Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mid-December Melt-Down

Well, it happened again, this time on a Sunday morning. My Church Face, normally a rictus of benevolent patience, weakened as the song played on, then finally crumbled, forcing me to discretely hanky away tears and schnodda. When the service concluded I bee-lined for home and consulted my account of my first encounter with the song, to see what, if anything was different. I noticed I was missing a verse in the original posting. Apparently the interweb doesn't have the second verse (added by a second author, 24 years after the original) so here, in its entirety, is the song I pathetically attempted to sing:

          All Poor Ones and Humble

All poor ones and humble
and all those who stumble
come hastening, and feel not afraid;
for Jesus our treasure,
with love past all measure,
in lowly poor manger was laid.
Though wise men who found him
laid rich gifts around him,
yet oxen they gave him their hay,
and Jesus in beauty
accepted their duty, contented in manger he lay.
Then haste we to show him
the praises we owe him;
our service he ne'er can despise;
whose love still is able
to show us that stable,
where softly in manger he lies.
The Christ Child will lead us,
the Good Shepherd feed us
and with us abide till his day.
Then hatred he'll banish,
then sorrow will vanish,
and death and despair flee away.
And he shall reign ever,
and nothing shall sever
from us the great love of our King;
his peace and his pity
shall bless his fair city;
his praises we ever shall sing.
Then haste we to show him
the praises we owe him;
our service he ne'er can despise;
whose love still is able
to show us that stable,
where softly in manger he lies.
Words: v.1 Katharine Emily Roberts 1927, alt, v.2 William Thomas Penmar Davies 1951
Music: Welsh carol, harm. Erik Routley 1951

Analysis: there are a couple of aspects to this song which allow it to slip past 48 years of cultivated resistance. Foremost is its unfamiliarity. For many years O Holy Night had a similar penetrative reach, but these days it takes a very rare talent for that song to stir much depth of effect in me. This was the second time I'd sung All Poor Ones and Humble, so it's still “new” to me.

Second is the ease of its harmonies. To wit:


That bass line is a snap for a Mennonite plough-boy to catch and sing along to. It doesn't swing over Middle C — the tendency for most hymns and (shudder) choruses penned after Vatican II, and a very personal pet peeve of mine. Any “bass line” that hovers around Middle C and higher isn’t a bass line at all — it’s a baritone.

Perhaps more crucially, the bass line is also novel enough to nudge a little investment of personality into its delivery. It is the Welsh equivalent of the Song of the Volga Boatmen — somber, sober, serious — everything the bass voice is built to communicate. It rather mischievously entices said Mennonite plough-boy to march off the muddy field and join the other somber, sober, serious chaps in the congregation to deliver the full weight of this song's convictions and sentiments — until they boomerang back on the unsuspecting doofus, and reduce his final chorus to a discrete percussion of throat-clearing and nose-honking.

Oh, well. I can only hope this second meditation on All Poor Ones and Humble will elevate it into the zeitgeist, right up there with O Holy Night, making it a seasonal standard, so that my resistance accrues until I'm able to sing the song to conclusion — preferably before my own conclusion occurs and I discover precisely to what degree “his peace and his pity/shall bless his fair city.”

Right then: defences are clearly back up, so let's shift gears to Progressive Rock — a genre I consider to be very much in league with the song above.

1 comment:

Cowtown Pattie said...

Very pretty. I don't think I've ever heard it...then again, Baptists are not very adventurous...or melodious.

Malodorous is more like it...