Idle Curiosity

Name Dropping

The month which begins with all the saints gives an opportunity to pay tribute to a sometimes neglected name among hymnwriters. This author's compositions are literally timeless; they display a vast range of scope, style and subject; they are multi-lingual, with the added art of being equally skilled in words and music. They combine a fully contemporary note with a feel for the great tradition, but their origins often remain obscure. Sometimes the level sinks to the ordinary or below, but generally such items, like the worst of Watts and Wesley, are below our visual range; they never make it to our hymnbooks.

Clues

Let us put some of this writer's qualities in the frame. The obvious starting-point is a fellow-feeling with the Psalms. Some of these are definitively ascribed to David, Asaph, Moses and others; many more are not. That is our clue.

Another merit: Hymns appearing over this name are strong on the great credal affirmations; by and large they do not celebrate the merits of concrete, wiggly-waggly worms, butterflies or string.

But it is simpler to remind you of some of these classics. Almost at random: A child this day is born; God be in my head; God rest you merry; Jerusalem my happy home; Jesus Christ is risen today; O come, O come, Emmanuel; Praise the Lord, ye heavens, adore him; The Saviour died, but rose again; The virgin Mary had a baby boy; Were you there when they crucified my Lord. The same hand may have given us How firm a foundation.

As for lows and highs, it intrigues us that the author who came up with Away in a manger, The first Nowell, and Give me oil in my lamp, should also put together We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord (Te Deum, for those without proper Prayer Books).

Anon.

No: we cannot keep this up, and you who are still with me have cottoned on by now. The name we are fumbling for is simply ‘Anon'; older football programmes gave it as A N Other. This honoured title represents some of that communion of saints whose names are known to God alone, but whose words are sung by millions of his people. You can pencil in next year's diary now, to choose or request a full programme of anonymous hymns for All Saints Day 2002, in order to make the point. It's a Friday.

A Tale of Two Timms

Some writers are noted in our books but remain so obscure that they achieve virtual anonymity. To drop a couple of names in case this half-page meets the eye of anyone with smarter information: who, for one, is GR Timms who wrote Scripture Songs in the 1960s? No connection with my late hymn-writing Archdeacon George of that clan; his middle name was Bourne.

Going back a little further, what of the renowned CA Tydeman? No relation, I am assured, of Canon Richard Tydeman. He too is a notable author, but his namesake was older. We have left it to Baptist and Pentecostal saints to sing his fine hymn I have a friend whose faithful love. Let's be clear; Timms and Tydeman are in different leagues; a man who can write at this level has surely written more – but where is it, and who was he? The name is no obvious riddle (Mandy Cate? Maty Dance?); if it were I would suspect Percy Dearmer. It's not in Songs of Praise, lacks the Dearmer flavour, but is constructed with a sure touch.

The space has gone; the subject must return. But not for a month or two.

Christopher Idle works in the Diocese of Southwark.

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