The American writer Hezekiah Butterworth once wrote that “imagination makes poems; devotion makes hymns. There can be poetry without emotion, but a hymn never.” But perhaps now the word is more associated with dirges, dense pews, and dusty hymnals, i.e. songs for a bygone era.
Obviously there’s nothing sacred about singing old songs rather than new songs. But perhaps in our eagerness for something contemporary we rush past a legacy of some of the most theologically rich, yet devotionally warm, pieces of Christian music going. That’s the belief of Page CXVI, and that’s why over the last few years they’ve chosen some of their favourite hymns, given them a modern twist, and performed them beautifully on record for our benefit.
I first came across Page CXVI a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend and downloaded their first album, Hymns, and loved it. They’re a slightly mysterious bunch and also perform their own material as The Autumn Film. They’ve since released over six Hymn albums, plus re-mixes and B-sides, and amazingly for the month of March they’re giving away their entire back-catalogue to download for free.
It’s an amazing opportunity and you can get hold of them here.
And if you’re wondering about the odd name, well it comes from a reference to page 116 in their copy of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. It is a poignant passage where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation out of a black void.
It starts, “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.”
~ C.S. Lewis
Here’s a taster of their work: