Thursday, January 6, 2022

Tacky Hymns 99

We continue our run-through 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. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
We resume with the "Witness" section.

741 (Types 2-3) is "We have a gospel to proclaim" by Edward J. Burns, "alt." – not the actor who was in Saving Private Ryan, and nor the former Roman Catholic bishop of Dallas (who actually shares the poet's middle name, Joseph), but rather an Anglican priest – who does a good job in this hymn (give or take the help of "alt.") in actually saying what the gospel is that we have to proclaim; which is more than one can say for most mission hymns. It's basically a creed hymn, set to the catchy tune WALTON sometimes attributed to Beethoven. CWH calls the tune GERMANY; there are other books that call it FULDA; and its most credible source is William Gardiner's Sacred Melodies of 1815. Other hymns you might associate with it include "Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts" and "Where cross the crowded ways of life."

743 (Types 1-2) is "I hear the Savior calling" by John C. Lawrenz, set to the tune ANTHES (named after its composer), which you might associate with "Come unto Me, you weary" or "Today Thy mercy calls us." I don't care for Lawrenz's subjective, first-person language, his equivocal faffing with the concept of "calling" or vocation (which, depending on how this hymn is used, could blur the line between the pastoral vocation and that tired old "everyone a minister" twaddle), stanza 4's strange phrasing that "He changes hearts for me" (literally the last person Jesus does that for) and its business about "from door to door I witness," which reads 1970s evangelism programs back into the Great Commission. And of course, the last stanza plays the "souls are dying" card; but nowhere (except that strange line in stanza 4) is there a whiff of the efficacy of the word or (saving one line in stanza 2) what the gospel actually is. 3 tacks.

744 (Type 1) is "Rise, shine, you people," about which I previously commented at length. At that time, however, I didn't say anything about the tune (Dale Wood's WOTKIEWIECZ), which I can say, as a pianist and organist, is on the harder side to play, with its massive chords written in the register of Vaughan Williams' SINE NOMINE. Five-note chords, definitely a presumption that Mrs. Schmeckpepper will be on her toes (and heels) with the pedal part. But being guilty of writing hymn tune settings on the difficult side, I won't make that a factor in the 1 tack I give this hymn for just not being very well written.

746 (Type 1) is Katherine Hankey's "I love to tell the story" (abr., alt.) with its famous refrain and attractive melody HANKEY by W.G. Fischer. I previously commented on their collaboration here and here. But behold, a strange thing has happened to Hankey's hymn, evidently in the mysterious crack between the author credits "abr." and "alt." Compare the original text in which, as my previous comments on the hymn point out, never tell the story that it professes to love to tell, with the CWH version that (as of this writing) hilariously gives out as the "representative text" of this hymn. (Please don't tell me if Hymnary comes to its senses on this and restores Hankey's original text; I'm enjoying this moment too much.) So, with new and improved stanzas correcting the faults I criticized before, and author credits that conceal how little these lyrics owe to Katherine Hankey, CWH's version of "I love to tell the story" ends up perpetrating an even greater sin: pious fraud. It's an extreme example of a bone I've been picking with "alt." for many years: Getting rid of a bad hymn is good. Tarting it up with orthodox lyrics, not so much. It only creates confusion, misrepresenting the author's original intent and muddying the historical-cultural-literary record. And it encourages bad taste, possibly leading people to accept the inferior, original version because they don't notice the difference. 3 tacks.

747 (Types 2-3) is "Christ high-ascended" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, set to the 17th century French tune CHRISTE SANCTORUM. LSB paired it with ISTE CONFESSOR. It's a mission-and-witness hymn that takes its departure from Jesus', er, departure (ascension) and ends each stanza with the line "we are his witnesses." It both tells the story that we are to witness (nudge, nudge, Katherine) and acknowledges Christ as the source of power that flows through our witness.

748 is "Brothers, sisters, let us gladly," a stewardship hymn by Henry Bateman († 1872), set to the tune NETTLETON ("Come, Thou fount of every blessing") of which I'm sure I've said, many times, that it makes me think of my grandparents' Presbyterian church. The hymn, which was also in CWALH, is otherwise blameless and I realize it wouldn't be fair to stick a tack in it because of my own weird mental hang-ups. Darn it.

750 (Type 2) is "We give the but thine own," William How's classic stewardship hymn set to William Monk's tune ENERGY, of which many Lutheran congregations have sung just the first two stanzas every Sunday after collecting the offering since time immemorial. What makes it noteworthy here is the fact that CWH omits all but those two stanzas, which I guess you could put down to "bowing to the inevitable."

751 is "O God, your hand the heavens made" by Frank L. Cross († 2001), set to the English tune KINGSFOLD (which you might associate with "No tramp of soldiers' marching feet" or Edward Plumptre's "Your hand, O Lord, in days of old"). Setting aside the weird similarity between the opening lines of the Cross and Plumptre hymns, this is a pretty much blameless First Article/stewardship hymn that mentions talents (stanza 2), borrows the "trust from you" language from hymn 750, and includes a well-thought-out prayer for God to guide our use of His gifts.

752 is "Gracious God, you send great blessings" by Gregory Wismar, set to HOLY MANNA, as also in LSB. As a stewardship hymn, it sneaks in a tint of environmental stewardship in stanza 2 ("as we tend that endless treasure may our care encircle all") and goes on, in the next two stanzas, to lean into our social obligations (caring for others). So, it's an angle on the topic of Christian stewardship that carries a subtle political appeal.

753 (Type 1) is "My worth is not in what I own" by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick, with a keyboard arrangement by CWH show runner Michael Schultz. Starting with the music, I find the chord structure bland, static and uninteresting, and I don't feel the little piano flourishes at the end of each stanza and the refrain really add anything the piece couldn't do without. Also, the whole "let's sing the refrain only after stanzas 2, 4 and 5" concept adds only one thing: the need for first and second endings with score text explaining where to go next, if you're on-your-toes enough to follow these roadsigns in the moment. Yeah, it's basically a solo number, or one for a rehearsed group to sing at the congregation. Text-wise, I like the stanzas but I think the hymn could do without the refrain; which would perhaps free it up to be set to a more suitable piece of music. I'm conflicted, because I like almost everything Schultz has contributed to this book so far, but I seriously question his judgment in getting entangled in a gaffe like this. 2 tacks.

754 (Type 1) is "Forgive us, Lord, for shallow thankfulness" by William Reid, Sr. († 1983), set to the tune SURSUM CORDA on which I've commented, several times in this hymnal review; and the more often I see it, the more I question the judgment of Schultz and Co. who seem to prefer it to so many superior alternatives. Paired with this underwhelming melody is a hymn that I've always considered rather weak, as evidenced by the first line and the entire stanza that follows. Adopting a pose of baring the soul to God in penitence, it confesses such a mediocre sin that it almost smacks of humblebrag. "Behold, I'm such a base sinner, I don't glorify God energetically enough!" Maybe the last line of the stanza redeems it a bit with its hook into "richer gifts (of which) we're unaware," which unfold in the second stanza. Still, it's a hymn that rubs me as having a negative attitude. Where Reid's lines stick at "selfish thanks and praise" and "words that speak at variance with deeds" (stanza 3), "feast that knows no fast" and "joy in things that ... starve the soul" (stanza 5), and at (what I read as) divisions within the church for reasons that Reid views as pure meanness, unworthy of the kingdom (but which, for all I know, could include very serious issues), he could have, instead, devoted the same space to positively thanking and praising God for the right things. Stanza 6 asks God to open our eyes to His love's intent, which after all that has been said up to that point might be read as Reid's way of saying "Care about what I think Christ wants you to care about, people!" I detect a whiff of truth in what this hymn says, but also a stench of passive aggressively forcing words of contrition into people's mouths about things of which they may not be guilty. 3 tacks.

755 is "A life begins, a child is born" by Jaroslav Vajda, set to a tune written for it by Jeremy Bakken. Unfortunately, though it's a new tune, the pew edition of CWH doesn't include the accompaniment, so once again I'm denied the option of playing through it on the piano unless I invest in heftier books from NPH. Also, its opening notes remind me distractingly of Marty Haugen's tune SHANTI. As a "home and education" hymn that focuses on the responsibility of raising up children in the way they will go, etc., it has solid potential. I'm not 100% sure that it quite gets there, but I'll spare it more than, say, 1/2 tack.

759 is "When training up a child" by Michael Schultz, set to the blandly attractive tune DENBY that has made a roaring comeback in recent years (cf. 688, "The gifts Christ freely gives"). This is the hymn that goes where I was hoping Vajda was headed in 755. I particularly like stanza 2, which references Timothy and his mother, and goes on to summarize the gospel thus: "how we had all the sin, but Christ took all the blame, how we've been dressed in righteousness in Jesus' name." Bravo, Michael.

761 is "Our Father, by whose name" by F. Bland Tucker († 1984), set to the same RHOSYMEDRE to which this hymnal set "My song is love unknown." I like it better in this connection. It's a nice little hymn praying for the Triune God's blessing on the family.

762 is "Lord, bless your Word to all the young" by Norwegian romantic poet and bishop Johan Nordahl Brun († 1816), set to REUTER (the non-EIN FESTE BURG tune to "God's word is our great heritage"). CWH here cobbles together two stanzas from two different translations of Brun's work, both with the editorial hand of "alt." I believe they are stanzas 2 and 4 of the confirmation hymn that in ELHy begins "Our Lord and God, O(h) bless this day." Other than making the hymn more broadly applicable to the Christian training of youth (without specific reference to confirmation), I don't see what CWH gets out of omitting the other two stanzas, unless it's purely a space-saving measure.

763 is "Lord, when you came as welcome guest" by F. Samuel Janzow († 2001), set to the early Americana LAND OF REST (a tune I associate with "Jerusalem, my happy home"). It's a marriage hymn taking off from Jesus' attendance at the Cana wedding feast. I think it could be a moving addition to a wedding service.

764 (Type 1) is "Gracious Savior, grant your blessing" by Stephen Starke, set to a tune called CIVILITY by my exact contemporary, Gregg DeMey. In this case, CWH provides the full accompaniment in the pew book, including several bars of instrumental bridge between all the stanzas. It's written in a distinctly Christian Soft Rock style that I am surprised to find Starke associating with, like a tender romantic piano ballad that, whatever the poet's intentions may have been, I can only imagine being performed at the congregation by a soloist or rehearsed group. There's actually an italicized stanza that references the Cana wedding with a footnote saying that it may be sung at a wedding ceremony; which one may infer to mean it should not be sung otherwise. This makes it an awkward hymn to choose when you're looking for a hymn for a Sunday sermon about the wedding at Cana, which accounts for 95% of the non-wedding-ceremony occasions on which I would be looking for a hymn like this. 2 tacks.

766 (Type 1) is "Lord, whose love in humble service," about which I have previously commented. 3 tacks.

768 is "Lord of all nations, grant me grace" by Olive Wise Spannaus († 2018), set to O WALY WALY. Set to a different tune in another book, I gave it reserved marks before.

769 is "Your hand, O Lord, in days of old," that Plumptre piece I mentioned earlier, but here set to William Croft's interesting tune ST. MATTHEW. It focuses on Jesus' healing miracles and moves, from there, to a prayer for healing and help today, including guiding medical hands, etc. Could be useful.

770 (Type 1) is Harry Emerson Fosdick's "God of grace and God of glory," every recent Lutheran hymnal's sop toward mid-20th century liberal Protestantism whose apparent enrollment in the list of Hymns We Can't Do Without sets my teeth on edge. Not that it's a bad hymn, as such, but like "It came upon a midnight clear" (which was written by a Unitarian), it shows that being scarcely Christian is no barrier to getting your hymns into today's church songbooks, even in supposedly conservative Lutheran groups. Also, it's another hymn that puts a this-worldly, political complexion on "your (God's) kingdom's goal." 1 tack.

771 (Types 2-3) is "Lord, who left the highest heaven" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, set to the 17th century chorale ALL SAINTS, similar to the tunes DIR, DIR JEHOVA and WINCHESTER NEW. TDS calls on Jesus to bless those who, like him, endure homelessness, oppression, distress, conflict, etc., tying in the entire salvation history with these prayers. I like some of his poetic phrasing, like "sky the roof and earth the pillow" (stanza 4).

Turning from "society" to "nation," 772 is "O God Most High, your saints below" by Michael Schultz, set once again to Hubert Parry's REPTON. Given the tune's somewhat triumphalistic character, it's surprising how softly this hymn peddles patriotism, not naming any particular country and acknowledging that "nations rise and fall" (stanza 3). It also prays for good things, like rulers who don't disgrace us and citizens who "live as salt and light."

773 is "O Lord of nations, hear our prayer" by Laurie Gauger, set to Ernest Kroeger's († 1934) tune JOSEPHINE. Though new to me, I find this tune old-fashioned, dated sounding and so heavy on syrupy sentimentality that it makes me want to spit. I can't imagine what CWH's editors were thinking when they decided to revive this relic; it's just going to encourage bad taste to grow and spread, like mildew on the wall. Would the hymn be OK with a better tune? Maybe, and I can name 11 other tunes in the same meter that might have been consulted before introducing JOSEPHINE to Lutheranism. As for the poetry, I like the fact that "robin song" is one of the things Gauger wants us to give thanks for. (Wink.) This hymn of thanksgiving also carries a reminder of something we dare not take for granted: "that in this country we are free to worship you above" (stanza 3). It goes on to pray for a lot of the same things as Schulz's hymn before it, and then some more, including a vision of "that shining band of saints from every tribe and land" which, again, improves on what you'd expect out of a patriotic hymn.

Hymn 776 begins the "morning" section, so it seems like an excellent place to stop before this evening grows too late. That's 18-1/2 tacks for today, making the total 140-1/2 in 475 hymns – 29.6 percent tacky overall.

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