Caribbean Anglican Hymnal Launched

By Dave Rodney

News Americas, Kingston, Jamaica, Fri. July 22, 2011: A riveting and engaging new Anglican hymnal designed for liturgical worship in churches across the Caribbean has just been released, and early reactions to this compilation are suggesting that the publication is destined to be a runaway hit among church congregations in the region.

International reggae icons Peter Tosh and Ernie Smith are included in the hymnal. So too are other Jamaican musical luminaries Noel Dexter, Father Richard Ho Lung, Rev. Easton Lee and the late Barry Chevannes as well as hypnotic gems Like By The Rivers Of Babylon (Edward B Henry) are bound to breathe new life into the musical ministry of Anglican churches from Bermuda and the Bahamas to Barbados and Barbuda.

This exciting new hymnal is simply called the CPWI Hymnal (Church in the Province of the West Indies). It replaces the almost over-used and now weary institution, Hymns Ancient & Modern that was first introduced in 1861. The CPWI hymnal successfully attempts to combine sedate, old favorite hymns with an astonishing repertoire of lyrically and rhythmically mesmerizing songs by Caribbean authors and composers. Popular songs like Joy to the world, The First Noel and perhaps the lesser known but equally enchanting Hushed was the evening hymn were never in the A&M but are now included in CPWI, alongside hundreds of other soul-inspiring treasures.

In a few cases, the words of old hymns have been altered to reflect the cultural realities of the Caribbean region and for some old favorites; tunes have been updated in accordance with popular congregational usage. A section with choruses is also a much welcomed annex to the book, as are a hearty chunk of spirituals and contemporary gospel songs.

The task of compiling this body of songs must have been a true challenge for the eight-member Provincial Commission comprising of experts from across the Caribbean. Not only must songs be popular but they must be a mix of old and new, and fit in various categories for church use, and the new additions must be representative of the entire region. The changing appeal of a hymn may have been a consideration too. Hymns are not unlike pop music where a high profile use of a dusty or long-forgotten item can suddenly spark a wave of new interest in a song. The release of the hit movie Titanic certainly resurrected Eternal Father strong to save (# 545) worldwide. Locally, the use of Pleasant are thy courts above (#740) in the nationally televised funeral service of the late Professor Rex Nettleford created an upswing in the use of that hymn, judging from a scan of church programs and web sites that list their hymns. I Vow to thee my country (# 742) had the same impact on the world after it was used at the funeral service of the late Princess Diana.

Based on the studiously meticulous selection of the beautiful hymns that cover a span of hundreds of years, various cultures and all church occasions and church feasts- from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany, Lent, Easter and beyond, it is clear that a tremendous amount of tedious and thoughtful work was invested in creating this landmark hymnal. And with all its musical diversity, the CPWI is wisely anchored in the cultures of the Caribbean.

The all-important powerful connection between music and religion in the Caribbean was not lost on the Archbishop of the West Indies the Most Rev. John Holder who, in a message to launch the new hymnal said that the music used in worship in the Caribbean should speak to the experiences of the region’s peoples.

This view was reiterated by celebrated Jamaican organist at the Rutgers Church in New York City George Davey who had this to say on the new hymnal. “It is thrilling to learn of the birth of the CPWI hymnal. Church is a place where many look forward to the opportunity to celebrate their joy and to soothe their pain. Hymns and songs aid in this expression, and they should not only be relevant to the congregation, but in a style and language that the local congregation can understand,” he said, beaming with pride.

One of his favorites is ‘I Come To The Cross Like A Small Boat Sailing,’ with words by Dennis Scott and music by Noel Dexter.

Canon Hartley Perrin of Petersfield, Westmoreland is delighted with the book and he has already started using it. Trevor Beckford, choir director and pipe organist at the Cathedral of St. Jago de la Vega in Spanish Town for fifty years is equally thrilled with the book. He says it is modern, interesting and remarkably comprehensive, and the book is already in use at the Cathedral. He however admits that he will miss the notation of dynamics (indicators of the relative intensity or volume of a musical line), a helpful feature for choral work that is widely used in the old book that is absent from the new. It is of interest to note that neither the Methodist nor the Baptist hymnals carry such notations.

The director of music at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, one of the world’s high altars of hymnody refrained from comment on the growing excitement for the CPWI. And a visible casualty of the transition from old school to new is the English national anthem, ‘God Save Our Gracious Queen.’

A standout alteration in the hymnal is the hymn # 707, ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful.’ The new words by Ronald Jones speak eloquently to the Caribbean and this new version is rapidly gaining momentum even outside the region. The refrain remains the same, ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful, All Creatures Great And Small,’ but the verses are painted in Caribbean pastels.

“The mangoes in the summer
The sea grapes growing wild
Guineps and plums and guavas
Are gifts for every child.”

All the old favorites have been preserved in the new volume: Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven (#383), New Every Morning Is The Love ( # 5), O God Our Help In Ages Past ( #234), The Church’s One Foundation (#348), Now Thank We All Our God ( #372), Onward Christian Soldiers (# 436), Immortal Invisible God Only Wise (# 228), Alleluia Sing to Jesus (# 569), Ye Holy Angels Bright ( # 799), All Creatures Of Our God And King (# 360), and hundreds more.

Some of the standout Jamaican songs, though new to the hymnal, are well known to various denominations across the Caribbean. The beloved Christmas carol, Sing De Chorous Clap Yuh Han, (# 85) for example, was popularized from as early as the late 1970s through the University Singers at Mona by way of their Christmas carols by candlelight service and their island wide tours. And Ernie Smith’s All for Jesus (#245) was a charted hit single that attracted widespread radio play in 1974, long before it entered the hallowed domain of the CPWI hymnal. And Jah Is My Keepa, (# 229), a Peter Tosh composition with arrangement by Audley Davidson, one of the organists at St. Andrew Parish Church in Kingston, is bound to make Caribbean congregations rock.

The CPWI contains a fountain 852 beautiful songs and it is now the official hymnal of all eight Anglican Dioceses in the Province of the West Indies. But while the compilation was developed by the Anglicans, the CPWI hymnal is indeed suitable for use by nearly all denominations, and for all occasions of public and personal devotion. The categorization of hymns too is vastly more attractive than the A&M, and whereas the old book has a very limited selection for weddings and funerals, the new brings abundant fresh choices in those sections as well as in virtually all other categories. Two versions of CPWI are currently available, the music edition with notes and the smaller version with words.

The CPWI hymnal was produced by a commission on liturgy and music chaired by Diocesan Bishop of Jamaica and The Cayman Islands Rt. Rev. The Hon. Alfred C Reid. Other members of the commission are Prof. Canon Noel Titus, Cordington College, Barbados; Rev. Canon Dr. Winston Layne, also of Cordington College; Ven. Cornell Moss, Bishop of Guyana; Rev. C Walkine, Bahamas & the Turks & Caicos Islands; Karl Fuller, hymnologist, Jamaica & The Cayman Islands; Mr. Phillip Forde, Barbados and Ian Hodge, North Eastern Caribbean & Aruba.

The hymnal is available in leading book shops island wide and through Anglican churches across the Caribbean.

Dave Rodney is a New York-based marketing consultant with interest in organ studies. He is the author of Contemporary Musicians and their Music- Usher. This article first appeared on Images LLC.