Friday, December 10, 2021

Tacky Hymns 96

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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