- Singing the Faith: 247 (CD10 #23)
- Sydney Carter
- “Lord of the dance” Trad Shaker adapted Sydney Carter arr Paul Leddington Wright
Ideas for use
It can be effective if verse 4 is sung slowly, perhaps accelerating the speed again for the final two lines ("but I am the Dance / and I still go on").
See also: Hymns to build worship around. (#4 "Re-telling the story")
"I danced in the morning" (often referred to as “The Lord of the Dance”) is perhaps the hymn for which Sydney Carter is most well known, though he wrote two other favourite hymns included in Singing the Faith – “When I needed a neighbour” (StF 256) and “One more step along the world I go” (StF476). Other hymns by him include “Said Judas to Mary”, “Every star shall sing a carol”, and the controversial “Friday morning” (an angry-ironic take on the story of Jesus’ crucifixion).
Sydney carter wrote “The Lord of the Dance” in 1963, using the Shaker melody associated with Joseph Brackett’s song, “Simple Gifts”:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
In Carter’s hands, the original melody took on a strong folk-style character, influenced by the 1960s folk revival in America and the UK. Sydney Carter knew many of the people involved in the movement – including Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, a close friend.
He said about the song: "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord ... Anyway, it's the sort of Christianity I believe in." In the collection of his work, Green Print for Song (1974), he explained further:
"I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus. Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did. The Shakers didn't.”
Sydney Carter’s son, Michael, recalls that “Lord of the Dance” was sung at his father’s funeral – “and I think there was not a non-smiling face in the house. It was a great celebration of his life. It was as far removed from most funerals as a funeral can be, and I think he would have been very proud of it”. (Soul Music, BBC Radio 4, 12 March 2011)
Also see More about the metaphor (#3 in our series about Jesus' ministry as reflected in hymns).
Sydney Carter was born on 6 May 1915 in Camden Town, London, and died on 13 March 2004. (See his obituary in The Guardian). He became a committed pacifist, as did his friend, the musician Donald Swann, for whose revues and musicals Carter wrote lyrics during the 1950s. His song, “Last Cigarette”, on failing to give up smoking, was performed the actress Sheila Hancock.