Books, March 2016


Steven F. Darsey
Wipf and Stock: 110pp. P/B 978-1-62032-730-2, $14.00

We read books for a variety of reasons – primarily for entertainment or education. Just occasionally it is gratifying to read a book that fulfils neither of these purposes, but which affirms the reader’s own views in a comforting way. To some extent Steven Darsey’s book does this for me. He reflects on the ministry of music in worship from a theological perspective and the chapters on ‘Holiness in Worship’ and ‘Holiness in Music’ will resonate with many ‘traditional’ church musicians. Whilst a good number of us are not resistant to all changes in liturgy and music, we can feel uncomfortable with, and even threatened by some changes, when it seems that change is being made for change’s sake. With the first two Commandments in mind Darsey says ‘As a young man, full of hubris, I thought that if people have always been doing something one way, then there must be a better way; and I am going to find it and do it. Now that I am older, I think if folk have always been doing something one way, and I don’t see the reason, then I’d better do it their way until I see the reason. This way, not only will I learn something important, I’ll have the chance of addressing God, and will be honouring my mothers and fathers.’
The chapter entitled ‘Misconceptions’ includes some provocative headings such as ‘It doesn’t matter what we sing so long as people like it’ and the ‘Quality of the music for performance doesn’t matter, so long as the performer’s heart is in the right place’ amongst its 26 paragraphs. He also strongly advocates that the choice of music should not lie with the priest, many of whom receive little in the way of musical training during their studies, but with trained musicians. He is very strong in the rebuttal of idolatry in worship, and, though I personally do not like the idea of recorded music in churches where there are live musicians, I would not go so far as to say that all singers with recorded accompaniments are vainly and dishonestly seeking to be something that they are not. There is much to ponder in this slim volume and, to my surprise, I have found myself returning to its pages several times since I first read it.
John Henderson


Gordon Giles, David Thompson, Valerie Ruddle, Janet Wootton and Christopher Idle
Edited by Gordon Giles, Martin Leckebusch and Ian Sharp
Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 124pp. P/B 978-1-907018-08-4, £6.00

Published by the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, this ‘Occasional Paper’ might be more correctly described as an ‘occasional symposium’ consisting of five papers. The first of these, ‘Cambridge Carols’ by Gordon Giles is the most substantial and focuses on The Cambridge Carol Book, The Cambridge Hymnal, the Carols for Choirs series of books together with the King’s College carol services. Well-written and informative, it certainly encouraged me to revisit some lesser-known carols. The second offering by David Thompson chronicles briefly, but very adequately, the work ‘of Cambridge hymn-writers from the 16th century to the 20th century’: from Coverdale to Briggs via John Mason Neale. Valerie Ruddle tells of hymn tunes with Cambridge connections; Janet Wootton writes about ‘Puritan Hymnody and the influence of Cambridge University’, this latter being the most theologically based of the essays. In his final chapter, ‘The Living Tradition’, Christopher Idle provides potted biographies of around 70 late-20th-century hymn-writers, composers and musicians. Most are well known but a few might not come up on a quick Google check on the web.
The idea of looking at hymns and carols from a geographical perspective may seem somewhat random, but this booklet of around 100 pages will appeal to those interested in hymns. It is perhaps too light a fare for the more serious hymnologist.
John Henderson