Sunday, December 12, 2021

Tacky Hymns 97

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

You’ve given me my “I knew him when” moments in this post.

Kurt Reinhardt was a year ahead of me at St. Cates. He was well-spoken, but I didn’t know he had this talent in him until LSB cams out. I think he’s the Lutheran wordsmith of our generation.

I’m pretty sure I first met Chad Bird on my vicarage at an ACTS conference in Missouri where Ken Korby was the presenter. Again, no idea who he was at the time or what he would become—good and bad. I met him again when I took students to CTSFW and sat in on his Leviticus class…which was fascinating, by the way.

I met Fritz Baue at the first hymnwriters conference in 2013, where he was a presenter. He panned my Easter text as “unoriginal”—and while he was right for the most part, I still was crushed.

I met Steve Starke there as well, and I encountered Steve again at a Higher Things conference where I introduced him to my kids as “the guy who wrote that hymn we just sang.” For all I make fun of LSB as the Little Starke Book, he’s a brilliant and prolific writer.

By the way, I’m not at all bitter that they included so many Getty ditties and none of the texts I submitted. Can’t expect WELS to publish my hymn texts when my own church body has no interest in them.

Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

Oh, and I met GP Coleman when I was in college. The tour choir visited the church he was serving at the time.

RobbieFish said...

Yeah, I submitted a bunch of texts, too. I'm trying to be the bigger man. I definitely have it in the weight dept.