The Mere Brow Anthem
Some time ago, whilst trawling the internet, John came across a reference to ‘The Mere Brow Anthem’. As Mere Brow is only about 8 miles from Croston, where John and Linda live, it seemed only right that we should investigate further.
After writing to the ministers of all the Methodist churches in the area, we were eventually contacted by the minister at Mere Brow, and a meeting was arranged for us to visit the church and meet the organist and one of the members of the congregation. The previous organist, Henry Bond Senior, (the father of the current organist, also called Henry) had tried to follow up the anthem, and had written an article about it in a publication produced by a local history group. It was this article, available on the Mere Brow web page, that John first came across. The article can be found here.
The anthem was learned by ear, originally by members of the church choir, and later by the general church members. It was sung during the carol singing around the village, and at the church’s carol service. Unfortunately, the anthem has not been sung for some time due to the increasing age of the congregation and the younger members not knowing it. It is not clear for how long the custom of singing the anthem has lapsed - we were told periods of between 10 and 25 years!
We decided to learn the anthem and include it in our Christmas concerts for 2011 and, in return for being given the information, we agreed to perform a concert for the Mere Brow Methodist Church. Henry Bond Senior had always believed that the anthem had been written by Thomas Jarman, who is better known for the tune Lyngham, widely used around the country for ‘While Shepherds Watched’. Sometime after Mr Bond’s death, Sally Drage, who has a particular interest in 18th and 19th century church music, confirmed that the anthem had indeed been written by Thomas Jarman. It was published in ‘Peck’s Miscellaneous Collection of Sacred Music’ (volume 3 we think), in approximately 1809.
Prior to this, the only written version of the anthem known to the Mere Brow singers had been a hand written manuscript from 1859. This version was copied in the local history group publication mentioned above.
At some point, and we are not sure when, a recording of the Mere Brow Anthem was made, and we were lucky enough to be given a copy. Unfortunately, there is a lot of low rumble on the tape, and when we tried to remove this, we also removed the bass line!
It was from this recording that we transcribed the anthem, using the 1859 manuscript and the 1809 published version to fill in any missing notes. Despite being learned by ear, the anthem had not changed a great deal in the last 150 years or so. The main differences are in the timing in a few places. The anthem uses the text ‘Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son’, and there are definite Handel overtones in some sections. Beeston Methodist Church in Nottinghamshire also sing a version of this Thomas Jarman anthem, but theirs is much further removed from the original.
So, on 11th December 2011, we performed the anthem as part of the concert we gave in Mere Brow Methodist Church to finish the first half. Just as we were about to launch into it, someone from the audience piped up that the congregation always used to stand for the singing of the anthem – so that’s what everyone did. As we were singing, we could hear members of the audience joining in. From talking to some of the members of the audience during the interval, it was clear that they would like to join us in singing it. So, we started the second half off by singing it again, joined by 5 gentlemen and 2 ladies from the church. A recording of us singing the anthem with the church members can be heard by click on this icon (file size 4.0 MB)
(Please remember that the church members had not sung this for many years when the recording was made)
The anthem is really something that should be performed by a larger group of people than the four of us in One Accord, so we are not sure whether it will remain in our repertoire. It would be nice to think that now it has been sung once more in Mere Brow, they will start singing it again. What is remarkable is that the anthem continued to be sung for so many years in just the one church in the area. It appears to be unknown in the other nearby churches – unless you know differently!
We would be pleased to hear from anyone who knows of unusual carols that aren’t part of the regular church repertoire or different tunes being sung to common carols, whether still extant or in living memory. We’re not exclusively interested in Christmas and also like unusual hymn tunes, especially if they have fugueing in them.
If anyone knows of anything that may be of interest to us, or would like further information about the anthem, we can be contacted using the button below or by phoning 01942 816569.
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