And now, in a welcome break from my narcissistic fashion ramblings, I am turning my attention to hymns. Hymns and their tunes. Or rather, hymns which fit to tunes other than their own traditional one.
Ask most churchgoers about hymn-tune replacement and they will be able to tell you that you can sing 'There is a green hill far away' to the tune of 'The House of the Rising Sun.' They will probably also know that 'While shepherd's watched their flocks by night' goes to 'On Ilkley Moor baht 'at'. 'The angel of the Lord came down (Lord came down)!' By the same token, you can sing a highly florid version of Ilkley Moor to the tune of 'O for a thousand tongues'. 'Where hast tha be-e-e-een since I-I sa-aw thee? On Ilkley Moor baht 'at, on I-I-I-I-Ilkey Moor baht 'at!' That was the tune 'Lyngham' rendered into prose, by the way.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Last night, in an idle moment I asked Twitter for more examples. The result is that I have spent the day wandering around the house singing 'Immortal, invisible God only wise' to The Wombles theme tune. I was also alerted to the possibility of singing that wedding favourite 'Love divine all love's excelling' to 'O my darling Clementine'. Ooh! as I typed that, I realised it also goes to 'Now the carnival is over' as well.
Both those tunes, however, have a slightly solemn church-appropriate ring to them. They could work in the context of worship. The same cannot be said of The Wombles. Therefore for maximum subversive pleasure, the tune's style and associations need to be at odds with the hymn. My suggestion for 'Love divine' would be 'All the nice girls love a sailor'. Another high scorer here is the Medieval Latin hymn 'Tantum ergo' to the tune of 'I'm forever blowing bubbles'; along with 'O Jesus I have promised' to The Muppets theme tune.
Traditional hymn tunes are readily interchangeable because they are (usually) in recognisable metres. The metrical index of a hymn book is a handy resource for the subversively minded. Anything in common metre (CM) fits to Ilkley Moor, for example. This means that if you can identify the metre of a tune, let's say The Archers, you can then look up hymns that share the same metrical structure. With a spot of shoe-horning--or as musicians like to say 'anacrucis'--'We plough the fields and scatter' (76 76 D and Refrain) fits. Provided you sing the word 'plough' on the first 'TUM' you'll be fine. Well, I think so. I'm currently arguing with one of the lay vicars about this. 'we PLOUGH the FIELDS and SCA-a-tter the GOOD seed O-on the LAND!' Where's the problem?
The church has been ransacking popular culture for its hymns for centuries. Did not Bach himself pinch tunes from tavern songs? (Needs citation, as Wiki says, but I think I heard that somewhere). Twitter tells me of an Agnus Dei to Billy Joel's 'Just the way you are', indeed, of an entire Billy Joel Mass setting. Also an Ave Maria to the Eastenders tune. As a child in Sunday School we sang a chorus to the Match of the Day theme. It goes on and on.
Thank you to all the tweeps who provided these ghastly examples. I would love to tell you all that 'Shine Jesus shine' goes to 'Who let the dogs out'. But sadly, I don't think it's true. Even with anacrucis.