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 Proven├žal 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!

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