Composer who drove choir to rebel defends her plane song

Louise Jury
Sunday 13 October 1996 00:02

The woman whose hymn about mid-flight refuelling caused a church's choristers to walk out defended her song of praise to the jet plane yesterday.

Estelle White, 70, a former nun and retired teacher of music and religion, wrote the hymn Autumn Days, which prompted choristers at 12th-century St Mary's church in Wroxham, Norfolk, to throw down their hymn books in disgust. Choir mistress Carole Tims and half her songsters quit when their vicar, the Rev Andrew Parsons, asked them to sing the hymn, which begins:

Autumn days when the grass

is jewelled

And the silk inside a chestnut


Jet planes meeting in the air to

be refuelled,

All these things I love so well.

They felt that singing in praise of jet planes was not appropriate at the annual harvest festival.

Miss White thought the objections "ridiculous". The composer of more than 100 published hymns, she was surprised that the fuss should have been over an 18-year-old song. "It's not terribly modern," she said at her home near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

Mid-air refuelling was a wonder in the Sixties, she said. "It was regarded as amazing." She considers Autumn Days a hymn for children. It is "rather jolly", though not necessarily her favourite. "All my hymns are very clear, very concrete. I don't believe God is vaguely out there sitting up on a cloud with a beard. I think you find the transcendental in everything, so I tend to write hymns that bring in concrete things." She agrees with the St Mary's dissenters that not all modern music is acceptable. "Some is quite ghastly," she said. "You have to have a tune that people can sing."

Geoff Marshall-Taylor, editor of Come and Praise, the BBC hymn book that includes Autumn Days and has sold more than three million copies, says the growth of evangelism has fuelled a repertoire of new work, with composer Graham Kendrick leading the way.

His song Shine, Jesus, Shine beat old favourites like Jerusalem and The Lord's My Shepherd to come sixth in a poll of Songs of Praise viewers.

The Rev Christopher Idle, of the Jubilate Hymns group of writers and musicians, said: "Although the best modern harvest hymns do thank God for his gifts, they are also aware of people who are starving." David Patrick, a music arranger and organist, said: "A lot of children have never heard of something like There is a Green Hill. Many of these hymns today are rather banal."

Geoff Weaver, of the Royal College of Church Music, said church music is about worship, and rifts like the Norfolk rowinterfere with that. "It hinders the church's ministry," he said.

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