August 12, 2014

Feted to a feast about hymns

A select group of RSCMNZ Canterbury members and friends were treated to a treatise superb by Professor Colin Gibson at St Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, on Saturday afternoon, 9 August. Professor Gibson is acknowledged as a foremost hymnologist not only in NZ but also in world circles involved with this fascinating study and with the live performance of them. Who doesn’t know, Colin’s “Lift high the Cross”?

Marnie Barrell, another well-known NZ hymnist also contributed in a most entertaining and informative way to what all could agree was one of the most fascinating seminars one could ever attend.

Professor Gibson summerises some of the contents with facts and comments which enlightened all. As songs of praise addressed to a deity, hymns have a more than 5000 year-long continuous history, beginning with the hymns to the gods of the Sun and the Moon written by Enheduanna, High Priestess of the temple at Ur c2250 BCE.

Their verbal and musical form is protean, their creators constantly developing and experimenting within the strict limits of the form. Classical antiquity knew about 16 Latin hymns; now their variety and number is beyond counting. They have become an international, multicultural commodity, constantly subject to change at the hands of translators, editors, reformers and performers. They may be addressed to a pantheon of Christian figures, including Mary and the saints, to fellow members of a congregation as exhortations from their writers or manifest as the voice of an historical figure (‘I danced in the morning’).

Like all performance texts they are cultural, historical, literary, musical and biographical documents, responsive to study and analysis. A companion to all the hymns published by the New Zealand Hymnbook Trust is in preparation, edited by Colin Gibson; any serious student of hymns should be aware of the great on-line Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, the successor to John Julian’s 1907 dictionary.