Monday, July 14, 2008

Tacky Hymns 2

I have not yet suffered martyrdom for my good taste, but I came close on at least one occasion. It was the summer of 1989.

I was 16 years old. I had scraped together all the nickels and dimes I had saved and bought passage to Alaska, along with two of my school chums. We visited another old chum who had moved there with his parents, who were Lutheran lay missionaries. For the most part we had a good time, messing around outdoors, shooting fireworks at each other, hiking up a glacier, and playing hide-and-seek all night long in the northernmost LCMS church (a very unusual structure in Fairbanks, which deserves to be studied for its properties as an ideal site for hide-and-seek).

One day, perhaps during our slumber party at that Fairbanks church, I was flipping through the green Lutheran Book of Worship, playing selections on a piano and offering my scholarly opinions on them. When I came across the following hymn, with words by Herbert F. Brokering (b. 1926) and music by David N. Johnson (b. 1922), I said something about it being without doubt the stupidest hymn I had ever heard. Whereupon my Alaskan friend karate-kicked me in the Adam's apple.

When I recovered from my near asphyxiation, I had learned a valuable lesson: people who love stupid hymns are not to be taken lightly.

Here are Brokering's words, separated from Johnson's pretty tune so that you can better appreciate their rich, ripe-for-satire banality.

1. Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets,
sing to the Lord a new song!
O victory, loud shouting army,
sing to the Lord a new song!

He has done maaaarvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

2. Hail, wind, and rain, loud blowing snowstorms,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Flowers and trees, loud rustling leaves,
sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

3. Trumpet and pipes, loud clashing cymbals,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Harp, lute, and lyre, loud humming cellos,
sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

4. Engines and steel, loud pounding hammers,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams, loud building workers,
sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

5. Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band, loud cheering people,
sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

6. Knowledge and truth, loud sounding wisdom,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son, loud praying members,
sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

Now and again, I am tempted to wish someone would invent the "imagery amplifier" used by the aliens in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to convert their atrocious poetry into an instrument of torture. Surely there must be some way to draw one's attention to the patent absurdity of "loud rushing planets." Granted, this is based on the Song of the Three Young Men in the apocryphal additions to Daniel. "All you works of the Lord, praise the Lord" and whatnot. But some of the imagery (loud boiling test tubes??) is self-defeating. Its 1978-vintage "relevance to today" is about as cheesy, thirty years farther on, as the earnest, flower-child melodrama of Jesus Christ Superstar.


Joel said...

one can only hope this generation is as creative.

Emily said...

I know this entry is rather old, but I came across it while searching for the lyrics of "Earth and All Stars" to demonstrate to someone who didn't remember them in full that it is, in fact, the silliest hymn ever composed. Just wanted to say you made me laugh.

"Loud boiling test tubes" was always the verse that made me have to bite back severe giggles.

Unknown said...

As a chemist, the loud boiling test tubes has made this one of my favorite hymns. Where else do you find a perfect correlation with the world of science with the world of theology. I will say that once I heard this hymn, I never quite saw the lab the same way again. Surely we can praise the Lord in all things, even those activities that seem mundane at best. You may consider it a silly song (everyone gets to have their own opinions) but I suggest you look deeper. If you can praise God in these mundane ways, what a glorious sound! (Oh...and loud rushing planets doesn't necessarily mean the rushing in space but the fact that in spinning, there is the rush of sound in their atmospheres. At least that's the way I've always seen it. Again, great connection between religion and science.)

bnichols23 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bnichols23 said...

The infamous moniker of "the test-tube hymn" is the usual Episcopal choir shorthand ("short-tongue"?) for E&AS too. Doesn't make it any easier to sing -- the thing is a monster. But a kinda-sorta lovable one. :)