Monday, July 28, 2003

Onward, Christian bloggers.

I pity the poor souls, and there seem to be many loose in the world, who get no pleasure from learning. That includes learning useless facts, because most learning involves useless facts, and it's something you can do every day, even the Sabbath.

It also helps that everyone, without exception, is ignorant about something. Thus the road is open for learning a neat fact unexpectedly, like turning a corner and coming across a lively street busker. One of my pockets of ignorance -- a gapping maw, really -- concerns music.

Went to Holy Nativity for the first time in a while yesterday. Noticed with some interest that the recessional was "Onward, Christian Soldiers," which had evidently not been tossed out of the 1982 Hymnal for its military metaphor. When the hymnal is open to any particular hymn, I usually take a look at who wrote it. Often, the name doesn't mean anything to me, since I've never made a study of hymns. Could be written by an exceptionally famous hymnist, but in most cases I wouldn't appreciate that.

Words: Sabine Baring-Gould. Hm. (I looked him up today, and of course he was a remarkable Victorian writer and traveler I'd never heard of.) Music: Arthur S. Sullivan. That Sullivan? He wrote the music to "Onward, Christian Soldiers"? Really?

Sure enough. I knew that Sullivan wrote a good deal of sacred music, even wanted to be known for that more than his collaboration with Gilbert. No such luck, Sir Arthur. But somehow the fact that he had written that rather famous hymn had eluded me. A delightful discovery. I popped that useless fact into my gapping maw of ignorance and down it went (I don't expect that maw to ever be filled in my lifetime; can't know everything).

It was also the first time I'd ever heard all the words, all the way through. A stirring hymn, really. But I have to admit that I'm more familiar with the bitter World War I parody set to the tune that Sullivan wrote:

Forward Joe Soap's army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.
He boasts and skites from morn till night,
And thinks he's very brave,
But the men who really did the job are dead and in their grave.
Forward Joe Soap's army, marching without fear,
With our old commander, safely in the rear.

This was sung in the musical Oh, What a Lovely War! I saw a student production of this in college, and later bought the London cast soundtrack on vinyl. Among many other songs, it also includes "When This Lousy War is Over," to the tune of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and the immortal "The Bells of Hell."


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