Thursday, December 31, 2020

Robbie Awards 5

The 2020 Robbie Awards are either the fifth annual or the 12th, depending on whether you include retroactive awards for the years since I started posting all my reviews on this blog. (Previous reviews, originally published on MuggleNet dot com, were posted in a great big data dump when I feared they were going to be deleted.) So, regardless of the number, let's start by counting the books I finished reading during the Year of Our Lord 2020:
  1. The Boy by Tami Hoag
  2. Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
  3. Switch by Ingrid Law
  4. El Deafo by Cece Bell
  5. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
  6. Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend
  7. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
  8. The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens
  9. Smoke and Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg
  10. Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
  11. The Hotel Between by Sean Easley
  12. The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell
  13. Private Eyes by Jonathan Kellerman
  14. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
  15. The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
  16. Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
  17. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  18. The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters
  19. The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver
  20. The Sleeping Doll by Jeffery Deaver
  21. XO by Jeffery Deaver
  22. New Kid by Jerry Craft
  23. Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
  24. Blue Moon by Lee Child
  25. Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver
  26. Neon Prey by John Sandford
  27. Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
  28. Dark Hollow by John Connolly
  29. Rage by Jonathan Kellerman
  30. Bones by Jonathan Kellerman
  31. Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman
  32. The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
  33. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  34. Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar
  35. The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland
  36. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  37. Deception by Jonathan Kellerman
  38. Humorists by Paul Johnson
  39. The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
  40. The Mystery of the Missing Everything by Ben H. Winters
  41. The Return of Meteor Boy? by William Boniface
  42. Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman
  43. Victims by Jonathan Kellerman
  44. Vortex by S.J. Kincaid
  45. Echo Burning by Lee Child
  46. New Lands by Geoff Rodkey
  47. You Are Dead (Sign Here Please) by Andrew Stanek
  48. The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
  49. You Are a Ghost (Sign Here Please) by Andrew Stanek
  50. The Half-Assed Wizard by Gary Jonas
  51. The Big-Ass Witch by Gary Jonas
  52. Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
  53. Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  54. The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
  55. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
  56. Bloody Genius by John Sandford
  57. The Lost Heir by Tui T. Sutherland
  58. The Dumbass Demon by Gary Jonas
  59. Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell
  60. The Lame-Assed Doppelganger by Gary Jonas
  61. The Book of Secrets by Cynthia Voigt
  62. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
  63. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
  64. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  65. A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
  66. Gobbelino London and a Scourge of Pleasantries by Kim M. Watt
  67. Rejoice, O Zion! Sing! by Alan Kornacki, Jr.
  68. Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein
  69. Will Supervillains Be on the Final? by Naomi Novik, ill. by Yishan Li
  70. The Great Powers Outage by William Boniface
  71. Half Upon a Time by James Riley
  72. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
  73. The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman
  74. Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik
  75. Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
  76. The Revenge of Magic by James Riley
  77. Race to the End of the World by A.L. Tait
  78. Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  79. The Bootlace Magician by Cassie Beasley
  80. Twice Upon a Time by James Riley
I guess 80 is a nice number. It beats last year's total of 69, anyway. It would be nice to break 100 again, but what can I say? Some of the things that took my time away from books this year included work, church activities, spending time with my parents (most weekends, actually, since they live within an hour's drive), playing the piano, binge-watching seasons of TV on DVD, and yeah, blogging about other stuff. I have so many interests, you know? Also, I read portions of, but haven't yet finished, quite a pile of books this year, most of which I plan to finish. Unfortunately, I have this magpielike tendency to go wide-eyed at each new book that falls into my mitts, and to drop whatever I'm reading at the time to plunge in.

Nevertheless, I still managed to inhale 80 books, many of them of the type I used to write about on MuggleNet, under the Book Trolley rubric of "If you like J.K. Rowling, you may also like..." Several of this year's books became instant favorites in my household of one. So, choosing which ones to anoint as the best is tough. Nevertheless, here goes. I'll keep it brief this time. For more info, see my separate book reviews.

Critic's Choice
I'm the critic. In my critical opinion, the novel that checked all the boxes as the most satisfying feat of literary creation on the list above was His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. Her writing is beautiful and stylish, her insertion of a dragon-powered aerial corps into 19th century military history is seamless, and I was emotionally touched by the bond between the two central characters, a man and a dragon. Honorable mentions: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, Dark Hollow by John Connolly, and most of the other books by Naomi Novik that I read this year.

Reader's Choice
I'm the reader. On the order of pure entertainment, and without repeating any titles I've already named, I got the most memorable charge out of Insignia by S.J. Kincaid. Hilarious, action-packed and disturbing all at once, it conjures an original fantasy world that doesn't seem all that improbable, as a possible future for our world, and its characters are fun to follow. Honorable mentions: Kincaid's Vortex, the sequel to Insignia; Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon and A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher, who are actually the same author; Circus Mirandus and The Bootlace Magician by Cassie Beasley; and Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner.

Kid's Choice
I'm younger on the inside than on the outside. For appealing to the kid in me (again, without repeats), this award goes to The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters. It's a delightful romp through middle school mystery, classroom politics and rock 'n' roll, and I really felt a connection with the characters – particularly the classical piano progidy who "really needed to rock." Honorable mentions: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Hotel Between by Sean Easley, The Return of Meteor Boy? and The Great Powers Outage by William Boniface, The Book of Secrets by Cynthia Voigt and The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell.

Best Short Subject
I only read a couple of short story collections this year, so almost by default, this award goes to Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. However, I really did get a kick out of the quirky antics of the class at the top of the school. Honorable mentions: Sachar's follow-up collection, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy.

Best Documentary
Again, it's pretty much by default, but I'll award the title for non-fiction entertainment to Humorists by Paul Johnson. I particularly remember his essay about Laurel & Hardy, which made me seriously want to collect their films on video and study how they created laughter.

Best Graphic Novel
This award honors excellence in heavily illustrated books. By a narrow majority of votes, I'm giving it to El Deafo by Cece Bell for capturing a deaf child's struggle to fit in with her age group with charm, wit and a touch of fantasy (bunny ears on everybody!). Honorable mention: New Kid by Jerry Craft, The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell and its sequel, Twice Magic.

Best Art
Several books I read this year, including ones I've mentioned in the above categories, were greatly enhanced by their illustrations between their covers. I'd like to give this award to Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail. Her pictures of a plump, 12-year-old witch and her castle minions were sweet and weird and made me laugh. Honorable mentions: William Boniface's Ordinary Boy books, Louis Sachar's Wayside School stories, Tui T. Sutherland's Wings of Fire books, The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby, Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein, and The Book of Secrets by Cynthia Voigt.

Best Song
I combed through several hymnals this year, but blogged them on a different thread and didn't consider what I was doing to be book reviews, so much as criticism of hymns (tacky and otherwise). I also purchased some piano albums and blogged about one of them (so far) under the "piano" label. However, I did review a newly released collection of hymns, which I labeled under "books." Not just because it was the only work of its type that I included in the list above, but because it was really a fine document of original hymn writing, I'm thrilled to present the first-ever Robbie Award in this category to Rejoice, O Zion! Sing! by Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Best Audiobook, Best Newcomer, Best Comeback
No award in these categories this year. Sorry! This whole year seems to have fallen into a crack between audiobooks, prepublication proofs and rediscovered classics, unless you count some deep dives into long-running franchises. Which I don't. But I'll think about adding books in these categories to my reading list for next year. Cheerio!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tunes for 12-Line Hymns

It's been years since I've added to this thread, where I meant to go through the hymn tunes that I found in 20th century, English-language, Lutheran hymnals in a systematic way, with critical comments. I previously covered hymn tunes with two or three phrases of melody and tunes with 13 or more. A key to hymnal abbreviations is here. With allowances for my survey of all the hymnals in my possession still being incomplete (I've been very busy!), here's what I've discovered so far about hymn tunes with exactly 12 phrases. Spoiler alert: With only a few exceptions, this isn't a very distinguished bunch, in my opinion. I guess you could call it a case of music avenging itself on poets' prolixity.


Salve festa dies (not counting repeats)
This is the tune to "Hail thee, festival day," which I already covered in the 13+ size category, because with repeats, it comes to 16 lines. Or something.

Nyt yløs, sieluni
This "irregular" melody is paired with the hymn "Arise, my soul, arise" in SBH, LBW and CW. Also known as Suomi, it's a striking and memorable Finnish folktune with a strong, confident character, somewhere on the serious side of jubilant. While I'm sure it would make a smashing choir piece, I think it could also be learnable by the congregation, and I don't think its ethnic color detracts from its churchliness. By the way, that's a customized Amen at the end.


Luther League Hymn
This 1893 tune by George C.F. Haas is technically in the 7675 7676 7686 meter, but I guess that's unique enough to qualify it for the "Peculiar Meter" designation. On the other hand, a lot of the tunes below also hang out in a meter of their own, so ... Anyway, this relic of a youth organization of yesteryear went with the hymn "O Christians! leagued together" in CSB, ALH and SBH. Full of tricky intervals, chromatic shlurps and rhythmic complications, it's structurally loose, sprawling and complex. Yet it's also pompous, poppish, shmaltzy and trite. So, I don't consider it worth the challenge of teaching it to a congregation. A glee club maybe, if they feel like singing the Horst Wessel song for Luther's youth.

Carl Schalk's tune, dated c. 1969, goes with Jaroslav Vajda's communion hymn "Now the silence, now the peace" in LBW and CW, and (cue impious laughter) a post-communion hymn also in CW, also by Vajda, called "Then the glory, then the rest." About the "Now" side of this "Now / Then" dyad I have previously vented my feelings. Regarding the tune, I don't see a future for it apart from the Vajda hymn(s), such as it/they is/are. Sorry, Vajda's text seems to be interfering with my ability to write a coherent sentence. While it's the lyrics that really bring out my mean side, I'll give Schalk's tune its due and say I've never cared for it, either. It's a strange, ambivalently churchly, ambivalently cheerful, ambivalently attractive thing that might be too far-out for the congregation to catch on in just one run-through, and not interesting enough to make multiple repeats worthwhile.

Judas Maccabæus
Adapted from a theme in Georg Frederick Handel's oratorio of the same name, this tune goes with "Thine is the glory, risen conquering Son" in SBH, LBW and (a departure from its editors' otherwise sound judgment) ELHy. It's a mess of notes for the congregation to navigate, so it'll probably be performed slowly, with ponderous dignity – perhaps by choir or soloists; perhaps with brass instruments, if available. It resonates with coronation marches and Baroque theatre music; in the churchly context, with carillons pealing over the roofs of Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. It's written for virtuoso performers, not Grandma Smurf and Uncle Shmedly. In the past, I've repeatedly referred to a law that I totally made up, but still consider binding: a law against butchering themes from classical composers as hymn tunes. This is the parade example, and I use the word "parade" advisedly.

Harre, meine Seele
This 1827 tune by Henri A. C. Malan is set to the hymn "Wait, my soul, with patience" in LHA. It has a certain modest appeal, though its long, halting succession of short phrases may test the patience of a congregation trying to learn it. Nevertheless, I've warmed to it since I first looked at it decades ago – I then described it as "meandering and totally uninspired ... an embarrassment" – and I wouldn't rule out giving it a shot sometime. D

Also known as Smart, this tune by Henry Smart (1813-79) is paired with "Forward! be our watchword" in SBH. It's a cheerful, rambling melody with a certain motivic unity that keeps it just this side of collapsing into an unstructured mess. One vote against using it in congregational singing will come from those people who find the melodic range taxing; though it could be transposed down a step or two.

Frances Ridley Havergal's 1871 tune has been used with "Golden harps are sounding" (CSB, ALH, TCH and SBH), "On our way rejoicing" (TCH, SBH and LBW) and "Who is on the Lord's side?" (LHA). It's an interestingly structured hymn, though most of that structure becomes evident in the last third of it, which reprises phrases from the first two-thirds. It could end at the 2/3 point, but then it would be completely through-composed, with no repeated phrases; a bit of a trade-off, in terms of structure. Anyway, it's a cheerful little tune, full of childlike simplicity, though perhaps a bit pedestrian. Whether you need this hymnal will depend, I guess, on how much you care about those texts. In my devotional life, I've lived without them quite comfortably.

Named after its composer, a certain F.A. Mann, this tune went with "Standing at the portal of the opening year" in ALH – a first line that doesn't particularly grab me. The tune doesn't cop much of a feel, either: uninspired, over-long and dull, with a subtle militancy and an odor of rustic pietism. The New Year's text by Frances R. Havergal actually isn't bad. Someone might do it a favor and write a new tune for it, and deliver it from this tune's sepia-toned image of 19th century Protestantism.

John E. Roe wrote this tune c. 1870, and CSB paired it with "From the eastern mountains," a children's hymn for Epiphany whose refrain, for some reason, pronounces "shines" with two syllables. It's a nicely structured tune with attractive material, blending childlike innocence with a touch of majesty.

Prince Rupert
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) adapted this tune from an old English march, and LW paired it with the Easter/Ascension/Pentecost anthem "Welcome happy morning" (see also the next tune and, in a different translation, Salve festa dies). I'll grant that it would sound wonderful with a trumpet doubling the melody line. But folks who are used to a hymn beginning and ending in the same key (or its parallel minor/major) may be thrown off a tich by this tune's ambivalence between G minor and its relative major, B-flat. Very martial in its pomp and circumstance, it comes with an accompaniment that veers widely from hymnal norms and that many organists may find difficult; similarly, its instrumentally conceived intervals may go over better, vocally, with the choir than the congregation. I think the great composer law (or curse) applies again.

Sei du mir gegrüsset
TLH and CW pair "Welcome happy morning" with this tune, which I think may be the happiest pairing of the lot. Though the melody is a little square and perhaps on the stiff side, it is also transparently simple and free of off-putting surprises, and therefore most approachable for congregational singing. It also has a bright energy and an air of pride, not quite tipping over into pompousness, well suited to this hymn. Parts of it may remind you of the tune Old 124th (think, "Draw near and take the body of the Lord").

St. Gertrude
Everybody seems to know this 1871 tune by Arthur S. Sullivan (yes, he of "Gilbert and" fame) as the tune to "Onward, Christian soldiers." At least, that's the consensus of CSB, TLH, ALH, SBH, LHA, LBW, LW and CW, to name only 20th century books that I've been through from cover to cover. Additionally, TCH pairs it with "Christian Leaguers, rally" – which, I guess, harks back to another youth organization similar to the Luther League and the Walther League. It's a catchy enough tune, but it's too late to worry about whether it would be hard to teach to your congregation; they already know it. Some days, you might wince at its tones of theatricality and militaristic triumphalism, especially arrangements with an oom-pah bass line. It has a secular appeal, even when used with a "Christian warfare" hymn, like a children's musical game or vehicle for mass propaganda. I'd like to get rid of it, personally, but it's here to stay.

6. 12 lines

O Seigneur
This tune comes from Trente quatre pseaumes de David (Geneva, 1551), and LBW threads the hymn "When morning gilds the skies" into it – a hymn that, in shorter stanzas, I'm accustomed to singing to Laudes Domini. The phrases glom together in groups of three, an organizational scheme that may help impress this rather long tune on the memory. Suitably cheerful and energetic in character, it nevertheless has something prayerful about it. I'd like to suggest pronouncing the word "praised" at the end of every third phrase with two syllables ("praisèd") rather than slurring the last two notes; but, of course, that would make the meter designation D. D

The Ash Grove
I knew this Welsh folktune from a book of children's songs that I played out of as a young piano student. One of my music theory profs in college said she couldn't hear it without thinking of Girl Scout campfires. Nevertheless, LBW, LW and CW (again, speaking only for the 20th century) set it to the post-communion hymn "Sent forth by God's blessing," and LBW and CW also use it with "Let all things now living." It's an attractive, exuberant little tune that's fun to play and sing, though organists need to think hard about their tempo before they start playing it because it has a tendency to go too fast. D

This hymn tune appears without citation in ALH, set to "All glory, laud and honor." This arrangment, of course, requires the stanzas to be broken up differently than with, say, Valet will ich dir geben. Is it worth that? I wonder. It has a solid structure, but it's bland and uninspired; some of its intervals, including wide leaps and chromatic shlurps, could make it challenging for the congregation to learn; and although it has that pomp-and-circumstance aspect to it that jives with a Palm Sunday procession, I just don't love the smarm factor it brings with it. Stick with Valet, mkay?

Wir pflügen
This 1800 tune by Johann A. P. Schulz has been misattributed to Laurentius Laurentii (c. 1700), probably because he authored the hymn "Rejoice, all ye believers," to which ALH sets this tune. However, it is more widely and (judging by its title) originally paired with "We plough the fields, and scatter," as witnessed by CSB, SBH, LHA and LBW. (It is also, by the way, superior to a tune caled "We plow the fields" by R. Bay, in the D meter, used with the same text in TCH.) There are drawbacks to this tune, however. It has an extremely wide melodic range (an octave and a fifth); its long succession of musical phrases are unevenly inspired and through-composed, without a repeat; and different hymnals disagree, perhaps confusingly, about exactly how it goes. (Some variants are shown above.) So, it has pros and cons. Beware, however, of SBH's performance direction ("briskly"); the organist needs to take the congregation's skill level into account when setting a tempo.

William Gustavus Fischer (1835-1912) wrote this sentimental favorite, known to generations of Sunday School kids as the tune to "I love to tell the story." Besides children's hymnals, the hymn (with this tune) is also in TCH, SBH, LBW and CW. I must admit that I liked it when it was taught to me in kindergarten, though I'm no longer in love with its sentimentality or the fact that Katherine Hankey's text fails to actually tell the story that it professes to love telling. The lyrics are man-centered, vapid and self-congratulatory to a degree that, I think, condemns the tune by association. Quoting myself writing decades ago: "It's a shame that so much time and trouble is wasted teaching this difficult, through-composed, and worthless hymn to little children. Its persistent popularity (perhaps on the wane these days, but not necessarily for good reasons) makes it especially dangerous to Lutheranism." There. The I's have it.

Nun lob, mein’ Seel’
Also known as Kugelmann, this 15th century tune was published in Hans Kugelmann's Concentus Novi, Augsburg, 1540. It is set to the eponymous hymn "My soul, now bless thy Maker" in at least ELHb, ALH, TLH, LHA, LBW, LW, CW and ELHy, as well as "I know my faith is founded" (TLH, LW, CW, ELHy), "O living Bread from heaven" (TLH, ELHy), "One is our God and Father" (LHy, LHA) and "To Thee all praise ascendeth" (LHy). (Two of these last three may actually be centos of the same hymn by Johann Rist.) It has also received the chorale prelude treatment from (among others) Buxtehude, Pachelbel, J.G. Walther and Jan Bender, for what it's worth. Worthy of such musical luminaries, it's a fantastic piece that touches base in more keys than the average hymn tune and actually implies more than one home key (G major and its relative, E minor). For all its great length and adventurousness, it's tightly organized and falls under the voice well, moves with grace and energy and sticks in the memory. Again, organists need to stop and think before starting to play it: in this case, because of a tendency toward morbid slowness; it should be played with a light touch.

Min sjæl, min sjæl, lov Herren
Also known as "My soul, now bless," this is an alternate tune to Nun lob (immediately above) by Ludvig M. Lindeman (1812-87). LHy and TCH set it to "My soul, now bless thy Maker" and TCH also pairs it with "To Thee all praise ascendeth." It's an admirable effort to set a long, challenging text to music, and fairly successful; I just don't think it holds a candle to the Kugelmann piece. However, as an alternative tune, there might be some life in it yet. In its favor are its unremittingly bright cheerfulness and a rhythm more given to taking it quickly. However, I would recommend transposing it down a couple steps from its current, throat-straining key. D

Maple Leaf Forever
Amazingly enough, TCH features the song "In days of yore, from Britain's shore," set to this 19th century tune by Alexander Muir. The facing page has "The Star Spangled Banner," to which I reckon this song is the Canadian equivalent. Since it's presumably well-known to Canadians, I won't belabor any of its technical challenges; after all, it's made of simple enough material. I'm a bit at a loss to stammer out how I feel about the tastefulness of putting patriotic songs in the hymnal, whether American or Canadian; but I'm especially struck by the bugly sound of this tune. (I said "bugly," not "fugly," right?) In my mind's ear, a brass band joins in. Forget you saw this.

Frederick C. Maker's 1876 tune is paired with "Christ is risen! Alleluia!" in CSB and LBW. Written in a really high key, I could see it being transposed down, like, a third. Maybe even a fourth. Again, it's a tightly structured tune, which may help sell it to the congregation, but its theatrical pomp makes me question whether I want to do that. The score includes such markings as "unison" and "harmony," "rit." and "a tempo," which suggest that it may work better for the choir. D

O Mensch, bewein
Also known as "Es sind doch selig alle," "Old 113th," "Psalm 36," and "Psalm 68" – my goodness! – this tune comes from Matthias Greitter's Kirchenamt (Strasbourg, 1525). Except for one note being raised a half-step, its first phrase is identical to that of the better known tune "Lasst uns erfreuen." However, the rest of the tune is quite distinctive and, I think, very handsome and expressive. I wish it was more widely used. In 20th century anglophone Lutheranism, it only turns up twice that I know of: with "Here at Thy cross I hail Thee now" in LHA, and "O sinner, come thy sin to mourn" in ELHy. The latter is the hymn that gives the tune its name, a marvelous penitential Passion hymn that inspired beautiful chorale preludes by Jan Sweelinck, J.S. Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Max Reger and Helmut Walcha. Bach also used it in his St. Matthew Passion. I'm super-convinced that this is a hymn that must be taught to English-speaking Lutherans. 12 lines

Den store hvide flok (1)
This piece by Lindeman was the first tune to "Behold a host, arrayed in white" in LHy. It's a nice number, lacking the excesses of the more popular second tune (below), though perhaps erring on the side of dullness. It sounds like a typical Norwegian chorale, but it pales next to the heart-string-tugging folktune everyone knows and loves. Somebody really should write a hymn to go with it (and not as a never-used alternate tune) before it vanishes entirely.

Den store hvide flok (2)
Also known as "Great White Host," "Behold a host" and "Symphony," this 17th century Norwegian folktune owns "Behold a host, arrayed in white," so far as LHy (second tune), ALH, TCH, TLH, SBH, LBW, LW, ELHy and CW are concerned. It's a bit of a workout; and LHy dangerously employs repeat signs in its page layout, on which I blame a disastrous error I made one time when I lost track of whether I had played that repeat in the last stanza during a live service. If looks could kill, that congregation would have fried me to a crisp. Many hymnals have Edvard Grieg's harmonization of the tune, which is a bit on the barbershoppy side. All the same, it's an unforgettable piece that I've heard many a congregation sing with more than their usual gusto on All Saints' Day.

Wachet auf
Philipp Nicolai wrote this tune in 1599, together with his hymn "Wake, awake, for night is flying." If you want to know how important this hymn is within Lutheranism, observe that it's known as the King of Chorales. (Nicolai also wrote the Queen, but that's a story for another day.) ELHb, LHy, CSB, TCH, TLH, SBH (with two versions), LHA, LBW, LW, CW and ELHy all have this text-tune combo. But wait; there's more! Nicolai's tune also goes with "Blessed are the heirs of heaven" in LHy and LHA; "By the holy hills surrounded" in the same two books; "Christians, prayer may well employ you" (LHy, ALH, TLH LHA, LW, CW and ELHy); "Glorious Majesty, before Thee" (SBH and LBW); "Gracious God, our heavenly Father" (LHA); "Holy Jesus! Fountain streaming" (LHy and ALH); and "Praise the Lord through every nation" (LHy and ALH). Across all those hymnals, there are many variants of the melody, which I tried to represent in the two versions above. The rhythmic version, especially, poses some musical challenges for the singing congregation; it has some pretty wild intervals in it and an unusual meter that every organist approaches in his or her own way. SBH and ELHy feature arrangements harmonized by J.S. Bach. Nevertheless, it is a uniquely powerful, nay, stunning hymn, expressing tremendous courage and exultant praise. The fact that so many different hymn-writers wrote lyrics to go with it, to the point where Wachet auf became all but a standard meter for Lutheran hymnwriting, testifies to its appeal. It has been used in symphonies, ballets and cantatas, entering the popular consciousness on a level that explodes misconceptions about the accessibility of even a difficult chorale.

And there I gladly leave the subject of 12-line hymn tunes. Funnily enough, when we skinny down to 11 phrases, we find only seven tunes to deal with. So, maybe I won't be so intimidated, and the next installment on this thread won't hang fire for quite so long.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Tacky Hymns 82

We continue with Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
(91-92) Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (type 2) is an "Advent 1" (First Sunday in Advent) selection by Georg Weissel, set (in 91) to August Lemke's tune MILWAUKEE (which The Lutheran Hymnal chose as its third tune for the hymn and called it MACHT HOCH DIE TÜR like the other two), and (in 92) to the tune of that name taken from Freylinghausen's Geistreiches Gesangbuch (the second of TLH's three). I've noticed a preference for MILWAUKEE in many congregations, but I'm firmly of the opinion that 92's tune is better. Also, I really like the George Herbert poem that the editors stuck at the bottom of the right-hand page of 91: "Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life," etc. In this case, no tune is suggested; it's really not meant to be sung, but read and pondered devotionally – and to rattle it off to a strain of music might be to leave it unpondered and thereby unappreciated.

(93) The new church year again is come (type 3), a Johann Olearius hymn relegated to the "bottom of page text block" after 92, is a fine little statement about the whole year's liturgical cycle: "The truth repeated o'er and o'er / Our faith will strengthen more and more," etc.

(95) Wake! the welcome day appeareth (types 2-3) is a Freylinghausen hymn appointed for Advent 1, set to Ludvig Lindeman's beautiful tune OP, THI DAGEN NU FREMBRYDER, which definitely deserves to be heard beyond Scandinavian (or pietistic) Lutheran circles. Freylinghausen's text stresses the "long expected" aspect of Jesus' coming in history in an impressive and memorable way.

(96) Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding (type 2) is an Advent 2 hymn I've previously mentioned as a master of disguise, cloaked in a variety of tunes as it moves from hymnal to hymnal. Here, it is happily married to W.H. Monk's tune MERTON.

(97) O Savior, rend the heavens wide (type 3) is a thrilling, confident Advent chorale set to the powerful tune O HEILAND, REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF. Nervous Nellie organists my quail at it, but my advice is to be bold. Played with rhythmic zest, I think you could quickly make this a favorite of the congregation.

(103) Hail to the Lord's anointed (type 2), a James Montgomery hymn earmarked for Advent 3, is set here to a tune called ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVÖGELEIN, which users of Lutheran Service Book will think of as the tune to the paraphrase of the Gloria in excelsis in Divine Service 4. It's a nice tune, though I once described it as "the secret love-child of AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE and BEREDEN VÄG FÖR HERRAN." I'm accustomed to singing this hymn to FREUT EUCH, IHR LIEBEN (See TLH 59, LW 82, LSB 398).

(104) O Bride of Christ, rejoice (type 2), though a "bottom of page text block," lists a suggested tune – AUF MEINEN LIEBEN GOTT – that is, indeed, a wondeful tune; I associate it with "In God, my faithful God (I trust when dark my road)," while I've always associated this hymn with WO SOLL ICH FLIEHEN HIN. I don't want to lose either tune.

(112) A Boy is born in Bethlehem (types 2-3) is a translated Latin Christmas carol with two musical settings: the first, the tune PUER NATUS IN BETHLEHEM as set by Michael Praetorius and included on the unforgettable recording "Mass for Christmas Morning" by Paul McCreesh and Co., thrills me a lot more than the second, Lindeman's ET BARN ER FØDT I BETHLEHEM, though I might go with the latter if having the children sing it for a Christmas program.

(118) Arise, my soul, sing joyfully (a confusing combination of all three types) is a lovely Christmas hymn by Johann Rist, set to J.S. Bach's harmonization of Johann Schop's tune ERMUNTRE DICH; the same combination is also found in LSB 378, though it omits the first stanza and begins with stanza 2, "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light." As a cheapskate, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants church choir director, I appreciated having this Bach arrangement right there in the pew book for the choir to sing. But I do feel that Bach's voice leading puts it a bit out of the reach of any but a musically exceptional congregation; I wish the option of a simpler arrangement had been included, either as a second choice or preferably as the first. Interestingly, the 1973 Lutheran Hymnal out of Australia to which both ELHy and LSB owe the translation of this hymn had a rhythmic version of the tune, which I also think would be awesome to teach to a congregation; in fact, I used it in my own book, Useful Hymns.

(119) Away in a manger (type 2), a Christmas carol commonly misattributed to Martin Luther, receives a fastidiously evidence-based text credit here (two, in fact), and Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of CRADLE SONG as its tune. I rather appreciate LSB 364-365 for giving users the option of either this tune or AWAY IN A MANGER, out of respect for the significant part of the church that knows it better to the latter.

(120) Bright and glorious is the sky (types 1-3) is a hymn by Danish-American divine N.F.S. Grundtvig, who was considered a heretic within Lutheranism and, although some of his hymns are very fine, deciding whether to include them in Lutheran hymnals has at times been controversial. I've actually written an original tune for a Grundtvig hymn, but I've also destroyed a tune I wrote for another – in that case, because I decided it wasn't a very interesting hymn. Somehow or other, I've had opportunity to study enough Grundtvig hymns to become well acquainted with their uneven quality, and I frankly don't think this is one of his best. It takes six slow-burning stanzas to get to a point, and I'm not sure it repays us for long stretches of scenic description of the night sky over Bethlehem. Also, ELHy files it under Christmas, even though it is surely more appropriate for Epiphany. However, let's admit that the Danish tune DEJLIG ER DEN HIMMEL BLAA is a sweet, cheerful thing that the kids might enjoy singing, if only worthwhile words could be put to it.

(121) Behold, a Branch is growing – see what I said here.

(122) We Christians may rejoice today (types 2-3) is a "bottom of page text block" (hereafter BOPTB) that suggests the tune O JESU CHRIST, DEIN KRIPPLEIN IST, to which it is set in TLH 107. However, I'd like (once again) to push for restoring it to its powerful original tune, WIR CHRISTENLEUT, for which there is attestation among J.S. Bach's chorale harmonizations. It's basically the tune TLH 165 identifies as ECCE AGNUS, with minor alterations.

(126) God rest you merry, gentlemen (type 3), though only a BOPTB, is an interesting discovery in such a doctrinally and liturgically clean-cut book. Though I would generally classify it among carols best left for home use and social gatherings, the opportunity to see what it actually says (including four stanzas) reveals that there's a good deal to it, including defiance of death, hell and Satan (stanza 3), an admonition to embrace one another "in Christian faith and charity" (stanza 4) and confession of what Christmas "reveals to us (of) God's grace."

(127) I am so glad when Christmas comes (types 1-3, straight through) is another culturally Nordic Christmas carol that you can take or leave, with about equal pleasure. The tune JEG ER SAA GLAD is zestful and charming, in a folksy way. But again, the lyrics feint toward the Epiphany event rather than Christmas proper, conflating the star that led the magi to Bethlehem with the angels who serenaded the shepherds. But after this subtle faux pas, it quickly gets to the nitty gritty, confessing the Child of Bethlehem as the King of heavenly grace, whose reason for coming was "to save our fallen race" (stanza 2); it moves on to the re-ascended Son's promise to hear His little ones when they pray (stanza 3); it confesses that He "made me His own child by Water and the Word" (stanza 4); and it applies Christ's coming as a child to the salvation of children. So, I warm to it as it goes along.

(129) I stand beside Thy manger here (type 3) is a Christmas hymn by Paul Gerhardt, set to a lovely J.S. Bach tune (ICH STEH AN DEINER KRIPPEN), both of which the LCMS books have somehow missed. Here, Gerhardt muses that by coming to earth so long ago, God showed His love for me before He even made me (stanza 2); that His coming brought life and light to me "in death's deep, dreary night" and created my faith (stanza 3); that His suffering brings me eternal glory (stanza 4). It closes by echoing Luther's "From heaven above" (one of my all-time favorite hymns) and offering Jesus my heart as His cradle. Warm and fuzzy, yes; but faithfully so.

(130) I sing the birth was born tonight (type 3) is English playwright Ben Jonson's underappreciated contribution to Christmas hymnody. Presented, again, as a BOPTB, I find that it sings nicely (in my mind's ear) to the chorale KOMMT HER ZU MIR. Stanza 1 recognizes the child announced by the angels as "the Author both of life and light"; stanza 2 as the Son of God and maker of the world, who brought us all salvation; stanza 3, as the Word made flesh; and stanza 4 as "a martyr born in our defense." The only quibble I forsee (because it's been thrown at some of my hymns) is that the last line ends with a question mark, which is not ideal for a hymn.

(143) The happy Christmas comes once more (types 1-3 again) is another Christmas hymn by Grundtvig, somewhat of the "let us go to the manger in a flight of pious imagination" persuasion, and though I suppose most Christmas hymns do that to some extent, they aren't necessarily so open about it ("To David's city let us fly," etc.) It does put some useful ideas across, however, such as describing Christ's state of humiliation: "Laid off the splendor of the skies" (stanzas 4-5). It challenges believing hearts to wake and sing "living song from loving souls" (stanza 6). It finds glory blazing from the dim manger scene (stanza 7). It covers all that "long awaited" and "incarnate Word" territory in one stanza (8), and ends in a particularly beautiful version of that familiar invitation for Jesus to dwell in our hearts (stanza 9). Again, it kind of grows on me. And it can't hurt to have Charles Porterfield Krauth as its translator.

(144) Thy little ones, dear Lord, are we (type 3) is a warm, tender prayer for children to the Child of Bethlehem by H.A. Brorson, whom we've discussed before. The tune is J.A.P. Schulz's HER KOMMER DINE ARME SMAA, which I think is very learnable for little singers. The opportunity to try teaching it to them is, then, an opportunity to acquaint them with the connection between "the stable, manger, cross, and grave" (stanza 3). After a gasp of astonishment at how few people appreciate God's gift of His Son (stanza 4), the hymn moves on to pray, "O (sic) draw us wholly to Thee, Lord" (stanza 5, which someone made me memorize at some point in my life). That sic, by the way, is for another instance of confusing "O" and "Oh." Color me pendantic. Moving on, the hymn recalls "our baptismal cov'nant" (stanza 6), looks forward to Paradise (stanza 7), and recognizes Jesus' presence in the hour of worship (stanza 8). Not bad for such a simple and direct little thing.

(146) When Christmas morn is dawning (type 1) is another of those "culturally nordic Christmas carols" that confessional Lutherans of a German extraction may not be familiar with; and in case you haven't noticed it yet, offering them a chance to encounter such hymns is one of this book's strengths. In fact, that's a good part of why I would recommend it to Missouri and Wisconsin Synodites. I just wish this hymn were a more fortunate example of that. Paired with a German folk tune (WIR HATTEN GEBAUET), Abel Burckhardt's Swedish hymn begins, again, with the tired old sentiment that says, basically, "I wish I could look at baby Jesus in the manger" – but it doesn't improve much from there. Stanza 2 thanks the Savior for kindly coming to earth, then prays, "O (sic) may we not by sinning / Despise your lowly birth," which is an unexpectedly moralistic application of the Christmas miracle, but all right. Stanza 3 wraps it up with an explanation of what we need Jesus for: "To be our dearest friend. Your love will guard and guide us And keep us to life's end." Well, there's something to that, too. But any opportunity to proclaim gospel has been completely passed over.

(150) In this our happy Christmastide (type 3) is a Hans A. Brorson hymn for the Sunday after Christmas, by which point you might also have noticed that "culturally nordic Christmas carols" tend to mention the word "Christmas" – more, I think, than the Christmas hymns we Lutherans of a non-Scandinavian extraction are used to. (Full disclosure: I recently found out that I do have Scandinavian DNA in my blood, but apparently it comes by way of Viking invaders who intermarried with my Sicilian ancestors.) Anyway, Brorson moves on quickly from the joyful sound of bells ringing to confess that He "by whom the world was made, Now in the lowly manger (is) laid" (stanza 1); that the everlasting God comes "to rescue us who were forlorn" in "this world of sin and misery," "drawn to our earth, drawn by His love" (stanza 2); that since He was born, "in our camp the Ark we see" and "hell shall tremble at the sound" of our song of peace (stanza 3); and that God's Son comes to die and so deliver us from sin (stanza 4). It connects the "gospel in a nutshell" verse, John 3:16, with the angels' song to the shepherds (stanza 5); it puts the joy of Christmas in the context of day-to-day sadness (stanza 6); and sympathizes with Simeon's readiness to depart to be with Christ forever (stanza 7). So, really quite a substantial Christmas hymn.

(161) O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (types 2-3) is a wonderful Gerhardt hymn, earmarked for the Second Sunday after Christmas, that was also in TLH and LSB (but somwhow, not LW). However, LSB replaced Johann Crüger's beautiful tune O JESU CHRIST, DEIN KRIPPLEIN IST with a new tune by Kenneth Kosche, IN PARADISUM – not only unnecessarily, I feel, but tragically. Now that I'm an organist at an LSB church, I miss KRIPPLEIN so much; IN PARADISUM doesn't hold a candle to it. Abandoning Crüger's melody is a mistake and, if it isn't reversed in the next LCMS hymnal, could signal a sad loss for Missouri's corner of American Lutheran culture.

(162) This little Babe so few days old (types 2-3) is a poem by a Jesuit martyr, St. Robert Southwell, that artsy types like me will recognize as a thrilling piece from Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, with the harpist energetically pounding the strings and the choir building up tremendous echo effects. Sung to ELHy's suggested tune HEUT TRIUMPHIERET GOTTES SOHN, it is nearly as dramatic as that, only more likely to lie within the musical ability of the congregation. The "alt." in the text credit mercifully spares us from having to negotiate the word "pight" (a stand-in for "pitched") in stanza 4. "Alt." really is an underappreciated hymn writer, you know. But let's talk about Southwell for a moment, spinning a powerful hymn about the incarnation out of military metaphors: The babe "is come to rifle Satan's fold; All hell doth at His presence quake" and "In this weak unarméd wise The gates of hell He will surprise" (stanza 1). Ironies and paradoxes build from there: "His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes, His martial ensigns cold and need" (stanza 2) – I have to stop. I'm getting choked up.

So, we've done the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Next time, let's pick up with the Epiphany section, which starts at hymn 166. Till then, I wish you the seasonally appropriate words at the end of ELHy 163, stanza 4: "Holy peace and godly cheer!" (Stumble, fumble ... Wh-what happened to "Holy peace, a glad New Year"? See TLH 96).

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Twice Upon a Time

Twice Upon a Time
by James Riley
Recommended Ages: 12+

The cover art for this book really grabbed me – the "punk princess" in T-shirt and jeans, going "eek" and evidently still not entirely reconciled to being in the world where fairy tales are real; the youth crossing swords with a pirate, laughing nervously as if to say, "Am I really doing this?" It totally sells the side of this book that's about sarcastic, modern teenagers thrust into heroic roles they don't buy into, in a world of magic that totally doesn't make their eyes dance with wonder. (Roll, more like.)

The story behind the cover has all these elements in it, but it runs deeper than you'd expect. Jack, the 13th of that name, son of the Giant Killer, isn't meant to be a hero, and May still hasn't figured out what she's doing in fairy-tale land after her supposed grandmother turns out to be the Wicked Queen. When she finds out the real-life story that she belongs to, and when he is forced to face his role in it all, they both have heavy issues to work on and fateful decisions to make. True love, heroic deeds and happily-ever-after may not be in store for them, no matter how they feel about each other.

As Jack, May and pure-of-heart Prince Phillip continue their adventures, they have only a couple days to save the entire fairy kingdom from destruction. The Wicked Queen has unleashed a dragon attack, combined with a curse of sleepiness straight out of Sleeping Beauty. To get help from the one fairy queen who hasn't been affected, they must travel to the Land of Never, where an insolent brat named King Pan rules over a tribe of pudgy adults who believe they stopped aging as children. Also under his control are a shipful of harmless pirates and a group of silly mermaids – all of whom would instantly became dangerous if released from Pan's thrall. And what's under the sea isn't the stuff of a Disney musical, but a merman kingdom poised on the edge of a boning knife, primed to bring a war of annihilation against the human race on the slightest provocation. To accomplish their task, the trio has no choice but to risk exactly that.

This book strikes some dark notes, emotionally. It has loads of danger and action. It forces its heroes and heroines to grapple with tough moral choices and, particularly in Jack's case, to offer huge sacrifices. It isn't easy on them at all. Yet through all of this, its reshaping of familiar folk-stories is full of lightness, fun and goofiness, well-seasoned with laugh-out-loud moments like:
A few more of the smelliest, dirtiest, and beardiest men May had ever seen approached the net. Those men with eyes glared meanly at them. Those missing eyes just eye-patched them, but equally as meanly.
This is the second book in the "Half Upon a Time" trilogy, between Half Upon a Time and Once Upon the End. James Riley is also the author of five "Story Thieves" books and going on five "Revenge of Magic" books.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Bootlace Magician

The Bootlace Magician
by Cassie Beasley
Recommended Ages: 11+

When we last met Micah, the grief of his grandfather's death was still fresh, and his future at the magical Circus Mirandus was wide open. Now "String Boy," as the other magicians at the circus call him, has progressed a bit in learning the kind of magic he can do, starting with tying knots that hold memories. There's more to knot tying than that, he learns. He may be able to make and unmake connections at a much deeper level of reality. Plus, he can do things with string and rope while barely touching them, or maybe even not touching them at all. It just seems like he won't figure out what to do with his magic on time to help save the circus, and everyone he cares about, and maybe the world, from the evil grandmother he has never met.

Micah's second adventure with the Circus Mirandus is even more loaded with new and wonderful magic than the first. He learns things about unicorns, dragons and one particular, very special fish that could make a huge difference. He witnesses devastating attacks by a powerful enemy. He finds out about the terrible powers, and limits, of some of the other folks at the circus. He uses a magic mailbox to communicate with his non-magical best friend back in the town of Peal. He struggles with powerful and, in some cases, destructive feelings and with a sense of responsibility for things far bigger than himself. And he learns to accept the love of a very different kind of family from the one he started with.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Tumble & Blue and Circus Mirandus, to which this book is the sequel. With this book, I've now read all three of them, and I hope she writes more because she's very, very good. Building a well-paced, emotionally compelling story within an immersive, original world of magic seems to be her thing; she's been nominated for two Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards and though neither of those nominations was for this book, I don't consider it a lesser achievement. I was moved within by it, cared for the people in it, enjoyed the fun they enjoyed, and felt my guts twisted by the ratcheting tension of such passages as the fancy-restaurant lunch Micah shares with his monstrous grandma – surounded by people going about their day oblivious to the danger in their midst, and unable to make a sound or a move against her. Until he does, after which all hell breaks loose and you just have to hang on by your fingertips until it's over. Kids deserve books like this; adults should feel privileged to get to read them, too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Tacky Hymns 81

As promised, we resume with Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy), the 1996 hymnal out of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, about which see here. As with my previous walk through The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) please observe that I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.

First, regarding the arrangement of the hymns in ELHy, I'd like to point out that it follows the precedent of its direct ancestor, The Lutheran Hymnary (1912) in that the portion of the book organized by liturgical seasons actually assigns specific hymns to each Sunday and feast of the church year. I suppose that would be helpful for pastors and musicians wanting to plan services quickly, although the book also has many hymns organized by topic.

(4) In Jesus' name our work must all be done (type 3) is a Norwegian "invocation" hymn that, I learned during my sojourn in the ELS, was customarily used to open parish business meetings in the Norwegian synod that became the ELS. I learned it, and came to love it, as a member of the Bethany Lutheran College choir; memorized it, and sang it to myself during many a long morning at a summer job that I passionately hated. I also tried to introduce it to the LCMS congregation back home, but they didn't take to it, finding Ludvig M. Lindeman's tune I JESU NAVN too strange and unappealing to their tastes. It's irregular, for sure, but also richly expressive in a Romantic idiom tinged with stern, Nordic melancholy. I would still like to see more non-Nordic Lutherans get to know it, and maybe revive the tradition of opening meetings with it.

(5) Lord Jesus, though but two or three (type 3) is a brief Matthias Loy production, also suitable for opening a parish business meeting. It's one of a number of hymns that ELHy includes, without music (other than a reference to a suggested tune), to fill blank space at the bottom of a page. Elegant in its simplicity, it's another example of what an overlooked master of English Lutheran hymnwriting Loy is.

(7) Praise to the Father (type 3) is another block of text without music, this time by John H. Hopkins. As a hymn of praise to the Triune God, I think it might actually be better than "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," whose tune it shares.

(13) Dearest Jesus, draw Thou near me (type 3) is a beautiful prayer for God to open our heart to His word and lead us into worship, written by 17th-18th century Danish bishop Thomas Kingo. Again, it is eloquent in its brevity and rich in sacramental thought; set to a familiar chorale (WERDE MUNTER) it shouldn't be hard to introduce to any Lutheran congregation.

(14) Father, who the light this day (type 2) is set to a tune called FRED TIL BOD – but not the one by Lindeman, that will be familiar to Lutherans in the TLH tradition from both this hymn (TLH 8 has one stanza fewer) and "Hallelujah! Jesus lives" (TLH 188). The tune used here (it'll come up again) is FRED TIL BOD by J.P.E. Hartmann, which I also learned during my time in the Bethany choir. Though I think the Lindeman tune is the finer of the two, I have a certain love for this melody as well.

(17) Awake and sing the song (type 3) is another "bottom of the page text block" hymn that I'd like to recommend. Its author, William Hammond, also wrote TLH 18 "Lord, we come before Thee now." It's another beautiful hymn calling on worshipers to receive and respond to the means of grace.

(18) God the Father, be our Stay is mentioned only because I prefer ELHy's treatment of it to that of Lutheran Worship (LW) or the Lutheran Service Book (LSB). While the latter lead off with the "Triune God" stanza (which was invented, I think, to avoid having to sing the hymn through three times), this one leads with the three stanzas addressing the Persons of the Trinity by name, and makes "Triune God" the fourth stanza. While I don't think Stanza 4 is really necessary, I do feel the three-stanza version should be the first option, not an afterthought.

(20) Holy Ghost, dispel our sadness (type 3) is a Paul Gerhardt hymn that wasn't in TLH, LW or LSB – Missouri sinners, take note – set to a remarkable tune titled GENEVA by G.H. Day, which modulates from minor to major at the midpoint. Both the words and music would be a worthy addition to our repertoire.

(21) To God be glory, peace on earth (type 3) is a "bottom of the page text block," a Common Meter paraphrase of the Gloria in excelsis by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, in six brief stanzas.

(22) Let all the world in every corner sing (type 1) is the first hymn in this book that I don't love. With two generic praise stanzas by George Herbert, an anonymous doxological stanza and an uninspired tune by George J. Elvey (UNDIQUE GLORIA), I just don't think it's anything special and its omission from the book wouldn't be missed.

(26) O Holy Ghost, Thou gift divine (type 3) is a Bartholomäus Ringwaldt hymn set to the attractive chorale MIT FREUDEN ZART ("With high delight let us unite"). Again, it's a beautifully done hymn, rich in prayer for the Spirit's gifts.

(28) O how holy is this place (sic, type 3) – Sorry, that "sic" is my snobbish way of pointing out that "O" should be spelled "Oh" in this instance – is a Benjamin Schmolck hymn, set to Johann Crüger's beautiful chorale JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT, building an appeal for God's presence in worship on Jacob's experience at Bethel: "Here we come before His face; This must be the gate of heaven," etc.

(30) Open now Thy gates of beauty (type 2), another Schmolck hymn that TLH 1 sets to UNSER HERRSCHER (a.k.a. NEANDER), ELHy here sets to the lovely Romantic-era tune AMEN, JESUS HAN SKAL RAADE by A.P. Berggreen. It might be a bit too drippy for some people's taste, and I'm one of those people most days of the week; but it is, I'll grant you, an interesting alternative.

(39) Whoever would be saved (type 3) is Harry Bartels' metrical setting of the Athanasian Creed – a versifying achievement that impresses me despite the fact that, around the date this hymnal was edited, I had also written one; cf. Useful Hymns for my effort which, I'll acknowledge right now, is no improvement on Harry B's. I've had the honor of meeting this guy, by the way, and I wholeheartedly endorse the project of teaching this hymn to a congregation, set to the well-known chorale MEIN SCHÖPFER, STEH MIR BEI.

(42) God, we praise You (type 1) is a paraphrase of the Te Deum by Christopher Idle, which I don't particularly care for, set to the tune NETTLETON, which I really don't care for. As paraphrases/musical settings go, it seems too rushed and peremptory, lacking the poetic tone and dignity I'd like to sense in a setting of this majestic canticle. I mean, I'm no fan of using THAXTED as a hymn tune (as I've repeated ad nauseam on this thread), but to the Holst tune's credit, it has a lot of what this tune lacks. In fairness, once this piece moves past the first stanza, I feel less of a sense that unintentional laughter may burst forth; but still.

(44) Thee, God, we praise (type 3), on the other hand, is a Carl Døving paraphrase of the Te Deum, set to a more sedate OLD HUNDREDTH, which I think is a very fine alternative to the chant version. There are 13 stanzas, though, so you might want to plan on having different groups (left side, right side; women, men; choir, Sunday School, etc.) sing selected stanzas.

(45) We sing Thy praise, O God (type 3, exclamation point) is Martin Luther's paraphrase of the Te Deum, notated for alternating groups (I and II) to sing back and forth – such as choir vs. congregation, left vs. right, cantor vs. all, etc. The tune is also attributed to Luther, and with varying numbers of pairs of lines being set to different strains, it can be a little complicated to learn, lead and accompany; I have experience with this. Personally, I prefer the translation I learned at the Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Ind.) chapel out of the old, red Worship Supplement (Concordia Publishing House, 1969), and the accompaniment provided in its organist's edition. The choir might also profit from learning J.S. Bach's setting, from his 371 Chorale Harmonizations. But bottom line, ELHy is the only American Lutheran hymnal I know of that has this masterpiece in it, which I think is essential for Lutheran congregations to know.

(50) Before Your awesome majesty (type 3) is an unusual instance of a hymn by Jaroslav Vajda, late of the LCMS Slovak community, making it into an ELS hymnal before anyone in Missouri has heard of it. While I'm concerned that stanza 2 could be misunderstood when it addresses the Lord as "holy, unborn One" (which, surely, doesn't apply to the Second Person of the Trinity; maybe "uncreated" would have been a better word choice), I guess it's one of those things you can understand correctly if you've a mind to. Stanza 3, however, makes the case for trying out this hymn with a beautiful description of baptism; and stanza 4 tells God, "No life is there without Your Word" and adds, "Neither might nor glory move / Us to adore You as Your love." It just gets better and better all the way to the end.

(56) Ye lands, to the Lord (type 3) is one that I've recommended before.

(57) Evening and morning (type 3) is another fine Paul Gerhardt hymn that wasn't in TLH, though it was in LW and LSB. Its tune, DIE GÜLDNE SONNE by Johann Georg Ebeling, is an example of the work of one of the finest hymn tune composers I know of.

(61) My heart is longing to praise my Savior is a hymn by Princess Eugenie of Sweden, set to a Norwegian melody named after her, which I'm not sure whether to categorize as type 1 or 3. Its music is a lovely artifact of Norwegian spiritual culture, but I'm not sure how it's going to go over in a congregation that isn't saturated in said culture, except maybe as a choir piece.

(62) O Love divine, how sweet Thou art is one of a few Charles Wesley hymns consigned to a "bottom of the page text block" in this book. Again, I'm a bit conflicted about whether it's type 1 or 3. It's a very nice poem of longing to be absorbed in the love of Christ and pay rapt attention to His word; however, it's phrased in such a subjective way that I think it would serve better as a private devotion than a congregational hymn.

(67) Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (type 3) is an impressive hymn of praise by H.F. Lyte, set to the equally impressive John Goss tune LAUDA ANIMA, also known to me through the "farewell to the Alleluia" hymn "Alleluia, song of gladness." This appearance of LAUDA ANIMA is particularly important because it sets each of the hymn's five stanzas to a different accompaniment (sometimes, but not always, suitable for SATB part-singing), creating a through-composed piece of expressive majesty. I think the LCMS's Hymnal Supplement 98 had the same arrangement in its accompanist's edition. I turn to one of these books pretty much any time a LAUDA ANIMA hymn comes up when I'm at the organ.

(68) Eternal Son of God, O Thou (type 3) is another "bottom of the page text block," an 11th century Latin hymn translated by J.J. Rambach that compresses a strong theology of worship into six brief stanzas. Stanza 2: "Thy body and Thy blood they here / Receive, their fainting souls to cheer." Stanza 3: "Here in baptismal water pure / They find for sins a gracious cure." Stanza 4: "Here sin's diseases healing find." Stanza 5: "The gates of hell may here assail / Whom Christ defends, but not prevail."

(70) I see Thee standing, Lamb of God (type 3) is a hymn by Danish pietist Hans Adolph Brorson, inspired by the dying words of St. Stephen and drenched in the atoning blood of Jesus. Get this bit from Stanza 2: "With lion strength Thy nail-pierced hands / Our death the death-blow gave." Half of the hymn is a vision of heavenly glory, which I've detected (not that my remark on that went uncorrected) as a characteristic of Lutheran pietism, whose hymns (in my opinion) lean too heavily on renunciation of this world and hope for the next and not enough on the church's present vocation as light in a dark world. However, this song is beautifully done, and it may have its place in the praises of the faithful.

(73) Thine is the glory (type 1) is a ditty whose tackiness I have previously discussed.

(81) O Splendor of God's glory bright (type 3), from the Latin of St. Ambrose, is one of my favorite hymns ever, so I don't care whether I've said this before; like TLH, ELHy includes all nine stanzas in their 1904 Hymns Ancient and Modern translation and set them to the bright, sturdy chorale, O HEILIGE DREIFALTIGKEIT ("O blessed, holy Trinity"). Thank you, ELHy.

(84) Jesus, Sun of righteousness (type 3), of the "bottom of the page text block" persuasion, is an alternate translation by Jane Borthwick of the Christian Knorr von Rosenroth hymn "Come, Thou bright and morning star" (cf. TLH 539, as translated by Richard Massie). Borthwick's meter doesn't allow it to be sung to the hymn's original(?) tune MORGANGLANZ DER EWIGKEIT, so ELHy suggests using Lindeman's FRED TIL BOD instead.

The hymns starting with ELHy 87 are earmarked for times of the church year, so I guess I'll resume there in the next number. Till then, stay classy, fellow Lutherans!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Castle Hangnail

Castle Hangnail
by Ursula Vernon
Recommended Ages: 10+

The minions of Castle Hangnail have served mad scientists, vampire lords, cursed beastmasters, loathesome hags, and evil sorceresses. But lately, they've fallen on hard times. No one has responded to their letters inviting eligible candidates to become their next master, and they're on their last extension from the Board of Magic. If someone doesn't come soon, the castle will be demagicked and possibly torn down to make way for a subdivision, and that will be the end of the whole village's quaint charm. Then one day, a 12-year-old girl named Molly shows up, claiming to be a wicked witch and clutching one of their invites. She just has to complete a list of magical tasks and the castle is hers. The kid has talent, sure. But will it be enough to save the castle?

Molly's minions are a quirky bunch. There's a little ragdoll who walks, talks and sews, and whose pet goldfish has a streak of hypochondria. There's a mother-and-son pair of minotaurs, an empty (but alive) suit of armor, a steam spirit (kind of a cross between a mermaid and a djinn), and a bat who sleeps at night and flies by day. At first, it looks like it'll be a cute little kids' story full of goofy magic. But it keeps getting darker and deeper, and the at first whimsical creatures increasingly reveal real character. As you see more and more of their hearts, they grow on you, and their adventure – complete with villains who threaten the future of their family and home – catches you up in its dramatic grasp.

This book is the real deal. The story is longer, emotionally deeper and more fully realized than you would expect at the start. Like something else I've read by the same author, it avoids shortcuts and easy answers and gives us the full treatment instead. Besides being a magical adventure with fantasy beings, talking animals, spells, spookiness and thought-provoking ideas (like the difference between "wicked" and "evil"), it also has a goodly number of perfectly timed gags that made me laugh out loud. From such adorable illustrations as a donkey-faced dragon to spells that build readers' word power (such as "piscine" and "majordomo"), it has much to appeal to a younger reader, but not just that. It has stuff in it that will go to the heart, and funny bone, of readers of any age.

Ursula Vernon, who says in this book's acknowledgments that she wanted to be Eva Ibbotson when she grew up, is a talent I definitely mean to watch. She has a flair for the weird and a knack for a well-turned joke, yet neither stands in the way of her putting together a fully satisfying story. Vernon is also the author and illustrator of Nurk, Digger, The House of Diamond and its sequel, The Mountain of Iron, the 11-book Dragonbreath series, six Hamster Princess books and the graphic novel Irrational Fears. She has also published a sketch collection titled It Made Sense at the Time and, under the pen-name T. Kingfisher, is responsible for The Clockwork Boys, Swordheart, A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking and about a dozen other books.