Most people don’t pay attention to the quiet, reflective filler music played in church. The hushed organ or piano works – ones I call “wallpaper music” – that even music geeks like me usually tune out since they’re as unobtrusive as the wall coverings. (Well, tasteful wall coverings…) So when a few years back an organist chose some wallpaper music for communion that caught my ear, I made a beeline for the organ after the service and found out the music was based on a hymn tune I’d never heard of: Candler.
I went home and scoured my library of hymnals for Candler. It took some digging because Candler, a traditional Scottish folk tune, goes by two other names – Ye Banks and Braes or Bonnie Doon – but I finally found it in an old United Methodist hymnal with the title Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown.
Based on Genesis 32:24-32, the story of Jacob wrestling with God, Charles Wesley penned the text Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown and originally published it under the title Wrestling Jacob. Some scholars believe it’s one of Wesley’s greatest works but some also feel it’s unsuitable for public worship – which may account for its absence in many hymnals.
In the late 1980’s it was John Bell’s hymn writing genius that resurrected Candler – more commonly known now as Ye Banks and Braes – in hymnals. The same way he took the ribald Scottish tune Kelvingrove and gave us The Summons (Will You Come and Follow Me), he took Candler (Ye Banks and Braes) and gave us We Cannot Measure How You Heal – a moving hymn of peace, healing, and hope.
I didn’t learn of Bell’s beautiful text until after I wrote my piano arrangement of Candler, so I based my arrangement’s style on Wesley’s Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown. Echoing the story of Jacob wrestling with God, I gave my arrangement a lot of movement – you can almost hear flailing limbs and kicked up dust in the music. Had I known about Bell’s more peaceful text, this arrangement would likely have turned out quite differently. Nevertheless, it’s a breezy, short and sweet arrangement with a couple of simple but showy runs to remind players why it really is fun to be a pianist. Enjoy!