Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Autumn Days – a hymn that gets the bloggers' keyboards clattering

I never intended to blog about religion – it’s not something that I think about often – but here’s my second post this month pertaining to the Church of England.

On Monday I went along to my son’s junior school [‘voluntary aided’ C of E; aka the closest school to our home] for Harvest Festival. The format worked well. Each class performed a ‘sketch’ on the harvest theme, interspersed with prayers and hymns. Unfortunately, it was hard to pay attention after the first five minutes because the first hymn raised my hackles to such a degree I could hardly sit still.

The hymn in question – Autumn Days, written by former nun, Estelle White, about 30 years ago – turns out to be quite a favourite among bloggers.

It was the lyric of the first verse that incensed me (no pun in tended; this is C of E we’re dealing with!):
Autumn days when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All these things I love so well
To which I can only respond using a new acronym (pinched from Kathryn Flett* in Sunday’s Observer): WTF?

Why on earth would anyone want to praise “Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled”? Having Googled the hymn title, and nosied around a few of the very many blogs that seem to adore this bizarre hymn [see for instance this, and caseyleaver], I turned up a snippet from the Independent in 1996, which reports on a Norfolk-based church choir’s mutiny when the incumbent asked them to sing this ‘modern’ ditty instead of a good old-fashioned harvest hymn. White’s justification for mentioning the jet planes was, the Independent reported: “Mid-air refuelling was a wonder in the Sixties”.

I suppose it was the juxtaposition of this hymn among some very good items about Fair Trade (and a great word game that extracted the words ‘Eat’ and ‘Starve’ from the letters of ‘Harvest’) that really annoyed me about the school’s choice of hymn. They’d done so well, why ruin it with this nonsense?

As far as I can tell, the only planes that refuel in mid air are fighter jets. Not really appropriate for a junior school Harvest Festival… never mind the issue of pollution and ‘food miles’.

So I picked up my grumpy-old-woman pen and dashed of a letter to the head teacher, extolling the virtues of good old-fashioned “We Plough the Fields and Scatter” – the tune of which is attributed (‘doubtful attribution’, says Hyperion Records) to a German, J.A.P. Schulz, but is actually more correctly linked to an English folksong John Barleycorn.

Today’s lesson: If you want to get your blog noticed, add some hymn lyrics! (Though I suppose it all depends what kind of traffic you want to attract…)

* Kathryn's column this week is well worth reading if you're an enthusiastic participant in newgroups, blogs, social networking and virtual worlds.

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