Saturday, February 22, 2014
Tacky Hymns 50
The numbering of hymns in LSB starts with 331, on purpose to avoid confusion between one set of numbers for the hymns and another set of numbers for the pages in the front of the book (which start with Psalms 1-150 and continue from there through 330). So don't be too impressed by the statistic that the first certifiable example of Tacky Hymnody in LSB is hymn 369, "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt." This Christmas hymn is by the late Slovak-American hymn-writer Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008). The tune is by his frequent collaborator, Carl Schalk (b. 1929). Remember "Now the silence"? Theirs. (It's also hymn 910 in this book.) While Schalk's tune is banal, shmaltzy, and derivative—sufficient qualifications for mentioning this hymn here—the really awesome coup against good taste (as always, in the context of a worshiping Lutheran congregation) is Vajda's text, which does for the manger/cradle of the baby Jesus what "In the Garden" does for Mary Magdalene's vigil near the Savior's grave. Specifically, it invites the singer or hearer to imagine him/herself on the spot, either in spirit or in fancy witnessing the historical event. At the scene described in the first line, "I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred..." Really? This seems very personal, experiential, possibly only applying to certain believers even in whatever almost incredibly figurative sense it could be truly stated by anyone. "But there is room and welcome there for me," the next line croons, suggesting an inversion of the Real Presence of Christ in which we have to go to Him somehow (mystically? mentally? emotionally? in a dream or vision?), rather than finding Him coming to us. It sounds like a kind of communion with Jesus that can only ever be uncertain, and that has no basis in the Lord's promises. "In that unlikely place I find Him," stanza 2 adds. Unlikely indeed! Where are we supposed to find Jesus? This hymn seems to suggest some kind of mental or spiritual time travel. Stanza 3 twaddles on about Isaiah being there (surprise!), "his prophecies fulfilled." In response, "with pounding heart I stare"—which I'm sure exactly mirrors the feelings of everybody attending Christmas Mass. Stanza 4 brings the hymn to a touchy-feely climax with this Love that was born burning "its" (?!) way into my heart. I suspect heartburn, a bit of which I am feeling after taking this hymn.
About hymn 378 "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light" I have only one quibble. It isn't J. Rist's 17th century lyrics, nor J. Schop's 17th century tune. It's J. S. Bach's 18th century harmonization. As dearly as I love it, this arrangement of the hymn effectly makes it a choir piece. Organists of modest ability may also find that it taxes their powers to the limit, if not beyond. I think it is foolhardy to commit such an arrangement to the pew hymnal, although it has advantages for a financially hard-up choir director. This could have been reserved for a choir supplement or a book of alternate arrangements, while the folks in the pew were given a simpler harmony—possibly even the rhythmic version of the chorale as Bach himself arranged it in Cantata 143.
408 "Come, join in Cana's feast" is an Epiphany hymn by Herman Stuempfle (b. 1923),1 on the surface dealing with the miracle of turning water into wine, which is featured in the gospel for the second Sunday after Epiphany. The rhetoric of the hymn, however, seems to invite one and all to think thoughts of the Eucharist: thoughts which, however, do not specifically include the oral reception of Jesus' body and blood. This smacks of the same trend in Communion hymns that I noticed in my sack of ELW. It's easy enough to throw around equivocal phrases like "share the feast" and "drink the wine supplied," to speak of Christ as "both guest and host," etc. To say something about the Lord's Supper that confesses unmistakably what it is, is another thing altogether. One thing I mean to fight against till my dying breath is this spiritualizing tendency in Communion hymns, whether they are called that or not.
445 "When You woke that Thursday morning" is a Maundy Thursday hymn addressed to Christ, by the already lamented Jaroslav Vajda. And yet I am loath to say anything mean about this hymn. I just think it would be improved if the tune weren't this particular piece of shmaltz by Marty Haugen (b. 1950), on whom I made so many remarks while going through ELW. I have long recognized a pattern among tunes paired with Vajda's texts; even those of his hymns that are objectively better than average tend to be hampered by tacky, touchy-feely music. I wonder if this shows bad taste on Vadja's part or on the part of the editors at CPH.
466 "Christ has arisen, Alleluia" is a 20th-century Tanzanian Easter hymn that I only mention because of the strange fact that a certain ecclesiastical friend of mine, who gives frequent speaking engagements, takes it along on his traveling road show and makes people sing it before or after his presentation. He seems to think it is the type of hymn that will appeal to people in a way that more seasoned Lutheran hymns would not. Meaning no disrespect, I submit this as another example of questionable taste and judgment in music. Catchy as the tune is, I doubt that most congregations (even among those that use LSB) have sung it often enough for it to be more than an ethnically-flavored novelty. My advice to my dear friend would be to go for deeper substance and a longer-standing tradition of being sung in Lutheran worship. Failing that, at least be more ready to listen to an experienced organist's opinion of what hymns are likely to be familiar to a group of Lutherans from a broad background.
476 "Who are you who walk in sorrow" is "road to Emmaus" Easter hymn by Herman Stuempfle, set to the early American tune JEFFERSON. The tune, together with the hymn's frank admission of the role that sorrow and grief plays in our life, make this an unusually somber hymn for the Easter season—one would almost think of it with Lenten feelings. I like much of what Stuempfle does in this work, but again, if it were to come up on that hymn-writers' bulletin board, I would tactfully offer some advice about how it could be improved. It's too bad nobody thought to offer similar advice before this hymn made it into the pew-book; perhaps nobody was in a position to do so. I think the rhetoric of the hymn could be improved by deciding from the start whom it is addressing, and sticking to that point of view throughout. Instead, it first asks the Emmaus disciples, "Who are you?" Then, in stanza 3, it asks Jesus, "Who are You?" Somewhere along the way we have ceased being omniscient narrators (as it were), sympathizing with the Emmaus disciples, and have merged with them as characters in the story. Then we step apart again in Stanza 4 and ask, "Who are we...?" I can't decide whether to be tickled or ticked by the way Stuempfle up-ends a trite cliche from Evangelicalism with the lines "At the font You claim and name us, born of water and the Word"—but I still think his two-line description of the Lord's Supper, immediately following this, continue the poet's record of failing to say anything about the Lord's body and blood. And finally, stanza 5 has the line "Make the Church Your servant body," which only reminds me once again how often "servant" is used as an adjective in today's hymnody. Verily, it is becoming a trite cliche in its own right.
502 "Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven" is a Spanish Pentecost hymn by Philip Blycker (b. 1939), translated for this hymnal. When LSB was being introduced to the Missouri Synod, I sat in on a hymnal workshop and actually heard this hymn being performed with the liturgical equivalent of a mariachi band adding color to the accompaniment. Like a spot burnt on one's retina by staring into the sun, it left an indelible mental image in my mind's ear, so that I can never hear this tune played or sung without being accompanied by the ghostly, yet still ghastly, echo of that supremely tacky performance. But I have an even more mortifying memory connected with this hymn. I once made the mistake of mentioning it to my church's choir (which I was then directing) as an example of a hymn in LSB that we would never use in church. Immediately somebody suggested that we sing it as a choir anthem on Pentecost. Lutheran choir singers being a non-confrontational bunch, nobody offered to vote against the proposal even when I begged with despair for objections. We ended up rehearsing it for several weeks. The week before the song went live, the singer who proposed it missed a rehearsal, leaving other members of the choir free to grumble about how this was the stupidest hymn they had ever heard and sung. I'm not saying I agree—my objection to this hymn is more based on the tackiness of putting on a stereotype of another culture, complete with stanzas in the original Spanish, which has virtually nothing to do with the background of the choir performing it or the congregation hearing it. And it will be a choir performing it. And the Spanish-speaking congregation does have its own hymnal, thank you. So on another level, there is also the embarrassment of realizing that what this hymn is really about, the most likely reason it would ever be used in our church, is touting our heroic inclusiveness and multicultural whatnot.
511 "Herald, sound the note of judgment" was written in the 1970s by Moir Waters (1906-80), set to a 70s hymn tune by David McCarthy (b. 1931). And while it has an impressive ring to it, it's the kind of hymn I pity. I understand how other hymns must pick on it, having grown up with an embarrassing name myself. No doubt there will be jokes alluding to the name "Harold," and possibly some ridicule directed at the subtly implied notion that John the Baptist was a trumpeter. Really it's a nice summary of the Advent season. The only really tacky thing about it is that the editors placed it under the topic "End Times."
542 "When I behold Jesus Christ" is LSB's nod to the Ethiopian aspect of Lutheran cultural diversity. It has a nice expressive tune that could almost play on Christian contemporary radio. It also has the same tendency as many African-American traditional hymns, of taking a great deal of time to say rather little. Beyond appreciating the greatness of God's love in that Jesus died for me, there isn't much to it. The line "On Golgotha there for all my sins You bled and died" is as far as it goes in explaining the atonement. The result: "My life with God—this I owe to You, and You alone." With considerable unpacking—say, a sermon—much could be brought out of this. But woe to the church that relies on its hymnody to make up for a lack of substance in the preaching!
543 "What wondrous love is this" is the 19th-century American counterpart of the last-mentioned hymn. It takes even longer to say about as much. A beautiful work of art, an admirable cultural treasure though it may be, and even moving to hear performed, it nevertheless tries the patience of anyone who sees the point coming and wants to get to it. Not only is the text repetitive, but the tune is slow as well. Law and gospel it has, in its way. It confesses that wondrous love caused the Lord "to bear the dreadful curse for my soul," and that "When I was sinking down beneath God's righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown," etc. It then spends two stanzas declaring that I will sing to God and the Lamb, both now and "when from death I'm free." All very good, and admirably compressed when you look at it laid out in non-repeating quatrains; but with all the languid motion of the tune and the repetitions in the text, it is almost maddening.
With regard to 552 "O Christ, who shared our mortal life" by Herman Stuempfle,3 my only complaint is that the editors grossly underestimated the likelihood that their layout would confuse simple folks in the pew, to say nothing of the pastor, music director, and church office drudge (often one and the same person) who have to plan and prepare for the service. Offering three different choices of which "stanzas 2 and 3" to insert between 1 and 4 is only really safe from liturgical train-wreck when the congregation has invested in the publishing house's proprietary service-planning software, complete with copyright license for... oh. Aha! Cha-ching! But you know, in a practical, unmercenary world, the publishing house would be kind enough to ensure that the pew edition is all that anyone really needs to be able to do everything in the book. I know, I know: that's a pipe dream. I mean, who would publish a book like The Lutheran Hymnal these days! (Sigh.) To refine my point a bit, Stuempfle's poem, including pairs of stanzas on the raising of Jairus' daughter, the raising of the widow's son, and the raising of Lazarus, would be at least as effective if it had been printed as one solid block of stanzas, with "stanza 4" at the end, and perhaps a footnote reminding those planning the service that it's OK to omit stanzas that aren't directly relevant to the message of the day. As if Lutherans need any help remembering that!
561 "The tree of life" is a very touching poem by Stephen Starke that illuminates the connection between the fall of Adam and Eve and the cross of Jesus. Unfortunately (to my thinking), it is now inextricably wedded to a tune by Bruce Becker that has reminded me, from the first time I heard it, of a certain ditty by Billy Joel. Another drawback of the tune is that it interrupts each eight-syllable phrase with a dotted half-note, which prolongs the agony of four eight-line stanzas of emotionally affecting but artistically indifferent melody which, in the last analysis, upstages Starke's fine text.
605 "Father welcomes" is a ditty by Robin Mann (b. 1949) whose refrain twice, irritatingly, says "Father" instead of "The Father" or "Our Father." This apparent headline-speak gives way to three stanzas that appear to have been written without any attempt to fit a particular meter—irregularities that could very easily trip up the average congregation attempting to sing it. I say nothing against Mann's persistent use of slant-rhyme, because I don't want to perjure myself later when I defend my own ill-rhyming poetry...
631 "Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face" is a very attractive Communion hymn by Horatius Bonar (1808-89), set to the catchy tune FARLEY CASTLE by Henry Lawes (1595-1662). It's been in a bunch of the relatively recent Lutheran hymnals, and its appeal is undeniable, especially thanks to the tune. But ever since I read John Stephenson's Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics text on the Lord's Supper, in which he singles out this hymn as an example of the Reformed theology of the Lord's Supper masquerading as Lutheran hymnody, I haven't been able to sing this hymn. I am disappointed with the LCMS for overlooking Stephenson's criticism and selecting it for LSB.
632 "O Jesus, blessed Lord to Thee" is Thomas Kingo's (1634-1701) classic post-Communion hymn, set to OLD HUNDREDTH. I only mention it here because of the translation of the last two lines of Stanza 2: "My Savior dwells within my heart: How blest am I! How good Thou art!" In the 1913 Lutheran Hymnary, which is closer both in time and in cultural lineage to Kingo, the translation was: "My Savior dwells within me now: How blest am I! How good art Thou!" I can think of no good reason for the alteration, which goes back at least to TLH and has persisted through LW into LSB. But I can think of a bad reason, which is why the folks at my home church still sing the Hymnary version even while using TLH. The former translation could be interpreted as saying that Christ's presence in the Supper is merely spiritual. The latter interpretation at least allows one to infer that Christ has come into us bodily, for our benefit as complete, flesh-and-spirit creatures.
635 "O gracious Lord, I firmly am believing" is a five-stanza Communion hymn, printed in both English and Spanish. I don't mean to take issue with the text. I am only singling this hymn out for two reasons. First, an entire page is devoted to the Spanish-speaking portion of it. I didn't object to a hymn, earlier in the book, that filled a few inches of white space at the bottom of the right-hand page with gratuitous stanzas in Spanish. But by devoting an entire page to a gesture of multicultural triumphalism, in the context of a book that will be of practical use only to English-speaking congregations, the editors show me that their priorities were out of whack. Second, the Hispanic-inflected tune may carry associations of objectivity and dignity in Spain or Latin America; but in a religious culture whose musical heart has been formed by western art music, it sounds lightweight and theatrical—the minor key notwithstanding.
638 "Eat this bread, drink this cup" by Robert Batastini (b. 1942), Jacques Berthier (1923-94), and the Taizé Community, avoids some of the problems that have made so many Taizé hymns a target of my wit in this series of posts. How does it avoid them? By moving beyond its simplistic refrain into a series of stanzas that unfold the nature and benefits of the Lord's Supper. It even speaks of Christ's body and blood being eaten and drunk. Why do I mention it, then? Because it has a different tune for each of its five stanzas. This means the congregation will sing, at most, the refrain, between verses performed by the "Cantor or Choir." In my opinion, a song of which the better part must be sung at the congregation, is a waste of space in the pew hymnal.
654 "Your kingdom, O God, is my glorious treasure" is by David Rogner (b. 1960), set to its own tune by Joseph Herl (b. 1959). It sounds nice and it's well-intentioned, and there's good meaning in this paraphrase of some of Jesus' kingdom parables, such as the leaven in the measure of flour, the mustard seed, the wheat and tares, and the costly pearl. On the other hand, it resorts to trite and trendy cliches like "Empower me" (stanza 2). In the very same line there is a reference to Christ's commission (Matthew 28:19-20) which suggests, or rather positively states, that it is my duty ("I" meaning each individual who is intended to sing this hymn) to make disciples of all nations—an interpretation of the Great Commission, vis-à-vis Christian vocation, that I seriously question.
678 "We sing for all the unsung saints" is a "Church Triumphant" hymn by Carl Daw (b. 1944), set to Henry Cutler's (1824-1902) tune ALL SAINTS NEW.4 It's the first line that makes me giggle. Now that we're singing for them, they're not unsung, are they? All right, that's just a joke. Take it easy!
695 "Not for tongues of heaven's angels" is Timothy Dudley-Smith's (b. 1926) paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13. It is set to a modern hymn-tune called BRIDEGROOM by Peter Cutts (b. 1937), which appears to have been written decades earlier for some other text. As intriguing as this text-tune pairing is, I simply don't see it playing successfully on the instrument which I call the Congregation of Average Singing Ability.
698 "May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill" is an example of the old-timey hymnody that holds such a warm, fuzzy place in the hearts of the elderly generation in our churches, while its bland banality probably contributes to the delinquency in church attendance of their children unto the third and fourth generation. The text belongs to English hymn-writer named Edward Osler (1798-1863); the tune MERIBAH, to American church-musician-laureate Lowell Mason (1792-1872), who besides several hymn texts wrote tons of hymn tunes. A "Lowell Mason Hymn Festival" of considerable length could be garnered from only a few of the last century's Lutheran hymn-books, but most of it would be in horrid taste when considered in the light of genuinely Lutheran spiritual values. Even if there is no harm in this particular hymn, I sometimes feel it is incumbent on me—or rather, on us—to starve the legacy of Lowell Mason out of the Lutheran church, for the good of the coming generation.
707 "Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways" is another one of those old-timey sanctification hymns, albeit set to a tune by W. H. Havergal (EVAN) rather than Lowell Mason. Its author is the grossly over-represented (in anglophone Lutheran hymn-books) Isaac Watts, an absurdly prolific ecclesiastical poet whose tendency toward moralism made him a target of satire in some of Charles Dickens' novels. Nothing he says in this hymn could not be found in a faithful paraphrase of one or more Psalms. I probably should keep my mouth shut about this, as about the two hymns just mentioned, because the offense my criticism will give may be out of proportion to the harm these hymns do. But honestly, I've been rolling my eyes while playing these hymns since I started serving as a church organist at age 17. And eye-rolling does not conduce toward accurate note-reading or the safe handling of such a volatile instrument. When proponents of "contemptible worship" complain that traditional hymnody is alienating younger folks from the church, with respect to hymns of this school they may actually have a point. What they lack in genuine musical and poetic merit (as opposed to associations with sentimental, nostalgic feelings), they do not make up in penetrating theological insight or dynamic gospel proclamation. They're just bland, soft, quivering, gelatinous blobs of anxious concern about our moral development, with at best an occasional, vanishingly subtle allusion to the gospel. When the generation that loves these ditties dies and is buried in the wilderness, such songs will disappear and not be missed. I hope.
712 "Seek ye first" (the kingdom of God) is a Sunday School ditty by Karen Lafferty, paraphrased from words of Jesus in Matthew 4, 6, and 7, and copyrighted in 1972 by Marantaha! Music. In other words, it's the same age as I am, and it's been pursuing me throughout my life, starting with all those years of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School that I couldn't wait to be done with. And now it's in the hymnal! Yay!!
723 "The Lord is my light" is a three-stanza hymn, with refrain, by Alberto Taulé (b. 1932), which required two translators to bring into English from the original Spanish. It is presented in both languages, sprawling across two pages because each stanza had to be set to its own strain of melody due to irregularities in the meter. Loath to repeat what I said about the previous Spanish-English hymn, let me only add that the presence of this number in the pew-book demonstrates that the editors had forgotten one of the main reasons hymns are such a valuable asset to the church: their cost-effectiveness. Ideally, you can sing all the stanzas to the same strain, saving page space for another deserving hymn or two. This has the beneficial side-effect of convincing parishioners, at a glance, that they may be able to sing the hymn you are about to spring on them. And the success of an experiment with a new hymn may well depend on such subtle cues and mental preparations.
762 "There is a time for everything" is Stephen Starke's paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, with devotional comments added. Admirable as this project is, I rate it a "Hymn Tune Fail," thanks to Stephen Johnson's (b. 1966) melody ST. PETER'S NORWALK, which seems to be trying hard to sound like a pop song, but by dint of being too long, through-composed, and uninspired, fails to stick in the memory.
771 "Be still, my soul, before the Lord" may be easily confused (until you look at the page) with the hymn whose pairing with Sibelius' FINLANDIA I have heretofore sneered at. Actually this is a completely different "Be still my soul" hymn, with lyrics by Herman Stuempfle and music by Marty Haugen, a.k.a. "the usual suspects." Here again we see what a mixed blessing it is to have a hymnal earmarked for equal representation by each century since the Reformation: a plethora of texts by the likes of Timothy Dudley-Smith, Christopher Idle, Stephen Starke, Jaroslav Vajda, and Herman Stuempfle, whose output is uneven and whose lyrics lack the advantage of those of earlier centuries of having been proven, refined, and in some cases consumed by the proverbial Test of Time. And so we get this interesting "Prayer" hymn which, read at face value, almost seems to be advising the Christian not to pray. Read it for yourself and see if you agree.
776 "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest" is, yes indeed, a musical arrangement of that prayer. It can even be sung as a round! If it weren't for the fact that it conveniently fills a narrow strip of white space at the bottom of a right-hand page, I would complain, "Do we really need to waste space on this?!" The tune is nothing special. The text does not need a melody to reinforce it in anyone's memory. Plenty of Lutherans already know it and use it as a table grace. To my recollection, it has never been commended to the church in a hymnal until now. What would be really interesting would be an effort to use the church's worship book to teach people the prayer Luther recommended for use before meals, in his Small Catechism.
786 "Lord of all good" (our gifts we bring You now) is a "Stewardship" hymn by Albert Bayly (1901-84), set to FARLEY CASTLE. While it's nice to see that tune being put to another use than hymn 631, I'm not sure this hymn is any better. It talks about all we are offering to God, without mentioning (except in passing, in the concluding doxology) that these very things came to us as gifts from Him. These include, most strikingly, the minds, body parts, and senses that we offer to God in stanza 2—which we learned, in Luther's catechism explanation of the First Article of the Creed, are things God gave us. Also included in this catalog of sacrificial gifts to God are "hearts with the flame of Your own love ablaze," which sounds like a nice plug for the LCMS evangelism/fundraising campaign "Ablaze!" that was in full swing when this hymnal came out.
799 and 800 "Alabaré" is one hymn for the price of two. On the right-hand page, as hymn 800, is the original Spanish version of the hymn, along with an English translation of all three stanzas, but not of the refrain, which is sung in Spanish regardless. (The meaning of the words is relegated to a footnote.) On the left-hand page, as hymn 799, is the same translation of stanza 1, followed by two original stanzas (in English only) by John Ylvisaker (b. 1937), who could not fail to be involved in an enterprise as tacky as this. Ylvisaker's verses are a paraphrase of the Dignus est Agnus from Revelation 5 and 7. The alternative Spanish stanzas, as translated into English, depart immediately from John's vision of heavenly worship to a generic song of praise—essentially a two-stanza Trinitarian doxology. Added to this nice, but by no means life-changing, content, we get a tune whose shape and accompaniment pattern oblige the listener to move his feet and clap his hands, unless he is completely catatonic; i.e., unless he is an American Lutheran. Boy, are Grandma and Grandpa Smurf going to look and sound ridiculous doing this!
806 "Give thanks with a grateful heart" is entirely, words and music, by Henry Smith (b. 1952). And so you know exactly whom to blame for this piece of sanctified pop music, whose rhythm (featuring frequent long notes) pre-supposes an accompaniment that fills in the empty spaces. In other words, it's not a tune that can stand up on its own, and for that reason it is probably also not a tune that the congregation can carry. It will be a solo. Trust me.
825 "Rise, shine, you people" is a hymn by Ronald King (b. 1929) whose tune, WOJTKIEWIECZ by Dale Wood, first brings to mind Bill Murray's immortal line from The Man Who Knew Too Little: "Gesundheit myself!" It second brings to mind the statistical probability that Mrs. Schmeckpepper, the nervous Methodist lady who plays the Hammond organ at your parents' church for $20 per service, has the virtuoso chops to perform the fistfuls of notes (to say nothing of pedal double-stops) the hymnal arrangement of this tune calls for. To put it in simpler terms, it's a pretty hard piece to play, keyboardistically speaking. Hymnal editors ought to be a bit more considerate of the limits on Mrs. Schmeckpepper's time, talents, and psychological resilience. The poor lady is approaching burnout as it is.
833 "Listen, God is calling," a Kenyan hymn about Jesus' great commission, is another example of the type of hymn my previously mentioned friend likes to trot out on his speaking-engagement roadshow. The "Leader/All," call/response antiphony give it an interesting texture, but allowance needs to be made for the fact that American Lutherans, by and large, don't know this piece, or anything remotely similar to it. I still maintain that it is cracked to assume they won't recognize, or be able to sing, a Lutheran hymn that has probably been sung in most LCMS churches on a yearly basis for the last century, while expecting them to know or immediately pick up this recent and unusual addition to the pew repertoire.
835 "On Galilee's high mountain" is another great commission/mission and witness hymn, written by Henry Letterman for 1982's Lutheran Worship and set to Lowell Mason's tune MISSIONARY HYMN.7 I would be more comfortable with this hymn if I could understand whether it is intended to express the vocation of all Christians, or only of those called to serve in domestic and foreign missions.
853 "How clear is our vocation Lord," by F. Pratt Green (1903-2000),8 is a hymn that requires a footnote to explain the pronunciation and meaning of one of it words (skein). Not stopping there, the footnote also endeavors to explain what the hymn is about—by no means the only instance in which the hymnal editors felt they had to give the end user a little context in which to interpret a hymn. I suppose these notes can be helpful, and to say that they should have chosen lyrics that people could readily understand would no doubt be to underestimate the ignorance of the average person. Forsooth, writing hymns is hard enough; writing hymns that go straight to the minds and hearts of "the common people" is an art form whose masters are perhaps born rather than made. I'm far from saying that I'm one of them. But to the extent that this hymn reaches my intellect and heart, it affects me as a chatty little dialogue with God about our daily business. The effect of singing it rather depresses me. I would rather spend more time dwelling on the part that Green compresses into his last two lines: "The cross you hung upon—All you endeavored done."
856 "O Christ, who called the Twelve" is by Herman Stuempfle again. Not to pick on him, or on the text of this hymn, I only really want to point out—at the risk of repeating something I have said before—why I don't like the English tune TERRA BEATA. This tune is wedded to the Maltbie Babcock poem "This is my Father's world," which is only Christian to the extent that it attributes the creation of all nature's wonders to God. This tune was also notably used as a theme in Howard Shore's score to The Lord of the Rings. So I just feel goofy when I hear it used as a hymn in Lutheran worship.
879 "Stay with us, till night has come" is by Herbert Brokering (b. 1926), with an original tune by Walter Pelz (b. 1926). Like some other new-ish tunes I have commented on, Pelz's STAY WITH US is full of pauses in the middle of phrases, presumably to let the accompaniment shine through the vocal line. But once again, the practical result is that the tune can hardly stand up to a capella singing, and almost guarantees the failure of the musical leaders to get the average congregation to join in a robust performance of it. Its five stanzas are a veiled reference to Jesus' Easter appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; so veiled, in fact, that it may take some congregations unawares. Among the charming eccentricities of Brokering's poem are lines such as "Jesus, be our great surprise" (stanza 1), "Heal our eyes to see the prize" (stanza 4), and "No tears nor dark shall dim the sun" (stanza 5).
887 "Now the light has gone away"/Müde bin ich, geh zur Ruh is an interesting juxtaposition of a hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal with four stanzas in German that have nothing to do with the English hymn, apart from both of them being an evening prayer and being sung to the same tune. The footnote explains that the German stanzas are included "for those who remember it as their bedtime prayer during childhood." It's a cutesie little kiddie tune, regardless of which language you sing to it.
911 "Lord, this day we've come to worship" is by Richard C. Dickinson (b. 1925), and is set to the tune GLORIOUS NAME by B. B. McKinney (1886-1952). Perhaps the tune is to blame for the fact that the refrain is twice as long as it really needs to be. I think once per stanza is enough for "Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, praise the Lord," especially in the faux "Gloria in excelsis Deo" melismatic manner in which these words are sung.
Other examples of this style include 926 "Song from Deuteronomy" (Audite, coeli; "The Lord will vindicate His people," Deut. 32, music by Jonathan Mueller [b. 1964]); 927 "First Song of Isaiah" (Confitebor tibi, Domine; "The Lord God is my strength and my song," Isaiah 12; music by Henry Gerike [b. 1948]); 928 "Song of Hannah" (Exultavit cor meum; "My heart exults in the Lord," 1 Samuel 2; music by Kurt von Kampen [b. 1960] and Paul Grime [b. 1958]); 929 "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord" (Gaudens gaudebo; "The Lord God will cause righteousness," Isaiah 61; music by Phillip Magness [b. 1963]); and 931 "All you works of the Lord" (Benedicite, omnia opera; "Praise Him and magnify Him forever," Song of the Three Young Men; music by Paul Grime).
Meanwhile, 930 "All you works of God, bless the Lord" is Stephen Starke's paraphrase of the Song of the Three Young Men, set to the Jamaican tune LINSTEAD in a musical spectacle that has to be heard to be believed. I would rather go on doubting, however. Starke's paraphrase of the Beatitudes is the burden of 932 "Jesus sat with His disciples," which in my opinion is greatly hampered by association with Marty Haugen's touchy-feely tune JOYOUS LIGHT.
941 "We praise you and acknowledge You" is a Te Deum paraphrase by (surprise!) Stephen Starke. Aaaand it is set to Gustav Holst's tune THAXTED, on which I have commented before. Enough!
The "Liturgical Music" section of the book continues with multiple settings of the Kyrie: one from Taizé/Jacques Berthier (943) that permits the cantor to intone bids or petitions overlapping with the choir or congregation's repetitions of "Kyrie eleison," and one in three-part harmony from the Russian Orthodox tradition (944), which can be sung in either Greek or English. Then there are two Alleluia arrangements: a sixfold one (951) from Taizé/Berthier, with chant notes for the cantor to use with the Alleluia verse while the choir hums its closing chords; and a fourfold one (952) by Fintan O'Carroll (d. 1977). And then there are a couple of chant versions of the Our Father, including a plainsong (957) and a setting by Carlos Rosas, (b. 1939) printed separately in English and Spanish on facing pages (958 and 959). The Rosas version has the drawback of being a rhythmically irregular paraphrase, so that its music requires lots of ossia notation to deal with the varying meter of its three stanzas; and, of course, it isn't the exact text of the Lord's Prayer that everybody knows.
Long ago I touched on 955 "Let the Vineyards be Fruitful," and though I thought I had explained my objections to this liturgical text, I can find no evidence of that now. Back in the 1970s and -80s it became fashionable to use this text by John Arthur (1922-80) as an offertory canticle, although it isn't a biblical canticle and is noticeably inferior to such alternatives as "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51) and "What shall I render to the Lord" (Psalm 116). I tend to get particularly nauseous at the lines "Gather the hopes and the dreams of all." I tend to deplore this operation of replacing sound biblical material with banal poetry that doesn't wear nearly as well. The same objection goes towards replacing the Gloria in excelsis with "This is the feast of victory."
Further liturgical music includes a Sanctus ("Holy, holy, holy," hymn 961) arrangement by Lutheran pastor Mark Bender (b. 1951), which was evidently salvaged from a contest in which composers were invited to submit settings of the liturgy for publication in LSB, none of which (including my own entry) ended up being used. Of a similar nature, I guess, are the two Agnus Dei settings, 962 by Paul Weber (b. 1949) and 963 by Jeffrey Blersch. The book concludes with three "nation and national songs" on which I cannot comment without repeating what I said regarding other hymnals.
And so I hit all the high points of LSB tackiness in one post! Impressed? Don't be. As I said before, I skipped over quite a few specimens that were making repeat appearances. And I held back from savaging the cruel omissions, such as excellent stanzas from some of my favorite hymns, and entire hymns. The accompanist's edition of the hymnal actually includes a number of additional hymns—some excellent, some awful—that were cut from the pew book, but that are available for service-planning purposes via the publishing house's (cha-ching!) proprietary software and copyright license. Because, as every Lutheran knows, whenever a coin in the coffer clings, a hymn out of Lutheran knowledge springs!
1Tune: FRANCONIA by J. B. König (1691-1758), as amended by W. H. Havergal (1793-1870).
2Except that in Hymn 834, Martin Franzmann manages to rhyme "world" with "hurled," to much better effect.
3Tune: LORD OF LIFE by Kevin Hildebrand (b. 1973).
4Think: "The Son of God goes forth to war."
5Tune: EIRENE by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79). Think: "We are the Lord's."
6Tune: SURSUM CORDA by Alfred Smith (1879-1971), a rather boring tune in my opinion.
7Think: "From Greenland's icy mountains."
8Tune: REPTON by C. H. H. Parry (1848-1918), which is also harder and more sophisticated than average.
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Why are you so angry. And why do you think you are "the" arbiter of hymn tunes and texts? Have you ever written any texts or tunes that have been published? And why a "Fort" of books, who is after you? Why not a House of Books? And why do you use bully language " now I have to find another book to pick on" that's really not necessary. And don't you ever say you like hymns, or by not "picking on them" does that mean they are okay. Are you actually in a church position where you get to pick hymns? This seems like such a waste of time. You obviously are an articulate person, you could use your words for so much more. What a waste!
Another one misses the point. Clearly you will not be entering into our spirit of fun here. That's fine, I've given my readers plenty of opportunities to opt out and write me off as being nothing but angry and mean. You & they can't have been reading very carefully, however. So at the cost of needlessly repeating ground that I've been over: (1) I *am* a seminary-trained, ordained reverend as well as a trained & experienced professional church musician. (2) I *have* been in church positions where I chose hymns (as a pastor) and helped the pastor do so (as the organist). (3) I have made a lifelong study of Lutheran hymnody, and have composed hymn texts, melodies, harmonies, and hymn-based pieces for choir & for organ. (4) All this being said, I think I am entitled to an opinion on this. As for whether my opinion is agreeable to you, peace. But as I explain over & over in this thread, I have made it the business of my life to combat bad hymnody, especially in the context of Lutheranism. In this thread I am using satire and ridicule in an attempt to make my point & entertain at the same time. Could this be done in a different way? No doubt; and you're welcome to do it. This is how I'm doing it. After the trouble I've seen (nobody knows, etc.), much of it at least indirectly resulting from the mischief that inferior worship materials can do, this story can't be told too many ways or by too many different voices. As for the title of my blog, you're obviously in a bad mood so I'll let that one pass, but step back 6 inches or so & I think it will speak for itself.
Hint: to-date I have been reviewing books for the Harry Potter website MuggleNet for over 10 years. There are over 2,000 book reviews spread around this blog. The name "A Fort Made of Books" had its origin in a MuggleNet chat room, where I listed that as where I live.
No, Robin, I didn't miss the point. I too am a trained musician. I have about 200 hymns published around the world, and a requiem published. I'll give you the name "A Fort of Books," but to be correct, you should really say "these are hymns I personally don't like, and here are the reasons." Just not liking them doesn't make them "bad" or "tacky." Our opinions are as valid as yours
And, of course, everyone, educated or not, it entitled to their own opinion. But, opinions are not always facts, as you well know. And, it's not only inferior worship materials that result in poor worship, it more often comes from pastors and musicians who either don't know what they are doing, or don't care, or have very narrow opinions of what worship can be. And, no, I'm rarely in a bad mood. I'm happily retired, have been director of music for my church for 50 years, get regular commissions for hymns, and love composing, playing the piano, gardening, reading, and making stained glass lamps. What's to be in a bad mood about. I did step back 6" and still see someone who lives to put other people's work down, maybe to build himself up, and maybe not. Nevertheless, enjoy your reading and your composing, and I hope you find a pastoral position where you can do something really worthwhile in worship. Peace.
Believe me, I'm not confused about whether or not I'm expressing an opinion. I don't think I've been unclear about this either. Whatever your opinion may be, is it not OK for me to express mine, of all places, on my blog? And if I happen to think the issue goes deeper than personal taste, then the burden is on me to make that case. That's what I'm trying to do. I know from experience that we're dealing with a subject area where people get very emotional & where reasonable discussion can only go so far. But I feel more & more that life is too short to let the fear of ruffled feelings prevent me from making that case. It's that important to me. And besides, I've spent the better part of my life having people mad at me for silly reasons. I'm just about used to it.
How about we continue this conversation on e-mail. You do seem like an interesting person and I've looked at some of your texts and have some comments about them, since I work with many contemporary text writers. My e-mail is: email@example.com
This is a wonderful collection of thoughtful and pious criticism! Thank you so much!
Rev. Robin D. Fish, Jr. is not a pastor in the LCMS.
I was a pastor in the LCMS but am no longer on the roster.
You seem to have a problem - I hope you've had counseling.
If you mean re-education, so that I don't care about theological distinctions or quality in worship materials, I thank God I can answer no.
Post a Comment