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Repton

Audition: Original organ (hymnal) - descant with harmonization
 Free score. 

Composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) as an aria for his oratorio Judith, composed in 1888, the tune was adapted posthumously in 1924 by the music director of the Repton School to five verses of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. Hubert Parry's career touched many of the landmarks of higher British education, including Eton College, Oxford University, an editorship at Grove's, and professor of composition at the Royal College of Music - and, for good measure, also at Oxford. His career dedication left him little time for composing until retirement in 1908, but by then, the work for which he is best known, his incomparable setting of I was glad (Ps. 122) had been composed for the coronation of Edward VII - and has been a fixture for every coronation since, to say nothing of its prominence in the sacred choral repertoire. The hymn tune JERUSALEM (1916) came two years before his death, matched with William Blake's poem of a century earlier, And did those feet in ancient time - another ceremonial fixture in English culture, and a jewel of hymnals worldwide.

A New England Quaker, Whittier's On the Brewing of Soma considers in the first eleven of its seventeen stanzas a ritual drink, described in sacred Vedic texts, to be a psychoactive aid to spiritual observance. Indeed, the liquid is described by proponents as healing, giving strength and immortality, an 'elixir of life' and the poet's observations were consistent with his time. But soma is not brewed, which infers an intoxicant, but is pressed from the stalk of a plant, the consensus opinion being ephedra, a stimulant; partakers once described its effect as heightened alertness. It is a bit of rant, and not even the 'cloister madness of the monk' escapes the scourge. Though this undermines Whittier's presumption of the properties of either drink or presumably inebriating ritual, it does nothing to subtract from his metaphor that authentic faithfulness is a life outpoured, not imbibed, even in the fanes (temples) of Christendom. Here is the verse just before Dear Lord and Father of mankind:

And yet the past comes round again,
And new doth old fulfil;
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

The ancient mixture known by its Vedic name soma extends very far back in time. It was not only used and documented by its Inidc religion, but also by the Zoroastrians - whose seers followed a star to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myyrh. These Indo-Iranian vectors are arrows of time that converge on a time and place even further back in human history, to that of the proto Indo-Europeans, whose language family evolved into the Western languages, including English, German, French, Greek, Latin, Polish, and more. And here we find this clue in an Eastern religious practice whose language, particularly Sanskrit, is of the same derivation.

The final verse is drawn from 1 Kings 19:11-12, when Elijah - itself a conflation of two Judaic theonyms - enters the wilderness on a personal quest to affirm his faith.  The relevant passage in KJV:

"And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."

It was that still small voice that Elijah heard, that impressed on him that God was present in that place.

An adjustment of the first phrase for inclusive language can be done without damage to the meaning, for example: "Dear Lord, creator of humankind."


Further reading

 Brereton, Joel "Soma ." Encyclopedia of Religion. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Mar. 2022  https://www.encyclopedia.com


Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
, Choral Public Domain Library

1.
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
In deeper reverence, praise.

5.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
O still, small voice of calm!

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