"Unmusical" Hymn Writer receives award

by Michael Ford last modified 27 Feb, 2019 01:13 PM

A bishop who describes himself as “unmusical”, but who has penned some of our most popular modern hymns, has been awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Guild of Church Musicians.

The Rt Revd Timothy Dudley-Smith, consecrated Bishop of Thetford in 1981, was given the award from the oldest church music organisation in the UK at a ceremony at Sarum College.

The Guild of Church Musicians Registrar Mrs June Williams said:
“The Bishop often states that he is unmusical. Even if that is the case – and I am sure that it is not - he is deeply sensitive to the interactions of words and music in hymnody. Charles Wesley is said to have written over six thousand hymns but only a very small proportion of his output has stood the test of time.

“Bishop Timothy’s hymns have already stood the test of time; indeed, most have the characteristic of being timeless. This is due to his skilful handling of words; in part because he avoids infelicitous phrases, in particular addressing The Almighty as ‘You’ and in part, because his words are never far from Holy Scripture.

“The art of real hymn-writing is regrettably rare nowadays. For over fifty years the leading writer of contemporary hymns has been Bishop Dudley-Smith. ‘Tell out my soul’ is one of the most popular of all hymns ever, but this fine paraphrase, with its exquisite miniature companion, ‘Faithful vigil ended’, has enabled parishes which do not have highly trained musicians, to keep the tradition of sung Evensong going.

“This is making hymns useful as well as usable, which is one of the hallmarks of the Bishop’s immense work as a hymn writer.”

Bishop Timothy was educated at Tonbridge School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He trained for ordination at Ridley Hall. After a curacy in Rochester Diocese, he became Head of the Cambridge University Mission in Bermondsey, and then its Chaplain. He was then appointed Educational Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance and held posts with the Church Pastoral Aid Society. He also served as the Archdeacon of Norwich.

Now in his ninth decade, the Bishop continues to enrich the hymn repertoire. His two volumes ‘A House of Praise’ contain his collected works from 1961 to 2013. Volume three will be published shortly.

The RSCM provided a small choir (from members of its staff) for the ceremony, conducted by the RSCM's director, Hugh Morris, while Rosemary Field, Deputy Director of the RSCM, played the organ.

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