Sunday, March 28, 2021


Today I finally watched this 2017 movie, which I picked up at the same time I fished Mortal Engines out of the cheapo DVD bin at Walmart. Directed by Christopher "Inception" Nolan, it features an ensemble cast including Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Cillian Murphy, an unrecognizable-until-literally-the-last-minute Tom Hardy and pop star Harry Styles, for what it's worth. Some of the characters played by actors whose names I won't mention because they probably won't make a dent in your consciousness (they didn't in mine) are probably more important than most of those played by the above, but everybody did a great job and it was altogether a great movie – considering that hardly any of the characters had names and most of the events are depicted from the point of view of little people, not the great personalities of history.

The closest the movie comes to dramatizing the towering figures on the world stage is when the main character reads aloud from a newspaper account of Winston Churchill's speech about the evacuation of Dunkirk ("We will fight them on the beaches," etc.) – which, if Darkest Hour depicted it accurately, fell flat in the House of Commons and doesn't sound much more inspiring in the monotone voice of the youngster whose struggle for survival we've been following for much of the movie. The music tells you you're supposed to feel moved at that point, but the bit that really moved me was the other hero youngster, Peter, putting a story in the newspaper praising the heroism of his friend George, who was killed in a senseless accident in the middle of the flotilla as the two boys and Peter's father were yachting across the channel to help rescue the British soldiers trapped by the German advance.

Oops. Spoilers. Well, the movie's been out for four years now, so quit your whining.

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, first of all, shame on you; and second, Dunkirk is where a bunch of small civilian vessels pulled 300,000 British soldiers off the French shore in 1940 just in the nick of time to keep them from being destroyed by the Germans. The movie does a good job of portraying the desperateness of the situation, with one British soldier – the credits call him Tommy, but I don't remember his name ever coming up – standing in for the whole mass of military assets that fell into jeopardy at that early stage in World War II, when losing them would have been tantamount to anointing Adolf Hitler as emperor of the world. Though indeed a "colossal military disaster" in Churchill's words, the evacuation enabled the U.K. (and some French forces) to fight on until the U.S. entered the war. Where Darkest Hour depicts this story almost entirely from Churchill's war room and the floor of the House of Commons, where he rallied a reluctant country to oppose the Third Reich at all costs, Nolan's picture splits its point of view between a fighter pilot (Hardy), a Royal Navy commander overseeing the retreat (Branagh), the boy, his father and his ill-fated friend on the yacht (Rylance etc.), and this Tommy kid (somebody named – never mind), who seems to spend the entire operation swimming from one vessel to another just in time for the boat under him, or in front of him, to get blown up by a torpedo, an aerial bomb or even (in one instance) machine-gun fire. He finally ends up being literally the last survivor pulled out of the drink by Rylance's son.

The movie delivers a lot of suspense, terrific visuals and some gut-punch hard-to-watch examples of why war is hell. Among the terrible moments it depicts are a shell-shocked survivor of a U-boat attack inadvertently sending an innocent boy plunging to his doom; a moment where a group of soldiers decides which among them must go to his certain death to save the others; wholesale carnage as a mostly unseen enemy scores hits on the good guys' ships and planes; a pilot's decision to keep fighting the enemy even when it means not being able to make it home; life-and-death struggles to escape sinking vehicles; and other such carnage. It's not easy to see, and it doesn't always show people at their best, but there are some moments that Made It For Me, of which I'll name Three:

(1) Branagh telling the army colonel (D'Arcy), after evacuating all the Brits he can, that he's going to stay at Dunkirk to see the French saved as well. The nobility of this decision stuns D'Arcy and brings a lump to my throat. (2) Hardy's wingman gets shot down, ditches very successfully but then has trouble opening the hatch to escape from his sinking plane. Very suspenseful! (3) As I hinted before, the bit where Peter goes to the newspaper with his dead friend's picture and gets him written up as a hero – the moment, for the record, when soft touch that I am, I started crying. Of course, this pays off an earlier bit where the injured George confides that he'd always hoped to do something that would get him in the newspaper. From a character I almost didn't notice at first (George was more out front, at the very beginning) to being very tender with his dying and dead friend, and at the same time sparing of the feelings of the shell-shocked guy who caused his death (Murphy: "Is the boy all right?" Peter, who has just learned that George is dead, gulp: "Yeah") Peter, along with his dad, turns out to represent the fiber of the British people that made their country's survival possible in its – I have to say it – darkest hour.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets
by A.L. Tait
Recommended Ages: 11+

One moment, Gabe is minding his business as a novice at the Oldham abbey, happily illuminating manuscripts and going to daily prayers. The next moment, he is on the run, charged by a dying brother to protect a precious (though unreadable) book. The abbey's evil prior is in cahoots with the corrupt local nobleman, his brutal sheriff and more, and now they're all after Gabe because he has something precious, even if he doesn't know why it is. With nowhere else to go, he falls in with a gang of merry outlaws – one of them is actually named Merry, in fact – who all just happen to be runaway girls.

If all they had to do was hide in the woods until the coast was clear, it would be easy. But Gabe doesn't understand the first thing about what he's supposed to do with the book, and the only information he can get about it comes from inside the walls of the abbey. Meanwhile, two of the girls want him to help them spring their father from the castle dungeons, and when that plan goes sideways, they end up with another boy in their keeping – this one claiming to be the crown prince, who has been betrayed by his head bodyguard and replaced with a lookalike.

Together, the four girls and two boys have a lot of close scrapes with the law, if it's even right to call that crooked bunch the law. While none of their schemes seem to get them any closer to their goals, they do inch closer to the truth about the book, a way to put the rightful prince back on his throne, and justice for the girls' dad. But a lot more danger lies ahead.

Gabe comes a long way in this book, facing challenges to his morally straight upbringing even while deeply missing his monastic home. His adventures are hair-raising and mysterious, but also envigorating at the same time. His depiction and that of his compatriots is sensitive and touching, when there's time to dwell on it between madcap chases, death-defying feats and suspenseful moments. But clearly, it'll take a sequel to get to the bottom of all that's really going on.

This is the first book of the Ateban Cipher duad, or duology, or whatever you call a two-book trilogy, by the Australian author of the (now four-book) Mapmaker Chronicles, the Maven & Reeve mystery The Fire Star and its upcoming sequel The Wolf's Howl, and the companion to this book, titled The Book of Answers.

Tacky Hymns 84

We continue with the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
(229) By faith we are divinely sure (Type 3) is another product of Danish bard Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764), set to one of two tunes I know of titled RUNG, both of which are by Henrik Rung (1807-71) and the other of which I've used with one of my original hymns. This RUNG is all right, though I think the ending is a little weak. In contrast, Brorson's hymn is better than OK and improves as it goes along. Stanza 1 recognizes that God creates faith in us; stanza 2 runs through the positive effects of faith, point by point; stanza 3 dwells on the forgiveness of sins that faith apprehends ("More than my sins His grace abounds"); stanza 4 founds faith on the Word of God; and stanza 5 does that which few Scandinavian hymns fail to do when it sings you into heaven.

(231) When Israel through the desert passed (Type 3) is a nice, economical little hymn (by a Baptist minister named Benjamin Beddome, misspelled as Beddone in ELHy) praising the word of God for its guidance, comfort, instruction and (at last) saving power. Maybe not a spectacular artifact, it's at least up to the caliber of stuff I try to write these days, and I think it deserves to be a little more utilized than it looks like, buried in a "bottom of the page text block" (BOTPTB) with only the suggestion of a tune (WINCHESTER NEW) pinned to it.

(232) How precious is the Book Divine (All three types) is an OK little hymn in praise of the Bible which I suppose some people might promote to "better than OK" because it's an old familiar chestnut. Less familiar, to me, is its pairing here with Georg F. Handel's tune SIROE, which besides reminding me of a tune from H.M.S. Pinafore is just another example of the sort of thing I've been lobbying against all throughout this long thread: bastardizing classical melodies into hymn tunes and yoking sacred poems to music that, to anyone who knows the literature, carries secular associations.

(238) Lord Jesus Christ, true Man and God (Types 2-3) is Paul Eber's hymn set, for once, to the tune named after it, HERR JESU CHRIST, WAHR MENSCH UND GOTT. (ELHy truncates the tune's title; LW preserves it when it sets the same tune to "The royal banners forward go.") My goodness, what a beautiful tune. And it really suits this emotionally stirring, Pre-Lenten hymn (earmarked for Quinquagesima Sunday, don'tcha know) that draws vast comfort for Christians out of Jesus' passion. The only potentially awkward thing about it is the fact that several of Eber's sentences run across the breaks between stanzas; but there's a certain quirky charm to that, if you're open to it. However, ministers who are in the habit of dividing up long hymns or omitting stanzas had better choose carefully when they come to this hymn.

(243) The power of sin no longer (Type 3) is a Thomas Kingo hymn, also relegated to a BOTPTB, that undoes the chilling effects of what Brorson wrote in Hymn 215 (shudder). For here Kingo confesses that baptism severed the bonds of sin and delivered me to live by grace for Jesus (stanza 1) and gives me the power to renounce the devil and embrace the cross (stanza 2). To be sure, it stresses the subjective aspect of justification pretty strongly ("It would bestow no treasure On me that Christ arose If I will not with pleasure The pow'r of death oppose," stanza 3). But it doesn't fail to mention that the Savior I embrace daily is the one who has redeemed me; otherwise I could do nothing. And in stanza 4 it returns to baptism, seeking Jesus' help "to drown my nature" and "daily die To sin and all offenses," through His cleansing blood. In my opinion, this hymn could give "God's own child, I gladly say it" a run for its money.

(245) At Jesus' feet our infant sweet (Type 3) is another BOTPTB, this time by Matthias Loy – and probably a fresh discovery for Lutherans just now turning the leaves of this book. Funny how so many of these serendipities are clothed in BOTPTBs! Loy, that American minister of whom I've previously mentioned a respected colleague's opinion that he's the greatest Lutheran hymn-writer in the English language, here gives us a two-stanza confession of the usefulness of infant baptism, complete with interchangeable pronouns to accommodate either boys or girls. Babies are sinners, too, needing forgiveness, it says. In Baptism, we are born again, it says. "Baptism doth now save," it says, in quotes, to make sure people who think the Bible doesn't say baptism saves get the point. And that's just stanza 1; stanza 2 locates the power of baptism not in the water but in God's Word, through which "Faith speaks, though reason may rebel: 'This flood is Jesus' blood!'"

(246) God's own child, I gladly say it (Types 2-3) is that hymn by Erdmann Neumeister that I was just talking about two paragraphs back. Despite Rev. Dr. David Scaer's criticism that this hymn is very "me-centered" (it is, admittedly, solidly in the first person), I'm with the many, many Lutherans who joyfully sing this hymn at any occasion connected with baptism because it so strongly confesses all the blessings and promises that come with baptism. However, participants in the LSB culture may consider this hymn inseparable from the tune BACHOFEN, while ELHy sets it to a tune by W. Weissnitzer called JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN – not to be confused with the more well-known Darmstadt tune by the same name, to which the TLH-LW-LSB hymnal culture knows the hymn "Christ, the Life of all the living." Weissnitzer's alternate tune to that hymn (used twice in a 1970s Australian Lutheran hymnal, including with that hymn) is a very fine melody and I fully understand why people of my acquaintance, who use ELHy rather than LSB, prefer this tune for "God's own child" – even if I'll never hear it in my mind's ear without BACHOFEN.

(247) To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ (Types 2-3) is ELHy's translation of Martin Luther's baptism hymn, given in LW and LSB as "To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord." I've probably already said all this before, but I think this is such an essential hymn that its omission from TLH is black mark against that book, in spite of all its other beauties. And in my opinion, learning the 1524 Wittenberg tune CHRIST UNSER HERR ZUM JORDAN KAM (sometimes attributed to Luther himself) is another essential building block for Lutheran identity in America. Not to mention the fact that its presentation of baptism is magnificent.

(248) Now Christ, the sinless Son of God (Type 2) is a baptism hymn by no less a Lutheran light than Nikolaus Selnecker, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord. Set to the attractive tune DEUS TUORUM MILITUM, it also confesses such articles of the doctrine of baptism as the saving power of water joined with God's Word (stanzas 1-2), Christ's institution (st. 3), the presence of the Triune God and cleansing from sin (st. 4), its connection with daily repentance (st. 5) and being born again as God's children (st. 6).

The "Baptism of Jesus" section, appended after the Gesima Sundays in this book's large collection of hymns for all times of the church year, gives way next to the season of Lent, among which you may be surprised (unless you've poured over lists of "hymns of the day" as I have) to find "A mighty Fortress is our God" pigeonholed with Lent 1. (Hymn 250 is the rhythmic version, 251 the isometric.)

(254) In vain would boasting reason find is a nice little BOTPTB by Anne Steele, comparing human reason to the word of Christ. It could be useful at least as a comforting bit of devotional reading for someone who has been discomfited by anti-Christian propaganda or the arguments of liberal theologians and Bible critics.

(255) Lord, hear the voice of my complaint (Types 2-3) is an important Reformation-era chorale (words by Johannes Agricola, tune from Klug's 1535 Wittenberg songbook) whose tune figures in the organ works of many great church music composers, such as Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Sweelinck and Walcha. Unfortunately, to my extensive but incomplete knowledge, ELHy is one of only three English-language hymnals that has it; the others are the old Ev. Luth. Hymn-Book (the predecessor to TLH) and LHy, the predecessor to ELHy. It's a good hymn for folks who are struggling in their faith.

(256) When afflictions sore oppress you (Type 3) is another fine hymn of comfort and encouragement that I think deserves to be more widely known. The words are by the same Johann Gottfried Olearius who wrote "Come, Thou precious Ransom, come" and "When all the world was cursed," both in TLH; not, however, the Johannes Olearius of whom TLH has five equally fine hymns.

(259) The kingdom Satan founded (Type 3), second line "Shall now be overthrown," is a terrific Kingo hymn about "triumph over Satan" (as the topic blurb at the bottom of the page puts it). It represents the different ways the evil foe tries to blind us, deafen us, silence us and cripple us with regard to the things of Christ, but unambiguously portrays Jesus as the victor.

(260) Now let triumphant faith dispel (Type 3) is a BOTPTB ascribed to "Scottish Translations and Paraphrases, 1745, alt." But basically, it's a nice paraphrase of Paul's encouraging words in Romans 8:31-34.

(263-264) Jesus, priceless Treasure (Type 2) is set, in 263, to the same tune JESU, MEINE FREUDE that J.S. Bach used in his great choral motet on this hymn, and to which TLH-LW-LSB Lutherans know it well. Or should. LHy, however, had a lovely alternate tune for it by Ludvig M. Lindeman, GUD SKAL ALTING MAGE, which ELHy retains as Hymn 264. I may have said this before, but Lindeman's tune is so tender and beautiful that I've loved it since the moment I met it, and despite the fact that I would never dream of singing this hymn without JESU, MEINE FREUDE, I am all for having the other option available.

(265) Wide open are Thy hands (Type 3) is a beautiful little BOTPTB by Bernard of Clairvaux, translated by Charles Porterfield Krauth, regarding Jesus' suffering to pay for our sins and the believer's response of hope and devotion.

(268) On Mary, Virgin undefiled (Types 2-3) is a hymn for the Annunciation (the angel announcing to Mary that she was going go give birth to Jesus) and even though it comes from such an exotic language as Danish, I can't understand why it hasn't penetrated the Scandinavian-German blood barrier within American Lutheranism. The tune MARIA HUN ER EN JOMFRU REN (or REEN?), written for it by a certain J.C. Gebauer, is so nice that I stole it for one of my original hymns.

(269) True God and yet a man (Type 3) is a 15th-century English ditty that muses on the "divine paradox" of Jesus' divine and human natures in one undivided Person. "What can thought well reply? What reason reason give?" It concludes, "Believe and leave to wonder!" The tune is adapted, I think, from a lute song by John Dowland, funnily enough titled DIVINE PARADOX. Again, not bad for Annunciation but perhaps even better as an encouraging devotion for folks struggling against rationalistic balderdash.

(272) O sinner, come thy sin to mourn (Types 2-3) is a great Lenten chorale, but I'm conflicted about the way it's presented here. ELHy sets it to a gorgeous, ornate harmonization by J.S. Bach which I would love to play on the organ or teach a choir to sing, but which I think will get in the way of the congregation learning this important but (in American hymnals) rare Lutheran hymn. I'm for teaching it with a very plain, straightforward, hymnal-style setting of the tune and letting the decorative version, like, decorate it once in a while.

(274) When our heads are bowed with woe (Type 3) is a kind of litany for the sympathetic presence of Jesus in our sorrows, at the time of our death, etc., based on His passion and redeeming work. The author, H.H. Milman, is also known for writing the passion hymn "Ride on, ride on in majesty." Alternating quatrains state the occasion on which we call on Jesus to hear us, then the aspects of His work that gives us reason to believe He will.

(286) Rock of Ages, cleft for me (Type 1) is sectioned under Passion week. I don't know about this, and there's more on why I don't here.

(288) Beneath the cross of Jesus kneeling (Type 3) is from a magnificent cycle of passion hymns by Icelandic poet Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-74), for two of which I wrote an original tune that (God willing) will be in Edifying Hymns. Not this particular hymn, though. "God wrought for man," Petursson says, first in the Old Testament exodus and more fully in the New Testament, "When Christ was pierced by Roman spear, And o'er the thirsty world down-streaming, Forth gushed a fountain ..." Am I allowing pious imagination to play the same trick on me that, in my opinion, a Lutheran hymnal's use of "There is a fountain filled with blood" (cf. ELHy 301) asks us to play on ourselves in order to believe that Cowper was thinking baptismally? Possibly, but I think it's less likely considering that Petursson was Lutheran. I urge anyone who has the means to get hold of a copy of Charles Venn Pilcher's translation of part of this cycle. I understand some Anglicans did a complete translation of it, but that it doesn't reflect Petursson's solid Lutheran theology quite as well as Pilcher's rendition. The Lutheran who completes what Pilcher left unfinished will do anglophone Lutheranism a great service.

(289) Join all the glorious names (Type 3) restores the original first stanza to Isaac Watts' hymn which, in such hymnals as TLH, is often trimmed down to a cento beginning with stanza 5, "Jesus, my great High Priest." The longer version touches on other names and titles for Jesus, such as Prophet, Counselor, Shepherd, etc.

(290) Thy soul, O Jesus, hallow me (Type 3) is another Matthias Loy translation of a Johann Scheffler/Angelus Silesius hymn, plumbing the depths of how Jesus' suffering on the cross can bring comfort to the believer. This time it would be very difficult to maintain that his line about the water from Jesus' side becoming a cleansing bath is about anything but baptism. A proud Christian must become more humble while reading this hymn with any sort of attention. An afflicted Christian, even at the extremity of despair, must take comfort from it.

(294) Near the cross was Mary weeping (Type 3), besides being a BOTPTB, is a remarkable thing to find in a Lutheran hymnal, even though it was also in this book's forerunner, LHy: a verse paraphrase of part of the Latin Stabat mater, a Roman Catholic sequence hymn that interprets the passion of Jesus through the sympathetic suffering of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross. I got to sing in the chorus of Rossini's Stabat during a St. Louis Symphony performance weekend in which the conductor mused, during a rehearsal, that this song is probably partly responsible for the Catholic Church taking emphasis off of blood atonement and leaning more into Marian virtues like empathy and compassion. Giving this adaptation credit where it's due, it takes its eyes off Mary fairly early and stresses what Jesus, on the cross, was doing for us.

(295) Over Kedron Jesus treadeth (Types 2-3) is a passion hymn by Kingo, set to a richly harmonized, pathos-filled melody by Lindeman. It brings in David as a type of Christ (stanza 2), calls Adam to witness Jesus' agony in the garden (stanza 3), and goes on to dramatize the scene very vividly for several more stanzas – but not without application: "World's redemption thus fulfilling" (stanza 5), Jesus' "blood, thus freely given, Makes my soul the heir of heaven" (stanza 6). If I'm a little dissatisfied with the way Kingo finally depicts the life of daily repentance as a mental trip to Gethsemane, it's only because I've never really liked the "pious flight of imagination" as a substitute for the means of grace.

(299) Nature with open volume stands (Type 3) is a little BOTPTB by Isaac Watts that I only mention because it may be new to folks of the TLH-etc. tradition. Watts, whatever his faults may be, at least has the nous to ascribe the "brightest form of glory" to Jesus' cross, on which His blood spells out "His whole name," where God's "grace and vengeance strangely join," and "where God the Savior loved and died."

(302) The tree of life with every good (Types 1-3) is Stephen Starke's hymn, of which I didn't become aware until the run-up to LSB in the Missouri Synod, so I had always thought it was written for that book. And here it is, in another hymnal published a decade earlier! I'm on board with Starke's wordplay on "tree" to connect the fall of Adam and Eve with the cross of Jesus. I've just never been a huge fan of Bruce Backer's tune written for it, which has always triggered associations with Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" in my mind. Also, I think its balladlike rhythm, with long notes in the middle as well as the end of each phrase, makes it a little awkward for congregational singing and maybe just an eensy bit wearing on the patience, during the course of four long stanzas.

(303) My song is love unknown (Type 3) is worthy of mention for two slight reasons: first, because people who are still using TLH are missing out on a really beautiful passion hymn by Samuel Crossman; and second, because by consigning it to a BOTPTB, this book denies the casual user the opportunity to directly experience John Ireland's beautiful tune LOVE UNKNOWN. Also, on a Type 2 note, the Ireland tune isn't the only one this hymn has had. SBH, for example, sets it to RHOSYMEDRE. How do you like them apples?

(306) What wondrous love is this (Type 1) is a topic I've covered before, so I won't belabor it again – other than to confess that, whenever one of my clergy/church musician friends "vaguebooks" complaining that not every hymn on the current hymnal's "hymn of the day" list is worthy of inclusion, this is the song my mind darts to.

(310) At the Lamb's high feast we sing (Type 3) is another red cape I'd like to wave in the snout of people still using TLH as if they're not missing anything in the world of hymnody. Since I got to know it, I've tended to think of this as an essential Easter hymn. Interestingly enough, ELHy casts it as a Maundy Thursday hymn. I guess I can see that, too – unless you're of the mindset that considers any date between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday closed to Alleluias.

(312) Bread of the world, in mercy broken (Types 2-3) is a three-stanza paraphrase from the third-century Didache translated piecemeal by Reginald Heber (st. 1) and F. Bland Tucker (sts. 2-3), set to the Strasbourg Psalter tune RENDEZ À DIEU, which I quite enjoy. Again, this is what you're missing, TLH-only folks! For what it's worth, LSB has Tucker's stanzas only ("Father, we thank Thee who hast planted"), and I think his lines are more faithful than Heber's to the teaching that we receive Christ to eat in the Sacrament.

(316-317) Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior (Types 2-3) joins LW in turning Jan Hus(s)'s communion hymn into a beautiful super-hymn that can be sung to its two 16th century chorale tunes, alternating stanza by stanza from one to the other. Sadly, for us Missouri sinners, LSB rolled back this option (which LW likes to call a "celebration") to just including the tune that's in TLH, i.e. ELHy 316. The footnote at the bottom of each hymn notes that if you prefer, you can sing all the stanzas to one tune or the other. I like having the choice – both "one or the other" and the celebration – because it really works, and both tunes are valuable pieces of Lutheran culture underscored by some great organ works.

(319) Just as I am (Type 1) – been there, done that. But really ... Maundy Thursday?

(321) Zion, to thy Savior singing (Types 2-3) is a BOTPTB translated from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas, which has a suggested tune (ALLES IST AN GOTTES SEGEN) that I like, in and of itself; but for some reason, my mind clings to the idea of this hymn being sung to PAA SIT KORS (cf. LHy 311). That must be where I first got to know it. Whatever faults you may find in the sententious Thomas (who gave his name to Thomist theology and is implicated in the medieval scholasticism that bore much criticism in the writings of Luther et al.), you've got to acknowledge that he had a high view of the Lord's Supper. Stanza 2: "What than this can greater be, That Himself to thee He giveth? He that eateth ever liveth, for the Bread of life is He." He goes on to state even more clearly that he's talking about the divine service when he mentions eating living bread. Then there's the "Christ our Passover" bit, stanza 4: "Shadows of the law are going, Light and life and truth inflowing." Stanza 5 equates Christ with the paschal lamb and manna from heaven, and even mentions Isaac as His type. This is a eucharistic hymn that bears deep meditation.

(323) My God, and is Thy table spread (Types 2-3) is a communion hymn by Philip Doddridge, who is represented by six hymns in TLH but not this one. Also not in TLH is the wonderful tune HERRNHUT by Bartholmäus Gesius. In three brief stanzas, Doddridge wastes hardly a moment getting to the point that this "sacred feast, which Jesus makes" is a "rich banquet of His flesh and blood" (stanza 2). Stanza 3 asks that we may be worthy partakers, to the salvation of "each soul ... that here its sacred pledges tastes." Not bad for an Anglican who went Methodist.

(324) O Jesus, at Your altar now is a Kingo hymn translated by the saintly Rev. Juul Madson, who was a professor at the ELS's Bethany Seminary when I attended the adjacent college. I actually remember when he rolled this translation out; I was so thrilled that I wrote an original tune for it (but HERRNHUT is much better, thank you ELHy). Here are some of his lines: "He bids you now to sit at meat With Him – and of Himself to eat" (st. 3). After stanza 4 describes it as eating and drinking Jesus' body and blood "in" the bread and wine, stanza 5 notes that the angels never had such food. Stanza 6 lays the ghost of the Loeschmann heresy with the lines "My Jesus here entire and whole Is food and drink for my poor soul." Succeeding stanzas explore the paradox of Jesus' presence in the elements of bread and wine even further, and admits that reason cannot grasp it. The seriousness of Christ's testament is put in stark terms in stanza 10: "God has cursed Himself for you." Stanza 13 has a punctuation mark that I don't like, in the line "Your body/blood once shed for me," which I think would be less ambiguous if the slash were a comma. (Jesus did not "shed" His body.) All in all, though, I'm proud to have known the man who made this translation.

I'm going to quit before Hymn 330, where the Good Friday section begins. Sorry, I was hoping to make it all the way to the Easter section, but I'm just pooped. Also (spoiler!) I'm discouraged at the sight of the next hymn in front of me. So, till next time, let the above prevalence of Type 3 over Type 1 serve as sufficient advertisement for you to call the Bethany College bookstore and order yourself a copy of this book. What, you expect me to make it easy for you? You're on the internet; look it up. Night-night!

Friday, March 19, 2021

303. Parables Hymn

Here's a hymn I posted piecemeal while it was under construction so it might perhaps benefit from friendly suggestions and feedback – to which I'm still open. It's another long one, but of the type that can be broken up into shorter segments for, say, a sermon series on selected parables, by just singing the first and last verse and plugging the gap in the middle with whichever stanza is relevant to the present lesson. I haven't covered every single thing in the teaching of Jesus that flies under the pennant of a parable, but you have to quit somewhere. I decided to do so when I reached a point where I felt like I was repeating myself, and then deleted a partially complete stanza to repent of that sin. Like a lot of my longer hymns, it gives me the ironic satisfaction of being really economical with the material – an impression that may not hit you right away, given how much material that was. Anyway, the tune I have in mind for it is JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN – perhaps known to you with "Christ, the Life of all the living," one of my favorite Lenten hymns.

Jesus, e'er in figures speaking,
Longing eyes and hearts to bless:
Needy souls, God's favor seeking,
You enrich with righteousness;
Yet these words cause those who grumble
In still deeper gloom to stumble.
(Refrain:) Help, Lord Jesus! Teacher dear,
Give us ears Your truth to hear.

(Mustard seed, leaven)
Thus the kingdom of the heavens,
Like the tiny mustard seed
And the crumb that much dough leavens,
Grows and spreads with wondrous speed.
Where Your doctrine is implanted
Faith and life are richly granted. (Refrain)

(Strong man armed, unclean spirits)
With the strong man you have striven,
Leaving bound our former lord;
Demons, to waste places driven,
Find their homeward threshold barred,
For the Spirit whom You send us
Will indwell us and defend us. (Refrain)

(Hidden treasure, pearl)
As a man found hidden treasure,
Selling all to buy that field,
Son of God, it was Your pleasure
For mankind Your flesh to yield:
By Your suffering and dying
One dear pearl, salvation, buying. (Refrain)

(Wicked tenants, Good Samaritan)
You are He whose tenants reasoned
They should slay their Landlord's Son;
He whose way with pain was seasoned,
All flesh to redeem as one.
While at You men were offended,
You the sinner's wounds attended. (Refrain)

(Lost coin, sheep)
Like that wife, the corners combing
One lost coin to find and keep;
Like the shepherd, pastures roaming,
Leaving all to find one sheep,
Hark! Your angels sing with gladness
When one sinner turns from badness. (Refrain)

(Unmerciful slave, two debtors)
Lo, the slave forgiven many
Yet begrudged a paltry few!
Let us, rather, pardon any,
Knowing what we owe to You:
Freely as we have been shriven,
From our hearts to give as given. (Refrain)

(Vineyard laborers, prodigal son)
As a farmer one wage offers
Those who little toil or much,
One reward Your kindness offers;
Guard our hearts from envy's clutch.
Yea, the Father's love is burning
For the prodigal's returning. (Refrain)

(Unrighteous judge, dishonest steward)
Even the unrighteous sleeper
Woke to hear the widow pray;
And the devious bookkeeper
Gave his master's bond away:
So we know our prayers will find You
And Your word of grace must bind You. (Refrain)

(Rich fool, talents)
Let us not, with greedy pleasure,
Store up this life's fleeting things
Nor employ with grudging measure
All the gifts Your kindgom brings.
Make us stewards, true and fervent,
Till You cry, "Well done, good servant." (Refrain)

(Salt, light)
Since with us the world is salted,
Let Your favor on it smile;
With its dissolution halted,
Faith may flavor it awhile.
Grant that such light through us blazes
As to draw the nations' gazes. (Refrain)

(Sower, vine and branches)
You have sowed Your word among us,
Though the devil's wiles attack;
Woes and wealth have choked or stung us;
Your own hand has pruned us back.
By Your vigor, flowing in us,
Unto fruitful harvest win us. (Refrain)

(Tower, warring king)
When a builder starts a tower,
Does he not first count the cost,
And a warring king his power
Lest his campaign should be lost?
As we bear our cross, dear Master,
Lead us on despite disaster. (Refrain)

(Dragnet, sheep and goats, tares)
Soon Your angels, You exhort us,
Will with keen discernment come,
As good fish from bad to sort us,
Sheep from goat, each to its home.
Till then, help us be forbearing,
Neither weed nor corn up-tearing. (Refrain)

(Fig tree, wedding feast, ten virgins)
See, the signs are multiplying
Of Your coming marriage feast!
Bid us come as day is dying,
Though unworthiest and least;
Found awake at Your returning,
Lamps alit with hopeful yearning. (Refrain)

(Last stanza)
Lord, whose word is never broken,
Give clear vision to our eyes.
Let the secrets You have spoken
To salvation make us wise,
Till the seed You here are sowing
Blossoms into blessed knowing. (Refrain)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code
by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Recommended Ages: 12+

Emily and her best friend James have already bonded over an online puzzle game that led them to discover a previously unpublished novel by Edgar Allan Poe. At a party to celebrate their achievement, the pair notices their teacher, Mr. Quisling, seemingly stealing from a woman's purse. Before the evening is out, they're on the trail of another puzzle – a famous cipher that hasn't been solved since 1851 and that some people believe comes with a curse. Among the people who previously tried to solve it were Mark Twain and his friend, the real-life Tom Sawyer; but all their efforts went up in flames. Literally. Now it seems someone is setting fires around San Francisco, and it has something to do with a series of Book Scavenger hunts in which Mr. Quisling and another mysterious person are exchanging messages in code.

The kids' curiosity is more than piqued by the possibility that Mr. Quisling might somehow be involved with a series of arson attacks – particularly when one of the fires puts Emily's life in danger and destroys the bookstore run by her friend Hollister. The identity of a Book Scavenger player calling him- or herself Coolbrith is one mystery. The solution to a puzzle more than 150 years old is another. It doesn't hurt that there may be gold at the end of the trail of clues: particularly with both kids worried about what will become of their financially challenged families. But the danger of solving the mystery might be even more pressingly real, with a dangerous firebug targeting them (among others) for revenge.

This is the second book of (currently) three in the Book Scavenger series, between Book Scavenger and The Alcatraz Escape. It's a nice entry in the growing genre of books featuring youngsters cracking puzzles that span the history and geography of a big city. For more examples of this type, see for example The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby. James, Emily and her older brother Matthew are among a growing cast of well-drawn characters who go right to your heart, particularly given Emily's vulnerability and her courage to rise to new challenges – such as getting involved in a school dance planning committee and helping her hero, the inventor of the Book Scavenger game, get his spirit of fun back after a harrowing experience in the previous book. The book closes with a tease of what may come next for the friends, among whom readers will surely count themselves.

Mortal Engines

Here's another movie I pulled out of the cheapo DVD bin at Walmart. And that's despite the fact that it advertises a connection with the filmmakers behind the blown-way-out-of-proportion Hobbit trilogy, which started middling and went downhill. To be sure, the credits are plastered all over with the names of Peter Jackson, Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh; it even has Hugo Weaving in it, the only actor whose name I recognized in the end credits, and who just about takes the prize for "most unnecessarily expanded role in the LOTR cinematic universe." However, it's the feature film directing debut of some guy named Christian Rivers, who has toiled in the visual effects and art departments of many Peter Jackson films (including ones that didn't suck). And frankly, I'm impressed by his work and this movie overall.

Mortal Engines takes us to a dystopian world somewhere north of 1,000 years in our future, when mechanized cities roll about the landscape, devouring smaller communities and stripping the landscape of resources. Recently, London has managed to cross the land bridge(!) to continental Europe, and as the movie opens we find it gobbling up a German mining town and with it, a girl named Hester Shaw with a scarred face and a vendetta against the guy who killed her mother – Weaving as the leader of a top-secret project to tilt the balance of survival back in favor of London, as opposed to such walled fortresses as Shan Guo. Did I get that name right? Sorry if not. Anyway, to make a long story short, an enterprising lad named Tom chases Hester off the ship, but then Weaving's character, ironically named Valentine, gives Tom a push after her and the pair team up (reluctantly, on her part) to survive.

Survival is tricky, with an undead cyborg on Hester's trail, sworn to kill her (his ultimate fate proving poignant in a Blade Runner-ish way), gangs roaming the landscape scrobbling people to sell as slaves (or, if they won't fetch a high enough price, as sausage meat), and an "anti-tractionist" terrorist cell recruiting people like Hester to help them fight the power. Tom and Hester fall in love, which is lovely, and he proves to be more useful than one would have guessed to look at him at the start, and the race to stop London from destroying Shan Guo accelerates to a gigantic climax involving sword fights, aerial combat, secret passages, crashes, explosions, and the deployment of a super-weapon.

So, all in all, it's just about the most satisfying movie I've seen in a wee bit. I really enjoyed falling into this fantasy world, and I found the cast of characters attractive and fun to watch despite not being very familiar. I realize now that Ronan Raftery, who plays a guy named Bevis, was in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; hero guy Robert Sheehan is a star of the superhero series The Umbrella Academy, which I suddenly want to see; Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, playing Hester, is definitely a force to watch; that you might (though I wouldn't) know Leila George (Valentine's daughter) from the TV show Animal Kingdom; that Patrick Malahide (the Lord Mayor of London) played Chief Inspector Alleyn in Alleyn Mysteries back in the 90s; that Stephen Lang (Shrike) was in Avatar, which I still refuse to see; that Colin Salmon, playing the museum director, was Gen. Zod in the series Krypton; that Frankie Adams (a member of the anti-tractionist cell) is a regular on The Expanse (another show I still haven't seen); that Kee Chan, playing the Shan Guo governor, was in the last Star Wars movie I ever saw or intend to see (Episode III); that Jihae, who plays the badass Anna Fang, starred in a TV series about colonizing Mars; and that the cast also includes the author of the source material, Philip Reeve.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Shrike, the undead cyborg I mentioned, finally catches up with Hester and realizes, as she begs for Tom's life, that she loves him. (2) Chaos at the slave market when Anna Fang pops up out of nowhere to give Hester and Tom a chance to run. (3) The whole climactic build-up, with the aerial battle, armed and unarmed combat, stuff blowing up and the fate of two cities literally in collision. Truly, a surprisingly good film in the epic register from the writing team that brought us waaaay too much Hobbit and whose Lord of the Rings and King Kong movies have lost a bit of their original savoriness amid the passing years. I think this may be one of those movies that starts out underappreciated and grows in popularity, like The Fifth Element, only without an obnoxious character like Ruby Rhodd. Expect it to be mentioned as a cult favorite in future years. It deserves that.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I snapped up a cheapo DVD of this movie at Walmart and watched it earlier this week. I'll say the good thing about it right up front: it has great production values. But the main thing I want to say about it is that is an offensively bad account of the story of Moses and the Hebrew people's exodus from Egypt. Unfaithful to the source material at every level of magnification, from macro to micro, it gets absolutely everything about the story completely wrong and is most egregiously wrong wherever God is involved.

It actually presents miraculous events reported in the Bible – the burning bush, the 10 plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's army – while at the same time seemingly struggling to undercut their miraculousness. It depicts the whole series of plagues (except for the last one) as affecting the Israelites as well as the Egyptians; without the intervening negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh; and with both Moses and Pharaoh passing judgment on God for his meanness. It depicts Moses as having to act most of the time on his own, without God speaking to him, telling him what to do or helping him. It depicts God as a mostly absent being who only occasionally pops in and pretty much abandons His prophet. That God is depicted (in his appearances to Moses) as a little boy is a novelty but I'll accept it as a case of creative casting-against-type; that there is always room for the ambiguous suggestion that He's only a hallucination brought on by a blow to Moses' head is less forgivable. And instead of a bashful, slow-of-speech Moses whom God recruits in order to show his strength in human weakness, we get a warrior stud Moses to whom God says, "I want a general." What?

All that is besides other historical liberties or lack of representation, such as the failure to depict the Passover feast, the idea that Miriam spent all those years passing as an Egyptian rather than a Hebrew slave, the idea that Moses was exiled for turning out to be a Hebrew rather than fleeing from justice when he killed a muleteer, the time the movie invests in shaming Moses for leaving his family (temporarily) to deliver his people from bondage, the suggestion that the Red Sea crossing was made possible by some kind of natural phenomenon, the depiction of Moses as a freethinker who encouraged his son's skepticism and his wife's adherence to whatever faith she brought to their marriage, God's rather democratic attitude in allowing Moses to make up his own mind whether the 10 Commandments were a good law to hand down to his people ... I could go on ad nauseam, but then I'm afraid I would have to barf.

The movie is directed by Ridley Scott, he of Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner and the original Alien. It takes advantage of the acting talents of Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as a young Pharaoh (with whom Moses was raised as something like a brother), John Turturro as an older Pharaoh (who tells Moses he wishes he could inherit the throne instead of Ramesses), Ben Kingsley as Nun, Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad as Joshua, Tara Fitzgerald of Game of Thrones as Miriam, Ben Mendelsohn of Ready Player One and Darkest Hour as the corrupt viceroy of Pithom, Sigourney Weaver as the Queen Mum (ha) and a beautiful Spanish actress named Maria Valverde, who happens to be the wife of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as Zipporah, the wife of Moses.

No Three Scenes that Made It For Me this time. The good news is that I watched it all the way through and was less disappointed overall than I meant to be. But good filmmaking doesn't always make a good film and this is a case in point. How could Ridley Scott et al. have done better? Respect for the source material (which stands on the authority of Moses himself) would be a great place to start.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

302. Sanctification Hymn

This wasn't one of the hymns I've been planning for Edifying Hymns. A bonus, I guess; it suggested itself to me while I was listening to a sermon last Sunday, and I hastily scribbled the first stanza on a communion registration card. It took me until now to work out where it was going from there. So here it is, with a perhaps too-subtle run-through of the 10 commandments embedded in it.


Lord, on our hearts Your gospel sow;
True faith and love there cause to grow.
Root out the false gods of our flesh;
From dead works' chaff Your harvest thresh.

Remove all misuse of Your name
From what we practice and proclaim.
Secure our holy day of rest
That we may count Your gifts the best.

To them who lead, our hearts subject
Lest they with grief our ways correct.
Defend Your sacred gift of life;
Likewise the bond of man and wife.

Turn thieving hands to honest toil.
Let truth the liar's gambit foil.
From evil thoughts our hearts defend.
Teach us our neighbor to befriend.

When we have done all we can do,
We yet fall short in serving You.
Show us, therefore, Your grace again;
Renew us in the inner man.

Renew, we say, in Christlike fit,
Our ways till at His feet we sit
And there, with faith and love aglow,
At last unsullied fruit we show.

Saturday, March 13, 2021


by Shannon Messenger
Recommended Ages: 12+

In this sequel to Keeper of the Lost Cities, Sophie Foster moves into her second year, or rather her first full year, as a student (confusingly enough, a third-year student) at a school for up and coming elves in a world hidden from human eyes. In case you're tuning in late, Sophie was raised among humans until recently, and has only recently discovered where she truly belongs – although some would challenge whether she belongs there, considering that she was genetically engineered by a secretive, dissident group called the Black Swan for reasons no one quite trusts or understands. She has more than her fair share of elven super-powers, including telepathy combined with a mind impenetrable to (most) other telepaths, an ability called inflicting (mostly used to inflict pain on other people), a gift for languages, and possibly more talents yet to emerge. She also gets into more than her fair share of scrapes, including a recent kidnapping ordeal from which she returned to find other people frightened by the danger she represents. And now she finds herself at the center of a new storm of controversy when she forms a mental bond with a creature of incredible rarity, known as an alicorn.

At least figuratively speaking, Sophie is under the gun this year, challenged with taming the super-stubborn winged, sparkly horse in time for an important celebration, while also needing to learn more about memories that have been erased from her mind, and possibly other ways she may be malfunctioning or broken. There's a lot on the line: like the sanity of someone very near and dear to her and a couple of her closest friendships. But the path between Sophie and the information she needs is fraught with deadly peril for her, for the alicorn and for at least one of her closest friends.

This young adult fantasy world is full of attractive scenery, colorful characters and the appeal of an unusual concept of magic, leading to unique complications in the heroine's life. If I were to find fault in it, I would point out that the characters go perhaps a bit over the top emotionally, and my goodness, are these elves psychologically fragile for beings who are supposed to be superior to humans! Also, anyone expecting the series to hew to the "Harry Potter" format of one book per school year may struggle with the fact that it takes two-thirds of the book for Sophie's second (or third?) year at Everblaze to begin, and it ends only a couple of weeks into the term. This could mean the whole series covers a relatively brief but eventful period of time – or that it's really going to be a long one. Nevertheless, it's enjoyable enough that I plan to explore it further.

This is the second of eight "Keeper of the Lost Cities" novels by the author of the "Sky Fall" trilogy. Subsequent titles in this series include Everblaze, Neverseen, Lodestar, Nightfall, Flashback and Legacy, plus a short story called Unlocked.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

301. Epistles of Paul Hymn

Soon to be sectioned under "Scriptural Meditation" in Edifying Hymns, this is one of those hymns that aren't meant to be sung straight through, but broken up into three-verse segments – always using the first and last stanza, and inserting the appropriate second stanza from the choices in between. Possible occasions for using them would be to accompany a series of intro-level Bible studies of Paul's epistles, or to decorate a sermon series that hits a few high points from each letter. It might not be handy for everybody, but I suppose there might be a use for it here or there. With that in mind, I challenge anyone to complain that this hymn is too long – especially when you consider that I compressed 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon and Hebrews into two stanzas all together! I think, to avoid having to write yet another tune in this meter (of which I have written several, and a couple have been written for me by other composers), I'll just reuse one of those for this hymn – possibly SEVEN WORDS or SEMINARY.

Not unto man, but unto You,
Lord Christ, the church's praise is due
For making Her most hateful foe
A herald, keen to see Her grow.
Through Paul, sound teaching You have limned
And heathen tongues Your name have hymned.

Most precious in the holy tome,
Paul's letter to the church at Rome
Depicts all man to judgment sealed,
Were not Christ's righteousness revealed,
The merit of His life and death
Transferred to us by grace, through faith.

To Corinth's church, this man of God
Twice writes, correcting practice flawed.
God's strength in weakness he reports;
To trust God's folly he exhorts,
And in Christ's testament of blood
To share as faithful brethren would.

The church Galatian he upbraids
Which law for gospel wrongly trades.
God's oath to Abram he unfolds,
And thus faith's primacy upholds;
That, by the Spirit, we may be
For willing works of love set free.

To saints in Ephesus he says
What price our Lord's atonement pays,
Who by His blood established peace
That His work in us may increase.
This mystery Paul thus lays bare
That God's full armor we may wear.

To Philippi he writes in chains,
Christ glorifying by his pains.
He speaks of pressing toward the prize,
The cross of Christ fixed in his eyes,
And bids the saints with prayerful voice
Rejoice, and yet again, rejoice.

The church Colossian he enjoins
To traffic not in worldly coins:
Not comely words, as pagans speak,
Nor Jewish rules, but Christ to seek:
As those reborn, for glory meant,
In lowly walks of life content.

Twice to the saints of Macedon
Have Paul's consoling letters gone:
That Thessalonians may keep
A living hope for those who sleep
And understand how Christ will come
To bear the faithful to His home.

To fellow pastors Timothy
And Titus, Paul indited three:
Confessing Christ as God made flesh,
Commending Scripture's use afresh,
And urging those by grace reborn
His martyrdom to lightly mourn.

His Philemon epistle gave
A slave his lord, a lord his slave;
And if the Hebrews' letter be
His writing, here we richly see
How, with both Testaments in view,
Christ knits together Old and New.

For him, the chief of sinners, torn
From persecuting Christ, a thorn
Remained to show both us and Paul
That Christ alone is all in all.
In his pure doctrine, Savior, keep
Us, till eternal life we reap.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Fun with Writing Hymn Tunes

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long one. Sometime many years ago, I wrote a post about the hymn tunes I had written up to that point. It wasn't really all that many. Well, I've written a lot more since then, and as part of the run-up to Edifying Hymns (even if it's a bit premature) I think I'd like to share some comments about my hymn tune composing process. Don't yawn at me like that. I think this could be fun. Some of the tunes, in fact, have musical "Easter eggs" hidden within them, for those who have ears to hear (or eyes to sight-read). So here is a brief guide (as brief as possible, anyway) to my output as a hymn-tune composer and some of the decisions that led them to be what they are.
This tune's title was suggested to me by a children's book. It literally means "of or relating to the alphabet" or "alphabetically arranged," which I thought was clever because the tune goes with the first segment of an acrostic hymn, each stanza of which consists of eight lines beginning with a the same letter of the alphabet, one initial letter per stanza, all the way through from A to W. A subtler joke is that, if you look at just the first melody note of each phrase, the outline of the tune goes up the C major scale. I planned that. So, the challenge of writing it was to make that little joke work.
I wrote this tune to go with a hymn for the 4th Sunday in Advent by Alan Kornacki, Jr. Upward leaps of a third or fourth seem to be the organizing motif.
I composed this for my own hymn for the Advent season, the text of which was a "scratch and dent" from the 1990s that I buffed out for Useful Hymns. There were a few days in 2014 when I wrote and arranged a whole bunch of tunes for those not-so-golden oldies. The bit about this tune that I like starts in the third phrase, with a series of gradually stretching phrases that I think build up a nice dramatic climax. It's tough little tune, too, slamming down to an open-octave B for the closing chord. See how pleased I am with myself.
I wrote this tune for Mark Preus who, at one point, I was trying to talk into co-editing some kind of publication for original hymn with me. Never happened. But I wrote tunes for a couple of his hymns, though I'm not sure he liked them or that they were my best. The title comes from Mark's middle name, which is also the second name of an historically significant Preus in Norwegian-American Lutheran history, Herman A. Preus. The gimmick in this tune is that the next-to-last phrase inverts the first phrase.
I especially like this tune, which I've used with two different hymns that have the words "Amen, Amen" in them. That's the original language of the gospels for when Jesus says "Verily, verily" or "I tell you the truth." I always wondered why translators don't just leave "Amen, Amen" as is. Speaking of as-is, this tune kind of wrote itself; it's one of very few pieces that I pretty much pulled straight out of the air without any deliberation. I just knew what I wanted it to sound like, and wrote that down.
I whipped this up to pair with a "scratch and dent" that began with the words "Ancient of Days," of which the tune's title is the Latin version. I seem to have decided at the outset that I wanted a long-short-short rhythm throughout the piece.
Here's another tune I wrote for a hymn by Alan Kornacki, Jr. I don't know why his hymns seem to draw better music out of me than Mark Preus's; I'm sure it's not Mark's fault. The Latin means something like "Behold shield," which reflects the first line of the hymn. As for the tune itself, the gimmick seems to be taking a low-slung phrase shape and stretching it taller and taller, again, building to a climax.
This tune, for a hymn about God the Son assuming every aspect of human nature, has a type of rhythm I like: alternating between two meters, with a short-long-short rhythm replacing the hackneyed pattern of straight quarter-notes with a pick-up beat.
The title is Greek for "Worthy is the Lamb," and I chose Greek in this case because the Latin Dignus est Agnus has been done to death already. I wrote it for a hymn based on the heavenly hymn of Revelation. Rhythmically, the piece plays with hemiola (mixing up 3/2 and 6/4 patterns), and I think I meant for the first phrase to suggest the sign of the cross.
I named this tune after my godparents, the late Rev. Paul Bartz and his wife Bonnie. I like to say their daughter, Rebekah, is my "godsister" because my parents are her godparents, too. I can't think of any particular connection between them and the hymn paired with this tune, which dates from my "scratch and dent" period. I think I was aiming for something that sounded like a Reformation-era chorale.
All right, I confess. I was trying to flip the tune to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" upside-down when I wrote this tune for a children's bedtime hymn. Don't hurt me?
I wrote two settings of this tune, for a prayer-hymn about cancer that I wrote in honor of one of my seminary-mates, who was dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Setting 1 is vanilla hymnal style; Setting 2 is a more flowing, three-voice arrangement with weirder harmony.
This was one of my early efforts in writing original hymn tunes. I think the Bloomington I named it after is the one in Minnesota, though I can't remember why I did so. The melody pretty much contrives to be mostly descending scales. Let's put it down to eloquence in simplicity, shall we?
Here's another tune from that 2014 fit of (re)finishing "scratch and dent" hymns, which I did in a rush so that I could put out the original (unexpanded) edition of Useful Hymns. There's nothing special about it, other than the fact that I rarely write in the key of A-flat.
Here's another uninspired tune that I wrote for a hymn by Mark Preus. Sorry, Mark! I avenged him on myself by using it for a very long hymn of my own, regarding Jesus' "I AM" sayings in John's gospel, but then I relented and put in FARLEY CASTLE ("Here, O my Lord, I see You face to face") as an alternate tune. I remember that at one point, when I wasn't sure Mark was going to let me publish his hymn with my tune, I considered changing its title to EGO EIMI ("I am"). But I didn't. Anyway, the tune sounds weird because I was leaning, perhaps too heavily, toward a modern take on the medieval Dorian mode.
I wrote this hymn at the end of last year for one of my hymns about the four evangelists' accounts of the Passion of Jesus. Here you see a bit more of my preference for short-long-short rhythms and decorative melismas.
Lutheran Worship had a hymn by Martin Franzmann, "O kingly Love, that faithfully," which I enjoyed playing on the piano when I was all by myself but that I only ever heard sung in church once – at my seminary fieldwork church in Decatur, Indiana, where it went over like a lead balloon. I would have predicted that outcome, because the hymnal tune was way too long, through-composed, ruggedly different in a modern-music way, and (for those reasons and more) hard for a congregation to pick up. One sleepless night – I believe it was the night before the chapel service where I received my placement assignment for my first pastoral call – I passed the time by brainstorming how to set Franzmann's really quite tricky text to a tune that might be better structured for a congregation to learn and enjoy singing. The next day I harmonized it, took it straight to a classmate (who, incidentally, is now an Anglican) and showed it to him. He looked at it for ten seconds and said, "It sounds Anglican." I guess that was a compliment.
The hymn that included this tune, based on Isaiah 55, was originally a choir piece that I wrote when I was in college. This might explain why it's on the challenging side for hymn-singing purposes. But trust me, the choir piece was a lot harder. It indulges a lot of things I like to throw into tunes, when I'm not restraining myself heroically; things like challenging rhythms (bars of 5/4 and 7/4!), persistent patterns of slurred notes and a repeat with varied harmony. OK, so maybe it's more of a solo than a congregational hymn. At least there's an option besides just reading the words as a poem.
Written for a burial hymn, this tune tone-paints the concept by coming in for a landing on a low note and staying there for a while. Sorry. I know it's not funny.
I think I may have based this tune on a decades-old sketch in one of my music scoring notebooks. I wrote, or at least rewrote it, for an "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord" psalm paraphrase, also dating from "scratch and dent."
This might be the best work I ever did for Mark Preus. I think the relevant hymn was written for synodical delegates.
It's a funny thing, but the name in this tune's title occurs in two unrelated branches of my family, pronounced two different ways. The branch I named it after, however, is my father's father's mother and stepfather, Bessie and Alphonse Couillard, who lived long enough for me to be a pallbearer at Great Grandpa Al's funeral (he died when I was 17) and for me to miss Great Grandma Bessie's altogether because I was tied up as a pastor in my second parish and couldn't make the trip. I just sang this tune as a solo at church today, set to a hymn that happened to share a first line with the Introit for the day.
I think this was actually the first hymn I ever wrote, words and music together: a Communion hymn that I wrote after one year of college-level music theory. In its original form, the tune was slightly different, and its harmonic arrangement left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, my home church's choir sang it in harmony, and they seemed to like it. It was good feedback for a kid just starting out on a lifelong avocation as a hymn writer – even if I don't think, now, that it was deserved. By the way, Crosby is the name of the town where I graduated high school.
This tune for a Passion hymn also comes from my "scratch and dent" period, and bears similarities to certain chorales. You learn by imitation.
I wrote this tune for a "heroes of the faith" hymn about King David. Sorry, I have to admit, those melismatic flourishes are musically pointless. I guess I was just trying to shake up the formula, or something.
During a choir tour out of Bethany Lutheran College, I saw a sampler cross-stitched with a congregation's mission statement framed and mounted above the church's main entry door. I decided it was such a nifty statement that I turned it into a hymn and wrote this tune for it. Since then, I re-used it for a hymn dedicated to the memory of a young woman whose faith overcame profound physical disabilities. Maybe it's that connection that makes this tune very emotionally affecting for me. Or maybe it was just a solid, early effort in this field.
This is the alternate tune that I wrote in college for the communion hymn mentioned under CROSBY. As you can see, I was already having second thoughts about my first official hymn tune. This option gives the hymn a much more modern texture. And for your info, Deerwood is the town I lived in (rurally speaking) when I finished high school.
I wrote this tune along with an early, "scratch and dent" paraphrase of Psalm 116, while I was a student at Bethany. Understandably, given the tradition of hymns I was learning to know at that school and the ELS church down the road, it gives off the scent of being influenced by Scandinavian chorale writing. Ludvig M. Lindeman, don'tcha know.
Perversely, I waited until a hymn-writing contest on the theme of disaster response was officially over, so that I wouldn't be expected to meet somebody else's criteria for how it should be done, then wrote my own "disaster hymn" and this tune to go with it. It's in the Lydian mode, which I had a hard time working with, and I'm still not sure the return to the home key is quite convincing.
Guess what Sunday of the church year I wrote this hymn for. I did two arrangements because I thought the first one might be too hard for some organists; but face it, both arrangements are hard.
I must have been in a really weird mood when I wrote this hymn. It has an oddly soothing, lullaby-like quality too it. Maybe I could recycle it for another children's bedtime hymn.
This tune takes its title from the Circumcision of Jesus, the eighth day after His birth, which is what the hymn's text is about. The only noteworthy things about it that I can think of are the fact that it's in the key of A (another key that I don't use often) and that the first phrase of melody is repeated, oddly, in the fifth phrase.
This hymn's choice of where to break between the last two phrases is an oddity, driven by the fact that I used it in Useful Hymns with two tunes that had slightly different meters. It's one of my "scratch and dent" tunes.
I broke away, just a little, from the "chord change under every note of melody" mold in this hym, which may help lighten it up a little. I wrote it for a "heroes of the faith" hymn about the prophet Elijah.
This tune, written for a hymn-prayer about addiction, represents one of the few times I've written a hymn arrangement with a first and second ending. I think it was another case, like AMEN, AMEN, where the tune kind of wrote itself, rhythmic quirks and all.
The "scratch and dent" hymn for which I wrote this tune, during that big rush in 2014, is one of my least favorite among my hymn texts. It's titled "In the World But Not Of the World," hence the tune title's reference to Christian engagement with the secular world. Other than being well structured, I can't see anything really special about the tune.
"Ephphatha" is the Aramaic word Jesus said when he commanded the deaf-mute's ears and tongue to "be loosed." I wrote this tune for a hymn about the miracle, and I'm quite fond of it. Besides cramming some tonal adventure into a few brief phrases, it also exhibits the kind of rhythmic palindromes (across pairs of bars) that I like to play with, sometimes. You know, short-long-long-short, or long-short-short-long. Once you've heard or sung this hymn, I think you'll always think of the refrain "He has done all things well" when you hear the tune's first phrase.
I was imitating early American, shape-note psalter tunes when I wrote this tune for a paraphrase of Psalm 68. Sometimes I think I imiated too well; it seems so familiar to me, now, that I worry about whether I might not have unconsciously plagiarized some existing tune. But so far I've found no evidence to that effect.
I wrote this tune for a hymn for Fathers' Day. I think it has a certain chorale-like ring to it, like a gloss on GAUDEAMUS PARITER. Note that the third phrase is a melodic inversion of the first.
I originally wrote this tune for a hymn about the feeding of the 5,000. Like AMEN, AMEN and EMNACIPATION, it was one of those instances where I felt like I was taking the hymn down rather than composing it – one of those moments of pure creativity that happens rarely and brings delight. Most of these tunes, I really had to work at to get into the kind of shape I wanted. One of the trade-offs, of course, is that the tune's rhythm is full of surprises.
Written for one of a series of "litanies for the times of life," this tune does more of that hemiola (3/2 vs. 6/4) stuff that I've mentioned before that I like to mess with sometimes. Because all of those litany hymns had the same meter, I wanted to shake up their rhythmic patterns a bit.
The four angels (messengers) described in this tune's title are the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Yes, the hymn that goes with this tune is about them. For him who has ears to hear, I meant for the opening pair of phrases to suggest an image of an angel flapping its wings to ascend and then gliding back down. Don't see it? Don't worry. I just mention it because it's one of those decisions that, whether they make sense or not, serve as part of my process.
The hymn that goes with this tune is about the feeding of the 4,000. I wrote it and the 5,000 hymn at about the same time, on purpose, inspired by a pair of sermons by my then-pastor that I thought made a good case for the two rather similar miracles serving different purposes. The hymn text, in this case, had a whimsical running joke about math in it, which I carried over into the tune by scoring it entirely in the 5/4 meter. I recall having to alter a couple of phrases after I wrote the first draft because they were too similar to an existing hymn tune; ironically, I think the change took away some of this tune's distinctiveness.
Yep, this tune goes with a hymn about the "fruits of the Spirit" – love, joy, peace, patience, etc. I think it's a nice, dignified tune, but probably not my most memorable work.
This tune is the one that came to mind when I saw a T-shirt saying, "9/8 ... 7/16 ... 13/4 ... These are difficult times," and I realized I had written a tune in 13/4 that, in my opinion, really works. I like to conduct myself when I'm singing it, and my conducting gesture is basically like a 6/4 gesture (down-left-left-right-right-up), only with three pulses instead of two in the third beat. Kind of fun, I think. Definitely not to be sung slowly; it has to move. I wrote it for a hymn about the Creation, hence the title.
I just wrote this the other day, obviously for my trinitarian "God Is Love" hymn. The gimmick I was going for, when I planned it, was that pattern of repeated notes at the beginning of each phrase, which (I thought) symbolized the equality and union of the three-personed Godhead. A point I was trying to make with the hymn is that the notion that "God Is Love" has special meaning for Christians because it flows out of His Triune nature.
Here's a tune I wrote for a Christmas hymn by Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig. I think I had in mind some of the Scandinavian chorales I admire, like I JESU NAVN, with their brave asymmetries and well-developed dramatic shape.
I wrote this tune for two of Icelandic poet Hallgrimur Petursson's beautiful Passion hymns, which I recommend highly. They were the two, with the same meter, for which I didn't know of any existing tune that would suit. Again, I tried to sound a bit Nordic and Passion chorale-y, and made the most of those metrical asymmetries that seem to be a key part of Scandinavian hymn writing. I also discovered one of the non-original tunes that I used in Useful Hymns, SAELIR ERU TRUADIR, set to one of Petursson's Passion hymns ("And then the Savior turned"), which may explain why it has an Icelandic title in spite of being Bohemian in origin.
I wrote the hymn for which I composed this tune upon the death of a friend in a non-church-related context, so that I could send the lyrics written inside a sympathy card without committing myself as to this person's spiritual status. I later added a stanza and wrote the tune, styling it a hymn for the burial of someone whose spiritual condition is unknown. As I've said before, people have jumped down my throat when they learned that such a hymn exists, without actually reading it, because they're so anxious about offering hope that may not be ours to give. But I say, there is need for a hymn that recognizes people's real grief, even for unbelieving loved ones who have died, and seeks to console them with compassion and a prayer for divine healing. That's all this hymn does. But then I went and re-used the tune for a hymn about a Christian's suicide, and no doubt I'll be in trouble all over again once that gets out. Like AMEN, AMEN, etc., the tune pretty much wrote itself, and I think of it as one of my best pieces.
This tune takes its name from the "holy angel" mentioned in the morning and evening prayers in Luther's Small Catechism, which I paraphrased in the hymn that goes to it.
I was angling for the effect of a Johann Crueger chorale when I set my "scratch and dent" baptism hymn to this tune.
The effect I was aiming for with this tune was more of a "Pomp and Circumstance" persuasion. I don't know why, exactly; maybe it was just for a change of pace. The word "Holy" figures in the titles of several tunes that I wrote for my set of hymns on the 10 Commandments; in this case, "Thou shalt not kill."
Musical joke time! For this hymn about the commandment "Remember the Sabbath day," I planned a hymn whose first two phrases – first descending, then ascending – signify the seventh-day rest by ending a scale run on the seventh note. Har, har!
This tune, for one of the commandments against coveting, was simply modeled on some Lutheran chorales that I love, such as ACH, WAS SOLL ICH SÜNDER MACHEN.
For the commandment "Honor your father and mother," I was also thinking about some favorite chorales, such as DAS NEUGEBORNE KINDELEIN.
For the commandment "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain," I don't know if I had a specific model in mind, but I think the dramatic shape turned out nicely with an ascending sequence of phrases toward the end.
This is the tune I wrote for the spare "All Saints' Day" hymn I discovered on my blog after Useful Hymns went to press, so it'll have to wait until the sequel to see the light of day. More of those 3/2-vs.-6/4 melismas, with a really weird ending that I rather like.
Again, I might have been thinking of one or more historic, Lutheran chorales when I wrote this tune for a hymn for humility. But I also think it's an effective example of the kind of melodic writing you can do when you're on the spot and you feel no inspiration whatsoever. I just picked a three- or four-note melodic shape and turned it every which way, and presto! A dramatically effective hymn tune!
Here's another tune that I wrote for that set of highly alliterative, acrostic hymns. You'll notice more of those two-bar, rhythmic palindromes I've pointed out before. Liking that kind of thing is, I suppose, just another weird part of being me.
I contributed this effort to a hymn by Andy Richard. Edifying Hymns will also, I hope, have Richard's text as well as an alternate tune by Tapani Simojoki. Meanwhile, enjoy another example of my preference for weird rhythms, like the 5/4 meter that runs almost all the way through this tune (except one bar of 7/4 and one of 6/4).
I think I was going for a suggestion of plainchant when I wrote this tune, which I've now used with two of my hymns.
I didn't create this chant tune, obviously, but I adapted it into the shape of a hymn-tune by selecting what I thought were the important notes and deleting all the others. I then wrote two settings of it, which try in different ways to preserve the horizontal flow of the melody. The second arrangement is canonic (i.e., the middle part is the same as the melody, but delayed by a couple of beats), a technique I feel I should try more often.
Originating in my "scratch and dent" period, back in college, this tune recently resurfaced when I chose it for my "Uses of the Law" hymn. I kind of enjoy its tonal adventurousness. Also, I like the key of c-sharp minor, but I don't write in it often enough. If four sharps make your brain hurt, just play it in c minor with three flats; you can read the same notes, playing the black notes on the white keys, etc.
Here's a tune I wrote for another "heroes of the faith" hymn. I think it's got a nice dramatic shape, and the consecutive upward fourths in the second and last phrases are quite striking. The tune LAMENT has a closing phrase that reminds me of it. When you do as much of this as I have, you start unconsciously stealing from yourself.
I wrote this tune for a "reverently silly children's hymn" about loud little voices. I can't recall what I was modeling it on – it's certainly not as obvious as the "Twinkle, Twinkle" one – but somehow, I think I pulled off a childlike quality.
This tune occurs twice within four hymns in UH – the hymns for Judica (the 5th Sunday in Lent) and Quasimodogeniti (the 1st Sunday after Easter). It's kind of weird that it works for both. I think it may have something to do with the ambivalent mood of the Mixolydian mode (the answer to your question, "Why is the key signature missing a sharp?") and the rhythmic energy (look! palindromes in measures 2, 6 and 10!) that can be interpreted as either earnest or joyful.
With this melody for a polemical hymn about objective justification, I was thinking about writing an almost-alternate tune to GOTT DER VATER WOHN UNS BEI. This is what I got. It might be just a bit weirder than I really intended.
I wrote this tune for a "hymn for good preaching" that, in stanza 2, makes metaphorical mention of "Farmer Brown." Because of this, one of my friends in the church musicican/composer community said he refused to read one line further. Well, you can't please everyone. It's another piece with the kind of rhythm that I find interesting – alternating groups of 6 and 8 beats, with triple rhythms coming and going. If, after writing as many tunes as I have, you're not doing something that you find interesting, brother, you're going to burn out.
This ballad-like little number was written for a hymn that Rev. Dr. John Kleinig included in his CPH Commentary on Hebrews. I wrote a tune for another hymn he put in there, too, and I'm so thrilled that after seeing them, he agreed to let me publish both hymns in Edifying Hymns.
Written, natch, for a hymn of lament – which, as I recall, begins each stanza with a different interrogative pronoun ("Who, what, when," etc.) – this is the one I mentioned before as bearing a slight similarity to ISAIAH; only not so slight that it didn't drive me crazy when I ran across it, recently, and wondered why it reminded me of something else I had written.
Here we have another one of my rare "first and second ending" notations, which I really put here to save space repeating two phrases that only differ by the last three chords. It's named after a fellow member of my former home church who was suffering from late-stage dementia and whose husband was movingly devoted to her care. I'll never forget the words he said the day he put her in hospice care: "I think this is the worst I've ever been hurt." My feelings overflowed into a hymn with the refrain, "Remember us, Lord Jesus." And this tune, which I think expresses those feelings pretty well.
I guess I was trying to sound chant-like again with this tune, for a hymn about the liturgy.
"Maskil" means "a skillful psalm" and that's why I chose it as the title for the tune for one of those acrostic hymns. I imagine it going rather quickly, and the three-voiced setting sounds a little like a horn fanfare to me. Also, remember that musical joke I embedded in ABECEDARIAN? There's something like it in this tune, starting on A and going up by scale member (give or take an octave) – but on the last note of each phrase rather than the first, not including the final cadence.
This tune actually takes its name from the medieval church mode that, again, explains why the key signature seems to be missing a sharp. I wrote it for a hymn about the theology of worship.
This tune to another segment of that acrostic hymn takes its name from a bit of alliteration that struck me in the stanza whose lines all begin with M. It kind of has the sound of a chorale that was based on a plainchant melody.
Obviously, I didn't write this tune. But I did write two harmonizations of it, which I'm including here just to show what an SOB I am at times. The first arrangement, which has parallel 5ths running brazenly all through the left-hand part, came about as my passive-aggressive response to being called upon to play "Amazing Grace" at a church service where one of my Bethany profs was preaching. When I failed to edit my facial expression, he grabbed my beard, pulled hard, and said, "What's wrong with 'Amazing Grace'? Nothing!" So I made sure there was something wrong with it. But I also wrote a more conventional arrangement of it, to make up for my little tantrum.
There are definitely pieces of a couple of chorales in this tune, written for a hymn about worrying. I guess I wasn't worried about being derivative.
Written for the Third Sunday in Lent, this is another one of those AMEN, AMEN type phenomena, still rare compared to my overall output, where I wrote the piece straight out without a pause to look back. It's nice to know I can count on that to happen once in a great while.
This tune is completely made up of gimmicks contrived to cover for a lack of inspiration. To start, the second phrase is repeated verbatim in the second-last phrase. Then, the first phrase is flipped upside down for the last phrase. And finally, everything in between is a lightly disguised, rising sequence. Talk about making something out of nothing! The tune's title is the Greek word translated as "Ye of little faith!"
This tune accompanies the first tune I wrote for Edifying Hymns, literally before the ink was dry on the first copies of Useful Hymns. I think it's a fun piece, with a cheerful energy that slightly conceals the economy of thematic material (again, something you make do with when you can't find inspiration.)
This was one of my first hymn tunes written after the "scratch and dent" period – when I was on vicarage, and I made a study of hymns pass for daily devotions. In The Lutheran Hymnary I came across an Easter hymn titled "I know that my Redeemer lives" – but not the one you're thinking of; this one was purportedly translated by somebody Oxenford from a hymn by Paul Gerhardt. I didn't think much of the tune in LHy, so I wrote my own tune for it. Check it out, toward the end of the hymns in UH.
This tune, for a Palm Sunday hymn, is in another rarely-used (by me) key: f minor. I'm not sure it wasn't adapted from sketches put down in my "scratch and dent" days. Which is another way of saying, I'm not altogether happy with it. But it'll do.
I wrote this tune for a hymn by David Rosenkoetter. The tune title is a Greek word meaning boldness or frankness, particularly in speech.
Written not so long ago for one of my "Passion according to" hymns, this tune is another example of making do without inspiration by just taking a couple of intervals and turning them this way and that, until a tune happens. If nothing else, it has the virtue of being tightly organized.
I wrote this tune for a hymn about (natch) the Passover. Again, it's pretty much entirely made up of phrase fragments that are copied and moved around in different combinations, sometimes transposed into the relative major key. It's how we roll in "too busy to wait for inspiration" land.
Both versions of this tune will appear in Edifying Hymns. I originally wrote it for a hymn by Alan Kornacki, Jr. but he was leery of the limping rhythm (alternating bars of 5/4 and 3/2) so, at his request, I "alt."-ed it to be in 3/2 all the way through. But then I found that I really liked the limping version better; I felt that dotting that half-note in every other bar drained the vitality out of it. So, I kept the original version in my back pocket, and I've already found a hymn to pair it with.
I think I may have been channeling some English Methodist hymn composer when I wrote this hymn for a "peace with God" hymn. I was just trying to achieve a sense of tranquility and stillness. I'm afraid it might have turned out just a touch tacky. With my luck, it'll probably end up being the most famous piece I ever wrote.
The Latin title, meaning "full of days," is a hint that I wrote this tune for a hymn about old age – one of the "litanies for the times of life" I mentioned before. Now that I look at it again, it does have a certain old-fashioned ring to it.
Here's another tune I wrote on vicarage, actually as an assignment from my supervisor. He wanted me to apply my musical skills to give the church's preschool program a themesong. When I re-used it for an "opening and closing of preschool" hymn in UH, however, I found that I had to rewrite the words; the original lyrics were too specific to that local program.
I wrote this tune for a polemical hymn about the Lord's Supper, part of a controversy about whether the whole Christ is present when we receive His body and blood. The hymn has the refrain, "As Thou hast come to live in me, So let me also live in Thee." Clearly, I was modeling my work on the hymn "I come, O Savior, to Thy table." For the tune, I basically aimed for "as close as possible to plagiarizing ICH STERBE TÄGLICH without getting caught."
Naturally, the hymn this tune was written for is titled "Pruning Hymn." I also consider it one of the earlier hymns of my maturity, before I started seriously thinking about gathering them together in a hymnbook. It may also be the first time I wrote a three-part hymn setting, which has sort of become one of my things.
This tune comes from my rush to fix up "scratch and dent" hymns with tunes for the UH 1st Ed. The Latin title refers to the hymn's text from the book of Job, "Why has (the light) been given?" And hey! It's in c-sharp minor! That makes two! My favorite riff is the plunging third-to-last phrase.
And now, putting the lie to my previous assertion that I hardly ever write in the key of A, here's the tune to my "scratch and dent" paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed, whose first word in Latin gives the tune its title.
This tune, for a hymn about bringing little ones to Jesus, is named after my nephew – although the tune existed for more than a decade before he was born. Obviously, I changed its title when I was putting UH together. I think it was originally named after a saintly woman I was acquainted with in college. It's pretty tightly constructed for such a little tune; the first two phrases are the same as the last two, with only one contrasting phrase in between.
There's something vaguely nurseryish about this hymn, even though I didn't write it for a children's hymn; actually, I paired it with the second dedication hymn in UH. Maybe the melodic shape was meant somehow to represent the idea of "stir(ring) up my still heart."
I just wrote this one the other day for that hymn about baptismal regeneration. I mentioned at the time – and that mention actually got me thinking about doing this post – that the driving ideas behind its melody and harmony were, respectively, rippling water and the Spirit blowing who-knows-where.
This is another "rush to melodify scratch-and-dents for the UH 1st Ed." tune. It's not bad for wholly lacking inspiration; again, illustrating how discipline and motivic unity can pass for creative genius when you're under the gun.
This tune, for a hymn for the 4th Sunday in Advent, came into being when someone pointed out that the existing chorale I had chosen for the hymn moved in the wrong direction at the words "Drop down, drop down." I poured through all the hymns in that meter that I could find and there wasn't a single one that tone-painted that direction of motion at that point in the melody. So, I grudgingly wrote one that did. Apart from that, what I like about it are its alternating rhythmic palindromes of "long-short-short-long" and "short-long-short."
This tune was written for the second of six parts of that acrostic hymn, previously mentioned. I trust you can see that I was on one of those "motivic unity" kicks again, as one tends to be when one is writing six hymn tunes in one day.
This tune, also for one of those acrostic hymns, takes its name from a Hebrew word that occurs several times in the text of the Psalms, and that seems to be some kind of musical instruction, like "up music" or whatever. Since the "S" stanza of the acrostic makes reference to that, I rolled with it. And look, there's my favorite meter: 5/4!
This tune in my 3/2-vs.-6/4 hemiola register goes with a hymn about divinity students. It reminds me a little bit of some 17th century chorales.
I might have mentioned, when I first posted this tune not too long ago with a hymn about Jesus' "seven last words on the cross," that I deliberately worked a musical sign of the cross into this tune, three times. Can you spot it? Setting 1 is hymnal vanilla; Setting 2 is three-voice, goofball modern, with lots of parallel 6ths in the lower parts and rhythms in the accompaniment that cross the grain of the melody. Sorry, I can't help it. I'm just weird that way.
The "Psalm of a Sinner-Saint," for which I wrote this tune, was a last-moment addition to UH when the book was almost ready to go. Actually, I wrote a couple of hymns after it that I had been planning to include in the book. This one, however, was unplanned. As you might expect, the tune was as spontaneous as the rest of it. Does it work? I'm not sure. I'm OK with it, but my taste isn't everybody's. For example, I get this crazy pleasure out of rhythmic palindromes, as you can see in several bars of this tune.
I wrote this tune for a hymn by Matthew Carver, a guy who also wrote some tunes for hymns by yours truly. I should work with that guy more often.
I also wrote this for a hymn by Matthew Carver, and named it after a pastor, Rev. Rick Stuckwisch, of our mutual acquaintance. Matthew's hymn was inspired by something Rick said in a sermon, hence the title. It's kind of a playful tune, with a folksy ring to it. I should find another place to use it.
This tune originated as a choral setting of Richard Wilbur's Christmas hymn, "A stable lamp is lighted," that I prepared for my church choir. I liked the text but wasn't quite convinced by the couple of tunes I had seen it set to, so this. To conduct it properly, you need to switch between beating "1" for the 3/4 bars to beating 3/2 across the barline at the phrase breaks with the rests. I chose the title to honor the place where I did my vicarage, which was really the happiest year of my ministry.
I guess starting a tune with the same note repeated three times isn't an idea that flashed upon me with my "God Is Love" hymn. This tune, for a Thanksgiving hymn that I wrote for UH, does yeoman work for a text in an odd little meter.
This whopping piece of pomp and circumstance, with two repeats and all, was written in that 2014 rush to publish the UH 1st Ed. for a "scratch and dent" hymn whose massive stanza structure is definitely something I would know better than to pull these days. Unless I was desperate, that is.
I could just copy and paste what I said under THEE AND ONLY THEE into this space, but I won't, and that's mainly because this piece's harmony reminds me of a thing about me that I've forgotten to point out; and there are other tunes where you can see this tendency. Namely, I like to write big, spread-out, sonorous chords. That chord at the end of the first phrase makes me shiver. Also, if you compare my setting of a tune to one written by some of my contemporaries, you might also notice that I like to use inverted triads way more than they do; and when I'm not purposely keeping the harmony reined in, I tend to run through all the Roman numerals in the music theory book and dip into neighboring keys. I use the word "err" advisedly when I admit that I err on the side of making the harmony as active and rich as possible, because I like it that way even though it probably inhibits some people from enjoying my work.
This is the other tune I wrote for those hymns in Kleinig's Hebrews commentary. It's one of the weirdest things I ever wrote, but I planned it that way because I wanted to convey the sense of a wide-ranging journey. And of course, once again, you can see that limping rhythm that I preferred for PAY HEED, with alternating bars of 5/4 and 3/2. Dr. Kleinig, it was really brave of you to let me publish your hymn with this tune. Thanks!
This angular number seems to be made up chiefly of broken triads, with plenty of wide leaps. So, not one of my easier tunes to sing.
It's A major again! Third time! One of the reasons I don't use it a whole lot is evident from the B-sharps and E-sharps in it, which (I understand) Grandma Smurf doesn't like having to play. You know what, though? I think they're fun.
I wrote this tune for a Passion hymn by N.F.S. Grundtvig, way back when I was still a pastor. I think I might like the tune better than the text.
I wrote this tune recently for a "scratch and dent" that I was buffing out for EH. It's quite weird, but I think that weirdness has something to do with the unusual meter of the hymn. Anymore, I try not to choose really goofy stanza structures, and though I can't always tell when I'm breaking new ground, it's usually an accident because I don't really want to compose an original tune for every single hymn that I write. On the other hand, if this list makes it seem like there are an inordinate number of "scratch and dent" hymns represented – well, in the first place, there are more than 60 of them; and in the second place, while I tend to look out for existing hymn tunes for many of my mature hymns, I don't think it's fair to saddle someone else's music with my worst poetry. So, maybe a disproportionate number of these tunes were written to order for the "scratch and dents." Huh.
This is another example of me putting in unmotivated melismas. The corresponding hymn is a "scratch and dent" paraphrase of the Venite (Psalm 95) from Matins.
Here's another tune for my series of "litanies for the times of life." Note the similarity between the two pairs of phrases.
Written for a hymn about the process of calling a pastor (or having a pastor who receives a call to serve elsewhere), this tune reminds me of something already existing, maybe a Christmas carol.
Funny story about this one. When I wrote it for a hymn by Andy Richard, his feedback was to write his own tune for the hymn. Anyway, he was nice enough to say I could use his hymn with both tunes in EH (I'll be sure to verify that before it goes to press). The funny part is that I played both tunes for my dad and asked him which one he liked better, and he said he preferred Andy's. Ouch.
This is the tune for a baptismal birthday song for children. In concept, it's a lightly disguised copy of "Happy Birthday to You," flipped upside down.
Here's another awkward case: A tune I wrote for my own original hymn (about the Parable of the Sower), but for which I also have an alternate tune that Matthew Carver volunteered for it. I have no plans to play both of them for my dad. The gimmick of this tune is that the first phrase, going down, and the last phrase, going up, are both composed of the C major scale with extra Cs inserted. I don't know if I was trying to symbolize something there, or what. Maybe I was just trying for something new.
The namesake of this hymn is not hymnwriter John Ylvisaker, of "Borning Cry" fame, but Sigurd Ylvisaker, an early president of Bethany after whom the fine arts building at that school is named, and in whose name a scholarship was created that gave me a two-year full ride on that campus. It's an early tune of mine, composed for a "scratch and dent" hymn.

So like, yes, I've done a lot of this hymn-tune-writing wheeze, at some times with more success than at others. But the two big takeaways I've learned from all this practice are: (1) how not to give up when I don't have a brilliant idea in my head or time to wait for one, and still need to produce a reasonably good result; and (2) the importance of trying different things, like imitating different styles of music, building entire pieces around a piece of musical symbolism, erring on the side of harmonic and rhythmic variety, and just plain having fun. That's why I'm still in it after, lo, 29 years!