Wednesday, 7 June 2017


So you've found your church. Turned up before a service starts - ideally the key "three minutes before." You've worn suitable clothing for the temperature in the building. Which means, in a rural Church of England building, seventeen layers. Or more in the winter.

The thing you're gonna notice is that people sing. There's lots of different kinds of singing but they can be divided up into the following, some or more of which you will meet depending on the tradition 1 of the church.

Psalms: From the book of that name in the Bible. Some churches have the minister and congregation reading every other line in turn, just like King David did. In the Church of England you get "chanted psalms" - which have a form of music you will never understand, and where each member of the congregation sing their own random note. These replaced the former "metrical psalms" which were good to sing, with decent tunes, easy to understand and therefore dangerously democratic.

Canticles: From the Latin for "probably not a psalm". Something from the Bible which sounds like a psalm, but isn't a psalm. Unless it is.

Lord of the Dance: Dire hippy heresy that teachers in 1981 thought was a proper hymn.

Hymn: A formal song in praise of God, or for instruction or exhortation. Varies from the glories of Wesley and Watts to the Arts and Crafts cuddliness of Timothy Dudley Smith to those dire Victorian inventions that just go randomly up and down.

"Charismatic" "Chorus": ( Insert quotes as appropriate). Something written since 1960. In most Church of England churches will have been written before 1980 as well. Could be four short lines, formerly repeated interminably but now strictly twice. Or, in modern specimens, six verses, chorus, middle eight, bridge, key and time signature changes. The best are pretty good. The worst, like Genesis songs with worse theology.

Anthem: The thing a choir sings during communion. A bit like a hymn but more complex.

Carol: The one in the choir who's always threatening to walk out if the organist plays Graham Kendrick songs.

Folksy settings of the Liturgy: Don't.

1 Tradition - the way the church has always done things, going back at least as far as the last (saintly) minister.


  1. God bless Gowans and Larsson! In the C of E people probably only know them for "Hundreds and Thousands" but they have written some of the best choruses ever. Most sound like West End musicals, which is okay because that's what they are.

  2. Love reading this but I don't think you've got it right about metrical psalms . . . . neither that the Church of England is a well-known place to find them nor that they are a form of music which is difficult to understand.

    1. You're right. I actually mis-wrote here! They are an easy form to understand, but sadly the C of E (or as I know it) phased them out in favour of chanted psalms, which is what I was thinking about here. I shall correct.


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