Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Joyce Hooper

Letter No.: 
31st October, 1951.

The White Gates,
Dorking, Surrey.

Dear Mrs. Hooper,1

I am amazed to hear that some members of your choir have taken exception to the beautiful words of Holst’s “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day”, apparently on the grounds firstly that dancing and religion are something apart and consequently secondly that it is wrong to use the words “This I have done for my true love” in connection with a statement of the central doctrines of Christianity.
I had hoped that the killjoy and lugubrious view of religion which once obtained was now happily dead, but I fear there are still some people who have a degraded view of the dance and connect it only with high kicking and jazz, but the dance in it’s highest manifestations shares with music, poetry and painting, one of the greatest means of expression of the very highest of human aspirations. The dance has always been connected with religious fervour - that is, orderly and rhythmical movement surcharged with emotion.
What are the great Church ceremonies but a sublimation of the dance? What about the 150th Psalm, “Praise Him with the timbrel and dances”? Surely Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” is full of the highest religious fervour and he makes Mr. Ready-to-Halt celebrate his deliverance by dancing.
One of the most beautiful books of the Apocrypha, the Gospel of Niccodemus, contains in “The Hymn of Jesus” an apotheosis of the dance, “divine grace is dancing, dance ye therefore.”
As regards my other point, human love has always been taken as a symbol of man’s relationship to divine things. The Song of Solomon has been treated in all the Churches as a symbol of the relationship of God to man. And what about Isaiah and his “beloved’s Vineyard”? And is not the Church in the Book of Revelations always symbolised as the bride?
Let me conclude with a practical suggestion. I should advise all those who do not feel themselves worthy to sing the beautiful words of this carol, to vocalise, and to leave the words to those singers who have not this inhibition. But if they do this they will miss a great spiritual experience.2
Yours sincerely,

R. Vaughan Williams.

Mrs. Hooper
18, Ridgway Road,
Redhill, Surrey.

1.  Joyce Hooper was at this time conductor of the Dorking Oriana Choir, one of the participants in the Leith Hill Musical Festival.
2.  The work was performed on 2 May 1952.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Ms Mus. 160, ff.90-91
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed.

Cobbe 567; Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, pp.315-316; Journal of the RVW Society, no.27 (June, 2003), p.25 (facsimile)
Original database number: