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Introduction to the Hymns' Page
Fr. Stephen Somerville
It is a new beginning to find Catholic hymns on the website of Tradition in Action. It is a very old thing for Catholics to gather and sing, be it at liturgy or round a friendly piano. I am Fr. Stephen Somerville, and I am planning to offer you some of my new hymns, new either in words or in music, or both.
In 1956, newly ordained a priest, I had never imagined that one day I might write or compose new hymns. The abundant Catholic repertory of Latin and English hymns and motets was so rich that one would need a lifetime to master and enjoy them all. I had been starting to do just that, from the age of seven, having become a cathedral chorister, then gradually a soprano soloist, pianist, church organist in two parishes and then in two seminaries, director of six or more successive choirs, composer of organ and choral music, editor of several hymnals, and all this in addition to the various non-music appointments that come to a diocesan priest.
What stimulated creativity most was surely my appointment as Editor of the Canadian missalette, known as Living with Christ. This monthly missal featured a section of English hymns, and when choosing these by the month, I noticed: We have hymns for Passiontide, but nothing for Lent. We have plenty for Christmas, but no hymn for the Holy Family. For the Sacred Heart of Jesus, many choices, but nothing for the newer devotion to the United Hearts. A few hymns for popular saints, but nothing for the Apostles, those heroic pioneers of Holy Church.
These observations led me to the conceiving of new hymns, and sometimes also to the birth of their melodies. My Scottish colleague and superb hymnwriter Fr. James Quinn occasionally sent me a new text, and inspiration for a melody might come to me later. Along the way, I edited several complete hymnals. This was a challenge and a struggle amidst the revolutionary changes in the Church of Vatican II. I had remained a conservative Catholic and musician. I had been a perplexed member of ICEL, the liturgy translation group.
Finally, as now should be known to many, I rediscovered the truth that is Catholic Tradition, and came aboard its flagship, the magnificent Tridentine Mass. It has been the biggest and best change in my life since ordination as a priest. And – bless my soul! – the tradition-cultivating Catholic is set free from that less-than-prayerful clothing of sacro-pop church music.
There may be traditional popular hymns with an excess of the saccharine or the maudlin, or of that beguiling triplet time signature. But there are also guides and teachers for the endless wealth of reverent hymns and Latin motets ranging from simple to splendid. There are three centuries plus of pipe organ music ranging from simple reed organ repertory to the magnificent preludes and fugues of Paris, Vienna and Rome.
Let us grow old together. The Catholic best is yet to be!
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