Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tacky Hymns 51

TSH: No longer just an exclamation of disgust, it's also the acronym of The Service Hymnal, subtitled A Lutheran Homecoming, published in 2001 by Voice of the Rockies Music Publishing in Boulder, Colorado, in cooperation with A Mighty Fortress Project. This hideously laid-out hymnal has the heft and look of a church-body's officially approved pew book, but as one browses its opening pages, it reveals itself to be the vanity project of one man: a certain James Gerhardt Sucha, a business paraprofessional with an undergraduate minor in music, who fled from Lutheranism to the Methodist Church shortly after the Lutheran Book of Worship was adopted in 1978. Nostalgic for the way things were in Service Book and Hymnal (1958), he came back to the Ev. Lutheran Church in America and took up organ-playing as a type of physical therapy.

All this, and Sucha's hope that TSH would be used in rotation with the ELCA's other worship books at the time (LBW, SBH, and With One Voice), and thus revive the sentimental oldies but goodies Lutherans of his generation might remember from their youth, one gathers from the three prefaces that open this book. One also begins to notice that the layouts, not only of the prefaces but also of the liturgy and hymns, are sprinkled with photos and portraits, biographical notes, and typesetting anomalies that make this book an unusually awkward hymnal at best. Another strange touch is the historical perspective of the first preface, which sums up the history of Luther's Reformation with the hope that the schism between Lutheranism and Rome is in the process of being reconciled, since the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999—though it also points out that the Pope's jubilee indulgence, soon after the JDDJ, contradicted that agreement.

The orders of service begin on p. 11 with a "First Setting" of Holy Communion, i.e. the Common Service, similar to the order in The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), though some parts are set to different melodies. The rubrics get off to a tacky start already in its description of the Invocation ("In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit") as "The pastor greets the people of God." Neither of the two settings of the Kyrie are the traditional "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy" set to music; rather, they are both "bidding" responses, with repetitions of "Lord have mercy" entering as a refrain between bids such as "In peace let us pray to the Lord," etc. Recent as this liturgical innovation is, the hymnal passes it off as something "Lutherans have done" and implicates J. S. Bach in its second musical arrangement, via fragments of the hymn tune "Wake, awake, for night is flying," which it incorrectly attributes to Bach. (The tune, as any qualified hymnologist can tell you, is actually by Philip Nicolai.) From here on, innovations (in the context of Lutheran liturgy) continue to be passed off as historic practices by such methods as corralling in a musical fragment from the Episcopal Hymnal, and giving the 16th-century pedigree of a Lenten Response whose use in Lutheran worship (dating back as far as 1600) is now "adapted" from the 1917 Common Service Book.

The Epistle has changed its name to the New Testament Lesson. Multiple versions of both the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds are given (one each of "Original Common Service Text" and "Modern Version"). A modern version of the Our Father is also placed to the left of the traditional version. At this point, before the gathering of the offering, the rubrics state that "The PEACE is shared at this time," and after the liturgical response "The peace of the Lord," etc., which by Lutheran custom belongs after the consecration of the Sacrament, "The congregation and pastor greet one another in the name of Christ." So that's now enshrined in standard practice. The non-Communion version of the service concludes with two settings of the Amen. Towards the end of the post-Communion a new response is added, complete with musical setting: "Go in peace, serve the Lord! / Thanks be to God!"

The "Second Setting," a.k.a. the "Continental Setting" of the Holy Communion, is preceded by a four-page hagiography of its composer, Regina Fryxell (1899-1993). Taken entirely from SBH, this setting is more solidly plainsong-based in contrast to the Common Service's tendency toward musical eclecticism. The book transmits this setting unchanged, with apologies for its "non-inclusive" language, explaining that it will bring back to many Lutherans memories of their early years, including weddings and funerals of those dear to them. The Offertory is an interesting specimen, a choice of either "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," two settings of "What shall I render to the Lord," or two settings of "Create in me a clean heart, O God." The service of the sacrament is headed by the general title "The Thanksgiving." Chant music for the proper prefaces for all seasons of the Church Year fill several pages in the service, space that most hymnals save by inserting a rubric directing the curious to seek these propers in the Altar Book. There are two settings of the Sanctus, two of the Agnus Dei, and four versions of the final Amen(s); plus, oddly placed at the end of the service, an alternate setting of the Gloria Patri.

The "Third Setting," a.k.a. "the New Holy Communion," is preceded by a full-page biography of its composer, Sharon Elery Rogers. The text of this service is based on the modernized liturgy published in LBW. Notice that the only version of the creeds given here is the "modern version," with the first-person plural in the Nicene Creed, etc.

The "Fourth Setting," adapted from themes by J. S. Bach, also begins with a full-page preface introducing its composer, Wesley Broderius. The "Bach Liturgy" includes perhaps the tackiest musical decisions seen so far in this book. The Kyrie, though in F minor, is based on the subject of Bach's "Little Fugue in G Minor," and fills out the musical phrase with the addition of some original text: "This holy house offers worship and praise to you, O comforter, defender of us all." The Gloria in Excelsis, meanwhile, is set to the melody of Bach's song "Bist Du bei mir." The Salutation is an almost unrecognizable snippet of an orchestral Suite in E minor. The Alleluia Verse is adapted from one of the two-part Inventions, with a simplified left-hand part apologizing for a melody line that is almost too keyboardistic to be sung. For the "Lenten Verse" (the art-work formerly known as Tract), the tune comes from a Gavotte in the English Suites for keyboard, also demanding more vocal agility than one can really expect from the average congregation. The "Gospel Verse" (replacing the traditional Acclamations before and after the reading of the Gospel) goes to a theme from one of the Brandenburg Concertos. For the offertory "Create in me" you get the song "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Cantata 208, complete with a long instrumental introduction. The threefold Amen (appearing where the service would end without Communion) is the final cadence from the Dona nobis pacem movement of the B-minor Mass. The Bouree from Suite in E minor comes back again for the Preface. For the Sanctus we get another Brandenburg Concerto theme; the Our Father goes to an arrangement of the popular Arioso; the Agnus Dei to the chorale "Come sweet death"; and the post-communion canticle, which seems to be an original text, to an arrangement of "Jesu, joy of Man's Desiring" so mercilessly compressed that it seems pointless to keep the figuration of the introductory and concluding phrases, when one is really singing a straightforward harmonization of the chorale WERDE MUNTER. The benediction, harmonized to be sung by the choir "or Pastor," is set again to part of the Dona nobis pacem from the B-minor Mass.

Then, would you believe there is a Fifth Setting? Known as the "Ecumenical Setting," it is composed by Calvert Shenk (d. 2005) and James G. Sucha, the latter of whom has already been introduced, so the former gets the full-page write-up this time. Their musical settings (always specifying which of them wrote a specific piece) are mostly based on medieval settings of liturgical texts, even when the historical precedent is dubious for using the text thus set.

Then there follows a section of "Additional Service Music," including a Brief Order of Confession; two settings of the Gloria Patri, including one harmonized by J. S. Bach; an elaborate chanted Kyrie traced back to the Roman Catholic Orbis Factor Mass via the Swedish Lutheran Church; two settings of "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow"; Folliott Pierpoint's hymn of praise "For the beauty of the earth"; a "Glory to God in the highest" setting from the Roman Catholic "Community Mass"; two Fryxell settings of the verse "Alleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go"; two "Prayer Responses" by Patricia Holmberg, who cannot seem to decide whether to address God as "you" or "thee"; a "Community Mass" setting of the Sanctus by Richard Proulx; and a nice chant setting of the Our Father which, in its unnecessary text credit line, misspells "Jesus of Nazarath" (sic). Also included, for mysterious reasons, are two spoken-word versions of the Our Father followed by a chanted Salutation and Response; the Christmas Offertory "As they offered gifts most rare" (from William Dix's popular Epiphany hymn "As with gladness men of old"); three more settings of the Agnus Dei; another Alleluia setting; and a post-communion canticle, sung antiphonally by the "Pastor or Assistant" and congregation to the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN, along with a photo of the tune's arranger whose caption, for the second time (cf. "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow") misspells "Ralph Vaugh(a)n Williams."

Four Amen settings close out the foreparts of the hymnal, and we finally reach the beginning of the section set aside for "Hymns, Canticles, and Carols." Although a tearing-apart of the editorial decisions therein must wait for our next installment, the introductory page of this section gives us a foretaste of what is to come. First is the inscription, "I love to tell the old, old story...of Jesus and his love." Apparently, one can take this as the driving example of Lutheran hymnody in the eyes of the editor who selected the hymns that follow. Then there is a paragraph of introduction, followed by "Directions for Singing Hymns." Here the editor seems to be cheering on the parishioner holding the book, like a Sunday School song-leader cajoling his charges to sing out, to sing happy, and to think about what they're singing. The advice is not amiss, but the tackiness will be seen in its application to the particular songs that are about to burst upon us... next time!

To see this hymnal for yourself—and seeing is believing—go to the publisher's website.


Lutheran Hymn Lover said...

Hello Robin,

I'd love to see you put a hymnal together and do what I did in my hymnal instead of bitching about what is wrong with everything you find to write about. :)

Great way to make new friends and meet new people who want to read your blog and maybe get to know you as a person.

Vanity? Please. The hymnal was done of out of love and homespun to share with others. I don't appreciate your un-Christian comments.

I see the hymnal we published is in good company with the other hymnals you bashed and bitched about on your site, ELW, LSB, so I don't feel so bad. :) Speaks volumes of you.

I too know of your credentials and mine, but it doesn't make us the experts if we are to do God's work in a negative light? What do you hope to accomplish by your blogs on hymns?

You are ordained, and supposed to serving God, helping people and you bash hymns, composers, people who publish them and hymnals?

Interesting ministry Robin.

Are you serving a church currently in the Missouri Synod?


RobbieFish said...

Hi James, I am no longer in the Missouri Synod. The consciousness of having nothing to lose gives me a wonderful sense of freedom to call it like I see it. For the good of the church, everything related to church music should be open to comment & criticism--especially because it's an area so fraught with emotion that people often lose their ability to reason over it. Evidently there is room for two hymn mavens in Lutheranism to have a profound disagreement about what Lutherans should sing. If you find the way I carry out my mission to be in terrible taste, you know some of what I feel.