It doesn’t take much for my imagination to take off in a direction all its own and it was certainly the case during the final hymn in this morning’s service: Come Down, O Love Divine, Vaughan Williams, Down Ampney. (I attended a Church of England school, and whatever else it gave me, a thorough knowledge of Anglican hymnody was a definite legacy).
Whenever I hear this beautiful appeal to the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m transported back over 50 years to our twice weekly hymn practices before assembly; (none of this new-fangled winging it in those days!) and to our long-suffering Head of Music, whom I’ll call Miss M.
Poor Miss M! Trying to imbue several hundred sulky adolescents with a love of hymns, let alone getting them to sing them, can’t have been easy, but she wasn’t one to give up easily. She tried to take an interest in our teenage preoccupations; I well remember her polite enquiries about our all -absorbing interest in a certain zany Mr D Bowie, (not a spot on Tommy Steele!) But none of this deflected her from her main mission: to teach music, and she could be pretty scary when riled.
On this particular morning, there we were in typically non Pentecostal mood, ploughing our way through good old Come Down, O Love Divine. So far, so good. However, during Verse Two, O Let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn, to dust and ashes in thy heat consuming… it all got too much for her, and as she held up an imperious hand, we ground to a faltering halt.
“ No, no, no!” she exclaimed. “ That won’t do. The way you’re singing those lines sounds more as if you’re talking about taking out the dustbins!”
Oh well, at least she had a sense of humour, as had we. It’s too long ago now for me to be able to remember whether we put a bit more ‘oomph’ into our singing after that, but I’ll never forget the incident, along with several other school assembly related episodes. ( Why , for example, was Lead us Heavenly Father, lead us… with its inspiring (not) Lone and dreary, faint and weary, through the desert thou did’st go, always chosen for either the beginning of term or the beginning of the exam season?)
It all goes to show, I guess, that early impressions always stay with you, for good or ill. Which explains how come the arrival of Pentecost each year, if you look carefully, you might just spot a 60 something matron together with her inner 12 year old, giggling away quietly in the back pew.
Does anybody else have any embarrassing hymn or school assembly related memories to confess? If so, I’d love to hear them.