To St Andrews church in North Oxford last night for the Wycliffe Hall Advent Service. An interesting and pleasant time with only one severe attack of giggles narrowly avoided …
Format was a reading, and a modern chorus played by a band, and a verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” bashed out on the organ on full blast to restore order. Then repeat. It was a curiously effective way of doing it that appealed to young whippersnappers and old crustaceans alike. The modern songs ranged from the mighty “In Christ Alone”, easily the best chorus to come out of the last twenty years, to something unknown, unsingable and about five minutes old but it seemed a good idea when they planned the service.
The grand finale was “Lo! he comes with clouds descending”, old style on the organ with every stop pulled out and the building vibrating. Great stuff!
It began to dawn on me after a week or so of the last song that there were an awful lot of verses and we were singing them very slowly. Each verse took about a minute to wade through. I yield to few in my admiration for Charles Wesley but this was not one of his finest hours. I had an image of him sitting in his study, rocking back on two legs of his chair, maybe tapping his teeth with a pencil and trying hard to come up with inspiration. It’s a writing technique I have often used and it always shows.
The same problem seemed to occur to the band’s keyboard player. About a month into the song he sensed us flagging and started trying to accompany the organ with a few melodies here and there, but it didn’t really work. The organ was just swamping him. The rest of the band had the sense to stay out of it.
Except for the drummer. Ah, the drummer! That’s the spirit. He came crashing in round about verse 497, not just tapping out the rhythm but actively using the entire kit, every drum and cymbal and wall and radiator and anything else in striking distance, giving us rolls and fibrillating syncopation that could more than hold its own against the organ. It didn’t speed things up but it suddenly felt a lot faster. The rest of the band finally joined in too and we all joyfully went into the final straight with the church gently vibrating its way up into heaven. Fantastic!
But the giggles? Oh yes. Wesley was definitely off his meds when he wrote that last song, but here’s the verse where he was really chewing the carpet. Honestly, you try and sing this in a cheerful, upbeat manner with a straight face:
Answer thine own bride and Spirit
Hasten, Lord, the gen’ral doom!
The new heav’n and earth t’inherit
Take thy pining exiles home.
All creation x 3
Travails! Groans! And bids thee come!
Elsewhere in Oxford Maddy Prior was playing, apparently. I bet she never sings about gen’ral doom. There again, we got mulled wine and mince pies. Call it a draw.