Sunday July 12, 2020
Hymn Inspiration from the Rhondda Valley. Milton S. Littlefield, the editor of the chapel hymnal, was a Presbyterian minister who near the end of his life became a Congregationalist minister. He preached, published and edited hymnals and wrote Sunday school teaching manuals. He was the president of the Hymn Society of America and died in the same year the hymnal chapel was reprinted, 1934. The hymnal is an eclectic collection, primarily of English and American hymns from the 19th century.
The late Rev. Gordon Allen, former minister at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth and long-time guest preacher at the chapel, hailed from England and often preached on the second Sunday of the chapel season. Each year he treated the congregation to a verse of Guide me O thou Great Jehovah sung in Welsh. This tune is not in the chapel hymnal but the English words are, set to an older, less familiar tune. It is one of nine hymns for Light and Guidance. The text was written originally in Welsh by poet William Williams in 1745. The tune that Rev. Allen sang was Cwm Rhondda, written by John Hughes in 1907. Hughes named the hymn tune for the Rhondda Valley in Wales.
To make matters even more complicated, the Welsh usually sing this tune with yet another set of Welsh words by Anne Griffiths, another Welsh poet from the 18th century. No matter the language, no matter the text, this hymn tune is spiritually uplifting especially when sung by the contemporary Welsh men’s choir, Only Men Aloud! The text is sung primarily in English but listen carefully and you’ll hear the Welsh in the background.