Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Abide with Me by John H. Parker and Paul Seawright (review)

Abide with Me: A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns by John H. Parker
Photographs by Paul Seawright
Book and CD
Copyright 2009
New Leaf Press - History/Photography
112 pages, incl. bibliography and photo index

The subtitle of Abide with Me pretty much says it all: "A photographic journey through great British hymns." Author John Parker and photographer Paul Seawright traveled around Great Britain and Wales seeking out the origins of well-known hymns and their composers. Abide with Me is packed with beautiful photos of churches, graveyards, villages, home interiors and scenery. Each chapter describes a particular writer and how he or she entered the world of hymn writing, what they did for a living (not all were ministers), how they were influenced by their contemporaries, families, and surroundings.

I was particularly fascinated to find that ministers often wrote songs to accompany their sermons, keeping the verses in line with their theme for the day and, in the process, often becoming prolific songwriters.

Abide with Me is slender but it's coffee-table quality. It comes with a CD of hymns, which were recorded in a form as close to the original as possible. The music is rich and lovely. It's a very relaxing CD to listen to -- so much so that I've never made it to the end. I get nice and sleepy and turn it off. I've listened to the majority of the songs, though, and they're sung a cappella by, I believe, two separate choral groups, although I don't have the CD handy to check that tidbit.

I have a few minor complaints about the book. The photographs aren't captioned; instead there's an index of photographs in the back of the book. I hate flipping back and forth, so that annoyed me. Also, the text and photographs don't match as well as I'd hoped. For example, when the author describes a Norman tower overlooking the graveyard where a songwriter/minister is buried or speaks of a glorious stained-glass window that depicts the subject's life, I expect to see photographs of whatever is discussed on that page. The text usually only takes up 1/2 to 1/4 of each page and there's often one large photo with three more inset, so laying out the photos to closely align with the text could have been easily accomplished. Instead, you may end up looking at some building that exists in the town where a minister lived and end up having to flip to the back of the book to see if the Norman tower is in the book at all.

Minor complaints aside, I thought the bios were fascinating and I enjoyed reading about the author's and photographer's experiences with people who kindly gave tours of various buildings and helped to bring historical reference points to life. Amazon sells the book with its accompanying CD for a mere $14.99. At that price and given the quality of the music and photographs, it's a great bargain and would be excellent for gift-giving.

4/5 - Very good. Lovely photos, interesting text, fantastic music. On-page identification of photos and a layout that made relevant photos fit the text a little closer would have made the book even better.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this! My dad loves hymns; I'm adding it to my list of gift ideas for him.

  2. That's so beautiful! And I like the concept too, of documenting the story behind the song.

  3. It looks beautiful. I can see how having the photo captions at the back must be annoying. Reading a few "coffee-table" type books myself right now, and I'm glad they don't do that!

  4. Bummer about the layout. still sounds like a great book!

  5. Carrie,

    If he loves hymns, I'm certain he'll enjoy this book. The CD is awesome. :)


    Isn't it a great idea? I really enjoyed reading the bios and imagining those people bustling around in ancient rooms. :)


    I've never liked a separate index for photos or artwork, but I learned a lot and loved the photos so it didn't detract too much from the experience. :)


    It is. You'd love it. :)

  6. The photos look beautiful, but I think having to look them up and not having the photo match the text on the page would drive me a little crazy too.

  7. Alyce,

    Maybe it comes of being a little bit of a perfectionist, but yeah . . . that did drive me bonkers. I still loved the book, though, and the music is absolutely awesome.

  8. I love that hymn, the books sounds fabulous! With a CD too? So getting it.

  9. Carrie,

    Abide with Me is one of my favorites, too. Yep, with a CD. It's well worth the price.


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