Sunday, April 01, 2007

Come, faithful people, come away

Many years ago when I was a student and later when I was a research fellow and a young mum in Cambridge, we used to go to LSM when not at King's Chapel or wherever else, and every year on Palm Sunday there was a procession from Laundress Green to LSM. That's still true, but what are no longer there are some hymns of which I have particularly fond memories.

Today's subject is "Come Faithful People Come Away". It's classified as a carol by the English Hymnal, which says (in its Palm Sunday Procession section) "If required, the following carol may also be sung". But the words are by G. Moultrie (1829-85) and the music, a jolly skipping melody written as three crotchets in a bar, is "Come Faithful People" by C. Bicknell, 1842-1918. The hymn recounts the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and all that palm waving stuff.

It's a good hymn to process to. Now that might seem surprising because of the tune being in three time. For many years after we moved to Oxford we tried to persuade our Oxford Vicar to put "Come, faithful people, come away" into the Cowley St John street procession for Palm Sunday, but he wouldn't have it (there we had "Onward Christian Soldiers" and other traditional marching hymns, nothing seasonal at all, except maybe "Ride On Ride On"). The trouble is, you could never persuade anyone who didn't already know it that it could be a marching hymn.

The reason why it works so well for marching is that it really goes at one in a bar, or, if you like, in 6:8 so it's like two sets of triplets, dum de de, dum de de. So if it's taken quickly it's very easy to march to because you stride out on the first beat of each bar and the skipping triplets give you plenty of time to move at a stately pace without the tune become plodding or boring. Brilliant really.

What's tragic is that it's gone altogether from the NEH.

What a loss. Here (from the Oremus Hymnal, but converted to English spelling) are the words:

Come, faithful people, come away
your homage to your Monarch pay;
it is the feast of palms today:
Hosanna in the highest!

When Christ, the Lord of all, drew nigh
on Sunday morn to Bethany,
he called two loved ones standing by:
Hosanna in the highest!

"To yonder village go," said he,
"An ass and foal tied shall ye see,
loose them and bring them unto me:"
Hosanna in the highest!

"If any man dispute your word,
say, 'They are needed by the Lord,'
and he permission will accord:"
Hosanna in the highest!

The two upon their errand sped,
and found the ass as he had said,
and on the colt their clothes they spread:
Hosanna in the highest!

They set him on his throne so rude;
before him went the multitude,
and in their way their garments strewed:
Hosanna in the highest!

Go, Saviour, thus to triumph borne,
thy crown shall be the wreath of thorn,
thy royal garb the robe of scorn:
Hosanna in the highest!

They thronged before, behind, around,
they cast palm-branches on the ground,
and still rose up the joyful sound:
Hosanna in the highest!

"Bless├Ęd is Israel's King," they cry;
"Blessed is he that cometh nigh
in name of God the Lord most high."
Hosanna in the highest!

Thus, Saviour, to thy passion go,
arrayed in royalty of woe,
assumed for sinners here below:
Hosanna in the highest!


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