Thursday, 30 January 2014

Deep Harmony

A long time ago two men were sharing the same vehicle; one was a world famous composer. His travelling companion was getting increasingly irritated with the breathy whistling which was being produced by his famous companion. Unable to stand it any longer he asked the composer to stop whistling as it was annoying him. The composer agreed but said that while his companion only heard whistling he was hearing a complete orchestra.

There is a particular hymn which has the same effect on me. While most people will hear just the organ or piano as they sing the words I hear a full brass band. The hymn is “Sweet is thy work my God my King” (MP 620) by Isaac Watts (1674 -1748) and the tune is Deep Harmony” by Handel Parker (1854 - 1928).

The hymn is not sung very often as it tends to be slow and ponderous and its words more suited to funerals since the second verse starts with the words “Sweet is the day of sacred rest, no mortal cares disturb my breast;” I suspect that, although the hymn was written by one of the most prolific hymn writers Isaac Watts, it is really the tune which is considered to be more important.

The tune Deep Harmony is used as a competition piece by brass bands and is also a staple piece for the Salvation Army. It was also used by the band which used to accompany my Sunday school as we paraded around the village prior to our Sunday school anniversary.  Consequently it is not the famous brass bands I hear but the one local to our chapel.

Yet if you take time to read the hymn you will find a set of words in which Watts invests personal spirituality as he does in many of his hymns for example, one of his most famous hymns “When I survey the wondrous Cross” (MP 755)

 If you have time try to read the words and think of their meaning.

God bless
John