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Blog: October 2023 - HARVEST MUSIC

During the Bike’N’Hike in September’s heatwave, a biker told me they enjoyed hearing Eunice playing Harvest music in the lovely cool of Wilden Church. I always look forward to the Harvest Hymns every year. “We Plough The Fields” and “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” are my special favourites. “We Plough the Fields” originated in 1782 Germany, when Matthias Claudius wrote the words [in 17 verses!] with verse 3 starting “Wir Pflügen”. This became the name of the tune, composed by Schulz, published in 1800. In 1871 England, Jane Montgomery Campbell translated from the German [using just 3 verses!], keeping the original focus of thanksgiving to God for the harvest. Sir Arthur Sullivan can be relied on for a soul-stirring tune, and “To Thee, O Lord, Our Hearts We Raise” is one of my favourites. Sullivan’s tune is named “Golden Sheaves”, and the words [written by Chatterton-Dix in 1863] are just as beautiful as the tune. Once, after I had played this Harvest Hymn, a congregation-member later exclaimed “That is a very old-fashioned hymn – I haven’t sung it for years!” Being old-fashioned, I love tradition! Celebrating Harvest Home is, of course, a worldwide and pre-Christian tradition. Ever since 1843, when Revd Robert Hawker, a vicar in Cornwall, introduced the idea of having a church “harvest festival”, Churches of all persuasions have adopted this excellent idea, and lots of wonderful “harvest” hymns are the result - giving thanks for the bounty of our fields and orchards. I glean from history that Harvest Thanksgiving music at Bolnhurst Church has been of a charming variety. There is an evocative description of a Harvest “Parade” to St Dunstan’s Church in mid-Victorian times, with many and varied musical instruments deployed, followed by Harvest Celebrations and Supper at The Rectory. Set in the early 1800s, Thomas Hardy’s novel “Under The Greenwood Tree” includes West Gallery musicians being upstaged by a new-fangled harmonium, played by the beautiful heroine. There was a harmonium in St Dunstan’s Church until it was upstaged in 1908 by installation of the present Organ, brought from Keysoe Church. John Martin, librarian of Woburn Abbey, wrote under the initials WA. In the early 1850s, he wrote reviews of Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury. His review of Bolnhurst Church is certainly mixed, but the church fares better than many from his vituperative pen. His review appeared in the 18 September 1852 edition: “We saw with regret a space, like a large zoological cage, enclosed by iron rails, for a performer on the harmonia, with the instrument itself, a more indecorous invasion we have rarely seen, and we regret this the more, as the church in general is in such good order.” John Martin’s comments about the cage were angrily disputed in January 1853: “WA states that a large space has been inclosed (sic) with an iron railing for a performer on the harmonium. ...anyone with common eyesight could perceive at once that the iron railing surrounds the monument of Sir John Francklyn, who died in 1707, and from its style and general appearance is evidently of the same date. ...that the space may not be lost, an entrance has been made through the rails, and appropriated for the parish choir”. Florence Shipsey Organist at Bolnhurst

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