Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Robbie Awards 6

It's a bit early for the 2021 Robbie Awards, but it's been about a month since I finished reading a book now – for reasons that I won't bore you with, other than to make such excuses as "I'm working my way through a new hymnal," and "I just published a book, dammit," and "It's a super busy time at the newspaper where I'm a writer," and "Sickness took a bit out of me (and my family) this winter," etc. Of course the real reason is probably too much binging on YouTube channels when there's a pile of books practically at my elbow. Although I'm close to finishing a couple of books, I doubt either of them will be award-worthy, and generally speaking I'm so done with 2021 that I just don't want to build any more memory bridges to it than I absolutely have to. So, I might as well go ahead with the award show, although in all the years I've been writing reviews, the just 58 books I read this year (not including hymnals) is surely the most pitiful entry in a column of statistics that have frequently broken three digits. (EDIT: Actually, it's only the third-most pitiful, after 2015's 51 books and 2010's 34.) And since the only qualification for a Robbie Award in any given year is that I, Robbie, shall have read it during that year, here are the nominees:
  1. Prisoner of the Black Hawk by A.L. Tait
  2. Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
  3. League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
  4. City Spies by James Ponti
  5. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer
  6. Breath of the Dragon by A.L. Tait
  7. Winter Prey by John Sandford
  8. The Key of Lost Things by Sean Easley
  9. Exile by Shannon Messenger
  10. The Unbreakable Code by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  11. The Book of Secrets by A.L. Tait
  12. The Devil's Own Luck by David Donachie
  13. The Dying Trade by David Donachie
  14. Framed! by James Ponti
  15. Vanished! by James Ponti
  16. Trapped! by James Ponti
  17. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  18. Dead City by James Ponti
  19. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
  20. Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs
  21. The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
  22. The Hush by John Hart
  23. The Nose from Jupiter by Richard Scrimger
  24. Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  25. Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs
  26. Spy School Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs
  27. Blue Moon by James Ponti
  28. The World's Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank L. Cole
  29. The Book of Answers by A.L. Tait
  30. The Last Musketeer by Stuart Gibbs
  31. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs
  32. Worth Dying For by Lee Child
  33. The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey
  34. Eye Spy by Mercedes Lackey
  35. Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro
  36. Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus
  37. Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  38. Lair of the Beast by Adam Jay Epstein
  39. Z is for Zombie by Adam-Troy Castro, ill. by Johnny Atomic
  40. The Last Dragon by James Riley
  41. The Future King by James Riley
  42. Catch the Zolt by Phillip Gwynne
  43. Turn Off the Lights by Phillip Gwynne
  44. A Small Zombie Problem by K.G. Campbell
  45. John J. Hammerlink and the Really Big Think by Bette Slater Seres
  46. A Thorn Among the Lilies by Michael Hiebert
  47. Bring Back Cerberus by Phillip Gwynne
  48. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
  49. The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas
  50. Lost by Sarah Prineas
  51. Found by Sarah Prineas
  52. The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  53. Home by Sarah Prineas
  54. Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
  55. The Zombie Parade by Max Brallier, ill. by Douglas Holgate
  56. Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
  57. Constance Verity Destroys the Universe by A. Lee Martinez
  58. The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
And the awards go to ...

Critic's Choice
As the critic in question, and having (until recently) the Sitzfleisch to appreciate books that many people would be too intimidated to open, I award this year's medal for literary artistry to Naomi Novik for Blood of Tyrants, which I liked just a wee bit more than her own League of Dragons. It's bad luck for everybody else that my run through the Temeraire series overlapped into this year; otherwise other authors, like David Donachie, may have had a chance. But all these months later, my senses are still full of Novik's series about dragons taking part in the Napoleonic wars. I think it's as well-written as a piece of fantasy entertainment can be and deserves to be ranked with capital-ell Literature.

People's Choice
As a person (the singular form of people), evaluating books on pure entertainment value, and trying not to repeat myself too much, I'd like to award this one to Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Although my reading experience was colored by the book's differences from the movie based on it, which I had seen only a couple months earlier, I was deeply impressed by its world-building sweep, thrills, emotional power and originality. I regret that I still haven't picked up any of the sequels; I think it was the asking price that stopped me, not that my reading kept pace with my book buying anyway. If someone hadn't already made a movie out of this book, I'd be clamoring for it to be done; and even though it has been done and I think the movie is great, I can somehow read this book imagining a movie based on it that looks entirely different. That's how brilliant it is.

Kid's Choice
The kid in me played a big role in my book choices this year, and I had a great time reading them. If this medal was being awarded by a librarian or a schoolteacher, it would probably go to something edifying (but also emotionally powerful) like The Goldfish Boy. But because the award is what its name says, it has to go to The Nose from Jupiter by Richard Scrimger – which also has sequels I've never read, but hopefully I'll have time to do so in the year ahead. It's a brutally honest book, smart and hilarious and touching, and even if I can't find a written record that it made me cry, I do recall it having emotional surprises across a wide range of moods. Honorable mentions: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz and The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas.

Best Short Subject/Documentary
There are only a couple of potential choices in the "short subject" category for the year, and it's hard to choose between them, but I feel I have to disqualify Bette Slater Seres' John J. Hammerlink book on the technicality that I interviewed the author in person for a newspaper story, so I might be too close to it to be objective. Therefore, by default, the award goes to Z is for Zombie. And since it's also, technically, nonfiction, it also carries away the nonfiction prize without any competition to speak of.

Best Graphic Novel
Again, there was no competition in this category. The default winner, which I did enjoy, was Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate's second "Last Kids on Earth" book, The Zombie Parade. Despite being heavily commercialized, it has a fun energy, lots of character, a good attitude about the whole monster apocalypse thing, and deceptively simple art that meshes really well with the prose passages. It's also frustratingly difficult to find the next installment so I can continue reading the series in order, but I'm sure I'll come across it one of these days.

Best Newcomer
I actually scored a pre-publication proof this year, making this a category. The only nominee, and therefore winner by default, is A. Lee Martinez's Constance Verity Destroys the Universe, which was lots of fun – but I said it's by Lee Martinez, so I'm repeating myself. It's the third book of a trilogy that I hadn't read before, so I've gone back to read the first two and have enjoyed them as well. With the slight reservation that the laugh-out-loud gags might actually fly too thick and fast for the novel's own good, I'd recommend it to anyone who likes books that blur the boundaries between sci-fi, fantasy and comedy. The titular heroine is both a straight-up adventure hero and a satirical figure, focusing the lens of Martinez's always penetrating snark on all the excesses of the "hero who saves all of time and space" trope, allowing you to enjoy it ironically and unironically at the same time.

Best Audiobook Like some of the other categories, this one only barely saw any competition this year, between two of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels (Worth Dying For and Gone Tomorrow) and the winner, The Hush by John Hart. Reacher you always have with you (oh, my goodness) but this book about an evil wilderness possessing an admirable young man had – how did I put it in my review? – many distinct shadings from "slow-building dread with a sense of certain doom" and "creepy crawlies running up and down" to "freaked out heebie-jeebies" and "I'm too squeamish to look, maybe I'll skip over this next bit." The instinct to shut my eyes tight or look away can be a dangerous thing to trigger when you're driving 75 or 80 mph up Interstate 29. The danger was real, folks.

Any other awards previously distributed at the Robbies are not awarded this year, due to my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault – chiefly, the bout of YouTube-binging laziness that took hold in November and never let go. I doubt I would have broken last year's undistinguished record of reading 80 books, but wow. If I ever shake off whatever it is that's gotten hold of me during the last 45 days or so, this year's record won't be hard to break.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sing 2 & one more

Last Thursday evening, I went to see Sing 2, an animated sequel from Illumination, home of the Minions. It seemed like a good idea, since I liked the original movie and it was my last night all to myself before a marathon of church services and a visit to my folks over this past three-day Christmas weekend. And without adding anything essentially new, except a few more anthropomorphic animal characters, it was pretty much the same kind of feel-good story, with song and dance numbers, as the first flick, with some jokes that landed (hey, I heard myself laugh out loud a couple times), impressive musical production numbers, a big bad wolf, a cowardly lion (well, more paralyzed by grief, really), a mean choreographer and a sci-fi rock opera written by a literal pig. What's not to like?

There's not much plot to synopsize. I mean, think about it; how could there be, and still have time for the musical bits? Bono – yes, he of U2 – plays the composer of "I still haven't found what I'm looking for," which doesn't sound like a big stretch until you realize that he's doing it as a middle-aged lion who hasn't sung in the 15 years since his wife died. Now Buster Moon, the koala producer who wants his small-town theater troupe to make it in the big time, has sort-of accidentally told a soulless media magnate named Crystal (the wolf) that he can bring Clay Calloway (the lion) out of retirement to headline his show. But as the date of the show gets closer, and the wolf's spoiled daughter pouts her way into the production, Crystal's threat to kill Moon if he messes up becomes an imminent guarantee. Somehow, the troupe has to pull off the show while fighting-slash-eluding Crystal and his goons and overcoming Clay's down-to-the-wire cold feet. Onstage spectacle and backstage adventure collide in a brilliant climax, and a whole constellation of stars are born.

Though there isn't much originality in the storyline, there's lots of voice talent in the cast. Beside the aforementioned Bono, lead cast members include Matthew McConaughey as Buster, Bobby Cannavale (whom I last saw as the villain in a latter-day Jumanji movie) as Crystal, Reese Witherspoon as the "momma pig" whose two dozen piglets create a needed diversion at a crucial point, Scarlett Johansson as a punk rock porcupine, sometime American Idol contestant Tori Kelly as a socially awkward elephant who is terrified of having to play her first love scene, Pharrell Williams (the singer of "Happy") as the elephant ice cream vendor who becomes her inspiration, Taron Egerton (late of the Kingsman movies) as the young gorilla singer struggling to learn his dance moves, Chelsea Peretti of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a dog talent scout who tells Buster Moon that he isn't good enough, Peter Serafinowicz (The Tick) as the young gorilla's semi-reformed gangster father, and an uncredited Spike Jonze (the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) as a cat who sucks up to Crystal. There are more names I could list but these are the ones that rang a bell with me; I mean no disparagement of the comedic, acting and musical talents of the remaining cast. But after all, what you see on screen is animated animals, and a good deal of the acting is, like, a work of art.

So, without drawing it out any further, here are the Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Pretty much the whole sequence in which the good guys are giving a performance of their musical while the bad guys try to stop it. (2) The auditions to be the next big act in Redshore City, which featured some pretty far-out acts. (3) Gunther the pig's creative input on the script for the cast's stage show, each idea of which is more impractical than the one before it.

Last night, I followed the recommendation of a Facebook friend I've known since way back when and took a look at the online trailer for The Ultimate Gift, a 2006 movie of which I'd never heard before. I ended up watching the entire movie on YouTube, and may I begin by commenting that YouTube is absolutely the worst platform for movie viewing that I've ever experienced. Two commercials, every 10 minutes on the dot, and only about one in five let you "skip ad(s)" after the first five seconds, and it was usually the second of the two, all the way through the movie. Although it was weird how often that exactly-10-minute mark coincided with a change of scene.

The main character, played by a good-looking guy best known (after this movie) for roles in TV shows I never watched (Army Wives, Charmed, etc.), is a spoiled brat member of an entire family of spoiled brats weaned on oil money. They all, except Jason (our brat), have expectations from the will of the family patriarch (played by James Garner), who dies offscreen at the very start of the movie. For some reason, old Red Stevens has seen more potential, or fire, or something in Jason than in any of his other kids or grandkids, who are (to be honest) a pretty disgusting bunch of human beings. But there's been a rift between Red and Jason ever since Jason's dad died and, for reasons understood only later, the kid blamed Red for it. Since then he hasn't done anything but enjoy himself on all the money in the world. But after Red leaves each of his surviving kids a piece of his fortune (for which they are extremely ungrateful), his lawyer surprises Jason by telling him he's been singled out to receive a series of gifts, which are more like tests of character, and if he succeeds in all of them, the "ultimate gift" will be his.

Reluctantly, the snot-nosed brat agrees to play this game-from-beyond-the-grave with his grandfather, and the gifts-slash-challenges cut him down to size pretty quickly. They include slaving for a month on a Texas cattle ranch, losing everything he has and having to start over with nothing, finding out who his true friends are (hint: he has to make new friends to pass this test), giving away what little he has, enduring a Thanksgiving dinner with his "they eat their own" family, etc., etc. I won't list all the "gifts" Red has in store for him, but along the way he forms a heartbreaking bond with a dying little girl, falls in love with her mom, and rises to the challenge of (in the lawyer's words) becoming the man she deserves.

I didn't know who most of these actors were, particularly the leading romantic couple, so it clearly wasn't typecasting or name recognition that did the magic. It was how the movie was written, acted and filmed that made Jason's journey from an obnoxious waste of displaced air to a good and potentially great man moving to behold. I'm a soft touch, as you'd know by now if you've been following me for any length of time, so take this for what it's worth, but I got a lump in my throat at several points in this movie and I had dampness on my cheeks more than once. I was willing to forgive the preposterousness of what James Garner's character was putting what's-his-face's character through, and I'll admit that a couple scenes toward the end went a little beyond the level of weirdness I'd been prepared to accept (e.g. the final conversation between Jason and Red, which took place in I know not what reality), and I'm a little pissed about how the film dealt with the little girl's medical outcome (see how hard I try to avoid spoilers), and I'm ambivalent about the end credits' replay of scenes from the movie with titles to explain what each of Red's intended gifts were (although some of them were news to me).

However, I shouldn't downplay the power of an effective cast. The star, really, was Abigail Breslin as young Emily, a very sick little girl with a big attitude who gets some of the best lines, of both the "laugh out loud" and the "rip the heart out of your chest" persuasion. Playing the lawyer is Bill Cobbs, a you'd-know-his-face character actor whose roles included the inventor of the transporter on Star Trek, the villainous security guard in Night at the Museum and the coach in Air Bud. His assistant is played by Lee Meriwether, a former Miss America who played Catwoman in the 1970s TV version of Batman; amazingly, IMDB lists this movie as the role she's third-best-known-for. One of Jason's uncles is played by Brett Rice, whom I remember as a coach who antagonized Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans. Brian Dennehy plays the rancher, Gus, who puts Jason through his first hellish month (giving him the gift of hard work) and later returns as a friend. Pretty much everyone else in the cast, including Drew Fuller (who plays Jason), is more or less best known for this movie, but that may not be a bad thing. It's the kind of movie that you'd enjoy if you also liked Healer (about whose lead actor I mostly remember that he had a Daniel Radcliffe smile), except without that movie's touch of the supernatural (unless you count Jason and Red's bizarre farewell scene).

So, before I drag this out any longer, let's have the Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Jason asks Emily what her dream is, and she says, "It's to have the perfect day, and I'm just coming to the end of it now." *chokes up all over again* (2) After he and his guide are captured by an Ecuadorian drug cartel – did I forget to mention that part? – Jason, realizing that the bad guys are going to kill him in the morning, sees an opportunity to escape and takes it. For the next 30 seconds I was yelling at the screen, "Stop! Go back! Save your amigo!" Not to spoil for you whether he does or not, I'd like to remind you what this is a list of. (3) The kiss. Yeah, I know, I've seen too many Hallmark Channel movies. But there it is. Kisses, actually. And the dialogue, scenery, acting and preparation that went into it, all the way back to when the little girl revealed that she wanted to set Jason up with her mom. It worked, on the level of "worked" where I could imagine theater audiences whooping and applauding. EDIT: I got dinged by Blogger for a copyright violation for one of the movie poster images originally included in this movie review. Good Lord. I guess you can't write movie reviews now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Last weekend, I was pleased to see there were alternatives at the local movie theater to seeing the last two movies I saw there, two or three weeks ago. However, one of the two new flicks was Clifford the Big Red Dog, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would see Tom Holland's third outing as Spider-Man. To make a long review short, I came out of the movie still resolved (but partly by sheer willpower) that the best Spider-Man movie is still Into the Spider-Verse. Even allowing for Spider-Man 2 featuring Tobey Maguire to be close behind in the rankings, this latest movie is definitely in contention.

Part of the fun of seeing it was sitting directly in front of a group of fanboys who gasped, applauded and went "Whoa!" when they recognized other MCU characters, such as Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Wong, Venom (in a mid-credits bonus scene), pretty much every villain Spidey has faced since the Tobey Maguire era (all played by the original actors) and, of course, alternate-universe Spideys played by Maguire and Andrew Garfield. The patter between the three webslingers was fun, if perhaps a bit over-indulged. The death of Aunt May, three movies in, provided a crucial but long overdue ingredient in the Holland-Spidey origin story. Two separate bonus scenes (including one at the very end of the credits) teased movies that fans, long abused by the MCU's practice of pasting phony teasers at the ends of their movies, won't dare to trust until they see the whites of the next Doctor Strange movie's eyes (or Spider-Man/Venom, or whatever). And the fact that the story basically gives Peter Parker an excuse to ditch his girlfriend and lifelong best friend with no consequences could represent anything from the end of Holland's tenure to a shakeup of the formula (what next, a gay Spidey?) to a roundabout journey back to status quo ante, minus Aunt May.

That's a confusing jumble of pros and cons, but the cons really are in the minority when you look at the movie from the point of view of action and adventure being done right and a chance to revisit a lot of characters whom previous entries in the franchise left immortality-challenged. Willem Dafoe crushes it in his return as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin, a basically decent man tormented by an evil alter-ego. Alfred Molina suffers a similar personality split thanks, in his case, to AI implants. Jamie Foxx becomes the embodiment of electrical power. Thomas Hayden Church appears, mostly via CGI modeling, as that guy who fell into a supercollider and turned into a sentient sandstorm. At the short end of the stick is Rhys Ifans, mostly unrecognizable as the voice of a CGI lizard man who appears only fleetingly in his human form. And of course, there are all the Peter Parkers, the same but different, all at different points along the wave function of how hard it is to be a crime-fighting mutant while experiencing the vicissitudes of aging and what have you. Each shares emotionally vulnerable moments, but there's also fun between them. And not to be forgotten are Prime Peter's MJ and his buddy, Ned.

At the heart of it all is a moral dilemma about what to do with villains from other universes who have been drawn into the prime reality by a botched magic spell. Is Holland/Spidey going to do the truly good-guy thing, and exactly what is it? Strange wants to send the multiversal interlopers back to where they belong, even though it means their certain death. Aunt May urges Peter to help them somehow, but the obvious alternative – "fixing" who they are to make them safe – comes with its own set of ethical issues. And then of course, there's the side of Peter, which all three Peters seem to have in common, that he may not be able to control: an urge for revenge that could turn him into a bit of a monster, himself.

Of course it wouldn't be Spider-Man without J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) bending journalistic ethics to portray Spider-Man as a menace to society who turns everything he touches into disaster. The fact that, since the previous installment in the franchise, the whole world knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man leads to everything that happens in this movie, and maybe it's a sign that there's something wrong with all of us, but somehow watching the weight of responsibility (that comes with great power, etc.) nearly crush Peter Parker to the ground is just solid entertainment, unfailingly fun to watch.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Peter and Strange duke it out in the Mirror Realm. (2) Peter fights Doc Ock on the freeway bridge while, at the same time, trying to get himself and his friends admitted to MIT. (3) The three Spideys (and co.) face five super-villains in an absurdly complex, yet totally followable, boss fight on the Statue of Liberty. Everybody makes an enjoyable contribution, including a villain who switches sides, a buddy-sidekick who suddenly has magical powers and a pissed-off Doctor Strange, who arrives right at the climax of everything after spending 12 hours dangling over the Grand Canyon. (See #1.)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Trek monologue

*** INTERIOR: The mess deck of the Starship Discovery, 32nd century, at high warp after picking up new crewbeings at starbase. A strange-looking new crewman sits down at a table with several members of the bridge crew. He seems to have Vulcan ears, a Bajoran nose, and some kind of stumps (antennae? horns?) on top of his head. The other officers look at him quizzically. ***

LT. RHYS (tactical officer)
I say ...

LT. JOPP (new guy)
Let me anticipate you. No, I'm not half-Vulcan; I'm a quarter Vulcan on my mother's side. Yes, I'm half-Romulan; but before you ask, that's a quarter-Romulan on both sides. On my father's side, I'm also 1/8 human, 1/16 Bajoran, 1/32 this and 1/32 that, and yes, I do know what "this" and "that" are but people start to get bored by now, so we move on. Yes, I'm aware I talk a lot and that could mean there's a Cardassian behind the wood pile, but if there is, it's so far back that nobody remembers how they got there. Yes, this striking nose is evidence of how strong a 1/16 share of Bajoran genes is, but no, I've never felt an urge to put on ear jewelry. No, I don't practice Vulcan meditation, but also no, I'm not going to snap and kill you. Well, anything could happen, but I've never done it so far, so I wouldn't worry. No, I don't practice absolute candor, but I'm being candid right now; you'll have to take my word for it. No, I have no explanation for those things on top of my head; they don't do anything as far as I can tell. No, I've never felt like my personality was being torn apart because of my diverse heritage; I know who I am and I've never been tempted to be anybody else. And no, I can't explain why I was so fortunate to have such an awesome heritage, but I've never detected any signs that I'm destined for greatness, other than being probably the most advanced student of Beta Quadrant vegetation at this table. Any other questions?

RHYS (sheepish)
Um ... would you pass the salt?

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Tacky Hymns 98

As we approach hymn 700 of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
695-696 (Type 2) are "Take my life and let it be" by Frances Ridley Havergal. The first is to William Havergal's tune PATMOS, to which ELHb, CSB, ALH, TCH, TLH, SBH, LHA, LBW, LW, CWALH, ELHy, ELW and LSB set it (also The Ambassador Hymnal); the second, to Henri A.C. Malan's HENDON, which I was aware of as an alternate tune to PATMOS only through a musical greeting card that someone sent me, until it turned up in LSB – like this book, under a separate number but not on a facing page. I don't know what group the editors of CWH (or LSB) are trying to pose in solidarity with on this matter; but as far as I can tell, it isn't Lutheran. (Note: Some books, like LW, tamper with FRH's poetry and alter the first line to "Take my life, O Lord, renew." But LW also inflicts a horrible musical setting on PATMOS that renders it practically unusable.)

697 (Type 1) is "May we your precepts, Lord, fulfill," about which I have already put myself on the record. For repristinating the blandest and broadest of American spirituality, 1 tack.

699 (Type 1) is Fanny J. Crosby's "Take the world, but give me Jesus," set to a modern tune by Paul and Donna Williams called GIVE ME JESUS. The tune is simple and memorable, if not particularly original or inspired. The text is simple and tightly structured, if not particularly original or inspired. Their pairing is apt. Despite having a devotional tune and emphasizing the surrender of faith, the hymn doesn't give you much except a passing mention of the cross. People who find this deeply inspiring might just be easy to impress; but that's only a theory. For content that's thin on actual gospel or meaningful teaching of the faith, and for being the kind of soft, warm, smothering and clove-scented hymnody that might (with some justice) be implicated in driving adult males out of American Christianity since the time of Fanny J. († 1915), 3 tacks.

701 (Type 2) is "Order my life, Lord, as you will" by Kaspar Bienemann, in a new translation by Michael Schultz, set to its own tune, HERR, WIE DU WILLST. Some may know it by another translation, "Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me" (ELHb, TLH, LHA, ELHy), and some may also know the tune to its alternate title, AUS TIEFER NOT, which is confusing, because that's also the title of another tune. Just sayin'.

703 (Type 2) is "I heard the voice of Jesus say" by Horatius Bonar, set to the English folk tune KINGSFOLD by way of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Think of "No tramp of soldiers' marching feet," LSBers.) This is one of those hymns that has been set to a different tune in practically every hymnal that includes it, of which my favorite is THIRD MODE MELODY by Thomas Tallis – actually, in SBH, LBW and LW. It also happens to be a theme of which RVW has written an arrangement (an orchestral fantasia, in fact, which was quoted to great effect in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). I'm not knocking KINGSFOLD, I'm just saying, man, that Tallis piece was a great tune.

705 (Type 1) is "Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways" by Isaac Watts, on which I've already commented, set to William Havergal's tune EVAN, on which ditto. At the risk of sticking picas into a(nother) sacred cow, 2 tacks.

707 is "Cling tightly to the Word of God" by Stephen Starke, set to Amanda Husberg's († 2021) tune O COME. It's almost exactly the kind of music I'd like to have written, though its fifth phrase means the last line of each of Starke's stanzas will have to be repeated. The text takes off from Jesus' words in John 8:31-32 about His disciples holding to His word, being His true disciples, knowing the truth and becoming free. It goes on (stanza 2) to call to the believer's mind the power of their baptism; connect it with Christian living (stanza 3); invoke the example of the saints to prepare us to proclaim the good news (stanza 4); tie in the Lord's Supper (stanza 5) and wrap it all up with Jesus' saying in Matthew, Mark and Luke about a disciple denying himself, taking up his cross and following Jesus.

708 (Type 1) is "Come, thou fount of every blessing," set to the tune NETTLETON, to which I have already awarded 2 tacks; and I'm going to let them stand.

709 is "Christ the Vine," first line "I long to serve my Savior," by Michael Schultz, set to an Irish tune called SALLEY GARDENS. Recalling one of Thomas Day's answers to the book title Why Catholics Can't Sing, I'm a little skittish about adding any more Irish traditional melodies to our hymnody. But looking beyond that (and recognizing that there's always the option of choosing a different tune at go-time), what I appreciate about Schultz's hymn is how it acknowledges that "conduct pure and holy requires a power not mine" (stanza 1) and anchors that power in, you guessed it, Christ the Vine. Then there's stanza 2's description of Christ as the vine from above who offered his life for my sin, and stanza 3's reasoning about what I can do with Christ abiding in me – although "within my soul" may not be as strong a statement of where he abides as one could make with a biblical basis.

710 (Type 1) is "Beneath the cross" by Keith and Kristyn Getty, who have made headlines recently for critiquing CCM and nevertheless write it. In all fairness, the CCM they write has more specifically Christian doctrine in its little finger than most CCM artists have in their whole body of work. On the other hand, they aren't specifically Lutheran and it is, after all, CCM, which is a patently commercial product designed to be listened to rather than to be sung by the congregation; and being designed to be sung by the congregation ought to be the first check box to be filled in before any musical number gets into the pew hymnal. Turning toward the content of this particular hymn, I'm immediately struck by the evidence that it's cribbed from Elizabeth Clephane's "Beneath the cross of Jesus," which I loathe and execrate; so that even if it goes on to improve on Clephane's hymn, my desire to read further has already diminished by that much. (EDIT: I did read the rest of the hymn, but apparently something distracted me and I forgot to comment further; so CWH is spared any official tacks for this hymn.)

713 (a weak Type 1) is "I want to walk as a child of the light," on which I've already commented. For blandness of inspiration and thinness of content, 1/2 tack.

714 (Type 2) is "Jesus, your boundless love to me" by Paul Gerhardt, set to Norman Cocker's tune RYBURN, as in LSB.

715 (Type 2) is "Let me be yours forever" by Nicolaus Selnecker (some hymnals say "Thine" instead of "yours"), set to the 16th century chorale LOB GOTT GETROST MIT SINGEN, only with a perky, smoothed-out, modern-style rhythm rather than the Reformation-era rhythmic chorale generations of American Lutherans have struggled with and, by persistent application, overcome. I hate to see all that labor go to waste. But in the era of "everything that doesn't sound like what I hear on the radio is awful," this approach might be the salvation of that tune.

716 is "O Christ, who called the twelve" by Herman Stuempfle, set to the English tune TERRA BEATA, about which I have already commented. 2 tacks for unwanted in-church reminders of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Maltbie Babcock's barely Christian poem "This is my Father's world."

719 is Stuempfle's "Lord, teach us how to pray," set to Aaron Williams' († 1776) tune ST. THOMAS (think "The advent of our King"). Without actually teaching how to pray the way Jesus did (by, like, paraphrasing the Lord's Prayer), it gives a reasonably good, singable rationale for entrusting our cares to God in prayer.

720 is Martin Luther's "Our father, throned in heaven above," set to his own tune VATER UNSER, which could also serve as a tune for 714. Again, I appreciate the layout decision of putting the stanzas paraphrasing the petitions of the Lord's prayer on the right-hand page with subheads, with score text instructing us to insert the petition under consideration between stanzas 1 and 3. And again, I'm not sure the stanza numbers under the subheads are necessary.

721 (Type 1) is "What a friend we have in Jesus" by Joseph Scriven, with Charles Converse's tune CONVERSE, about which I've expressed myself at length; and since I'm obviously unafraid to put myself at odds with all christendom, I'm going to stand by my previous complaints (in short, that despite its popularity, the music is a treacherous quagmire for organists and the text, every time it seems to be headed somewhere really interesting, backs down and takes the bland route instead). 2 tacks.

722 is "In holy conversation" by Gregory Wismar, set to the charming Swedish tune BRED DINA VIDA VINGAR, as also in LSB. Wismar's treatment of prayer stresses the aspect of a trusting, father-child relationship with God. If, however, the same thing can be said about Swedish folk tunes as Thomas Day said about Irish, the tune might be an impediment, especially to some of a non-Scandinavian heritage.

724 (Type 1) is Stuempfle's "Be still, my soul, before the Lord," set to Marty Haugen's tune SHANTI, on which I've already commented that it isn't representative of Stuempfle's best work and even, at face value, almost seems to be advising the faithful not to pray. Not a good look for a hymn in the "Prayer" section. 1 tack.

725 is Chad Bird's "Hear us, Father, when we pray," set to MORGENGLANZ DER EWIGKEIT ("Come, Thou bright and Morning Star"). Bird, for all the challenges that come packaged with him (remember, we aren't "cancel culture" here), has the nous to connect baptism to believers' right to pray (stanza 1), as well as Jesus' atoning blood (stanza 3), which – at least at the date he wrote this hymn – seems to alibi him out of any suspected connection with those "radical Lutheran" ruffians and their gospel-reductionist thinking that makes blood atonement of no account. Also, I like the sacrifice-of-prayer imagery of stanza 4 ("may their fragrance waft above"). After reading this hymn, I feel less inclined to believe any evil reported of this man.

726 is "Love in Christ is strong and living" by Dorothy Schultz, set to Ralph Schultz's tune DOROTHY (cf. Hymn 595). A brief and well-turned treatise on Christian love per 1 Corinthians 13, I'll betcha Dorothy's hymn was the one for which Ralph wrote the tune.

728 is "This is my will" by James Quinn, SJ (that means Jesuit, for those of you at home), set to what the credit line describes as a 19th century Gaelic tune called SUANTRAI. I'm not sure what Gaelic has to do with it. It's a nice enough tune, and in contrast to the general drift of Irish melodies per Thomas Day, it seems simple enough for any group to learn. Quinn's text is drawn from Jesus' remarks to his disciples on the night He was betrayed, John 15 or so. It would be nice to see this exhortation put explicitly in the context of what Jesus did for us; but other than a reference to laying down one's life to save one's friends, you're expected to bring that equipment to the game. So, clearly, this is what church historians call mystagogy; preaching to the converted. Let that be understood before using it in lieu of the gospel.

729 (Type 2) is "Son of God, eternal Savior" by Somerset Lowry, set to the 19th century American revival tune LORD, REVIVE US. I've also seen it set to IN BABILONE.

731 (Type 1) is "Oh, how good it is" by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Ross Holmes and Stuart Townend, with their own music and a whopping-big copyright notice at the bottom of the page. Unlike many(!) of their previous contributions to this book, this one includes the accompaniment in the pew edition, so I was able to give it the benefit of an impartial play-through. I'm sure it's not notated how they would play it on their album (not that I'm going to check to be sure), but the left-hand piano figuration is so basic that I really don't see what it has over-against bare chords except an additional learning curve for Mrs. Hasenpfeffer, the underpaid operator of the Wurlitzer home organ at the back of your grandparents' home church, who is already halfway to burnout thank you very much. The burden of proof lies on the originality and beauty of the music, and in my opinion, neither is anything to write home about in this case. I'm trying to bite my tongue and not say something about reminding me of the jingle from a Flintstones vitamins commercial and maybe, in the refrain, a tune that Keith Green wrote over 40 years ago. The text has some merits, although "the blessing of belonging" isn't where I was hoping stanza 2 was going with its argument about weeping with those who mourn, etc. And the refrain's avowal that "with one voice we'll sing to the Lord" does have a different meaning when, as will likely happen in many places where this song is peformed, a soloist is singing it at the congregation. 2 tacks.

732 (Type 1) is "How good it is and how pleasant" by James Chepponis, at least partially a paraphrase of Psalm 133 – which I feel protective of, since I wrote a musical setting of the same Psalm many years ago. Actually, only the refrain references Psalm 133, and only a small part of it; the three stanzas borrow exhortation material from various locations in the New Testament, stressing how believers should live with one another. Except for small-note harmony under the melody line in the refrain, this is another case where the accompaniment for new music was left out of CWH's pew edition. It also feels a little weak on the gospel. 2 tacks.

733 (Type 1) is "Forgive our sins as we forgive" by Rosamond Herklots, about which I previously commented that it was weak on the gospel. 1 tack.

734 is "How clear is our vocation, Lord" by Fred Pratt Green, on which I previously commented that it was a rare "Vocation" hymn that got the special vocation of the pastoral office right.

735 (Type 1) is "Before you I kneel" by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Jeff Taylor and Stuart Townend, CWH's favorite hymn writers of the past century. I appreciate that CWH's pew edition included the piano part, so I can report that it's relatively easy to play, like the kind of unchallenging choir music arranged with consideration for small country churches and their limited musical forces. Full of paraphrased psalm language, it's a nice little song about offering God the work of our hands (well, "my" hands, actually) in return for the day he has given, my strength and skill, and all other needs he has supplied (stanza 1). It includes a vanishingly subtle prayer for forgiveness (stanza 2) with grace to guide me through life's thorns and my own faults – on third reading, I barely recognize a running reference to the Parable of the Sower in this verse. Stanza 3 is the "seek first your kingdom" one, asking that our lives may bring glory to Him. So, good-ish content, but bland and mediocre all over. 2 tacks.

736 (Type 1) is "Lord, you call us as your people" by Steven Mueller, set to Marty Haugen's tune JOYOUS LIGHT, which after a whole bunch of Getty/Townend et al melodies I now recognize as the original example of the now-hackneyed melodic twist in the second half of every other CCM song. Haugen, the liturgical pioneer who straddled the line between traditional hymn style and contemporary pop, would have to be the originator, wouldn't he? Mueller's text, sectioned under "Vocation," actually has a refrain calling on the Spirit to keep us faithful to our callings, plural; but it also has a stanza that makes it sound like whatever our callings, we're responsible for the Great Commission, which I feel needs an asterisk and further explanation. Is this a ministry hymn? What distinction are we making about vocation, here? 2 tacks.

737 is Stuempfle's "Lord, help us walk your servant way," set to ST. FLAVIAN ("Almighty God, Your word is cast" in LSB), and it isn't the first hymn in which I've spotted Stuempfle using the phrase "walk(s) your servant way." I can't help it; the use of "servant" as an adjective grates on my nerves. However, as a hymn about Jesus coming not to serve but to serve, and admonishing His followers to do likewise, it's above reproach; other than the fact that repeating stanza 1 verbatim as stanza 5 seems like a waste of ink, to me.

738 (Type 1) is another hymn set to SURSUM CORDA, about which I've expressed the view (already within my run-through of CWH) that almost any tune in the same meter would be a better choice. More to the point, it's "The Son of God, our Christ, the Word, the way" by Edward Blumenfeld († 2013), again stressing his humble service toward mankind, his calling of humble men to the ministry, and the ongoing challenge to proclaim Him to the world. I think it would be a stronger hymn if it made a clearer distinction about the special calling of the pastoral ministry. In the past, the Wisconsin Synod has been weak on that; I've been told they've been making up lost ground since then, but I don't see it in this hymn. 2 tacks.

739 is "Forth in your name, O Lord, I go" by Charles Wesley, set to Barry Bobb's tune LAKEWOOD, both of which were new to me when I first dived deeply into LW. And I'm loath to admit it, but I've always been attracted to this hymn, since I first made its acquaintance. It starts out by declaring that "I" am "determined only you to know" in all my work this day. Stanza 2 goes on to say I will seek God's presence and will in every task; stanza 3, to offer my works to Him; stanza 4, to occupy myself in prayer and thoughts of higher things; and stanza 5, to "run my daily course with joy," eyes on the heavenly prize. It's sort of like an exhortation from a Pauline epistle, only turned around so that "I" am speaking it and, as it were, issuing a resolution. As a prayer it's a little weak, since it's more about what I'll do than what I want God to do for me; and as exhortation, it's also limited to the degree to which the congregation takes to heart the words you're putting into their mouths. So recognizing that it could be better, I don't really mind it.

The beginning of the "Witness" section (741) is a reasonable place to knock off for today, and I'd better. We stuck in 24-1/2 new tacks this go-round, bringing the total to 122 tacks in 440 hymns. That's an average tackiness of about 27.7 percent, the highest it's gotten so far. Of course my methodology is somewhat subjective, and my tackiness scoring system is weighed to penalize the book according to the relative tackiness of each unfortunate hymn selection, and there's no mechanism for rolling tacks back for the hymns of unblemished quality, many of which I'm not even mentioning here. So that's a big "for what it's worth." But at this early stage in my review of CWH's hymn selections, I wouldn't consider it too late for Northwestern Publishing House to pull the whole book back to the drawing board and give it a bit more work.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Tacky Hymns 97

As we continue our critical sack of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
Sectioned under "Word of God," 631 (Type 1) is "Speak, O Savior, I am listening," a translation of a hymn elsewhere found as "Speak, O Lord, Thy servant heareth" (TLH) or "Speak, O Lord, your servant listens" (LSB), either of which would be a more recognizable reference to the words of young Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 3, "Speak Lord, for your servant hears." Other than apparently following CWALH on this, I don't see the angle in altering the translation this far out of semblance to the scripture reference, since the LSB option is already sufficiently up-to-date language. Also, CWH's translation of stanza 4 takes emphasis off the efficacy of God's word and puts more stock in our own spiritual exertions – a clear example of walking a hymn in the wrong direction. 2 tacks.

632 (Type 1) is "Speak, O Lord, as we come to you" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, another CCM styling apparently here to rescue Lutherans from the drudgery of singing hymns. Its phrasing of the 1 Samuel reference (going on say "to receive the food of your holy Word") is even harder to recognize at face value. Musically, it's well outside the congregation's wheelhouse and will be performed at them by a Christian yacht rock band. Textually, I hate to say it, its theology of the power of God's Word runs circles around the Wisconsin Synod's own, as evidenced by the hymnal editors' meddling with the text of 631. 1 tack.

634 is "These are the holy Ten Commands," Martin Luther's decalog hymn, and I just want to say I approve of the layout – mostly. It takes each stanza paraphrasing one of the commandments and puts it on the right-hand page with a subtitle over it, and directs users to insert the appropriate stanza between stanza 1 and stanzas 3-4. I just think it's a mistake to number these other stanzas; let the subheads suffice. Putting "5" in front of the First Commandment stanza, for example, could lead to a weird situation where a congregation that ignores the subheads and the score text and sings them in the numbered order. EDIT: I know, you want to list the stanzas to be sung in the service folder or on the hymn board; but experience also teaches me that listing the stanzas out of numerical order leads to confusion and lots of questions; you end up having to make an oral announcement regardless.

635 is "From high atop the mount," Michael D. Schultz's stab at doing the same thing Luther did in 634. I'm not a big fan of the tune SURSUM CORDA by Alfred Smith († 1971), which I find a little dry, but that's me. Again, I like the layout except for the numbering of the stanzas whose subheads are, and should be, sufficient. Lyrics-wise, I appreciate Schultz's economy of words and (in stanza 3) his effort to include both Gospel and the Third Use of the Law in the hymn. I think his explanations of the commandments are also good, intelligent and faithful to Luther's Small Catechism.

636 (Type 2) is "Faith and truth and life bestowing" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, set to a Welsh tune called BLAENHAEFREN. For the same hymn, LSB plumped for the early Americana HOLY MANNA, which might be a little more familiar to American folks. However, BLAENHAEFREN sounds pretty learnable to my ear.

645 (Type 2) is "One thing's needful" by J.H. Schröder, set to the tune Friedrich Layriz wrote for it, titled EINS IST NOT. It's the tune TLH chose for it, as did CWALH; but despite being easily mistaken for a TLH repristinator, I've always thought TLH was wrong on this and, therefore, so are the two Christian Worship hymnals. They're also distinctly in the minority; practically every other Lutheran hymnal in the English language opts for Adam Krieger's more attractive tune by the same name (if it has the hymn at all), and I've read somewhere that Layriz himself came to agree that Krieger's tune was the better of the two. I think that's a testimony worth hearing.

647 is "Word and water, filled with promise," a baptism hymn by Michael Schultz, set to the Welsh tune SUO GAN. The third stanza is italicized, with a footnote suggesting its use when there is a baptism in the service; I see no reason (other than maybe the word "today") not to include it on any occasion when baptism is the topic. It's really a solid treatment of baptism, showing that this Schultz guy (who was apparently the show-runner for CWH) knows what he's doing.

649 is "Let the children come to me" by John C. Relm, who also composed the tune titled KAPHAR for it. Starting with the music, as I do, I just ran to the piano to play it (thanks for including the accompaniment, CWH!) and as a pianist, I enjoyed it. It's definitely in a contemporary idiom but more artsy than popsy, if it must err one way or t'other. I think having the accompaniment on the page, in the pew book, is a good idea because there are accompaniment notes between melody notes, and you wouldn't want the congregation to get confused about what they are and aren't supposed to sing. Lyrics-wise, it explores one of the historic gospels for an infant baptism, framing baptism as a part of what Jesus means by bringing children to Him. It's also a tightly structured hymn that, I bet, could even be taught to children. The only quibble I'd consider dinging it for (I'm going to give it 1 tack) is that the entire hymn is cast as Jesus speaking, which creates two less-than-ideal situations – first, that we're putting words in Jesus' mouth that he didn't literally say, and second, that we're singing in character as Jesus without introduction or attribution. And if you don't think this could lead to misunderstanding, you haven't spent much time among Lutherans.

Sectioned as "Confession and Absolution," 651 is "In hopelessness and near despair" by Jaroslav Vajda, set to the 16th century chorale HERR, WIE DU WILLST ("Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me"). Vajda writes in an unmistakably contemporary idiom, using such vocabulary as "sham" (stanza 1), but this also frees him to deliver some penetrating insights like "You know me as I really am: how much is truth, how much is sham" (stanza 1) and "I'm torn in two directions: now prodigal, now Pharisee" (stanza 2). Gradually, you begin to suspect that he's paraphrasing one of David's penitential psalms.

652 is "Lord have mercy," first line "For what we have done and left undone," by Matt Papa, Aaron Keyes, James Tealy and Matt Boswell. After that line of credits, you probably already know what I'm going to say next: (1) There's a massive copyright notice that bespeaks a commercial production. (2) There's no accompaniment on the stanzas side of the two-page spread (harmony is provided for the refrain, however), which is not very nice to curious pianists who have invested in the pew edition. (3) It's got a complicated structure, with a "dal segno" symbol (pictured here) in the middle of the stanzas, a third stanza that only requires the second half of the stanza music, and a refrain that has a first and second ending, while the second ending itself has a repeat with a first and second ending, with the latter ending with 7 bars of vocal tacet (hidden accompaniment measures) followed by the directions "D.S. al Fine," which means you go back to where the third stanza starts and keep singing till you get to the Fine, which is actually before that seven-bar tacet in the second ending of the second ending (aaaaaarrrghhh) ... Forget it, this shouldn't even be in the pew book; this is going to be performed at the congregation by people who know what the heck they're doing.

657 is "Baptismal waters cover me" by Kurt Reinhardt, set to the beautiful chorale GOTTLOB, ES GEHT NUNMEHR ZU ENDE ("The death of Jesus Christ our Lord" in TLH). The hymn, tune and all, was in LSB; I just wanted to emphasize that it's here and it's good content for a hymn about confession and absolution.

658 is "With all my heart I praise you, Lord" by Johann Rist, in a new translation, set to the 16th century chorale AN WASSERFLÜSSEN BABYLON ("A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth" in TLH). Again, a lovely confession-and-absolution hymn, with such statements as "When I confess ... you grant me pardon in your name before I've finished speaking" (stanza 2). It also stresses preparation for the Lord's Supper. Without having the original to judge by, it seems to be a fine example of modern hymn translation.

On facing pages are two Communion hymns about which my feelings couldn't be more different. 659 is John Hus's "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior," set (alas) to only one of the two beautiful tunes written for it. I still feel that LW had a great idea in setting the two tunes side by side and urging worshipers to sing the stanzas to both tunes in alternation; but the idea died there, apparently. Meanwhile, 660 is Horatius Bonar's "Here, O my Lord, I see you face to face," about which the best thing is Henry Lawes' tune FARLEY CASTLE. While Bonar does speak of handling "things unseen" and grasping "with firmer hand eternal grace" (stanza 1), his hymn on the Sacrament falls short of confessing that we eat and drink Jesus' body and blood. That failure might be too subtle for many Lutherans to notice; they may, indeed, give it credit for saying what it does not; but that could just as easily be an insidious thing as a positive one. Sure, there are crasser examples of hymns about the Lord's Supper that have no body and blood of Jesus in them; this one actually mentions his blood, but doesn't apply it orally, which seems to me a huge missed opportunity.

661-662 (Types 1 and 2) are basically two settings of "Draw near and take the body of your Lord" on facing pages. On the left is the version set to a butchered version of the tune OLD 124TH (which originally had, and in some hymnals still has, five musical phrases rather than four) and on the right, a tune called NEALE (after the translator of the Latin text) by Steven Janco. Janco's tune is of the "stick on an unnecessary refrain" persusasion, so I'm going to come down in favor of the OLD 124TH setting which does, after all, have the advantage of being familiar to the folks in the pew. The Janco tune, except for the refrain nobody asked for, has no accompaniment and even a two-bar tacet just to rub it in, for curious pianists. Boo, hiss; 2 tacks.

664 is the Wilhelm Loehe/Herman Stuempfle hymn "Wide open stand the gates," set to the 17th century chorale JERUSALEM, DU HOCHGEBAUTE STADT – a lovely Communion hymn that makes use of all the notes in the tune without being unnecessarily prolix; and unlike too many Communion hymns, it gets the Real Presence right.

665 is "What is this bread?" by Frederic Baue, set to his wife Jean's tune PREPARATION, and I swear, my "scratch and dent" hymn "What is the bread on which we feed" was not influenced by the Baues' piece; I wrote it in the 1990s, years before I first saw their hymn in LSB. Anyway, I've met these folks, which is something I can't say about a lot of authors or composers represented in major hymnals, and I appreciate their effort in this song to create a sung catechism about the Lord's Supper.

669 is "In this holy, blest communion" by Michael Schultz, again set to SUO GAN, and again it nails the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood: "Bread is truly Jesus' body, blood of Jesus joins with wine" (stanza 1). It also gives a good explanation of the word "communion": "Christ and sinners join as one" (stanza 2), "joined together, brothers, sisters, in one body unified" (stanza 3). Again, though, I wish CWH would capitalize modifiers of Christ such as "his" to make what Schultz is trying to say clear (as in "each his highly cherished guest," st. 2).

670 is "I come, O Savior, to your table" by Friedrich Heyder, of which TLH included 15 stanzas but CWH only carries over 10. And it's strange, I think, how in this one instance, CWH insisted on printing the same music on both sides of the two-page spread, ensuring that there would only be room for stanzas 6-10 when, if they had just run the stanzas as blocks of text, 6-15 might have fit. However, when you turn the page, you find the remaining five stanzas split off as a separate hymn, 671 "Your body, given for me, O Savior," set to the tune DIR, DIR, JEHOVA. I don't know, this could have just been presented as an alternate tune for all 15 stanzas.

674 is "The infant Priest was holy born" by Chad Bird, a former LCMS pastor and seminary professor whom I knew when he was a grad student and I was a noob at the Fort Wayne seminary. Between when this hymn debuted in LSB and now, Bird was unfrocked for moral reasons, and unfortunately he's since become associated (I hope not with just cause) with a "radical Lutheran" group that is really no friend of the Lutheran confession, but it's nice to see this hasn't prejudiced the church's appreciation of his hymn. I particularly like the tune chosen for it, ROCKINGHAM OLD.

675 is "At the Lamb's high feast we sing," set of course to the magnificent tune SONNE DER GERECHTIGKEIT, and I can't recommend this hymn highly enough. However, I think it equally belongs in the Easter section, as it's a specifically eucharistic application of "Easter triumph, Easter joy" (stanza 7).

676 (Type 1) is "Take and eat" by Michael Joncas and James Quinn, on which I have commented before. Despite its refrain, I still don't think much of it as a communion hymn; and although my previous kvetch about the music sprawling across three pages doesn't apply here, that's balanced by the fact that CWH omits the accompaniment for the stanzas in the pew edition. 2 tacks.

I like the fact that CWH circles back, after its pitifully brief (4 hymn) section on Baptism, to a section on "Baptismal Life," with such hymns as 678 "Once in the blest baptismal waters," 679 "God's own child, I gladly say it" (set to the LSB tune rather than the ELHy one), 680 "Baptized into your name most holy," and Paul Gerhardt's 682 "All Christians who have been baptized," which my own pastor considers one of the most important hymns in Lutheranism. 692 is Thomas Kingo's "All who believe and are baptized," which says a lot in only two stanzas. But then, branching out in new directions, we also see ...

681 is "Christ is with me" by Gerald Coleman (author of "The lamb, the lamb"), about which I previously commented but mostly in a positive way. However, I'm going to give it 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment except for a vocal harmony line in the refrain.

683 is "We know that Christ is raised" by John Geyer, set to ENGELBERG which, if it's new to folks (as it well may be), does no one any favors by leaving its accompaniment off the page both here and in Hymn 628. Because of the likelihood that it'll be unfamiliar to somebody who purchased the pew edition and would have liked being able to play it on the piano, I'm giving it 1 tack for that. I was grouchy when I previously reviewed Geyer's hymn; and now I notice that the editors of CWH have made some effort to improve on areas that I found tacky at that time. I'm still not a big fan, but what can you do.

684 is "Father welcomes" by Robin Mann, a hymn that has irritated me since I first reviewed it. For having good content, I'm going to give it a break (and not a tack) despite the fact that I don't think it's well written, and perpetuating poor workmanship (by, for instance, printing it in yet another hymnal) could put a chill on the next generation's appreciation of hymnody.

685 is "Through simple water, drawn and poured," a new (to me) translation of a hymn by Formula of Concord co-author Nicolaus Selnecker, set to the tune WO GOTT ZUM HAUS ("How blest the home where man and wife," etc.). It's another good confession of the power of Baptism, specifically to set us free from sin, strongly gospel-oriented and rich in biblical imagery, and with a conclusion that borrows Luther's own "I am baptized" language.

686 is "Water, blood, and Spirit crying" by Stephen Starke, with Jeffrey Blersch's tune FILTER; it was also in LSB. I haven't known it all that many years, but it already feels like a classic to me, with a very chorale-like musical argument and such imagery as "Christ, the ark of life" (stanza 2) plugging Word and Sacrament into the power source of Jesus' death. I'd only like to tease Starke for forgetting to complete the sentence in the last stanza. (Those of you who diagram sentences can verify that it's all participle phrases ending with a relative clause.)

687 is "If then you have been raised with Christ" by Michael Costello, who also composed the tune HICKORY for it. Having played it on the piano, I must now acknowledge Costello as my musical doppelganger; he writes harmony almost exactly the way I do (or think I do, anyway). So I'd better not complain about it, right? His text is a "Third Use of the Law" application of the fact that the baptized have been buried and raised with Christ, per St. Paul in Colossians 3. The only awkwardness is that the Trinitarian doxology is squeezed into the second half of a stanza, which will make it difficult for the organist to cue the congregation to stand up.

688 is "The gifts Christ freely gives" by Richard Resch, who was the director of a choir I sang in and the kantor (head organist) at the seminary chapel where I studied for the ministry. Another "I knew him when." I'm told he was miffed when the editors of LSB didn't put a "stand for doxological stanza" symbol next to the last stanza of this hymn, but you've got to admit, saying "triune God" is not quite the same as a shout-out to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, this hymn is another beautiful confession of what God does in the Means of Grace, set to an attractive, early 20th century tune called DENBY.

690 is "Blest are they, the poor in spirit" by David Haas, about which I have waxed grouchy before. From All God's People Sing to a WELS hymnal supplement to here, a congregation's pew book. Should I be sad about this? I don't know. Maybe the omission of the "shmaltzy piano ballad" I previously referenced is concealing part of the tragedy, though it earns a tack for omitting the accompaniment. For taking longer to sing than just reading the Beatitudes while losing, rather than adding, meaningful content, and just general bad taste in hymnal music, let's make it 3 tacks.

691 is Stephen Starke's "Awake, O sleeper, rise and see," set to the 16th century chorale KOMM, GOTT SCHÖPFER ("Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest"). Here, Starke focuses on the "great and glorious mystery ... the hope of glory – Christ in you." Stanza 2 stresses that Christ's grace is perfected in your weakness; Stanza 3, what the Spirit supplies to a "life formed by His cross"; Stanza 4 links this "Christ in you" to baptism; Stanza 5, to the eucharist; Stanza 6, to Jesus' express promise; and Stanza 7 ties it up beautifully. I don't remember seeing this hymn before; I guess Starke isn't done impressing me.

693 is "O gracious Lord, with love draw near," also by Starke, set to the English folk tune O WALY WALY (similar to the tune of the song "The Water Is Wide"). It could be read as a confirmation hymn, asking for Christ's blessing on the work begun in them in baptism; or it could be used to cheerlead for keeping the kids involved in church after baptism.

This brings us to the doorstep of the DISCIPLESHIP section of the book, and I've had it for the day. So, what's today's damage? 13 new tacks, bringing CWH's running total to 97.5 tacks in 393 hymns, or just a couple thousandths short of 25 percent. Perhaps by focusing on topics that evangelicals don't like to talk about, we've avoided having to look at too much CCM stuff, which has slowed this book's ascent into tackiness orbit. But there are still 250-plus hymns to go, so we may yet achieve breakway velocity!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Tacky Hymns 96

As we continue running through (and over) Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
Everything in the "Work of the Spirit" section seems to be in order. I only want to single out 594 is "Holy Spirit, end our sadness" by Paul Gerhardt, set to George Day's tune GENEVA, and 595 is "Fruitful trees, the Spirit's sowing" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, with Ralph Schultz's tune DOROTHY. Both are known to me from previous hymnals, but they may be new to some users. Musically, they both have an interesting sound and could be pretty catchy. GENEVA is one of those tunes that changes from a minor key to the parallel major, which has a striking effect. TDS's text, meanwhile, takes us quickly through the "fruits of the spirit." They could both be pretty useful.

The section "Praise and Adoration" begins with 597-598 (Type 2), both of which are "Now thank we all our God" by Martin Rinkert, set to different versions of Johann Crüger's tune NUN DANKET ALLE GOTT. Rhythmic vs. isometric, don'tcha know. If your congregation has been singing the rhythmic version, please don't switch. And don't think about going back and forth; it'll only cause confusion.

599 (Type 2) is "Come, Christians, join to sing" by Christian Henry Bateman († 1889), set to a tune called MADRID which many may find suspiciously familiar. And lo, it is a rhythmically altered version of SPANISH CHANT, a.k.a. SPANISH HYMN (TLH's tune for "Savior, when in dust to Thee"). Those who have heard this hymn before will probably remember its frequent refrain (like, three times per stanza) of "Alleluia! Amen!"

600 (Type 1) is "All praise to him, the God of light" by Horatius Bonar, alt. and ad. with two additional authors listed, set to the original tune ALL PRAISE TO HIM by those same two guys, Matt Merker and Bob Kauflin. So, I reckon, without their alterations and adaptations, it could probably have been set to an existing tune. And when I called this tune "original" I wasn't using the word advisedly; it is, in fact, a tune full of tiresomely familiar stock gestures that I've seen and heard in numerous CCM-oriented melodies before – and that's just since the start of this book. My lifelong fascination with hymn tunes would have died early if I had been raised on a diet of this stuff; despite representing all that is new, there isn't anything really new in it. 2 tacks.

602 (Type 1) is "Great is thy faithfulness," on which I have commented twice. On one occasion I couldn't find it in my heart to say anything mean about it; on the other, I gave it 2 tacks. Given that I did so with good reason, I'm going to side with my grouchier self and let those tacks stand.

606 (Type 1) is "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" by William Dix, set to Beethoven's HYMN TO JOY (again, that watered-down version of the Ode to Joy theme from his Ninth Symphony). Because of the same tune, I gave 1/2 tack to CWH Hymn 460, and I'm going to give the same to this hymn for reasons previously cited. It's not as if other tunes don't more than suffice for this hymn; LSB, for example, gave it HYFRYDOL.

607 (Type 1) is "Ten thousand reasons," first line "Bless the Lord, O my soul," with words and music by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman. First, it's another new tune for which no accompaniment is provided in the pew book, so that's already a ding for reasons previously cited. Upon sight-singing it, I don't find it at all inspired, what with long stretches of the same note repeated; it also has rhythms that the choir at my church has trouble with, let alone the congregation. So, it's another one of those "sung at rather than by the congregation" pieces, only without much reward for those sitting and listening. The psalm that it seems to be paraphrasing, at least to start with (I think Psalm 103), has much more going for it than this thin paraphrase. This poverty of content, not my preference of musical style, is ultimately why I oppose blending historic hymnody with contemporary music in worship. 3 tacks.

610 is "Sing praise to the Lord" by Henry Baker († 1877), set to Hubert Parry's tune LAUDATE DOMINUM, which LSB paired with TDS's hymn "Be strong in the Lord." This particular pairing is new to me, but I like its combination of strength, dignity and joy.

611 is "Joyously I'll praise my Savior," a new translation from Paul Gerhardt, set to the 18th century chorale LASSET UNS MIT JESU ZIEHEN ("Let us ever walk with Jesus"). It's a fine anthem to the love of God, with a refrain that subtly changes from stanza to stanza: "All I see on earth is fleeting (failing, dying); God's amazing love for me lasts for all eternity."

612 (Type 1) is "How great thou art" (first line: "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder") by Stuart K. Hine († 1989), and I know: You thought it dated back much farther than that. Well, anyway, I've already commented on this hymn, and I'll carry over the 1 tack I gave it at that time.

615 (Type 1) is "Jesus, thank you" (first line: "The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend") by Pat Sczebel, a two-page spread that hits so many of my buttons that if I were a little more paranoid, I'd think it was done out of spite. First, again, it's new music with no accompaniment in the pew book; and to add insult to injury, the entire right-hand page is wasted on first a Spanish and then a Mandarin translation of the hymn, whose reasons for being useful I've previously speculated on, when that space could have been used to print the accompaniment. Then, looking at the tune, I see it filled with rhythms that people whose minds are mapped to hymns won't be able to sing; meaning either that it will be sung at the congregation, or the congregation's mind will have to be washed and rinsed accordingly. It asks a lot of effort and high production values to deliver two slim stanzas and a refrain about the cost Jesus paid to seat His enemies at His table. With a hymn-tune-like hymn tune, it might have a chance. But when practically every syllable except the phrase "Jesus, thank you" is sung to a note tied across the beat (or across a barline), it's a no go. 4 tacks.

616 is "Hallelujah! Sing praise to your creator" by Tilly Lubis († 2002), set to a Batak melody, which I guess is a culture in Indonesia. Kind of like that Tanzanian Easter hymn "Christ has a risen, alleluia," its ethnically inflected rhythms and harmonies may be a fun novelty though, in this case, I would guess a rehearsed singing group (children or adults) would probably have more fun with it, or will at least do it better justice. Its lyrics remind me of the Song of the Three Young Men ("All you works of the Lord, praise the Lord").

618 is "Now praise the Lord" (first line: "Praise the Lord with strings and pipes") by Michael J. Meyer († 2011) and John Behnke, who also wrote the tune CHRIST TRIUMPHANT. The text is a bit Psalm 150-ish, mentioning lots of musical instruments, but also working in praises to all three Persons of the Trinity as well as a doxological stanza. It's an impressive psalm of praise, although if I have to be critical (and what am I here for, otherwise?) I'd say that musically and text-wise, the last phrase of the refrain seems unnecessary, landing on the tonic in a repetitive way that I feel takes away from the piece.

620 (Type 2) is "O(h,) worship the king" by Robert Grant, set to the 18th century tune LYONS. I'm used to seeing it paired with HANOVER, a tune of about the same vintage that, funnily enough, has the same identical first five notes. There are certainly other instances where a hymn has alternate tunes that start with similar notes (another example being "Ride on, ride on in majesty"), one of the little things that makes the study of hymn tunes an always enjoyable hobby.

622 is "Voices raised to you we offer" by Herman Stuempfle, set to Carolyn Jennings' tune SONG OF PRAISE, and 625 is "Splendor and honor" by Carl Daw, set to K. Lee Scott's tune SHADES MOUNTAIN – both, again, examples of relatively new hymns (both of them in LSB) that have made interesting and attractive additions to the mix in the "Praise and Adoration" section.

626 is "My heart is filled with thankfulness" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. About their tune THANKFULNESS I will only quibble that its pianistic accompaniment may not sound its best on a church organ (so, at least an alternate accompaniment would be indicated); and also, tacking on a second ending just to repeat the final line of the final stanza perhaps unnecessarily complicates things. I feel if I criticized their loose rhyme scheme, I would be perjuring myself since, you know, my rhyming is pretty loose, too. However, I'll add one more slight quibble: a rhythm – which becomes somewhat of a motif throughout the tune – that, at least to start, will probably find Lutherans tripping over the lyrics.

627 (Type 1) is "To God be the glory" – the version by Fanny Crosby, with music by William Doane, which I've critiqued before. 1/2 tack for misdirected repristination, reviving oldies-but-goodies that never truly belonged within Lutheranism.

628 (Type 1) is "When in our music God is glorified" by Fred Pratt Green, set to Charles Villiers Stanford's tune ENGELBERG. I've beefed with it before; I feel like I'm letting it off easy with 1 tack.

The "Word of God" section picks up with Hymn 630, but I think CWH and I have done enough damage to each other for today. I added 14 tacks this time, bringing the total to 84.5 tacks in 329 hymns. That's an average tackiness of 0.26, rounded to the nearest hundredth. I'm sure I have hymnals in my library that beat that. But still: do better, CWH.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Tacky Hymns 95

As we move into topical sections of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
501 is "Evening and morning," a hymn by Paul Gerhardt with a tune by Johann G. Ebeling that, put together, make up one of the great beauties of 17th century Lutheran hymnody, in my opinion. I think it's underappreciated and underused; more congregations should get to know it better.

504 (Type 2) is "We sing the almighty power of God" by Isaac Watts, which is interesting to see paired with the tune FOREST GREEN; CWH has certainly made a lot of use of that tune, so far. The tune my TLH/LW-trained mind's ear hears when this text comes up is ICH SINGE DIR.

507 (Type 2) is "Let all things now living," a "first article" hymn by Katherine Kennicott Davis († 1980), paired with the Welsh traditional tune THE ASH GROVE. I've probably said this before, but every time this tune pops up in a hymnal, I remember one of my music teachers complaining that it always reminded her of campfire singalongs when she was in the Girl Scouts. By the way, Davis was a composer and choral arranger best known for writing "The Little Drummer Boy."

510 (Type 1) is "In Christ alone (my hope is found)" by contemporary Christian music mavens Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, who have also gotten a remarkable amount of airplay in this book. I just flipped to the Sources Index and confirmed that Keith is credited in 20 hymns in this book; his wife Kristyn, in 10; and Townend in 16. Compare that to contemporary traditional-style hymn writers and composers such as Timothy Dudley-Smith (14), Herman Stuempfle (11), Stephen Starke (11), Jaroslav Vajda (9), Paul Bunjes (8), Carl Schalk (7), Fred Pratt Green (7) and, heck, Marty Haugen (7). I don't know what conclusion to draw from this; maybe that the late 20th and early 21st centuries are over-represented. But if the average congregation can actually sing this tune, I don't know why the same people would find tunes from the Reformation era or the age of Lutheran orthodoxy challenging, except (ding!) bad taste. It's rhythmically complex compared to a straight hymn tune and arranged in a way that, in my opinion, predisposes it to be sung by a soloist at the audience. Some of the lyrics sound, to me, like someone pulled apart "My hope is built on nothing less" and put it back together again in a different order. A lot of the content is good, however, and set to a more congregation-friendly tune I would have no objection to it; so I'll limit it to 1/2 tack.

515 is "Christ is the world's light" by Fred Pratt Green († 2000), set to the tune NANDINA HILL by K. Lee Scott. The tune may remind you a bit of CHRISTE SANCTORUM, mainly perhaps due to their rhythm. Green's text has a tightly woven argument that applies Christology to the Christian life: "If we have seen him, we have seen the Father" (stanza 1); "No one can serve him and despise another" (stanza 2); and going on to cover redemption before a doxological stanza that (strangely) reverses the order of the Persons of the Trinity.

516 is "Christ be the way in whom we walk" by Dudley-Smith, set to Hubert Parry's tune REPTON (which LSB users may associate with "How clear is our vocation, Lord"). It's a "way, truth, life" hymn that accomplishes its task with a minimum of fuss. I think the tune might be on the tougher side for congregations coming at it fresh; and besides, it doesn't quite fit the meter of the text, requiring the final line to be repeated. However, I wrote a hymn in the same meter as TDS's text and, in my search for an existing hymn tune to fit it, I couldn't find a better one than PAX CELESTE ("There is an hour of peaceful rest"); so, maybe REPTON is a good choice.

519 (Type 1) is "There is a redeemer," which I mildly criticized before. 1/2 tack.

523 is "How deep the Father's love for us" by Stuart Townend and Bruce Greer, a relatively hymn-like specimen of this group's output. The tune, titled TOWNEND, isn't particularly inspired, but its musical language may yet move some levers in sentimental believers' hearts. Again, and you can't believe how it gripes me to say this, the content of the text is good, proclaming Law and Gospel and focusing on Christ crucified. It may, however, be vulnerable to people (and I know they're out there) who like to lampoon the egotism of hymns dominated by "I/me" language, like this, even if the confession they make is sound. Be aware, this hymn is phrased as an individual's personal confession.

525 (Type 1) is "The Lamb, the Lamb" by Gerald Coleman, of which I have complained before. And after several years of having to play it as a church organist, I'm only more irritated with it now. There's something about this tune that runs counter to providing strong instrumental leadership for the singing congregation; as an organist, I always feel underpowered during this hymn. 3 tacks.

526 (Type 1) is "What wondrous love is this," of which I have also delivered myself before. As lovely as it is, and I really think it is, it still drives me crazy.

527 (Type 1) is "I will sing of my Redeemer" by Philip Bliss, the author of (among other works) "'Almost persuaded' now to believe," "'Man of sorrows,' what a name," "Wonderful words of life," "The light of the world is Jesus" and "Jesus loves even me," all of which I've weighed and found tacky, as well as certain hymn tunes associated with similar tackiness by other authors of his time. On this particular hymn I have already commented, and it was actually the tune – the same here as in The Ambassador Hymnal – that I dinged at that time. The arrangement in CWH isn't as part-songy, but if anything, the pianistic figuration reveals more shortcomings, including the fact that the melody isn't particularly kind to the text. So, without any particular objection to Bliss's text, 1 tack.

532 is "As the deer runs to the river" by Herman Stuempfle, set to David Hurd's tune JULION. Musically, it's attractive but perhaps a little on the challenging side; I would definitely not leave the congregation unaccompanied to sing, say, stanza 3 a capella. Stuempfle's paraphrase of scriptures relating to Christ as the water of life (Psalm 42, Isaiah 55, etc.) has merit, though there was at least one awkward line that you may have to re-read once or twice before you get its drift ("we have come from hurt and hurry," stanza 1).

535 (Type 1) is "Come, behold the wondrous mystery" by Matt Bosell, Matt Papa and Michael Bleecker, words and music whose copyright blurb is just about the longest and most complicated I've ever seen. Nothing screams "product of a commercial music act" more loudly. (I think CWH misspells Bleecker's last name, however.) My search for more information about these guys led to a Youtube video of Matt Papa singing it with a torch song-style piano accompaniment, guitar, drums, backup singers and high production values. I take it that's the sound that church musicians performing this number will be trying to duplicate; God bless them. At the tempo at which (per Papa's recording) this hymn's four stanzas are meant to be sung, you could probably sing six or more stanzas of a hymn that's at least as good in about the same amount of time. Text-wise, it's not bad; but again, the same ground has been covered by many other hymn writers and, I think, with more skill. 1-1/2 tacks.

536 (Type 1) is "Jesus, ever-abiding friend," another distinctly CCM-style number by Keith Getty and Steve Siler. I'm starting to feel like this book is purposely reprogramming Lutherans' idea of what hymnody is supposed to sound like; but unfortunately, this new sound is increasingly the sound of a lone voice, electrically amplified, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble, more likely hired than volunteered. (Just try to get Mrs. Hasenpfeffer to play this on the home theater organ at the back of your church; I'd like to see that.) An instrumental bridge between verses; rolling chords; faux-jazz harmonies, including an added second in the closing chord; etc. So, compared to a piece that lends itself to a singing congregation accompanied by an organist, I'd call it "less bang for more bucks." People who would rather sit and listen might disagree with that, but phooey on them. And if you parse the sentence structure of the two stanzas, there is none; it isn't a complete thought, just a list of names for Jesus concluding (appropriately) with "name above all other names." I don't remember how old I was when I lost patience with hymns that don't actually form a complete thought; but I'm not getting any younger. 2 tacks.

538 (Type 2) is "Jesus, my great High Priest," a cento from Isaac Watts' "Join all the glorious names." Unlike ELHy, CWH doesn't restore the stanzas omitted by previous hymnals; like it, however, it pairs it with the impressive tune ST. PETER'S, MANCHESTER.

539 (Type 1) is "O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer" by Nathan Stiff, set to his own original tune. I think Grandma and Grandpa Smurf's congregation may have some trouble catching on to Stiff's rhythm, and as an admirer of fine musical arrangements of lovely tunes, I'm a bit frustrated with his composition as well; I think it missed several opportunities to be, well, more interesting. The footnote "Some musical settings may repeat this closing phrase" is an admission that people using this song aren't going to do it by the book. And while the text also has its admirable points, I'll note once again that CWH enclosed a Spanish translation of the song, in case your church's Spanish speaking members are OK with the hymnal only being bilingual to the tune of a couple of hymns. Either that or maybe they're just a space-filling advertisement for the Wisconsin Synod's evangelistic zeal or something equally worthwhile. 2 tacks.

542 is "To my precious Lord," with words and music by Chung Kwan Park. Tune-wise, it's a simple, hymn-tune-like tune; the arrangement spins it in more of a CCM piano ballad direction. The lyrics of the refrain put the singer(s) in the character of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with fragrant oil. While I think this kind of histrionic fantasy is a shaky basis to build a hymn on, the three stanzas take the hymn's focus on Jesus' feet in more interesting directions (albeit, again, with a lot of individualized, "me" language). I suspect that it wants to be sung by a solo voice, or at best, by a group of people who are imagining themselves as individuals into the picture; not so much a "congregation" vibe. Sure, I'm inconsistent about where I do and don't see that as a flag, and I'm not saying this one's a red flag. But it detracts a little bit from my excitement at the novelty of this hymn of (apparently) Korean origin.

544 (Type 1) is Suzanne Toolan's "I am the bread of life," of which I have already spoken. 1 tack.

549 (Type 1) is "Across the Lands" (first line "You're the Word of God the Father") by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Again with the Spanish translation filling up the lower half of the right-hand page (and you know what I think about that). More commercial CCM, dressed up in a chordal texture that isn't really a convincing hymnal style because the harmony doesn't go anywhere. Typical of that musical school of thought, it's a pale imitation of the great artistic treasures of our hymn heritage. Text-wise, again, I won't quibble with the content; no doubt it runs circles around the lyrics of other CCM artists in its richness of biblical imagery and the strength of its law-gospel message. I'll let it off lightly with 1 tack.

550 (Type 1) is Twila Paris's "Lamb of God" (first line, "Your only Son, no sin to hide"), on which I've already commented. 4 tacks.

553 (Type 2) is "The Lord's my shepherd; I'll not want," a Scottish paraphrase of Psalm 23 that some hymnals set to the tune BELMONT, but this one joins others in pairing it with BROTHER JAMES' AIR. It's sort of an amicable schism in American Lutheranism, always interesting to see which side of the line each new book falls on.

554 is "The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want" by Stuart Townend, an instance of hymns being easily confused by their first line (except to eagle-eyed readers who note the difference in punctuation). This is definitely a piece for performance, maybe by an ensemble or choir, but most likely with a soloist involved on some level. It has, for example, a descant in the refrain. It also has rhythms that experience has taught me are hard to teach to conventional church choirs; it's going to take people skilled in this type of music to pull it off – unless no one cares about doing it right, which is a kind of bad taste unto itself. Text-wise, it's an incomplete paraphrase of Psalm 23 with a refrain only tangentially derived from the psalm; pretty loose and lightweight compared to the preceding couple of Psalm 23 paraphrases (cf. 552-553).

555 is (surprise!) "The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want," which, despite the punctuation, is the same version as 553, only set to BELMONT. So, I guess this hymnal falls on both sides of that line. It's kind of weird that the two versions aren't side by side; I see no reason why they couldn't be. (Like, by swapping 552 and 555.)

561 (Type 1) is "Before the throne of God above" by Charitie Lees DeCheney Bancroft († 1923), set to a modern tune apparently written for it by Vikki Cook. BEFORE THE THRONE (the tune) reminds me of several of the other contemporary tunes preceding it in this book, with (for example) similar phrases to hymns 449 and 450, and a sedentary bass line that, for me, has the effect of making it hard to hear anything going on for entire phrases at a time. Also, someone – I don't know whether it's the author of the text or the composer of the tune – decided to repeat the last phrase. Regardless, the result isn't as interesting as it could have been. With more of that "I/me" language that makes some texts sound more like private devotions than congregational hymns, it tells a good gospel story: "I have a strong and perfect plea; a great High Priest ... My name is graven on his hands." However, there are moments in this book when you regret its rule of not capitalizing modifiers referring to God, and one of them is a line in stanza 2 of this hymn: "for God the just is satisfied." How much more immediately clear that would have been if "just" had been capitalized! 1 tack, for the original music's lack of originality.

562 (Type 1) is "Jesus paid it all" (first line: "I hear the Savior say") by Elvina Hall († 1889), set to the tune ALL TO CHRIST by John Grape († 1915). It's an artifact of old-time country church religion, which typically (and, indeed, in this case) means "the minimum of gospel and the minimum of musical interest designed for the maximum of sentimental effect." The way stanza 3's avowal "I'll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary's Lamb" is framed, it's hard to imagine that Elvina (if I may speak of her in a familiar way) was receiving that blood sacramentally; it sounded more like something a converted individual does by him- or herself. Way back in Walther's day, the Lutheran Church was well warned not to hare after songs from American Protestant culture (specifically, Methodism), and here is CWH (and apparently CWALH before it) doing exactly that. 3 tacks.

563-564 (Type 2) are both "My hope is built on nothing less" by Edward Mote, first set to John Stainer's tune MAGDALEN and then to William Bradbury's THE SOLID ROCK. Again, here's CWH landing on both sides of a divide within Lutheranism, as to which tune this hymn goes with. The result may be that congregations will have to duke it out internally, rather than accepting the call the hymnal's editors made. Hark at me, a fan of alternate tunes! But even I have to admit, they sometimes cause trouble.

565 (Type 2) is Martin Franzmann's "In Adam we have all been one," set to a tune apparently written for it by Kurt Eggert († 1993), titled ADAM. Those of us tuned to LW or LSB may know it better to the early American melody THE SAINTS' DELIGHT.

566 is "Father, God of grace, you knew us" by Paul Eickmann († 2006), set to John Goss's tune LAUDA ANIMA ("Praise, my soul, the King of heaven"), a richly harmonized bit of English romanticism. It's a pretty good "justification" hymn, addressing all three Persons of the Trinity in stanzas 1-3, making me think of Einstein in stanza 4 ("spanning time, transcending space"), then emphasizing the Means of Grace and leaving us as Jesus left His disciples, with the Great Commission and his promise to be with us.

567 is "What Adam's disobedience cost" by Fred Pratt Green, with an additional stanza by Carol Bechtel and the tune DETROIT from Kentucky Harmony. The text's peculiar pattern of varied repeats in the last lines of each stanza is an interesting touch. Stanza 3 takes us to Advent/Christmas with "a little child" by whom Adam's race is restored. It's a neat little piece that I'm sorry I haven't seen before.

568 (Type 1) is "His robes for mine" by Chris Anderson, with a tune called AUSTINBURG by Greg Habegger, both roughly my contemporaries. And "contemporary" is definitely a relevant word here, with a melodic shape and musical structure that will be very familiar to people who have heard a few CCM ditties. Much more interesting than the music are the words, including (from the refrain) "I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost: Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God." It's a Great Exchange hymn that I think could be improved by an exchange of tune. 1 tack.

569 (Type 2) is "Arise, my soul, arise" by Charles Wesley, set to an original tune called CHODAN by Dan Forrest, which I don't think is particularly inspired. Not to be confused with a totally different hymn by Finnish author Johan Kahl, which is in CWALH (as well as SBH) and has the same first line as well as, in my opinion, a much catchier tune. (My warning is apparently too late for Hymnary-dot-org, which does confuse the two hymns.) I'm unsure whether I've seen the Wesley hymn before in a Lutheran book; parts of it seem familiar (such as the line "shake off your guilty fears"), but the history of how hymns have been abridged, altered, rearranged, chopped into multiple hymns, etc. is so complex that I just don't have time to chase it down. Anyway, there's a lot I like about this text, but I don't love the awkward repetition of the last two lines of each stanza (the first of which is also repeated in other hymnals where the hymn is set to the tune LENOX). Maybe someone could help me out here and explain to me why parts of this hymn seem so familiar and also, perhaps, suggest a better tune. And I mean, one that doesn't require repeats.

571 (Type 2) is Martin Franzmann's hymn "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth," which LBW, LW, CWALH and LSB all set to Jan Bender's magnificent but, admittedly, challenging modern tune, WITTENBERG NEW. I've often called Bender's tune the hardest good hymn tune in the book (whatever book) and I've tended to shy away from introducing it to a congregation that was skittish about learning something new. I'm sorry to see it go, because I really love Bender's work, but maybe CWH is onto something when it substitutes Hubert Parry's JERUSALEM (the tune that, surveys show, most citizens of the UK think should be their national anthem). Of course, if you're not from the UK, this tune may not be any easier for you than WITTENBERG NEW, but it has the advantage of being a gorgeous, late Romantic piece as opposed to cutting-edge 20th century art music. Sorry, Jan.

572 (Type 2) is Horatius Bonar's "Not what my hands have done," set to George W. (not R.R.) Martin's tune LEOMINSTER, which I Hate with a capital H. It's just such a boring tune, with long stretches in which it doesn't even change notes. I notice the tune credit includes "alt." which, I theorize, refers to some added dotted rhythms that try to improve it a bit. I don't get why hymnals are still plumping for this rubbish, when other perfectly nice tunes have served this text before, such as ST. BRIDE. And just to emphasize that capital H, I'm going to stick 1/2 a tack into this one, despite it being a Type 2 comment. Why be so mean? Because hymnal editors seem to need the reminder, once in a while, that choosing lousy music is tantamount to killing a hymn's chances (and maybe hymns' chances, in a wider sense).

574 is "The Tree of life with every good" by Stephen Starke, set to its own tune by Bruce Becker. I've always had an uncomfortable awareness of this tune's similarity to Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," but otherwise it's an exemplary hymn that's starting to spread its way across Lutheranism.

576 is "Amazing grace," about which I've previously expressed some misgivings, but it doesn't seem I was very specific about them and I'm going to shut my mouth now, as well, in order to preserve peace and harmony in the temporal church.

577 (Type 1) is "Magnificent, marvelous, matchless love" by the all-star lineup of Matt Papa, Aaron Keyes, Luke Brown, and Keith and Kristyn Getty. The first line strikes me, right off the bat, as a tag from a Sherman Brothers movie musical. Sprawled across two pages, with no accompaniment provided (an established no-no for new melodies), it's a bit of a mess with three stanzas, a refrain and a bridge, requiring a road map of score text directing you to the next strain you're supposed to sing in the proper sequence, as well as a two-and-a-half-bar vocal rest at the end of each stanza for instrumental whatnot. It's complicated. It's going to have to be rehearsed. It's probably going to be rehearsed, as well as performed, by a crack force of musicians and singers, at the congregation and not by the congregation. Except in congregations that have, unfortunately, already been catechized to sing CCM instead of hymns, and probably even in most of those when you get to thinking about it, this is a waste of two pages in the pew book. 3 tacks.

579 (Type 1) is "His mercy is more" (first line: "What love could remember no wrongs we have done") by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. As a "grace" hymn, the text is fine, and without the so-called refrain, it already has a refrain – the line "Our sins they are many, his mercy is more" at the end of each stanza. With a more hymn-like tune, scotching the unnecessary "refrain," it could really do fine as a congregational hymn. As it is, particularly with the rhythms in the refrain, there's little chance it'll be anything but a solo sung at the congregation. 1 tack.

580 (Type 1) is "All I have is Christ" (first line: "I once was lost in darkest night") by Jordan Kauflin and Jeremy Bakken. It's a CCM ballad that hits all the musical cliches of the genre (so many of these tunes sound closely related to each other), and again, its "I" language hints at either a solo to be sung at the congregation or a personal devotion, rather than a congregational hymn. Also, because only stanzas 2 and 3 go to the refrain, the setting requires a first and second ending for the stanza part of the hymn with score text roadmapping what to sing next. So again, I ask you; why is the hymnal suddenly filling up with stuff like this? Does it really benefit the people in the pews?

582 is "Not unto us" by Kurt Eggert, which I've snarked at before without actually sticking any tacks into it.

584 (Type 1) is "Jesus loves me" with (yay!) Spanish stanzas at the bottom of the page! 1/2 tack.

I've reached the "Work of the Spirit" section, which seems like a good place to pause after this rather long segment. Whew! Where are we at now? Another 25-1/2 tacks, making our running total 70-1/2 tacks in 284 hymns. So, this section has pulled CWH up to an average of almost 0.25 tacks per hymn, or one-quarter tackiness overall, so far. I'm making my concerned face. And frankly, I think I took it easy on many of these hymns. I know for sure that many of the authors aren't Lutheran, and just because there's nothing specifically "wrong" with their texts (and they often seem pretty good), the fact that they'd be just as acceptable to Methodists, Baptists and evangelicals might be worth a pause to consider. Do we want to have as an objective in our hymn selection and hymn writing not to say anything that wouldn't be accepted by Methobapticostals? Food for thought.