Earlier this year, I asked friends and family to share with me their favourite hymns. Sounds a bit odd in 2014, but I was looking for something that was filled with meaning. Something I could use as a guide through what I have called my hymn project. I received many responses. More than I expected. What surprised me most was what people were willing to add to their selections – stories, memories, comments and analyses. Some just gave me a title and nothing more. Others gave me lists and said they could go on and on – and some did, replying more than once! At the end of it, I am in possession of a list that represents people from 5 to 85 years old. It also represents some who identify with the mainstream Christian Church, some who don’t, some who belong to less mainstream congregations, a couple of Atheists and several that are a little disillusioned and even a bit angry. It’s a good group to work with. It is important to look at these hymns from various points of view. I am inspired by that diversity and the possibility that music can transcend the specifics of our beliefs and provide something we all need, wherever we may be.
So, what am I going to do with this list? Well, this past year I was given the task of reading Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s book Music in the Castle of Heaven about J.S. Bach’s life; particularly his time spent composing choral music. It was an interesting but long read! At one point, as I was reading about Bach’s first three years working in Leipzig, Germany, I mentioned to my husband Bryan that when a cantata was required for every Sunday, Bach simply wrote one – week after week. I marvelled at the amount of work and commitment it would take to do that. I lamented the fact that I doubted if I could even arrange a hymn a week for a year, never mind compose a whole cantata even once. Bryan said he thought maybe I could. And so, the hymn project was born. I’m not sure if I should thank either Bach or Bryan at this point, but let’s just say that for now, I have been inspired by one and encouraged by the other.
My plan is to arrange for piano one hymn every week for a year. I received more than a year’s worth so I’ve made choices – mostly old hymns (copyright issues with the few contemporary favourites I was given make those difficult to use in a public forum). I intend to record and post the music along with a comment or two about the hymn and why it was chosen (don’t expect top quality – I’m not much of a technical wizard!). I will share some of the stories I’ve been given, but will leave the sources private. I hope you find something in all of these songs – I know I will.