March 19, 2002

World Premier

My hymn “O Lord the Invisible” received its first public performance (as the sequence hymn) at my church Sunday morning. After living with the hymn for a year, it was gratifying to at last hear it sung by a large congregation.

Such a premier is a special kind of event for a non-professional. As in the case of the singing dog, people tend to be less amazed by the quality of the work than by who is responsible for it. Of the parishioners who know me, most are unfamiliar with my poetry, and even those who are were mostly unaware that I had set one of my works to music. In these circumstances, one must discount words of appreciation—and there were many—for the ordinary-person and friendly-venue factors. That said, there was reason to believe that people genuinely liked the hymn and would have liked it even without knowing the author. Despite its unexpected melodic and rhythmic turns, for example, the congregation did a good job of singing it. Musicians, who should have had the good sense to keep their mouths shut if they did not like the hymn, had quite positive remarks about it. Indeed, our organist/choirmaster, a composer himself and arranger of the hymn, tells me that his experience is that, if people at St. Paul’s do not like a composition, they simply say nothing.

I had had less confidence in the tune than in the words, but Sunday’s experience was reassuring with regard to both text and music. Doug’s imaginative unison setting and his brisk tempo no doubt contributed to the likeability of the hymn. (I am grateful to Doug, by the way, for his gracious failure, in his introduction to the hymn, to mention his role in its development.) The music had a dance-like quality that some identified with Celtic music, though this notion may have been influenced by the fact that Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day!

In his sermon, our rector seemed to give more credit for the hymn to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than to me, which some saw as a backhanded compliment. Whereas a priest may have reason to flatter a parishioner, however, there is no need to flatter the Holy Spirit, so I took the compliment as genuine.

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