Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tacky Hymns 66

Here we're making a mad dash to complete a survey of the hymn selections in the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod's Christian Worship: Supplement of 2008. Let me re-emphasize that I'm only planning to draw attention to two things: (1) Hymns whose selection for American Lutheran congregations to sing in worship is an error in judgment, in my opinion (which, if I may say so, is pretty well informed) – whether this is due to musical difficulty, questionable doctrine, poetic or musical misfires, cultural miscues or strong associations with a faith tradition that breathes a different spirit than Lutheranism; and (2) Really good hymns, new to me, that I appreciate having brought to my attention.

So, being listed below (as opposed to skipped over without comment) is not necessarily an accusation of tackiness. I'm trying to mix some positive criticism with the negative, here. Also, being passed over without comment may sometimes mean that I previously panned a hymn only because of the tune paired with it, and I didn't feel it was worth going over every tiny quibble again. Feel free to leave a well-behaved comment, but please read what I actually said first and give me credit for sincerely believing that it bears saying. And now, on with the second half of the book!

(745) May the peace of God (our heavenly Father) is a CoWo setting by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend of 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philippians 4:7, two biblical blessings that are customarily used during liturgical worship. The exact wording of the verses is altered and expanded a bit, and there's a refrain with all-purpose praise language ("from the depths of earth to the heights of heav'n, we declare the name of the Lamb once slain," etc.) Like other Getty-Townend pieces I have reviewed before, I think the lyrics are all right; but I don't think this song is necessary, given that the nut of it is spoken aloud by the minister, very briefly, at regular worship services, and because a move toward irregular worship is not something I want to encourage.

(746) You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd is a hymn by Sylvia Dunstan (d. 1993) focusing on the dualities and paradoxes surrounding Christ, and set to the haunting melody PICARDY (which you may know as the tune to "Let all mortal flesh keep silence"). I love this kind of hymn, contrasting Jesus' power with his meekness, his glory with his humility, his richness with his poverty, his defeat and his victory, etc. I bring this hymn up, first, because I want to remember to introduce it to some people I know, but secondly, because I find the varied refrain that concludes each stanza a little odd in a couple instances; at least, the wording raises questions and may require some discussion to arrive at a proper understanding of what it means, or what we want it to mean. The repeated phrase "You, the everlasting instant" is quite striking and stimulates thought. The follow-up, different for each stanza, includes "You, whom we both scorn and crave" (let's agree that we don't scorn him now) and "You, who are both gift and cost" (by which, I hope, Dunstan meant that in Christ, God offered what God's justice demanded – certainly a difficult idea to squeeze into one line).

(747) There is a Redeemer is by Melody Green, written in the 1980s but sounding like something written a century earlier. It's got a hushed, expressive, choir anthem quality to it, although singing it might be within the congregation's ability. I just think its message is a little lightweight and generalized – more broad than deep – and that the time expended on it could be devoted to something more richly edifying. I can see where some people's preference would swing the other way. But that's the streak of pious sentimentality in the church that I've been wired, since as far back as I can remember, to struggle against.

(748) Lamb of God (first line: "Your only son, no sin to hide") is one that I've criticized before.

(749) The love of Christ, who died for me is a fine hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith that applies Christ's redeeming work to the individual, and doesn't hold back about the seriousness of sin. So, this is one to discuss with friends, with an eye toward introducing it in our circles.

(751) Word of God, when all was silent is another new-to-me hymn by Herman Stuempfle that pretty effectively covers the person and work of Christ, and I think it's lovely. I have to hand it to the editors of CWS, they keep choosing excellent, and in my experience unsung, hymns by this particular hymn writer, whose work I have often panned.

(752) In Christ alone (my hope is found) is one that I've already discussed.

(753) Father, God of grace, you knew us is by Paul Eickmann (d. 2006). It's a good "justification" hymn that shows signs, especially in stanzas 4-6, of having been used sometime as a WELS rallying cry. Not that I'd hold that against it. Again, I'd be willing to try to introduce this to Lutherans outside the Wisconsin Synod – especially in these days when the doctrine of objective justification is under attack.

(755) Your kingdom, O God (is my glorious treasure) is one that I've dinged before.

(757) Where your treasure is (there your heart shall be), based on Luke 12:22-34, is a song by Marty Haugen with an assist from Michael Schultz, from Haugen's patented corner of CoWo that straddles the line between pop music and art song. It spreads across three pages, with a five-bar piano intro, a refrain that occupies most of two pages, some tricky pop-music rhythms, and accompaniment that does not always double the melody (see particularly the last phrase of the verses). All of this will likely relegate it to a soloist or rehearsed group.

(758) Blest are they is one that I've already done.

(759) Do not let your hearts be troubled is, like 758, by David Haas and spreads across three pages. The lyrics are based on Jesus' preaching in John 14. It's another song whose refrain is scored for choir on two staves above the piano part, and whose verses are scored as a single melodic line on a separate staff above the piano part, which does not double the melody. The rhythm is tricky and metrically irregular (i.e. the rhythm changes from one verse to the next). So, again, lest I fail to make my point, it's a choir piece.

(760) When peace like a river (refrain: "It is well with my soul") is one that I've done before.

(761) Christ is with me (first line: "We were buried with him into death") is by the same Gerald Patrick Coleman who wrote "The Lamb." First off, I want to pick a nit with the layout of the refrain, which drops an optional harmony part on a separate staff above the melody line – even though the harmony line runs under the melody, savvy? This is just poor scoring practice and makes the piece tricky to read. Coleman's text is good content-wise, and what it lacks in high-toned poetic style ("One who loved me so – gave himself for me") it makes up in uncluttered directness. I also like Coleman's tune in this piece (better than "The Lamb," anyway) and appreciate its rhythmic daring, but I think it may require a rehearsed group to do it justice. I might introduce this to my church choir, though.

(765) Day by day (your mercies, Lord, attend me) is one that I've touched on before.

(771) I want to walk as a child of the light is one that I've covered before.

(773) How good it is and how pleasant is a three-pager by James Chepponis, with a refrain based on Psalm 133:1 and three stanzas paraphrased from Paul's epistles, exhorting the church to unity and peace. Hearing it sung at them might be good therapy for contentious parishioners. But with a four-bar piano intro, a descant (added to the chorus after verses 2 and 3) and some metrical irregularity, it will have to be sung at them for sure. Either that or you'll have to teach it to the congregation and make them sing it on a regular basis, like some of the through-composed canticles in our most recent hymnals.

(775) For builders bold whose vision pure is a Herman Stuempfle hymn set to the Irish traditional tune FLIGHT OF THE EARLS, which I've never heard before and that I find perfectly lovely. At the same time, however, I think it's a strong example of the case Thomas Day made in his book Why Catholics Can't Sing, which cited the difficulty of Irish melodies as one reason certain congregations do not sing very strongly. Stuempfle's text gives thanks for the faithful saints before us who built the church founded on Christ, prays that we would contribute to its future growth, and honors God for generating all that growth through word and sacrament. My only fear is that certain churchmen will glom onto phrases like "brick or stone" and "soaring spire" to hijack this hymn into the service of a building program.

(777) Now let us all in hymns of praise is a Fred Pratt Green hymn set to a tune called OPEN DOOR by Roy Hopp, who makes a virtue of parallel perfect fifths by putting in so many of them that they can't be an accident. I have a very slight concern with this hymn – toward the end of stanza 2, where the message the church must proclaim (FPG says) is that "God's house (is) an open house, and Christ the open door." That wasn't how I expected the burden of the church's message throughout time to be described, and the suspicious streak in me (which you'll have heard about by now) wonders exactly what axe FPG is grinding here.

(779) I sing as I arise today is an excerpt from the hymn popularly known as St. Patrick's Breastplate, here attributed to "Anon." and joined to a couple of stanzas by Michael Schultz (cf. Hymn 757), and set to the fine tune ROCKINGHAM OLD. I notice that the lines Schultz adds to the hymn (particularly in stanza 3) subtly shift focus away from God's power and what He is doing for me and toward my worship and works. With the right understanding of worship in response to God's gifts I can let this pass. I just thought it was an interesting shift and wonder how many other people will notice it.

(780) Stay with us (till night has come), a Herbert Brokering hymn, is another one that I've discussed before.

(783) Stay with us, Lord, the sun descends is, by contrast, a nice Herman Stuempfle piece that (as the blurb the editors added below the hymn points out) echoes the Emmaus disciples' plea to the risen Jesus. This might be a good one to pass around outside WELS circles, too.

(784) O gracious Lord, with love draw near is one of several Stephen Starke hymns in this book, and I mention this confirmation hymn chiefly because it's new to me. We could use more good confirmation hymns! Worth noting, the music's two-page layout includes a descant for verses 4 and 6.

(785) O Lord of nations is a hymn of thanksgiving and prayer for the nation by Laurie Gauger, set to Joseph Herl's tune KIRKWOOD. If only I could persuade my church's musical leadership to introduce this hymn instead of "God bless America" on the next occasion in which patriotism is wedded to worship.

(786) The Song of Moses (first line: "The Lord is our strength") is Keith Wessel's paraphrase of Exodus 15, set to music by Lynn Petersen. Rather unusually for this book, the pew edition only displays the melody and a melodic cue for the two-bar intro; I guess you have to buy the accompanist's edition to hear how it sounds all put together. Unlike the Jeffrey Blersch version that I discussed here, this is a through-composed canticle-type setting, as are (787) A Canticle to the Lamb ("To the One who sits on the throne," lyrics based on Revelation 4 and 5, music by Ronald Shilling) and (788) Thanks be to God! (refrain from 1 Corinthians 15:57, verses from Revelation 7 and music by Kermit Moldenhauer). So, as this book's hymn selection comes to a close, we've kind of strayed back into liturgical canticles about which all I can say is that teaching them to the congregation is a noble (and challenging) undertaking for which I hope you can count on the choir's cooperation. It would be nice to be able to assume that you can (count on them, that is), and it seems only reasonable to expect, but experience unfortunately teaches otherwise.

So that's it for the WELS's second hymnal supplement since their 1993 hymnal Christian Worship. I'm itching all over to see what's in store for us in their upcoming new hymnal. When I do, you can be certain I'll let you know what I think of it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tacky Hymns 65

It took me a lot of posts to get through the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's 1999 hymnal supplement Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook (LAPPY), partly because I decided early on that book was of a nature and character that cried out to be analyzed in detail. Its apparent and stated mission, crudely paraphrased, was to open WELS worship to a wider range of musical styles – mainly of the Contemporary Worship persuasion – which, I contend, is a poor replacement for historic Lutheranism's rich heritage of teaching, encouraging, edifying hymnody. CoWo doesn't provide the same nourishment, doesn't uphold and defend the same doctrine, doesn't promote the same spirituality and, in my opinion, has the potential to dilute Lutheran identity out of all semblance. Argue with me in the comments if you will, but please give me credit for backing up my snarky witticisms with a sincere belief that somebody needs to say this and, since I have nothing in particular to lose by saying it, why not I?

Now, however, we turn to the Wisconsin Synod's second hymnal supplement since their 1993 Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (CW): namely, Christian Worship: Supplement, 2008. This book is more like a miniature hymnal than LAPPY, with orders of public worship and private meditation, chant settings of several psalms, a three-year lectionary and 88 hymns, numbered 701 to 788. This time, my intent is to skip over lots of the hymns without any comment (because I'm guessing that relatively good ones predominate) and just focus on the songs that really disgust me.

But remember, my nausea isn't triggered by a mere personal preference for some musical styles over others. I'm looking at what makes sense in the context of hymns intended for an American Lutheran congregation to sing – in terms of difficulty level, artistic quality, the meaning and doctrinal content of the words, the cultural associations of the tunes, and the point where my experiences as a pastor, an organist, a choir director and accompanist, a composer and a hymn writer lead me to draw a broad, semi-permeable line between a legit desire to stretch the laity's range or repertoire and an exercise in the absurd. Also, now and then I'll award a "zero tacks" mention to something I want to introduce to my church choir. So, here goes:

(702) Prepare the royal highway gets zero tacks. I'm just interested in sharing the descant from this setting with my church's choir.

(703) My soul in stillness waits – Marty Haugen's setting of the Advent season "O Antiphons" – requires either a choir, or a congregation whose pastoral and musical leadership have agreed to expend considerable effort teaching this style of psalmody (or, in this case, liturgical texts) to the laypeople. I've been involved in such congregations in the past, but not always.

(707) Peace came to earth is one that I've done before, though this book pairs the text with a different tune than Evangelical Lutheran Worship does.

(709) Christ, your footprints through the desert is a baptism (first of Jesus, then generally) hymn by Herman Stuempfle, to whose works I have sometimes taken exception. I take none in this instance (zero tacks!) and welcome this addition to the lately flourishing literature of hymns for the Baptism of our Lord.

(712) Jesus, take us to the mountain is one on which I commented in a lukewarm manner during my tour of LAPPY. The only additional thing to note, here, is that a fifth-stanza descant has been added, which might put a little of that Transfiguration sparkle back into it that I previously felt Carl Schalk's tune SILVER SPRING lacked.

(714) The Lamb is a beast I have already wrestled with.

(715) What grace is this! (My Lord and King) is a beautiful Passion hymn by Laurie Gauger, set to a gentle tune written for it by G.A. Henning. I'm affected by the tenderness of Henning's music, but I don't think it's strong enough to lead the congregation's singing effectively. There's a reason chorales are written the way they are; sometimes you have to see the alternative to understand it. With an alternate tune, I think this could be a more successful Lenten hymn. As it is, it's going to be a solo or maybe choir-in-unison piece, and even that could be improved by a pianist who can improvise. Now that I've thought of it, I might sing this as a solo next Lent, with extra piano riffs volunteered by yours truly.

(716) No tramp of soldiers' marching feet (zero tacks) deserves comment because, instead of the English traditional tune KINGSFOLD that comes to mind with this hymn, CWS pairs it with a tune written for it by one David W. Music. (Great name!) For what it's worth, Music's tune is a little more conventional sounding to the modern ear, so it might be a bit easier to learn; but I don't want to discourage anyone from joining the multitude of souls who know and love KINGSFOLD!

(717) When you woke that Thursday morning (zero tacks) also replaces the tune to which I first came to know the hymn (taken from Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer) with one apparently written for it by David Schack. When I previously commented on it, I opined that a change of tune might improve it. Personally, I think the difference Schack's tune makes is "six of one, half dozen of the other."

(718) Rest, O Christ, from all your labor (zero tacks) is another Stuempfle hymn, new to me, set to a magnificent chorale (O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN). Not the hymn's fault, but I think the book misfiles it under Good Friday when it's more of a Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil hymn, focusing on Jesus' rest in the tomb. I'm very impressed. In fact, I want to hear somebody (congregation? choir?) sing this at my church's next Easter Vigil.

(720) Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands is Luther's easter hymn, set to a new tune by Kermit Moldenhauer instead of the chorale that has always been paired with it, across Lutheran time and space. I stand behind CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN and encourage every Lutheran congregation's musical leadership to take their lumps for it and undertake any effort necessary to install it in the laypeople's firmware. This is no time to be creating a new division among Lutherans (and I've witnessed plenty of situations, thank you, where a preference between alternate tunes for the same hymn did so). The note at the bottom of this hymn, indicating that the new tune has been brought forth in hope of reviving the hymn for modern-day use in the church, betrays an attitude of giving up on something that, in my opinion, belongs to the richness of Lutheranism's hymnal heritage.

(723) Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven is one about which I've already had my say out.

(725) The God of love is a nice Kenneth Kosche hymn about angels to which I'm awarding zero tacks. I'm just mentioning it because it's new to me and might be worth discussing with the choir, the Sunday School teachers, the pastor, etc., when next we're planning a St. Michael and All Angels service.

(727) There is a higher throne is a long, easy-listening Christian pop song by Keith and Kristyn Getty that weirdly depicts Judgment Day in blandly sentimental hues. It's about as far from the Dies irae of Verdi's Requiem as you can get. Not that I'm advocating for performing the Verdi in church. But Verdi, I think, did a better job of dramatizing the thunder of the "thund'rous anthem" to which this song's refrain alludes. As a prayer of hope looking toward the end times, I think the lyrics are fine. But I believe the hymn would be improved (and more likely to play as a congregational hymn rather than a choir or soloist number) if the tune were replaced with something more traditionally hymnlike.

(728) Jerusalem the golden, words by the 12th century abbot Bernard of Cluny, is set in this book to Gustav Holst's THAXTED – against the churchly use of which (the tune, mind you) I argued here. It's an issue on which my opinion is decidedly (albeit passionately) in the minority. But I'd better move on before I get warmed up on it again.

(729) There is a blessed home is a hymn by Henry W. Baker about which I've commented somewhat favorably in the past. I think John Stainer's tune BLESSED HOME, written for it in the 19th century, is better than John Reim's ARIC (copyright 2002) used here to a more old-timey, sentimental effect. The fact that this effect is achieved with a relatively recent composition suggests that the hymnal editors were reaching for it, which is a mark against them in my books.

(730) Blessed are they (which are called) is a setting of Luke 23:42 and texts from Revelation, adapted and set to music by Larry Fleming (d. 2003). The refrain includes the words "Blessed are they which are called" repeated three times, concluding with "to the marriage feast of the lamb" – a delayed resolution that, at least the first time, makes me want to stamp my foot with impatience and demand to know, "Called what?" The refrain also has a descant that repeats, once in full and then in part, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The five stanzas go into more depth about the benefits of attending the Lamb's marriage feast. The word "thund'rous" makes a repeat appearance, this time with an -ly adverb ending. I make no objection to its contents, except that it keeps going back to a refrain (well, only after verses 2, 4 and 5; following the score's road map might be a little tricky for parishioners). And the refrain, I'm sorry, kind of bores me. Also, the music kind of bores me. If something could be done to unboring it, it might be OK.

(731) We are singing (for the Lord is our light) is a Hal Hopson choir piece, spread out over three whole pages, with words and music based in part (!) on the South African Freedom Song mingled with a paraphrase of Psalm 27. I had to turn a page to see this credit line, which explained (I felt) why all those parallel perfect fifths made it into print – they're there by design to support the impression that we're singing a Zulu hymn. But with a nearly two-page-long refrain, a musical arrangement that depends heavily on the piano accompaniment (including two bars of introduction) and some tricky rhythms, I think this will only be a choir piece in U.S. Lutheranism.

(733) Rejoice in God (Let trumpets sound) is a Timothy Dudley-Smith hymn set to a lovely modern-art hymn tune called MT. GRETNA by K. Lee Scott. Like a lot of beautiful modern tunes, however, I have some doubts about how successfully it will be introduced to a musically average, conservative congregation. Perhaps with a more conservatively styled tune, it might lift off. Maybe I'll think about writing one – though I hasten to remind myself that the last time I wrote an original hymn tune, the hymn writer found it too modern-sounding for his taste. Maybe somebody will write one. It's a good hymn text, though. Maybe somebody will be me, after all.

(734) When in our music God is glorified is a poem by Fred Pratt Green, which I am loath to call a hymn. It's an argument about church music, with which I would agree point for point Рexcept that I don't think this is a text that should be sung in church. Only the fifth and last stanza really addresses God in praise, as such. Also, of several tunes I have heard put to this text, the one printed here РROBINSON by Nancy Ren̩ Рstrikes me as the least melodically inspired and the most dependent on a clunky piano part. Culturally, artistically, this music clashes with the message F.P.G. is trying to sell here. So, it's not a song I would recommend or try to teach to my congregation or its choir.

(735) Speak, O Lord (as we come to you) is a CoWo number by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, who brought us "In Christ alone my hope is found." Like that song, I don't think this one will succeed as a congregational hymn, but only as a piece for solo or rehearsed group, thanks to tricky rhythms, obligatory piano tags and the general effect of being something folks want to sit back and listen to rather than actively try to sing. Also like "In Christ alone," it's a song whose lyrics I'm embarrassed to admit are on the high end of CoWo quality. If I thought I could get away with writing an honest-to-gosh hymn tune for this text, I'd try it. But I'm not even going to suggest this piece to my church choir, for fear that it will foster a taste for this style of sittin' back and listenin' music.

(736) In hopelessness and near despair is a "recasting" of Luther's penitential masterpiece, "From depths of woe I cry to you," with words by Jaroslav Vajda and music by G.A. Hennig. I think I'd be happier with it if the book had omitted that blurb about recasting Luther's hymn, which is, just as it is, such a powerful musical symbol that even secular musicologists recognize it. I do not agree with the implied project of replacing that stodgy old dinosaur with this nice up-to-date novelty. I think it loses something, or rather several things, ranging from the original tune's text-painting melodic shape at the words "from depths" to Luther's reverently direct language. Vajda's version takes it down a notch, rhyming "am" with "sham" in stanza 1, for example. Simply as a new penitential hymn, however, it's fine.

(740) Draw near is the well-known communion hymn "Draw near and take the body of your Lord," souped up with a completely unnecessary CoWo refrain and music by Steven Janco. Starting with a hymn that used to fit on one page, it now sprawls across three. Plus, its refrain is scored for four-part choir on two staves, supported by two additional staves of piano accompaniment; the verses are scored for unison singing, with a piano part under it that doesn't double the melody. What I'm telling you is: this one-time popular, easy-to-sing congregational hymn is now a choir piece. CoWo guys these days, fixing what ain't broke!

(741) Take and eat is a communion hymn, again sprawling across three pages, with a refrain and music written by no less a CoWo pioneer than "On Eagle's Wings" author Fr. Michael Joncas, combined with six stanzas by Jesuit author James Quinn. The lyrics are all first-person statements in the voice of Jesus (though not in quotes and without attribution or supporting narrative). Many of them are, in fact, Jesus' "I AM" statements from the gospel according to John. In spite of that, and everything it says being true, I'm uncomfortable with this song for several reasons – one being that, in spite of a blurb added by the editors at the end of the hymn connecting it to the Sacrament, and apart from the refrain, this hymn is not really about the Lord's Supper. Adding to my discomfort is the recollection of other modern Roman Catholic hymns about the eucharist that pointedly avoid talking about what it really is. Musically, and I say this almost with relief, it's not something I can see the average congregation being able to handle. It'll be a solo, or maybe a duet, accompanied by piano. (EDIT: I meant to mention that I was also a little suspicious about Joncas' phrasing "given up for you" about Jesus' body and blood. To be clear, Jesus gave them (sacrificially); he didn't abandon them.)

(744) You satisfy the hungry heart is one that I've previously commented on.

Now, what do you know! We're at the halfway mark already! With the blessing, and if CWS minds its Ps and Qs, we might get through this supplement in just one more post!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tacky Hymns 64

Just one more on the 1999 Wisconsin Synod hymnal supplement, Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook. See the previous eight posts under "Tacky Hymns" for background info. It's a longer post than some, but I want to finish with LAPPY so I can move on to a book where I won't feel like saying something about every single song. But on we go...

(270-272) Shine, Jesus, shine (first line: "Lord, the light of your love is shining") is another CoWo song that I previously passed over without really saying anything specific about it. Graham Kendrick's composition was a big Christian pop hit in the late 1980s and by the time I made it to the seminary a decade later, it had become the musical equivalent of the 2009 movie Avatar (or rather, the film became the movie equivalent of the song): something I would cross a busy street, on foot, to avoid having to sit through. I once got in very deep trouble, also at the seminary, for allowing a fellow student's satirical cartoon based on this song to appear on the back page of a long-running annual lampoon publication that I edited to distribute at a campus kegger. One of our profs apparently felt that "burn, Jesus, burn" could be interpreted as blasphemy. Go figure.

Now that I've shed all credibility as a judge of good taste in an ecclesiastical setting, here's why I think it's in bad taste to print this hymn in a Lutheran church songbook: (1) It's the ultimate example of commercial pop music taking its place among pieces of devotional art dedicated to proclaiming the truth. (2) Though the lyrics are not without merit – stanzas 2 and 3 touch on themes of entering God's brightness through Jesus' blood, sanctification, being transformed into Christ's image, etc. – I think many people get swept up in enthusiasm for this song for reasons other than its best points. (3) The long refrain includes such language as "Blaze, Spirit, blaze," which members of certain Lutheran bodies (cough Missouri cough) may still associate with a sometime synodical evangelism campaign that often came across as more of a corporate marketing stunt. (I don't blame Kendrick for this, but it does reflect on the good judgment of those choosing it for Lutheran worship.) But ultimately, this song blasting from the PA system of the church's sacred karaoke system, or its lyrics scrolling on a screen above the heads of the parish rock band, are a symptom of the church's rejection of the predominantly congregation-sung hymnody that played a key role in forming, spreading and preserving the Lutheran reform through many difficult passages. I think that once we let songs like this in, it's just about all over for us.

(273) Soon and very soon is one that I've previously commented on.

(274-275) The snow lay on the ground (refrain: "Venite adoremus Dominum"), a "traditional Christmas carol" with a descant by Leo Sowerby, is one of those pieces that, in one's mind's ear, one hears the choir singing (maybe with a soloist doing the descant). Its arrangement is rather choral; for example, the left-hand piano part seems to have been designed with the choir's bass section in mind. Alternately, you might detect a certain flavor of the type of folk hymn designed to be sung outside of church. Whatever you feel about the music, however, the text has some issues. It's one of those carols that isn't too bothered about telling the Christmas story accurately. Its first line is one of several carrying information not revealed by the biblical account. We don't know that there was snow on the ground when Jesus was born; we don't even know that it was December. We also don't know (stanza 2) that "sheep and oxen shared the room with them" when Mary and Joseph laid the baby Jesus in the manger. Stanza 3 places the angels at the manger scene and puts the words of the refrain in their mouths. I do like stanza 4's bit about the manger becoming a throne, but I think the song's lack of care about staying true to the supporting story undercuts its impressiveness.

(276-277) Softly and tenderly (Jesus is calling) is another one I have done before.

(278-279) Some children see him (lily white) is by Wihla Hutson (words) and Alfred Burt (music). It consists of three double-period stanzas about how children of different races imagine Jesus as looking like themselves (and love him), concluding, "Lay aside each earthly thing, and with your heart as offering, come worship now the infant King. 'Tis love that's born tonight." In my opinion, the duration of this song is an awful long time to spend making a point that, when it's all over, doesn't strike me as requiring that much discussion. Among so many other things to dwell on as themes of a 10-minute-long Christmas hymn – really? This?

(280-281) Somebody's knocking at your door is a setting by the marvelous Richard Proulx of an African-American spiritual, which I think would be an excellent choice for a choir concert. With a refrain and five stanzas (careful, the first refrain is different from all the others – or maybe it's a condensed stanza?) it spends a lot of its run-time repeating that first line – ultimately singing those words 18 times. Most of the residue consists of the short phrases "Knocks like Jesus, Can't you hear him? Answer Jesus. Jesus calls you. Can't you trust him?" – each repeated twice – and "O sinner, why don't you answer?" – which occurs just six times. I detect a whiff of decisionism in this song's interpretation of Revelation 3:20. But mostly, my reason for considering this a tacky choice for Lutheran worship is its slow-drip approach to delivering a minimum of content.

(282-283) Someone special (I know who) is one that I've already done.

(284-285) The Spirit of the Lord (fills all the world) is a CoWo piece by a Jeanne Sittler, arranged with guitar chords and rolling piano accompaniment by Carl Nolte. I feel almost certain I was made to sing it in some youth choir sometime when I was going to a Lutheran school somewhere. Its off-beat accents and through-composed setting (i.e. the music is different for each stanza) definitely militate against asking the congregation to sing it. The lyrics, based in part on a couple verses of Psalm 68, are again representative of CoWo's minimalist approach to paraphrasing psalms. I don't think the refrain is a paraphrase of anything.

(286-287) Standing on the promises (of Christ my King) is one that I've already derided, but in this case the Spanish stanzas are omitted. 𝄋 Also, its inclusion in this (albeit anomalous) book from a previously conservative Lutheran body makes one question what heritage WELS means to conserve. The heritage this tedious piece represents is subsequent to the golden age of Lutheran orthodoxy and a side-channel off the stream confessional Lutherans have historically tried to say within. (2nd time Al coda)

(288) Steal away (to Jesus) is another African-American spiritual that I first learned to respect and love as a member of the chorus in a performance of Tippett's A Child of Our Time. But I don't think it has much to offer the worshiping Lutheran congregation, other than the sentiment "I practically hear the last trump calling me home right now." It should, rather, be reserved for a choir and/or soloist's art music program.

(289) Still, still, still is another one that I've already done.

(290-291) Swing low, sweet chariot is an African-American carol that, again, I'm amazed to find in a Lutheran church's songbook. Amid eight repeats of the slave dialect phrase "Coming for to carry me home" it doesn't give the congregation much, apart from somebody's (the prophet Elijah's?) personal testimony of a vision of angels coming for him across the Jordan. Application 1: "If you get there before I do, tell all my friends I'm coming there too." Application 2: "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down. But still I know I'm heavenward bound." Jesus has practically nothing to do with this. It's Steal away's "I ain't got long to stay here" but with more cheek. It's the song some people just had to have in their pew book because it resonates with them culturally (or they fancy pretending that it does), or because it touches them somewhere sentimental; but spiritually, it doesn't carry much sand.

(292-293) Tender Lord, by your Word is a children's bedtime prayer song by Kenneth Kremer, but sounds like it could have been sung by Bing Crosby.

(294-295) Thanks be to God (oh, give him praise) is a German hymn translated by Daniel Reuning, who was a dear professor and music director under whom I studied, sang and made many fond memories, set to a tune by Heinrich Schuetz which, I think, makes this about the boldest and most historically Lutheran addition to the English-speaking church's repertoire so far in this book. Fair play, the rhythm of the last phrase is a little tricky, in an early Baroque period way. (To paraphrase a line about TV and books in The Princess Bride, when Baroque music was a kid, Bach was called Schuetz.) It also bears admitting, for what it's worth, that Reuning's poetry doesn't rhyme. Otherwise, it's a piece that would take some effort to teach to a congregation, but with the support of the choir it could be done and I think it would be worth it.

(296) There is a green hill far away is one that I've already done.

(297) These things did Thomas count as real, likewise.

(298) They'll know we are Christians by our love (first line: "We are one in the Spirit") is as well.

(300-301) This is he (first line: "In a lowly manger born") is one to which I gave a glowingly positive review, back here. However, in this book it is set to Richard Gieseke's tune WOODRIDGE, which strikes me as doable.

(302-303) This is my Father's world has already taken a direct hit from me, not to mention a glancing blow.

(304-305) This is the day that the Lord has made is another Natalie Sleeth number that, again, shows a tendency to use this book to save the congregation the additional expense of ordering sheet music for the kids' choir. Its lyrics, particularly in the two stanzas that counterbalance the full-page refrain, are a nice Easter text that, nevertheless, doesn't say anything you can't get from a longer and richer Easter hymn by, say, Charles Wesley. (Behold, what this book has led me to: holding up one of the fathers of Methodism as a superior example.)

(306-307) This is the day that the Lord has made is the Les Garrett version with perhaps catchier, CoWo/pop music (complete with rhythms Grandma Smurf is going to struggle with), whose lyrics only cover as much ground as the refrain to Sleeth's version while sprawling across two whole pages, without adding the nice Easter stanzas. (Behold, what this book has led me to: holding up Natalie Sleeth as a superior example.) Anyway, I've covered this song before.

(308-309) This is the day when light was first created is a "Lord's Day" hymn by Fred Kaan, set to NORTHBROOK by the early 20th century composer Sir Reginald Sparshatt Thatcher (I just love that middle name). The hymn is a congregation starter, no mistake. Stanza 1 links the first day of the week with the creation of light; stanza 2, with Easter; stanza 3, with Pentecost; and stanza 4 calls it "the day of recreation," in the sense of re-creation, designed by God to "hallow all the week that is to come." The conversation will probably focus on Stanzas 2 and especially 3. In the former, Kaan uses striking poetic language to discuss Easter – "the day of our complete surprising ... the feast of love's revolt and rising against the rule of hell and death and grief." I think this merits comments of unmixed approval. Stanza 3, however, depicts Pentecost as the "great birthday of the church," which I feel is one of those trite commonplaces about Pentecost that perhaps glosses over the existence of a church prior to the 50th day after Jesus' resurrection. Also, the language of "worship and of vision" and the prayer to heal Christians' "sad division" is all very well, but meanwhile the stanza blows its opportunity to say anything explicit about the Holy Spirit and his work.

(310-311) Thy holy wings, O Savior is one I've done before.

(312) This touch of love (this taste of peace) is a Jaroslav Vajda text with Carl Schalk tune which, typical of its composer's work as far as my experience runs, welds modern art music style to a touchy-feely, easy listening sensibility. Overall, however, the effect is hymnlike and I don't think it would be too hard for a congregation to learn to sing. Meanwhile, Vajda's text (also somewhat typical of him, I think) processes religious experience in a pretty subjective way. "How can it last and still increase? I cannot bear to have this air of wonder cease," etc. It seemingly describes the Lord's Supper as "this surge of power" (stanza 2) and concludes that Christ, who is "the Bread and Wine on which I feed," is "what I need." Viewed as a post-Communion prayer, it improves throughout its four stanzas. Coming upon it cold, it starts off with a negative impression and, in spite of everything, still seems too personal, too specifically Jaroslav Vajda, to put into the mouths of the entire worshiping congregation.

(313-314) Thy Word is a lamp is another one that I've already done.

(315) To every generation (first line: "You have been a shelter, Lord") is a little micro-psalm paraphrase ditty by Bill Batstone, with rhythm that you can frankly forget about getting the congregation to sing as one voice.

(316-317) Unto us is born a Son is a G.R. Woodward translation of a fine Latin hymn, Puer nobis, arranged by David Willcocks. Zero tacks.

(318-319) We see the Lord is a 1970s gospel song by Betty Pulkingham, which includes an optional descant. Think choir and/or soloist(s), not congregation. Also, its lyrics (paraphrasing Isaiah 6) are somewhat repetitive; I'd recommend devoting the time, and a little extra besides, to learning Luther's paraphrase ("Isaiah, mighty seer") instead.

(320-321) We walk by faith (and not by sight) is one that "the angel of sarcasm passe(d) harmlessly over" on a previous occasion, in spite of being implicated in Marty Haugenism. Nevertheless, having spared it once, I'll refrain from belaboring it now.

(322-323) We will glorify (the King of kings) is a Twila Paris CoWo anthem that I've actually had to play (with a super-challenging piano arrangement) with my church's choir. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have. The less difficult setting used in LAPPY does, nevertheless, include an optional version of the fourth (and last) stanza that modulates from the starting key of D to E-flat, in keeping with Twila's original dramatic design. Even tamed and gentled as it is here, it still carries pretty strong associations with that flamboyant choir piece, and should perhaps be left to them.

(324-325) We'll understand it better by and by (first line: "We are often tossed and driv'n on the restless sea of time"), is by C.A. Tindley, a Methodist preacher and prolific hymn writer who flourished around the turn of the 20th century. Here's a long list of his titles that have made it into American hymnals. His music in this piece has a derivative, folksy quality and, as printed in this book, calls on Grandma Smurf and the congregation whose Hammond she plays to navigate a "D.S. al Fine" situation – a concluding strain, after the third stanza, that skips back part way through the original strain before ending at "Fine." I hope they've all brushed up on their musical notation and, maybe, heard an announcement before starting the song, pointing out where to look and when. The whole burden of this two-page hymn, comprising three stanzas and a chorus that you're apparently only supposed to sing once, is "We don't understand why God leads us the way he does, but we will in heaven." For a general comment about what I think about retrieving this cultural artifact for future generations of Lutherans, D.S. al coda.

𝄌 (326-327) What does the Lord require is by Alfred F. Bayly, set to the tune SHARPTHORNE by Erik Routley – both highly prolific hymn writers who died in the 1980s. The tune has a second ending that pretty much only changes the harmony of the concluding phrase. Routley's tune is one of those beautiful, modern art hymn tunes that might, this time, be within the reach of a singing congregation, if you don't mind a few people grumbling about being forced to learn new stuff. Bayly's text is an exhortation for social justice based on Micah 6, with the refrain "Do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God." I was wondering if it was going to be all Law, but then my ears perked up (figure of speech) as stanza 4 began, "How shall our life fulfill God's law so hard and high? Let Christ" – and then they drooped again as it continued – "endue our will with grace to fortify." Oh! Jesus will give us the power to do the Law! That's true, and that's great, but it's not the Gospel. Even Micah got there, albeit in his next chapter. This would have been a better hymn if Albert F. had gotten there too.

(328-329) While by the sheep we watched at night is a different translation (by Theodore Baker) of a hymn I learned, many years ago, as "During their watch of flocks by night," more or less. I remember the refrain was "O carol-O, carol-O! Sing for joy, O, O, O! Benedicamus Domino!" I thought it was a lot of fun. Baker's version of the refrain runs "How great our joy! Great our joy! Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy joy! Praise we the Lord in heav'n on high!" Maybe it's just my conservative streak, which is probably wide enough for a Chinook helicopter to land on, but I think there's more fun in the older translation. Still, I approve of the effort LAPPY makes to introduce an underrated children's Christmas carol to the church's repertoire. Whether it really needs to be in the congregation's songbook, however, I dunno.

(330-331) Who is he in yonder stall is by B.R. Hanby, a 19th century United Brethren minister and prolific hymn writer whose titles include "Jipidee, jipidee, blithe and gay." For what it's worth. I just couldn't not mention that after the title hit my eye. He also wrote the Santa-and-reindeer jingle "Up on the housetop," the sentimental song "Darling Nellie Gray" and the cutsie kiddie hymn "Little eyes." Like this last example, this hymn is an old-timey sentimental hymn with static harmony, gushing melody (particularly in the chorus, "'Tis the Lord! Oh, wondrous story," etc.) It delivers a montage of scenes from Jesus' life, death and resurrection, couched in repetitions of "Who is he," only to re-answer the question ('Tis the Lord! Crown him Lord of all!) Points given for covering the content of the gospels, as if from 10,000 feet overhead. Points taken back for weak application; the fifth stanza carries the most of it, noting that Jesus rose from the grave "to heal and help and save" and now from on high "rules all the world alone." And of course, that "crown him" stuff. It's really up to you and me to figure out how this helps us.

(332-333) Yes, he did (first line: "He took my feet from the miry clay") is an African-American spiritual with guitar chords, tricky rhythms. Again, I'd probably vote to reserve this cultural treasure for a special concert, with choir and/or soloists, rather than have the congregation try to sing it during worship. However, I'll concede that if there's one spiritual in this book that I would chose to exhibit during the worship hour, this is probably it.

(334-335) You have made us one (first line: "Because you loved us first, O Lord") is a very 1970s CoWo song by Doris Novak-Guggisberg, with guitar chords and an optional descant over the refrain (unfortunately printed as ossia notes rather than on a separate staff). It's a nice little sacred pop song about loving one another and seeing Jesus in each other and asking Jesus to "take our love ... and make it right," but I can't help thinking this is a message the congregation had better have sung at it than shoved into its mouth.

(336) The Word (is living), marked "slowly," is a song by Michael Card that says a lot about what the Word does and, pleasant surprise, turns out to be talking about Jesus. The third stanza ties it up in an altar call kind of bow, which lets a little air out of my pleasure up to that point, though again I concede that the voice of Jesus does exhort us, "Do not be unbelieving, but believe." I don't think Card's musical setting is very successful. I've gotten dinged for writing parallel perfect fifths (even when, on an occasion or two, I did it on purpose) but here goes Card, getting away with it in a published work. Also, the rhythm of the final phrase sticks out of the piece a bit. I think it could have used a little more work.

And lo, this is the end of LAPPY! On deck: the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's 2008 follow-up, Christian Worship: Supplement. For now, having actually made at least a passing observation about every single song in this book (not my usual practice, and not what I'll probably do re CWS), I feel like I can sketch out a couple of conclusions. I'll start with one that I hinted about at the end of my previous post, based on my sense that this book was primarily aimed at a group within WELS that was hot to hop on the Contemporary Worship bandwagon. There are wonderful hymns in it, but they are the exception rather than the rule and some of them are pretty challenging, so I think that LAPPY's core audience won't care for them and those who would won't care for LAPPY.

Second, there's a minor theme in this book of repristinating artifacts of American cultural religion – including spirituals, gospel songs and old-timey sentimentalia – that I consider tacky in the context of American Lutheran congregational worship because they pale to nothing alongside the rich treasure of historic Lutheran hymnody.

But finally and primarily, the beef I have with this book is exactly what I said about it being a leg-up onto the CoWo bandstand, to which conservative Lutheranism is coming (as it often comes to movements throughout American Christianity) just as most everybody else is jumping off. It's not going to have the result the people who advocate for it claim to expect. It will, if allowed to move ahead, end Lutheranism in these parts and accelerate the decline of church bodies that would be better served by holding fast to what they have.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Tacky Hymns 63

Still more on the 1999 Wisconsin Synod hymnal supplement, Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook. See the previous seven posts under "Tacky Hymns" for background info. We resume with ...

(240-241) Praise the Lord who reigns above is a praise hymn by Charles Wesley, a highly prolific hymn writer and brother of Methodism founder John Wesley who is already pretty well represented in the Lutheran hymnals of my acquaintance. It's a pretty decent piece, and I suppose it goes to show something about the tastefulness of this collection of songs in the context of Lutheran worship when I can say (yea, even I) that a song by one of the early leaders of Methodism is one of the best handful of examples in the book. If you like the kind of Psalms that enlists a variety of musical instruments to join the Lord's praises, you'll especially like stanza 2. Songs focused on praise aren't a bad thing in and of themselves, even though I think hymns that probe deeper into matters of the faith should predominate. This is one that at least makes the act of praising interesting by giving reasons and adding beautiful verse, rich with imagery and biblical references, and goes down easily without repeating the same five words 30 times.

(242-244) Praise the Lord with the sound of trumpet, however, is a long kids' choir or Sunday School song by Natalie Sleeth that I was made to sing it with my classmates when I was little-ish, and that approaches the Psalm paraphrase-scented praise song concept in a repetitive way that becomes tedious somewhere in the course of two long stanzas. It's basically a list of instruments with which, and of times and places in which, to "praise the Lord" – repeating that three-word phrase 24 times – without actually mentioning any reasons to praise him. So, for all its cheerful musical effect, it's basically all law.

(245) People need the Lord is a little CoWo ditty by Phil McHugh and Greg Nelson, with music by David Allen, that in spite of being a product of three men's creativity, consists 5/8 of the phrase "People need the Lord" to which the remaining 3/8 adds only "At the end of broken dreams he's the open door" and the final plea, "When will we realize (people need the Lord)?" As hard as I strain, I can't figure out how or why this adds up to a hymn.

(246-247) Praise the Spirit in creation is by Michael Hewlett, set to David Hurd's tune JULION. Hurd's arrangement puts it very definitely in the category of a sacred art song or choir anthem, dependent in part on a four-bar piano tag being played before each verse and at the very end. I think it might be possible to re-arrange the music more into the form of a congregational hymn. As for Hewlett's attractive four-stanza poem about the Holy Spirit, I think deeper discussion is called for before deciding whether it belongs in a Lutheran songbook. Stanza 2, for example, says the Spirit "by a still small voice conveys God's will to those who listen" (if you'll pardon me for reversing the order of the last two lines to make what they say stand out more clearly). I think this could be understood to suggest that we should listen in the quiet (say, of our hearts) for a private revelation of the Holy Spirit. Was that Hewlett's intent? I dunno. The fourth stanza asks the Spirit to "fire our hearts and clear our sight (till we) set the world alight," which sounds like a great punchline for a synodical evangelism campaign but never more than vaguely hints at the means by which the Spirit is pledged to do this. My vicarage bishop's dictum applies; those who have been following along in my critique of LAPPY will know what I mean.

(248-249) Psalm 91 (first line: "The shelter of the love of God") is a 1970s paraphrase with words and music by Joyce Freud, who does a passable musical impression of Robert Lowry, only without some of his tackier harmonic touches. Its paraphrase is all right as far as that goes. But, of course, its three stanzas (plus refrain) only cover selected verses of the psalm, and some of the verses it omits are really wonderful. My biggest concern, however, is the phrase from the refrain which says that God shelters me "because I come to him in love," etc., which sounds like decisionism.

(250-251) A purple robe (a crown of thorn) is a Timothy Dudley-Smith number set to music by David Wilson (with guitar chords). It's a pretty good Passion of Christ hymn, but I think the music is a bit of the "bonfire ballad" persuasion and may be heard to best advantage when sung by the youth choir or a soloist, rather than the full congregation.

(252-253) Ready, Lord (I'm ready, Lord, to follow where you lead) is another CoWo song, with words by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh and music by Carl Nolte. It's five stanzas of "I'm ready to serve you, Lord, just show me where you need me" stuff, basically volunteering to be a minister – which is definitely a weird sentiment to put in the mouths of the entire congregation, unless you believe the weird doctrine of the ministry that they used to teach in WELS but that I was assured the synod had moved away from. Of course, that development may have happened more recently than this book. Nevertheless, some of the language in this hymn is so specific to the pastoral office that it makes me squirm anew to think of everyone singing it. "I'll feed your lambs (with the Word) ... Take my heart and take my hands, my feet, my life, my all (wherever you want to move me in your service)" etc. – very explicitly, I think, language about the vocation of pastor. Yet it's applied in a manner that shows profound confusion about the use of the means of grace, such as stanza 2's claim that I'll "feed your lambs, and first of all with food ... then I'll feed them with the Word" until "they're ready, Lord, to go and do your will." Like there's an end state after which everyone no longer needs to be a recipient of the work of the ministry (word and sacrament) and can proceed to being a minister. Then there's stanza 3's fishy "more than words" business. Finally, the lyrics' lowbrow phraseology, such as "gonna," and its Foghorn Leghorn-style halts and repeats, such as "Ready Lord, I'm ready, Lord" (of which there are so many, I say, so many), make this to me a tiresome, Lord, a tiresome, Lord, example of the concept of Tacky Hymns.

(254-255) Rejoice and be merry (in songs and in mirth) is a setting of the traditional English "Gallery Carol," celebrating "the birthday of Jesus our King" in four light, economical stanzas. They just touch on the angels, the shepherds, the magi and their gifts, while managing to allude to Jesus as the "Redeemer (of) all mortals on earth ... who brought us salvation." So, I guess it improves on some Christmas carols. It would be a nice addition to a carol-sing or a youth Christmas program, but I don't see it breaking into the top 20 songs the congregation absolutely has to sing every Christmas season.

(256) is the Hmong version of "Jesus loves me," three stanzas this time, again with no music. The difficulty of reading the Hmong language (if it's not your mother tongue) is demonstrated by the contrast between the two columns of text – the Hmong spelling on the left, a phonetic spelling on the right, which itself has a pronunciation guide appended to it. This is going to be hard. But don't worry, nobody's expecting you to sing it. As I've said before, it's pretty much there in lieu of "THIS PAGE HAS BEEN INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK."

(257) Rejoice in the Lord always (and again I say, rejoice) is Dale Grotenhuis' four-part round setting of Philippians 4:4, with the same two lines of text, or fragments thereof, repeated throughout. Kid stuff. It doesn't have much in it for the congregation except an opportunity to take a breather while the kids sing it. If Dale G. had seen fit to try setting verses 5-6, at least, or maybe even 7, now we might have something for worshipers to sink their teeth into. Instead, we have a trite little musical exercise for the young.

(258-259) Rescue the perishing is a Fanny J. Crosby hymn with tune by William H. Doane – the words-and-music team who gave us "Pass me not, O gentle Savior," "I am thine, Lord," "Jesus, keep me near the cross" and "To God be the glory." Basically, the all-time masters of sentimental old-timey songs for the tent revival circuit. Stanza 1 urges us to "snatch (the dying) in pity from sin and the grave" by telling them (in the refrain) that "Jesus is merciful; Jesus will save." Stanza 2 depicts Jesus as the slighted party who nevertheless is waiting for them to repent; so we should "plead with them earnestly; plead with them gently; he will forgive if they only believe." I mean, you wouldn't want to just tell them that Jesus has already unconditionally forgiven them, right? Stanza 3 alludes to feelings "down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter" that can be "wakened by kindness," like it's on you as a lay evangelist to save them by expressing the good news in just the way that will reach them – the effective tone of voice, or expression of face, or whatever. Stanza 4 emphasizes that "duty demands" that we "back to the narrow way patiently win them" and "tell the poor wand'rer a Savior has died." Wow, that's a duty to lay on people – little short of making them responsible for whether the next person makes it into heaven or not. It's truly agonizing to see a writer, to say nothing of the whole spiritual movement she represents, come so close to a consciousness of the gospel and yet turn it all into law. I fear that Fanny J. will have a lot of explaining to do when she is reunited with the souls who were not fed what they needed on a diet of her hymns.

(260-261) Rock of my salvation (first line: "You are the rock of my salvation") is a CoWo piece by Teresa Miller whose rhythms, I can tell you already, will be a stumbling block for the choir at Shepherd of the Tamarack Bog Lutheran Church, even after they've become habituated to unfortunate musical choices over many long years. Just imagine where that will leave the congregation as a whole. As for the lyrics, they have a certain quality, like one of those CoWo psalm paraphrases that barely uses any of the original psalm, that almost (but not quite) convinces me to excuse it for the fact that it sounds like a romantic love song addressed to the Lord. Put a little more charitably, it has a very intimate, personal tone to it that just doesn't smack of the congregation's worship.

(262-263) Savior, like a shepherd lead us is one that I've previously commented on.

(264-265) Seek ye first (the kingdom of God), with an "Alleluia" descant, is also one that I've already commented on.

(266) She will be called blessed (first line: "Her strength and her dignity clothe her with beauty") is a weird hymn by Elizabeth deGravelles, based on a passage in the book of Proverbs, set to a tune by Joseph Barlow titled IRENE. The weird part is that only the refrain is set to music while the two stanzas are supposed to be spoken. I've never seen a "hymn" like this. I'm not sure whoever thought it up really understood what a hymn is about.

(267-269) Shine down (your light on me) is a three-page CoWo piece by Billy Smiley, Bob Farrell and Mark Gersmehl, based on some verses from the book of Revelation, in which as many words are sung off the beat as humanly possible. I suppose that may be putting it a bit too strongly; I did, after all, participate in a performance John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls, in which there are several minutes in a row in which the chorus never sings anything on the beat. But nobody ever told the saints at Shepherd of the Tamarack Bog to try that piece, either. Have I not made myself clear? This is not music for the congregation to sing. Or if there is a congregation brave enough to sing it, I'm not interested in getting to know it. The fact that stiff-necked Lutherans are resistant to change sometimes works in their favor.

It's a strange place (page-numberly speaking) to break off for the night, but for one thing, it's getting late and for another, I've just seen what's on the next page and I'm not ready to face it yet.

Before I retire for the night, however, I'll share one of the conclusions about this book that a growing feeling tells me this study will lead me to draw: It has some wonderful hymns in it. But the vast majority of the songs in LAPPY suggest a target audience that, by and large, won't be interested in that tiny minority of pieces. Conversely, the people who will value those songs as highly as they deserve might not consider this book, overall, to be a good investment.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Tacky Hymns 62

More on the 1999 Wisconsin Synod hymnal supplement, Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook. See the previous six posts under "Tacky Hymns" for background info. We resume with ...

(226-227) The old rugged cross (first line: "On a hill far away"), all four stanzas plus refrain of the old sentimental favorite by George Bennard. The extent to which adding this song to the repertoire available in the pew is a response to popular demand is approximately the extent to which your congregation is no longer meaningfully Lutheran. True story: I was playing hymns out of The Lutheran Hymnal, softly, on the Hammond organ at the funeral parlor during the visitation for one of my late members (way back when I was still in the ministry), when a member of the decedent's family who had never darkened the door of the church in my time mooched over and hissed in my ear, "I hope at the funeral you'll play some Lutheran hymns!" I batted my eyelashes and asked for an example of what she meant. Guess which song she named! The part of me that has hope for the future of American Lutheranism dies a little every time I remember that story.

Is there any harm in Bennard's lyrics? On the contrary, it has some merits. But it milks those merits for the maximum amount of treacly sentiment allowable under state and federal law. Far be it from me to impugn a poem steeped in the atoning blood of Jesus. But somehow this one manages to be me-centered with it. I know, I've heard the same said of the beautiful baptism hymn "God's own child, I gladly say it" – but maybe I'm more willing to excuse that hymn's egocentrism because, in the first place, it loads more comforting, edifying faith content into its stanzas, and because it fashions itself as a congregational hymn rather than a vehicle for an emotive soloist.

(228-229) On this day earth shall ring is the medieval English Latin Christmas hymn "Personent hodie" (Piae Cantiones, 1582) in Gustav Holst's brilliant arrangement. I think it's fabulous and I get a tremendous thrill out of playing it, or trying to. Its piano part is pretty far out on the difficult end of the continuum of hymn literature, including left-hand octaves (some of whose notes go lower than the pedals on the organ), high ossia notes that apparently require the accompanist to grow a third hand, and singing forces that have been prepared ahead of time to sing the Latin refrain "Ideo, ideo, ideo gloria in excelsis Deo" (or ideo, o, o as some hymnals phrase it). This means "therefore, glory to God in the highest," not that this book explains it. All in all, I think it's a great piece, full of exuberant energy, that would serve as a challenging and enriching piece for the youth choir, if your church can scrape one together, or the choir in general (although the text clearly speaks of "the song children sing"). As for its chances of being sung by the congregation, with Grandma Smurf puffing away on the Hammond, I think the editors might as well have saved this space for something more likely to succeed.

(230) is the Japanese version of "Jesus loves me," four stanzas without music, that I told you was coming. Again, its practical use, apart from warming parishioners' hearts with a reminder of all the important mission work their church body has done, is apparently to fill a page that would otherwise have been left blank.

(231) Once on a mountaintop is a Transfiguration hymn by Michael Hewlett, set to the Hebrew melody elsewhere identified as either YIGDAL or LEONI; this book, however, is not very helpful with regard to the names of hymn tunes. You may know it as the tune to "The God of Abraham praise." Hewlett's verse description of the Transfiguration in Stanza 1 is interesting, marrying plain language – perhaps a little too plain, in lines like "there stood three startled men" – with a knack for capturing the awe and mystery of that moment. In stanza 2, he goes on to address the hiddenness of God. Stanza 3 then asks God to "forgive us who despise the things that lie beyond our sight, and give us eyes." It's not the application of Jesus' Transfiguration that I expected. It ends up, in fact, being kind of a "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed" kind of thing, albeit without quoting that. On a scale of tackiness from 1 to 5 tacks I would give this hymn less than 1, and that half-tack only for attempting a novel and perhaps off-message interpretation of a yearly gospel pericope. But mostly, I mention it here as a positive example of the kind of original hymnody that this book could have been filled with, instead of the CoWo dreck that crams the majority of its pages.

(232-233) One small child (in a land of a thousand) is a very 1970s Christmas/Epiphany hymn with CoWo piano stylings, all by David Meece. There's a second strain of melody added onto stanzas 2 and 3 (but not 1 and 4). Except for those bridge verses, which repeatedly say things like "See him lying... See him smiling... See his mother praising his Father," etc., each line of all four stanzas is a sentence fragment, an image or an interpretive point of view about the scene here depicted (e.g. "One small hand reaching out to the starlight") that never completes a thought – kind of the same thing I hate about "Now the silence." The tune is attractive if a bit derivative sounding. The Christmas story thus told in non-sentence units of grammar isn't particularly true to the biblical record (assigning specific roles to the three "kings" and putting them ahead of the shepherds in the receiving line). It also paints in details that trace back to someone's pious imagination, like a candle flame, a smile, a cradle. Basically, it's a catchy bunch of Christmas-flavored bunk.

(234) Our Father in heaven (we hallow your name) is Sarah Hale's paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer set to the tune DENIO (best known, I think, for "Immortal, invisible, God only wise"). I'd like to pass over this piece without comment, but I feel it must be mentioned that the second line of stanza 1, "May your kingdom holy on earth be the same," conflates the Second and Third Petitions in a way that seems to omit "Thy will be done." Another 0.5 tacks.

(235) Our thanks, O God, for parents is a 1960s-era hymn about children by Lois Johnson. Her original tune is actually written in a pretty solid hymnal style. It would be a good song (and an easy one, I think) for children or adults – many of whom also have parents, you know – to sing on occasions when we are called upon to remember God's gift of our parents. Zero tacks, for once.

(236-237) Pass it on (first line: "It only takes a spark") is actually that song by Kurt Kaiser – you know, the one everybody sang around the bonfire when the cool young assistant pastor pulled his guitar out and made all the kids weep with sentimentality. Even though some of us kind of cringed, too. It's a song full of cute analogies to God's love – a spark lighting a flame that warms everybody up, the wondrous time of spring that brings songbirds and blooming flowers – and concludes with the "I wish for you, my friend" verse that ties it up in a personal evangelism bow. Fine. But it's a youth bonfire song. Nobody needs it printed in the pew book. (Oops: I forgot to check, but I've commented on this song before.)

(238-239) Peace like a river (first line: "There's a river that brings joy") is also one I've done before. However, I should note that this time around, it has four stanzas and the music is laid out in a comparatively space-saving way that shows, after all, that the refrain uses exactly the same music as the stanzas. There's a lot of repetition in the refrain, which tempts me to suggest that you skip it altogether. I'm also struck by some of the lyrics in John Ylvisaker's paraphrase of the traditional American hymn, specifying that the city of our God = "the sacramental house of the Most High." There's also a pretty strong Trinitarian doxology at the end. Whatever Ylvisaker did to it seems to have been an improvement.

I'm calling this unit of LAPPY because there's somewhere I have to go. Also, it ran pretty long, considering that I only made it through 14 pages. I'm going to have to work on biting my tongue, or my pen, or my typing fingers, as the case may be. And all the people said, "Amen."

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Tacky Hymns 61

The thread continues with more on the 1999 Wisconsin Synod hymnal supplement, Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook. See the previous five posts under "Tacky Hymns" for disclaimers and explanatory data that I'm officially over the need to repeat each time. Moving forward with as much dispatch as possible (because I really want to put this all behind me):

(202) Make me a servant is one I've already commented on.

(203) 'Man of Sorrows,' what a name is by Philip Bliss, author of such previously discussed songs as "Almost persuaded now to believe." It's a liturgically non-conforming hymn about the passion of Jesus whose five stanzas all end with "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" In substance, my only objection to the lyrics is that the "Hallelujah" makes it a hymn that, when I was planning worship services, I would have avoided during Passiontide – although, to be sure, there are other times of the church year when you can focus on Christ's atoning work. As for his music, I find Bliss's tune and harmony uninspiring and lacking in energy, and his decision to end the melody on the dominant (F in the key of B-flat) undercuts its strength.

(204-205) Mary's little boy child (first line: "Long time ago in Bethlehem") is a Christmas pop song with a calypso rhythm, written by Jester Hairston for Walter Schumann's Hollywood Choir, that has been recorded by Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams and a zillion others. It's not that I find anything particularly obnoxious about the lyrics. It's just that I don't know why you need this number in a pew songbook when you can drop a vinyl disc on your phonograph and listen to it at home. Also, the idea of American Lutherans trying to sing this as a congregation is about as amusing as picturing them in blackface.

(206-207) The moon with borrowed light has words by Thomas Troeger (the Presbyterian/Episcopal author of "These things did Thomas count as real") and music by Carol Doran (who also composed the tune to Troeger's hymn "Oh, praise the gracious pow'r"). Of Doran's tune I'm going to apply what I said previously about certain beautiful, modern-art-music pieces by Carl Schalk, David Hurd, Robert LeBlanc and Jane Marshall: I wish it weren't so, but it probably won't play at Shepherd of the Cornfield Lutheran Church except as a solo or rehearsed-ensemble piece. Regarding Troeger's text about John the Baptist, I think stanzas 1-2 are all right but stanza 3 loses me a bit in its poetic diction. I wonder what kind of "borrowed light" or "sign" we're praying for in this latter day. I would probably be breaking the 8th Commandment (Catholic/Lutheran numbering) if I speculated about whether Troeger intends us to think "word and sacrament."

(208-209) My Lord, what a morning has already taken its shot from me.

(210-211) No mountain high enough just goes to show that even a legendary joke (like the movie Sister Act) has a kernel of fact in it. The music doesn't sound at all like the Motown hit "Ain't no mountain high enough," but there is a good deal of similarity in the lyrics, concluding with "to separate me from God." All right, the lyrics do kind of riff on Romans 8:38-39 ("neither height nor depth," etc.) It's almost a good enough counterfeit of a spiritual to start a rumor that it inspired the Motown hit that, in fact, predates it by about a decade; this song was written in the 1970s by Charles Kirby. Points are taken away for pop culture exploitation, lack of originality and taking a long time to say just one thing among so many things that could be said during that same period of time.

(212) is the Tonga translation of "Jesus loves me" that I told you was coming. Words only, four stanzas, with a pronunciation guide. I'm not sure which language called Tonga this is. The credit line mentions "Bantu" and "Central Africa," and there are Bantu languages called Tonga spoken in several African countries. The day having one hymn in their language in an American Lutheran hymn-book does them any good will be a day to note down in one's diary.

(213) Now let the heav'ns be joyful is a John Mason Neale translation of an Easter hymn by John of Damascus, set to a Provençal carol tune. It's actually about half of the Damascene/Neale hymn I know as "The Day of Resurrection" (e.g., The Lutheran Hymnal #205), chopped up and put back together in a different order, with a refrain tacked on, set to a cute little tune. But the tune in TLH 205 is pretty good, too. I'm not sure I see the angle in slicing, dicing and julienning the hymn to fit a different melody.

(214-15) Oh, give us homes (built firmly on the Savior) is one that I've done before.

(216) Oh, he's King of kings (with the refrain "No man works like him") is also one that I've done before.

(217) Oh, how good is Christ the Lord is a Puerto Rican folk hymn with one stanza each in English and Spanish. The lyrics add nothing to the first line except "On the cross he died for me; He has pardoned all my sin; In three days He rose again" and four repetitions of "Glory be to Jesus." No harm in it, but not much else either, beyond a quatrain worth of creedal basics. This might be an all right number for the kiddies. As for Grandma Smurf and the congregation that pays her $20 a week to play their Hammond, I wouldn't bet on the tune's Latin-inflected rhythms being recognizably executed.

(218-219) Oh, how he loves you and me is a cute little Sunday School ditty by Kurt Kaiser, author of "Pass it on." It has a very 1970s sound, as if it's going for the effect of a Marvin Hamlisch song – "He gave his life; what more can he give?" I remember being taught to sing this when I was a kid, but I don't remember the second stanza, which is less boring than the first: "Jesus to Calv'ry did go, His love for sinners to show. What he did there brought hope from despair." What problem did my Sunday School teacher have with that? Was it getting too dangerously close to teaching the Christian faith to her students?

(220-221) Oh, how I love Jesus (first line: "There is a name I love to hear") is one I have done before.

(222-223) Oh, magnify the Lord is a Dick and Melodie Tunney tune (you know, CoWo) with off-beat rhythms, a musical form including first and second endings, a Da Capo marking and a coda, in service of a two-stanza text of which stanza 1 is a stretched-out setting of Psalm 34:3, and stanza 2 simply replaces "magnify" with "worship Christ." From the school of worship music that delivers the spiritual equivalent of empty calories, drip by slow drip.

(224-225) Oh, sing to the Lord is also one that I've already done. Again, it's a Brazilian folk song and yet the five stanzas are presented in English and Spanish (not, I emphasize, Portuguese). Taken directly, according to the credit line, from All God's People Sing (Concordia Publishing House, 1991). In epidemiology they call this "community spread."

That's it for today. But cheer up; there's lots more to go!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Every Dead Thing

Every Dead Thing
by John Connolly
Recommended Ages: 16+

In this first of 18 Charlie “Bird” Parker novels, we meet an ex-detective who left the NYPD when his wife and daughter were murdered. Newly sober and working as a private eye, he lands a missing person case that leads him to a pair of child killers. But even with that case solved, the story is only half over. Now the “Traveling Man,” who took Parker’s family from him, is killing people in the New Orleans area, and it may take a sleuth with a lot of darkness inside to track him down.

This creepy, grisly novel has a hero who moves with unsettling ease among monsters in human form. One of Bird's best friends is a (cough) semi-retired hitman. He seems to specialize in bearding the lion in his den, paying social calls (in search of information) to no fewer than three executive-level gangsters and actually playing a role in the destruction of two of them. He has a murder on his own conscience, and when he's hanging out with the law-and-order side of his social set, he seems to attract (as in, gravitationally) cops with a blemished record of their own.

Something between that and a light touch of the paranormal – a few faint glimmers of ghosts, a subplot involving psychic communication with a dead girl and a voodoo witch – make this a story that twists the serial killer/detective genre in a disturbing new direction. The magic isn't right out in the open, but it's woven into the fabric of the novel in a way that distinctly alters the texture from a crime procedural to something uncanny, laced with metaphysical threat.

However, this is also a gorgeously written literary novel, reflecting its well-read, intelligent characters. Take, for example, this description of a shabby little town in Virginia:
It was the sort of place where, once a year, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars got together, hired a bus, and went somewhere else to commmemorate their dead.
Or this interlude in a conversation between Bird and the father of one of the child-killer's victims:
Perhaps he saw something in my face, even in the slow-darkening evening, that led him to understand. I do not know for certain, and he gave no sign that he knew or that there was anything more between us than a need to know and a desire to tell, but he stopped for a moment in the telling and in that pause we all but touched, like two travelers who pass on a long, hard road and offer comfort to each other in the journey.
I mention the fact that I guessed whodunit long before Bird cottoned on, not as a flaw in this book, but rather as evidence that it was well planned and straightforward and doesn't attempt to deceive us, like the works of some mystery writers. (You know I mean you, Jeffery.)

Prior to this book, the only John Connolly title I had read was The Book of Lost Things. His Charlie Parker novels, starting with this 1999 book, continue to the present day, with the 18th installment, The Dirty South, due for release in October 2020. Next in line after this book is Dark Hollow. Connolly is also the author of two books of scary short stories, Nocturnes and Night Music; three "Samuel Johnson vs. the Darkness" novels for young people, starting with The Gates; the sci-fi trilogy "Chronicles of the Invaders," starting with Conquest; the standalone novel Bad Men; and a novel about film comedians Laurel and Hardy, titled He.