Sunday's Lament

Quite a few people have asked me where the lament came from that I sang on Sunday. The answer is the it really comes from the New World being a William Billings composition.

Well, that’s where it is from. I was singing my own internal recollection of hearing it on the Waterson’s album Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy, which I’ve not heard for a very long time. I also remember it being sung by English folkies in English folky pubs. Looking online offers this written score and there is a choral version here. There is a recording of it jazzed up a bit by The Good Players, several “authentic” hand rolled shape note versions, such as this one and also a rather good version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. An arrangement sung by Napa Chamber Choir also struck me as being particularly memorable.

Notwithstanding all those, I think I prefer it for solo voice.

I think I’ve done it before, but can’t remember where. It might have been at morning prayer a couple of years ago or it might have been in Bridge of Allan. Guaranteed liturgical show-stopper and a reminder that we have almost lost the power to lament. Modern funerals are so often bereft of controlled lamentation.

To our great loss.


  1. As I read that lament on Sunday, I was singing inside my head the wonderful Tomkins’ setting of the lament. As an alto, I could be accused of bias – the suspensions between the two alto parts are hair-raising in their beauty – but to me nothing can match it. You can hear it here

  2. RosemaryHannah says

    Oh dear me, yes. Let’s all wear pink and have a celebration.

    Your video camera however does not let one get anything like the quality of the voice in space experience of last Sunday. And I write as one not musical.

  3. RosemaryHannah says

    I think, too, it always would work best for a single male voice, because it is so heavily tied to a single male figure. It is superb writing, superbly put to music.

    I don’t want to ‘dis’ your only-too-correct comments on the space between our understanding and that of the Iron age. But I think that two things may offer a little light on how and why we read the succession narrative.

    The first is that it is an outstanding piece of writing by any standards at all. The terrible attempt by the lectionary to cut it on Sunday just pointed that up (not the first time I’ve wondered what the editors of it thought they were doing). Good story has its own power.

    Secondly, one has to ask who commissioned this account and why. I think the answer has to be Solomon’s court, as ’twere – thus not only does one have to explain why Solomon succeeded one also has to paint a very flawed but still in some ways great David. A man one might be glad to have as a father, and a man who it would be possible to offer a better alternative to. The last King, if a relative, should neither be too good or too bad. QED.

  4. Oh my word! Why have I never heard this before? It is glorious and I am in love with it. There is absolutely nothing like a good lament. Dido’s Lament had better look out.

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