Fred Kaan (1929-2009)
Stainer & Bell mourn the death of Fred Kaan, lifelong ambassador for peace and justice, and an outstanding 20th-century hymn-writer whose bold use of language and subject-matter revitalised traditional hymnody with new force and urgency. A minister of the United Reformed Church in Britain, Fred passed away in the early hours of Sunday 4 October 2009.
Fred Kaan was born in a terraced house in Voorhelmstraat, a treeless street in the North Holland city of Haarlem on 27 July 1929. The years of early adolescence coincided with the Nazi occupation of Holland. His father was a member of the Dutch Resistance, and for two years the Kaans sheltered a Jewish woman in their home, and later gave refuge to an escaped political prisoner.
In 1952, having offered himself for the Congregational ministry, he left Holland and entered the Western College, Bristol, graduating at Bristol University in 1954. After a postgraduate year which included sociology and pastoral studies, Fred was called to be minister of Windsor Road Congregational Church in Barry, South Wales and ordained in 1955.
Moving to Pilgrim Church in Plymouth in 1963, Fred began work on a home made hymn supplement entitled Pilgrim Praise. Fred's hymn writing was born of necessity, out of the frustration of not finding what he wanted in the established hymnbook for next Sunday's worship, and out of eagerness to put into words those things which were close to his heart and conscience.
Fred received the call to office of the Minister-Secretary of the International Congregational Council in Geneva in 1968, a post he held until 1970 when he became an executive secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. His period in Geneva involved many other roles including staff member of the World Council of Churches working on Cantate Domino - the international and ecumenical hymnal.
A decade of work based in Switzerland ended in 1978 when Fred was appointed as Moderator of the West Midlands Province of the United Reformed Church. Characteristically refusing to renew this appointment in 1985, as a gesture against 'hierarchical thinking' within the Church, he subsequently became team minister of the Central (Ecumenical) Church, Swindon, and minister of Penhill United Reformed Church.
From 1993-7, Fred combined his busy life of travel and public speaking with the role of Secretary of the Churches' Human Rights Forum. The internationalism that was so central to Dr Kaan's ministry over the years also characterised his family life. His first wife, Elly Steller (1928-93), was born in Indonesia of German and Dutch missionary parents. His elder son is married to a Swede; his younger son married a Hungarian and his daughter an Englishman.
Latterly, Fred and his wife Anthea Cooke, moved to the Lake District. ' The view from the lounge and study is stunning, with mountains all around', writes Fred on his faithful typewriter. Anthea is the local GP, but her first appointment was at a Church of South India hospital in Madras. Between them the Kaans had a command of nine different languages (not counting Latin, Greek and Hebrew).
With such a background it is hardly surprising that the editor of the United Methodist Hymnal, Carlton Young has written of The Only Earth We Know 'Fred's hymns invariably have social justice at their centre. They are cries, laments and prophecies born in the Church's struggle to be faithful to the gospel . . . I commend his newest collection of hymns to readers and singers young and old.'
the Nations: Fred Kaan - The Man and his Hymns
Earth We Know
Included in the volume is the text for Magnificat for a New Millennium, a major cantata with music by Knut Nystedt, commissioned for EXPO 2000, the World Exhibition in Hanover, Germany.
Many of the hymns in The Only Earth We Know have been revised in the light of insights gained from inclusive language. The volume also contains a rich diversity of familiar and specially-written settings, by a range of composers including Peter Churchill, Maggie Hamilton, Ron Klusmeier, Doreen Potter, Pamela Ward and Carlton R. Young.
Songs & Hymns from
Break Not the Circle Twenty
Kaan texts set by Doreen Potter
The Hymn Texts of Fred Kaan
Pilgrim Praise Seventy hymns texts by Fred Kaan set