In our annual Madera Tribune Holiday Song Book, published earlier this week, was one of the songs that I used to think began, “Hark, Old Harold Angel Sings ...”. If you are a sharp-eyed and sharp-eared hymn singer, however, you will know I was wrong. The song actually is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” one of allegedly more than 6,000 hymns written by Charles Wesley, a Church of England priest who was one of the founders of Methodism in the 1700s.
He out-wrote the Beatles, that’s for sure. Many of his hymns are still hits.
Six thousand hymns is a good body of work. Think about it: If you wrote a hymn a day, five days a week, you would be doing little else for 1,200 weeks, or 23 years. If you don’t believe me, try writing a hymn. Most of us would need amazing grace just to finish one.
He also wrote a lot of sermons, letters and musical scores, and prayed almost continually.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” probably is his most popular hymn, followed closely by “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing ...” “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
Charles Wesley’s older brother John Wesley also was a hymn writer of note, and was a co-founder of Methodism, which today is called the United Methodist Church, and has about 7.7 million members in the U.S.
Oddly, neither John nor Charles Wesley was a Methodist in the eccliastical sense. They both cleaved to their Anglican roots all their lives.
Another hymn writer who founded a church was Martin Luther, the German Catholic priest who wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
One of the Christmas songs we published in our song book was what I used to think was “Wreck the House With Boughs of Holly.” That misimpression came from an experience in which, as a child, I brought a bunch of holly branches a neighbor had pruned from his tree into the house and stacked them in the hall outside the porch. Mom said, “Get those out of here before you wreck the house!”
It’s a wonder I learned any Christmas songs at all.
Harold Angel, by the way, was a kid I knew in high school. He couldn’t sing.