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Hallo again to all.

We are the kind of church-goer who likes to 'set up' our hymnal before service to ensure we can easily find the hymns and service music. Now that Ordinary time is upon us once again, we have fewer liturgical distractions before and during the voluntary preceding Eucharist. And so, as we mark the hymns for the day, we have the time to browse a bit through the rest of the collection in the hymnal.

We have been browsing hymnals since we were very young. We can remember in our primary school years reading the hymnal during sermons that seemed interminable. (It would be fair and accurate to also mention we occasionally played the alphabet game with the texts—'Come thou fount of every blessing' was a reliable source for 'z' and 'x' although it lacked 'q' and 'j'.) We are convinced our current speech patterns were influenced by what our childhood brain absorbed from the vocabulary we read and heard in the Book of Common Prayer and the hymnals in our pews. Our ability to confidently sing harmony was definitely enhanced by our regular exposure to hymnody. As an older and supposedly more mature member of the congregation, we find reading hymn texts serves as a gateway to prayer and reflection at quiet times during the service.

Frederick William Faber

This morning our hymnal opened to a personal favourite: 'There's a wideness in God's mercy'. The text, originally published as 'Come to Jesus', is by Frederick Faber, once a priest in the Church of England and a contemporary and follower of Cardinal Newman. Faber followed Newman's lead and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Even though most of his hymn texts were published after this change of earthly allegiance, Faber's hymns are part of many protestant hymnals. 'Faith of our fathers' is an example of the broad appeal of his texts.

Back to today's serendipitious entry: 'There's a wideness in God's mercy'. Once we returned home, we began a hunt through our collection of hymnals. A non-exhaustive catalogue of tunes associated with Faber's quatrains yielded Wellesley, In Babilone, Beecher, Corvedale and St Helena. Not only are there many settings of this text to peruse, but the stanzas in this hymn are also found in the middle of another longer hymn with multiple settings, 'Souls of men! Why will ye scatter'.

We know that our choice of a favourite setting can and does change. This time around we were able to narrow our selection to two tunes: Calvin Hampton's St Helena* and Maurice Bevan's Corvedale†.

Our overall view of hymnody is that melody and lyrics are tightly interwoven. Depending on the way one's brain is wired, one tends to focus first on text or tune. Both parts are invitations to prayer and both are important. Our brain happens to hear melody first before processing text. So for us, each setting of the same text is a different prayer. Others, with whom we have regularly shared a pew, process the text of hymns first before the melody. For them, the different musical settings often serve more as a way to highlight different parts of the text.

Way back in the depths of AO history, we asked, 'If you could choose just one hymn to take to a desert island, what would it be?' We tallied the answers and posted the results here. We repeated this exercise in 2012.

We wondered if we had to choose a single hymn today, would it be fair to include all the variants of the text? Say, for example, we selected Faber's 'Come to Jesus' (aka 'There's a wideness in God's mercy' aka 'Souls of men! Why will ye scatter') as our choice. Would it be fair to include multiple settings or variations on the stanzas? We have adjudicated the matter and decided that would be acceptable.

And now, dear reader, we put the question to you: If you could choose just one hymn to have with you on a desert island (or in the darkness of a long Antarctic winter or on a ship at sea or any other scenario of isolation from the communal church experience), what would it be? And, even more pertinently to this year's twist on the game, to which setting(s) do you hear it being sung? Which tune would be your top pick to hum, sing, or bellow repeatedly to yourself?

Please write us with your choice. We would be honoured if you included a short explanation or anecdote about it. The stories behind the choices are as interesting as the selections themselves. Let's see how our choices today compare to those from our earlier tallies!

See you next week.

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21 June 2015

*Another recording by the American Boy Choir

Another recording by the RSCM Millenium Youth Choir

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