Saturday, December 18, 2021

Tacky Hymns 98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

An Anglophonic Anglican said...

Coming all the way from a blog post I found of yours from 2013,I decided to check out some of your more recent material and hey, you have a lot of really good stuff to say! I think I will actually check out some of these tacky hymns you mention, as I never see one particular hymn as standing alone. It is set with other songs, scripture, and the preaching that is all meant to rest (in the Anglican tradition) on a specific theme(s). I am more comfortable letting a tacky hymn slide into a service, especially when the congregation dearly loves it, when it is bolstered up with other songs and scripture that maybe make the point weakly made by the tacky hymn a little clearer.

My ears truly perked up when you mentioned Thomas Tallis, surely there must be more than TWO of us! :)

And I appreciated your point on CCLI being to listen to, when the goal of all music in the Christian life should be to be participated in.