Saturday, 4 July 2015

What it's all about

Why are so many hymn-tunes named after places?

Everybody knows at least some hymns. But unless you are regularly involved in choral music you may not realise that hymn-tunes have NAMES. 

Unlike other types of song, the name of the tune rarely gives any clue about the words it is sung to. For example, the tune for O little town of Bethlehem is called FOREST GREEN (if you're American, you probably know a different tune, called ST LOUIS). The tune for While shepherds watched their flocks by night  is called WINCHESTER OLD. The tune for Come down, O Love divine is called DOWN AMPNEY. 

The reason for this is that in the early days of hymn-singing it was common for one tune to be used for a number of different sets of words, so it was important to be able to talk about the tune separately from the lyrics. 

From the outset it was very common for the titles of hymn-tunes to be taken from place-names. All of the examples I have mentioned above are places: Forest Green is a village in Surrey, Down Ampney is in Gloucestershire, Winchester is in Hampshire, and St Louis is in Missouri. 

All Saints Church, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire
This blog aims to explore the stories that link the hymn-tunes with the places they are named after. My motivation for doing this is to explore the history of the 'little towns' and the music: I will leave the spiritual side of things to others better qualified than I. In any case, the story behind the tunes is often far from religious. On the way we will meet not only priests and poets, but also murderers, seafarers, emperors and ploughmen.

O Little Town: the book

In parallel with this blog, I am in the process of writing a book on this subject, also called O Little Town. This is nearing completion and I hope to make it available later this year. The blog will not, however, simply be extracts from the book. I'll be able to include more pictures, for example, and links to recordings of the music. I will also be able to be a bit more casual and haphazard in the subjects I choose. 

If you would like more information about the book, watch this space!

Do get in touch with your comments and observations. And if you know more about a particular subject than I do, let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Anne Mitchell Reid17 October 2015 at 16:57

    Thank you so much for posting this Mark. I grew up on "Crimond" and just listened to "All in an April Evening" which used to bring me to tears as a child! I live in the US now, still singing...just back from a week of Evensongs in St Paul's Cathedral, London. Although I have come to love the tradition of Anglican Church music, the hymns of my childhood still have a special place in my heart! Good luck with the book!