Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Tacky Hymns 89

As we press on with the hymn selections of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it.
The hymns are sectioned as follows: CHURCH YEAR – Advent, 301-328; Christmas, 329-366; New Year, 367-369; Epiphany, 370-387; Transfiguration, 388-392; Lent, 393-410; Palm Sunday, 411-415; Holy Thursday (which I was brought up to know as Maundy Thursday), 416-418; Jesus' Passion, 419-437; Easter, 438-471; Ascension, 472-476; Day of Pentecost, 477-479; Holy Trinity, 480-484; Second Coming, 485-495; Minor Festivals – Name of Jesus, 496; Presentation, 497; St. Michael and All Angels, 498-500. TRIUNE GOD – Creation and Preservation, 501-509; Redeemer, 510-550; Good Shepherd, 551-555; Justification, 556-574; Grace, 575-584; Work of the Spirit, 585-596; Praise and Adoration, 597-629. MEANS OF GRACE – Word of God, 630-645; Holy Baptism, 646-649; Confession and Absolution, 650-658; Holy Communion, 659-677. LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN – Baptismal Life, 678-693; Discipleship, 694-718; Prayer, 719-725; Love, 726-733; Vocation, 734-740; Witness, 741-747; Stewardship, 748-754; Home and Education, 755-762; Marriage, 763-764; Society, 765-771; Nation, 772-775; Morning, 776-782; Evening, 782-796; Trust, 797-830; Hope and Comfort, 831-853. LIFE OF THE CHURCH – Church, 854-861; Church Militant, 862-879; Church Triumphant, 880-894; Ministry, 895-899; Missions, 900-908; Christian Schools, 909-910; Opening of Service, 911-922; Close of Service, 923-932; Service Music, 933-958.

The "Advent" section has a decent selection of traditional Advent hymns. Let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified.

The first item of note is 305-306 (Type 2), two settings of Georg Weissel's "Life Up Your Heads, You Mighty Gates." TLH had three tunes for this hymn, two of them named after the original German text (MACHT HOCH DIE TÜR) and one commonly given as MILWAUKEE. LW, LSB and CWALH all retained the better of the two MACHT HOCHs and MILWAUKEE. Surprisingly, for a Wisconsin product, CWH drops MILWAUKEE and replaces it with the fanfarelike TRURO – a tune about which I recently had an argument with my church's choir director because she swore it was the tune her "confirmation hymnal" paired with this hymn, even though no LCMS book has ever done so. (Service Book and Hymnal, hereafter SBH, may be the book she has in mind; a strange gift to give a Missouri Synod girl upon her confirmation.) Well, she didn't like either MACHT HOCH or MILWAUKEE, either of which I prefer to TRURO. And here it suddenly is, in CWH 306, as if the book had read her mind; and what's also interesting is that it assigns a different sequence of five stanzas to each tune.

307 is "When the King Shall Come Again," an unfamiliar but decent hymn by contemporary writer Christopher Idle, set to the lovely chorale GAUDEAMUS PARITER.

308 (no type) is James Milligan's "There's a voice in the wilderness crying," set to a piece of music by Henry Bancroft that I somehow recall hearing (or maybe accompanying) as a choir piece. This piece offers as good an opportunity as any to point out a couple of issues with this book's hymn layout, which bucks the long-standing tradition of capitalizing the first word of each line and also botches the notation of a tune with an "irregular" text underlay. So, it has several instances of a pair of barred-together eighth notes under which some stanzas slur one syllable, while others squeeze in two. A thoughtful typesetter would have done something like put in a dotted tie mark between two separately flagged eighths, to show that the tie is optional. Yea, verily, that's nitpicking; and it's conceivable that someone involved in editing this book found that type of notation annoying. But if it is annoying, it's the authors of hymns that don't hew to the same metrical pattern throughout that we should be annoyed with, not the practical difficulty of guiding singers to land the right syllable under the right note.

310 is Wendell Kimbrough's "Long in darkness Israel wandered," which I don't remember seeing before. It's set to an equally contemporary tune by Bruce Benedict (both authors are about a decade younger than me) which, on first sight-reading, reminded me a bit of George Warren's tune GUIDE ME. It's a simple, well structured, very learnable tune, though I think some of its phrase-endings (including the final one) are a little weak. The text is decent, drawing material from the Exodus, various Messianic prophecies and the healing work of Jesus. Oddly, though, the hymn selects a line from the middle of stanza 3 for the title at the top of the page ("Dawning light of our salvation"), rather than the first line of stanza 1.

320 is Werner Franzmann's "As angels joyed with one accord," which I've seen elsewhere, though it still strikes me as a rarity. It's set to the fine, Christmassy sounding chorale PUER NOBIS.

322 (Type 2) is Charles Wesley's "Come, thou long-expected Jesus" – notice, by the way, that CWH has also parted ways with the tradition of capitalizing pronouns whose antecedent is Jesus or God. I really mention this hymn because CWH changed the tune to Southern Harmony's RESTORATION. CWALH had it with ST. HILARY; LW and LSB both paired it with JEFFERSON, which is therefore the tune that this hymn brings to my mind. But whatever. What I find really interesting, but probably only because I'm a nerd, is the fact that the trajectory of change, both from CWALH to CWH and from LW to LSB, was from updated language ("Come, O long-expected") to the unaltered "thou," etc. Maybe it's a sign that the judgment of history (the history of hymnody) is swinging back toward letting poets' perfectly clear language stand, rather than compulsively updating every archaic expression.

325 (Type 1) is titled "My soul in stillness waits," but its first line is "For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits" – a Marty Haugenish ditty by, like, Marty Haugen. It comes complete with keyboard cues at the end of each stanza. In case you're not picking up on it, I'm not a big fan of the vogue for this kind of hymn, or canticle, or whatever it is. I get it, not everybody has my taste. I've visited a Lutheran church where the entire service was composed by Haugen (something called "Holden Evening Prayer," I believe it was). I think it ends up elevating a soloist or choir above the congregation, encouraging people to spectate rather than participate; and there's a sameness and, in large doses, sickening cuteness to the music that bothers me – even if others could say the same thing about the chorale tradition, which doesn't bother me at all, if it's even true. Give the Haugen phenomenon another decade or two and I think music like it will come to sound very dated and out of touch, while objectively excellent hymn tunes continue to open up a rich treasury of spiritual meaning to new generations. 2 tacks on a 5-tack scale of tackiness.

326 (Type 1) is "O Jesus, grant me hope and comfort," which is new to me although it isn't new. Translated by Walter Buszin from a 19th century German hymn and set to Buszin's arrangement of a 17th century chorale (quite the renaissance man, that Buszin fellow), it's attractive overall despite a little awkwardness in its proportions. As to the lyrics, I sniff a trace of Pietism in its strong emphasis on "my" emotional state, amid its two stanzas and refrain welcoming Jesus. Example: "My thoughts, desires, and all my longings I dedicate, O Christ, to thee." It doesn't say anything that I wouldn't pray to my Lord at times, but in a 28-hymn Advent section it will probably never make my top 25 choices for any given service. Maybe 1 tack.

328 (Type 1) is the Basque carol "The angel Gabriel from heaven came," which was also in LSB and I think it's nice. But I also think it's more likely to be sung by a choir, and the refrain "most highly favored maiden, Gloria!" might trigger some parishioners who are sensitive to anything that smacks of Mariolatry. I'll give it half a tack.

I think we're at 3-1/2 tacks now. Not bad, all things considered. More another time. Till then, stay classy, brethren and sistren!

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