Light of the World – Lyrics: Paul Wigmore (1925-2014), Music: John Dankworth (1927-2010)

This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of our parish magazine.

This beautiful melody had slipped completely from my memory until I saw the phrase ‘Light of the World’ in “Walking Backwards to Christmas”, the text used by the Advent group in December 2015. The tune was back with me immediately, although I had to remind myself of the words by looking them up later. Imagine my surprise when, only ten days later, the Halle Children’s Choir sang this song at the Halle Christmas Carol Concert in the Bridgewater Hall. I had planned to write about the various settings of the Nunc Dimittis, or Song of Simeon, for the February magazine, but that’ll have to wait until next year. This music was speaking to me!

I think St Margaret’s choir first sang this way back in 2008. As might be expected from a Wigmore/Dankworth collaboration, the words are contemporary and the music has a gentle, yet jazzy feel. The first chorus was usually given to Sarah Ogden as a solo, with everyone else joining for the verse and chorus reprise. We sang it for candlemas 2008 and 2009, and again in 2010 when John Dankworth died.

Deceptively simple, the words are deeply moving:

  • Light beyond shadow, joy beyond tears,
  • Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
  • Deeper the peace when the storm is around,
  • Dearer the Christ to the lost who is found.

 

  • Light of the world, Jesus shining!
  • Sins of the world, see Him dying!
  • In our darkness, He is light, in our crying, He is love,
  • In the noise of life imparting peace that passes understanding;
  • Light beyond shadow, joy beyond tears,
  • Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
  • Deeper the peace when the storm is around,
  • Dearer the Christ to the lost who is found.

The message is clear. Jesus is the Light of the world, there to lighten our darkness, bringing peace to our own personal and private storms, and love to our times of sadness. Above all, he never stops looking for – and finding us – his lost sheep.

The music complements this by also sounding more simple than it really is. There are awkward key changes and rolling broken chords for the pianist, and the singers need well developed breathing support to sustain through the very long musical phrases.

The song is truly beautiful, and you can listen to a recoding of it here: http://saturdaychorale.com/2015/10/06/john-dankworth-1927-2010-light-of-the-world/

Enjoy your candlemas, and allow Jesus to light up your world.

Carol P


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