Background

Doug Constable

I entered the Church of England in 1949. As a chorister at St Martin’s Dorking under the inspired leadership of Dr William Cole, I I absorbed a good deal of the English cathedral tradition, and imbibed a large body of hymnody garnered from both Ancient and Modern and the English Hymnal.

I began seriously noticing hymns in 1961, at an offering of Gerard Beaumont’s Folk Mass (1956), that contained his still popular settings of ‘Now thank we all now our God’ and ‘At the name of Jesus’. In the previous four years I had played piano in two dance bands, and I was ‘ready’ for Beaumont’s innovation.

Three years after I was ordained my vicar presented me with a text culled from a local church newspaper, and suggested I set it for our congregation to sing. I did, and they did, and we were all elated by the experience. I set music to hymn-words for a further thirty years before I got the message that some melodies are supposed to be beyond what congregations can cope with, some notes higher than they can reach. But during that time, I found congregations willing and, I believe, glad to be stretched in order to sing with more of themselves than was or is usually expected.

At Lee Abbey in Devon I found people ready for a continual supply of newly-composed material, and, following the practice of a senior colleague, Philip Humphreys, I wrote songs, poems, and short anthems both for worship and for a variety of revue-type ‘Gospel presentations’.

In subsequent parish work, many occasions presented themselves as suitable for fresh compositions.

Not being a trained musician or poet, I thought it proper to regard my work as ephemeral, for specific situations and particular persons. With the passing of time I find much in the output that still lives; that’s why I offer it now.

In 1996 I set out on a different project: to write a hymn for each week of the first year of the ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary for the Holy Eucharist. I received encouragement to pursue that (challenging) project by researching my hymn-writing process under the auspices of King Alfred’s College (now the University of Winchester). One result of that approach is that a good number of my hymns are rich with Scriptural and theological references. Each of the seventy-eight hymns in that collection is supported by commentary on one side of A4 and is a useful resource for preachers.

Before ill-health obliged me to retire in 1991, I worked at Christ the Servant, Stockwood, Bristol (1965-70), St Paul’s Clifton and the Anglican Chaplaincy to the University of Bristol (1970-2), Lee Abbey, North Devon (1972-77), St Thomas’ Peartree, Derby (1977-85), and the Anglican City Centre Parish, Southampton (1985-90). I have been living in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire since 2005.