FOR over a month, The Catholic Herald’s post-bag has been bulging. Not, sadly, with Christmas cards, but with a flood of responses to our “Free Your Ears” poll to name and shame our readers’ least favourite hymn.
The phone lines have closed – to the relief of our exhausted team of round-the-clock receptionists – and the vote-counting has been deemed free and fair by United Nations observers. The results can finally be revealed.
Herald House clearly has its finger on the pulse when it comes to eye-wateringly painful hymns. Initially, “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Bind us together, Lord” – both of which were staff recommendations – leapt straight to the top of the chart, taking what looked to be an unassailable lead.
At the last minute, however, “Colours of Day” swept past to take first place as Herald readers’ most detested hymn, garnering nearly a quarter of the 722 votes. We are not prepared to spoil our readers’ festive season by quoting the full, toe-curling
text of the winning hymn, the words and music of which are by Sue McClellan, John Paculabo and Keith Rycraft.
But here – and at this point you may wish to avert your eyes – is a sample verse: Go through the park, on into the town; The sun still shines on, it never goes down.
The light of the world is risen again/ The people of darkness are needing our friend. There were plenty of other deeply unpopular entrants. “Go, the Mass is ended” and “Lord of the Dance” each received 60 votes. This struck one former church organist, Herald editor-inchief Dr Damian Thompson, as
not entirely fair. “Although ‘Lord of the Dance’ has gruesome words, the tune is adapted from a very beautiful old Shaker melody,” he said.
“But ‘Go, the Mass is Ended’ is a musical abomination of the highest order. In one west London church, the tone-deaf parish priest chooses it every week, causing worshippers to stampede for the doors before the end of the first verse.”
Also included in our roll of dishonour was “Here I am, Lord”, with 36 votes. Interestingly, this excruciating ditty was the winner of the best hymn competition run by the Tablet, the Catholic magazine favoured by sandal-wearing folk musicians.
It quickly became clear that it is not so much individual hymns as a general self-conscious trendiness that has us scrabbling for our earplugs (or, in one 90-year-old’s case, turning off his hearing aid).
All but a handful of your most hated hymns were written in the 20th century, and the vast majority were composed after 1970, including gold medallist “Colours of Day”.
“If I listed my most unfavourite hymns I would need a double foolscap sheet,” wrote one voter, before eventually settling on “Come and Bless, Come and Praise”. An anonymous correspondent sent in 14 submissions on separate postcards. “Colours of Day” may have won in terms of votes (“ghastly”, “worst hymn of all time” and “toxic” were some of the more printable critiques) but it was the bronze medallist which seemed to be loathed most passionately.
“One really is spoilt for choice. In the end I opted for ‘Bind us together, Lord,’ ” wrote one voter. Another confessed: “‘Bind us together, Lord’ makes me cringe so much that my family have threatened to have it played at my funeral.” There was also a call for an episcopal ban on “anything by Estelle White, queen of schmaltz”.
Many respondents complained that we had restricted them to just one choice. Said one: “It’s impossible to choose the worst from the present repertoire of maudlin dit ties. They’re all ‘worst’.”Yet there were dissenting voic es. One fan of modern hymns attempted to play a papal trump card. “Our Holy Father certainly enjoyed the modern hymns when he came to York in the 1980s,” she wrote. “He still does – all you have to do is watch his responses at the Youth 2000 Masses.“ Another lover of folk hymns asked: “Who gave you the mission of causing hurt to living composers, who have been brave enough to publish their deepest thoughts in their hymns?” That is one possible view; but surely it is also time to salute the bravery of all the congregations who have sat through these composers’ “deepest thoughts” since the Vatican Council – and, in the case of a few heroic souls, even attempted to sing them.