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Liedboek voor de Kerken

Manna in the desert, water for the thirsty man ... and all the more precious because of the years I spent waiting and because it was a gift from friends. No, I never expected to feel this way about a hymn-book.

The critical apparatus for Zingt Jubilate had made it clear to me that what I wanted more than anything else was a copy of the Dutch Protestant collection Liedboek voor der Kerken, and years of (admittedly sporadic) effort had got me nowhere. Providence eventually took a hand, inscrutable as ever. The choir I sometimes accompany asked me to play for them at an oecumenical service, and there to my breathless amazement I met some real live Protestants with real live copies of That Book. I asked the choirmaster if there was anywhere I might be able to get a copy in Belgium, and he gave me the name and number of a bookshop in Mechelen. My friend Jan the deacon, who works in Mechelen, said he'd check the address for me … then everything went quiet for a while.

But the next time I turned up to play here in Vilvoorde, Jan and his wife said they had a thank-you present for me: which turned out to be my very own copy of LdK. Oh, bliss. 1550s Geneva Psalter settings, well-made but strangely shaped like Jacobean furniture. Eighteenth-century elegance, the first time I'd ever seen a figured bass in a hymn-book. Nineteenth-century stalwarts, including some from the English tradition. Twentieth-century imagination, singable but unpredictable tunes with harmonisations that walk companionably alongside while still going their own way. And all this before we start considering the words, which from what I've taken the time to read through so far tend to be forthright, open and free from the Augustan convolutions that marr so many English hymns.

Thank-you, Jan and Iny, for a gift that will bring pleasure for years. And also thank-you to the Interkerkelijke Stichting voor het Kerklied for this splendid collection. Who sings prays twice, and a book like this is a glad incentive.

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