Glasgow Orpheus (see the link in my first Crimond post) you will hear that they don't even try.

    Thanks for your interest!