We were delighted to complete the publication of Repton’s new hymn book this month, thereby extending a worthy tradition of hymn singing at the school of which they are rightly proud. Oliver Walker, the Director of Music, and Father Neil Roberts, the Chaplain, worked tirelessly to adapt the previous book used at Repton. They took a volume containing 100 pages of prayers, services and psalms and a small collection of 28 hymns, and they converted this to 20 pages of services and prayers and 129 hymns; quite a change!
Congregational singing at Repton, or ‘Congers’ as they call it, has long been one of the more challenging responsibilities of Directors of Music, and Oliver joins a long line of eminent musicians given the weekly task of getting the pupils to switch off their phones and raise the roof with their singing. One of Oliver’s predecessors in the job was Dr George Gilbert Stocks, Director of Music from 1912-34. Dr Stocks sounds like a bit of an eccentric, keeping chickens which he named after his pupils, but his technique in the Chapel was clearly a success. He wrote his own hymns, combining popular words with popular tunes, or writing his own tunes for pupils to sing words that they already knew. It was such a combination that led to one of our best-loved hymns, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. For this, Stocks took excerpts from the poem The Brewing of Soma by John Greenleaf Whittier and combined it with the aria Long since in Egypt’s plenteous lands from the oratorio Judith by his former Oxford tutor, Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. The resulting hymn tune, Repton, takes a very special place in the new book, to be sung out loud and clear by Reptonians, at ‘Congers’ and beyond, for many generations to come.
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