Several years ago, someone from the New Harp of Columbia singing community said that the song “
When I read that, I immediately thought of "Idumea" (
The tune is one of the Appalachian arched-melody minor tunes that sound like they came directly from some Celtic tribe. The tune fits so well that it could have been written specifically for Charles Wesley’s words. (Charlie Wesley, we call him.) The words are both existentialist and apocalyptic at the same time and call up something deep and terrified in me every time I sing it. The phrase “What will become of me?” is especially moving. In fact it is rhetorical and answered by the next phrase, but when I sing it I don’t care, I take it as it stands. The phrase at the end, “To see the flaming skies”, is also terrifying. I think it is not good to do the repeat there, you should be left shaken after singing it once!
This tune also calls up memories for me.
It was used effectively at the beginning of Cold Mountain, accompanying pictures of the Battle of the Crater, one of the most horrible battles fought anywhere in the nineteenth century.
It was used in a play produced in
Even more moving was the time at the very end of one of the Midwest Conventions, on Sunday afternoon in Ida Noyes Hall, when Jane and I and our friend Andrea stood in the back of the hall as everyone sang Idumea as it was led by Chandler York and two of his brothers, facing three different directions and getting us to sing as I rarely remember singing before. Idumea will have these meanings for me for the rest of my life. (I also remember that when
More about Idumea
[Originally published on
Many people on the Fasola Discussions list gave me other pronunciations of "Idumea" that they had heard, including many in which the first syllable had a short i, sounding like "id". Another southern pronunciation, found by Dick and Val Dunagan is "Ida May", and they said there is a town in
In classical Julius Caesar type Latin, "Idumaea" would have been pronounced "eed-oo-MY-ah". In what is called "Church Latin", it is pronounced as "eed-oo-MAY-ah".
Church Latin is the pronunciation used by most American church choirs. It is really "Italian Latin", Latin pronounced more or less as if it were Italian. In German speaking countries it is pronounced as if it were German, for example in Bach cantatas, and similarly for other European countries.