Most people don’t pay attention to the quiet filler music played in church. The hushed organ or piano works – ones I call “wallpaper music” – that even music geeks like me tune out since they’re as unobtrusive as wall coverings. So when some wallpaper music caught my ear one Sunday morning, I made a beeline for the organist after the service to discover the name of the hymn tune: Candler.
I went home and scoured my library of hymnals for Candler. It took some digging because Candler, a 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 hymn 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 titled it 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.
Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
whom still I hold, but cannot see;
my company before is gone,
and I am left alone with thee;
with thee all night I mean to stay,
and wrestle till the break of day.
In the late 1980’s, John Bell’s hymn writing genius resurrected Candler – commonly known in hymnals now as Ye Banks and Braes. Just as 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 may have turned out 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!