Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Tacky Hymns 100

As this thread turns 100 posts old, we continue our sack of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021). And 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.)
777 is "As morning dawns, dear Savior," which I believe is a new translation from a 16th century German hymn, set to the chorale AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE ("Ye sons of men, oh, hearken," etc.) It's a good morning prayer, perhaps even a paraphrase of the one in Luther's Small Catechism. It also takes the very Lutheran step of acknowledging God's presence in His efficacious word.

779 is "I sing as I arise today," a half-anonymous, half-by-Michael D. Schultz hymn set to WINCHESTER NEW ("Ride on, ride on in majesty"). The anonymous part reminds me of St. Patrick's Breastplate. Schultz's additions include "the house of God to be my rest, the grace of God to be my song," so arguably a good addition, though as always, I reserve a little ambivalence for the whole procedure of improving on existing hymns rather than just writing something better to replace them.

781 (Types 2-3) is "Lord, as the day begins" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, set to Martin Shaw's († 1958) tune LITTLE CORNARD. I appreciate the attractive, modern-art quality of Shaw's music, though it might edge a bit toward the difficult end (if not off the edge) of what Mrs. Doppelschlag can confidently play. I hope it doesn't get swept under the rug for that reason, because it does have an impressive sound. It's a good trinitarian morning hymn, though most of the fourth stanza perhaps pointlessly repeats the corresponding lines of stanza 1.

781 is Katherine J. Dubke's paraphrase of Luther's morning and evening prayers in two stanzas, with a different first stanza depending on the time of day and the same second stanza for both (first line: "I thank you, heavenly Father"). The tune is JONATHAN'S TUNE by popular choir music maven Hal Hopson, which I think sounds cheap and shmaltzy, especially alongside LITTLE CORNARD. I think you can guess which way I would rather go.

785 is "Joyous light of heavenly glory," Marty Haugen's paraphrase of the 3rd century Greek evening hymn Phos hilaron, set to his own tune JOYOUS LIGHT as it originally appeared in Holden Evening Prayer. It's all right as Marty Haugen stuff goes, and I'm tired of fighting it by now. I mean, fine, if you want to let this one guy set the course of Lutheran worship for the next age, better him than Keith Getty.

787 is "God, who made the earth and heaven," an evening hymn written piecemeal by three different 19th century authors, all with the aid of "alt.," and the two stanzas that are by the same guy don't run consecutively. Paired with this Frankenstein's monster is AR HYD Y NOS. It seems to be a pretty standard arrangement of altered lyrics by a committee, since the credit lines in LSB are the same. And in the back of your head, it's probably the hymn you think about when you hear this tune, notwithstanding Jaroslav Vajda's "Go, my children, with my blessing."

788-789 (Type 2) are both "All praise to Thee, my God, this night," two different settings of Thomas Ken's evening hymn that ends with the famous "common doxology" ("Praise God, from whom all blessings flow"). The first version is set, in six four-line stanzas, to TALLIS' CANON, which I think is the correct choice of the two. The second tune, reformatted as three eight-line stanzas, goes with Charles Gounod's syrupy EVENING HYMN, about which the best thing I can say is that CWH mercifully lowered it a half-tone so the organist can play it in the white-note key of C rather than the five-flat key of D-flat. Really, folks. Hasn't the vogue for romantic sentimentalism gone by?

790 is "Before the ending of the day," a Latin hymn (translated by John Mason Neale) set to the Benedictine plainchant IAM LUCIS. I approve, and I hope Lutherans won't be scared off by a little chant melody, which is, after all, our musical roots. It might take a little work, but it'll bring rewards.

791 (Type 2) is "Round me falls the night," which in my mind (thanks to growing up on TLH) is indelibly imprinted with the tune SEELENBRÄUTIGAM ("Jesus, lead Thou on"), but which this book pairs with Jeremy Bakken's new tune, NIGHTFALL. I think the switcheroo is unfortunate and unnecessary.

793 (Types 1-2) is "Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me," with verses by Mary Lundie Duncan († 1840) and an unnecessary, tacked-on refrain by Keith and Kristyn Getty (very much alive and kicking). The Gettys also supplied the tune, JESUS, TENDER SHEPHERD, which is nice enough and kind of period-sounding (for † 1840), if on the banal, unnecessary-refrain side of that era, and with instrumental bridges between the stanzas and at the very end. 2 tacks.

796 is "Lord, support us all day long" by Stephen Starke, another more-or-less paraphrase of Luther's evening prayer, set to the 19th century Welsh tune GWALCHMAI. It's pretty good and, I think, kind of catchy. I'm surprised not to have heard more often in my own circles, since LSB also has it.

801 is "Dear Jesus, on your pilgrim way," a fresh translation from the hymn that TLH gave as "Where wilt Thou go since night draws near." Also, it replaces the magnificent chorale ACH BLEIB BEI UNS – which has often deeply moved me in connection with this hymn – with a new tune by Stephen Johnson called PILGRIM REST. Again, I think the switch is unnecessary and I would miss ACH BLEIB. Though in this case, the Johnson tune is also quite nice, it isn't any easier to sing than the other, with a nice leap of a minor seventh right in the middle, and a medieval, modal feel.

802 (Type 1) is "All is well," first line "The sun beams on behind the clouds," by Steve and Vikki Cook. It's a two-page spread of melody only (aargh) with two stanzas and, somehow, two refrains (requiring a first and second ending and a bit of score text road-mapping where to go next), a 12-bar vocal tacet for an instrumental bridge (with no cue) and in all this sprawling mess, I actually got lost and it took a bit of study for me to put it all together. Just imagine what Grandma and Grandpa Smurf will go through. Oh, don't worry; it's easy. They're going to sit like lumps and let the praise team sing it at them. 4 tacks.

803 (Type 1) is "Day by day" by Carolina Sandell-Berg, with music by Oscar Ahnfelt, and if that was all you told me (without showing me the words or music) I would already have the tack-o-meter out of my pocket. Every time hymnal editors lose the script (by which I mean the ability to distinguish hymns from 19th- and early 20th-century devotional pop songs), they fuel the other side of the argument, which hasn't been losing ground lately I can tell you, about the difference between what we should sing in church and what had better be kept for Sunday afternoons in mother's best parlor. Heartwarming sentimentality, addressed from the pious individual to his or her Lord, is all very nice but if people think that's what the hour of preaching and teaching is designed for, they need to sit down and rethink. 2 tacks.

806 (Type 2) is "Your days and ways to God surrender," a new translation of Georg Neumark's hymn previously known to us as "If thou but suffer God to guide thee."

809 (Type 1) is "Do not let your hearts be troubled" by David Haas, a Catholic singer-songwriter who's been facing allegations of sexual misconduct since 2020. It's a hymn with three stanzas whose musical settings are so irregular that they're run end to end (without accompaniment; grr) with score text at the end of each, directing you to the Refrain. The aggressively uninspired and rhythmically off-putting refrain, that is. With all respect, I don't think this is going to fly with a performing congregation; it's just too rhythmically tricky and confusing to follow. So once again, if it's going to be sung at the congregation, why is it taking up space in the pew hymnal? 3 tacks.

810 (Type 1) is the First Song of Isaiah (first line: "Surely, it is God who saves me"), based on the text from (get this) "The Draft Proposed Book of Common Prayer, 1976" (my goodness), and set to its own tune by Jack Noble White. There's a refrain and three stanzas, each with completely different music. Teaching this to the congregation would involve a similar commitment to learning a new, through-composed, modern setting of any biblical canticle. And how unkind of the editors to omit the accompaniment from the pew book. 2 tacks.

812 (Type 1) is "Christ, the sure and steady anchor" by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. You know, a couple more of the Keith Getty crowd. And can you guess whether their "original" tune, STEADY ANCHOR, partakes of the same Christian Yacht Rock musical cliche that I've spotted so many times already in this book? I grudgingly admit that the content of the text has merit, although a sound rhyme scheme isn't it. Also, it's kind of cute how after the last full stanza, you're instructed to sing an italicized half-stanza to the second half of the tune. That bit of road mapping, right there, might put this in "song to be sung at the congregation" territory. 2 tacks.

813 (Type 1) is "He will hold me fast" (first line: "When I fear my faith will fail") by Ada Habershon († 1918), alt. and stanza 3 by Matt Merker, music by Matt Merker, with Merker's contributions copyright Getty Music Publishing; again with three stanzas where the accompaniment is omitted in the pew book (grr) and a harmonized refrain. I'm not really interested in what tune Habershon's old-timey lyrics were previously set to, but Merker's replacement melody is so amazingly uninspired that, even after singing it through, I don't understand it. 3 tacks.

815 (Types 1-2) is "I look not back" by Annie Johnson Flint († 1932), set to the fresh tune AUFSEHEN by the multi-talented Michael Schultz (also a frequent author, translator and editor in this book). I'll pay his composing style the compliment that of calling it transparently simple, which may be a virtue when it comes to teaching new hymn tunes to reluctant congregations. I'm not entirely sure this hymn was a worthwhile expenditure of his effort, however. The poem is more the type of thing that, I feel, works best as a little pocket-sized tract or a page in a booklet of devotional poems, and whose running metaphor for trust becomes a little ridiculous when sung at a tempo apt for trying out an unfamiliar tune. 1 tack.

818 (Type 1) is "My soul finds rest in God alone," a paraphrase of Psalm 62 by Aaron Keyes and Stuart Townend, with a middling-length copyright notice at the bottom of the page and, for once, accompaniment printed in the pew book! So, I played it, and it's relatively interesting as contemporary church music goes, but part of what makes it interesting (like the stanza portion of the tune being in 5/4 time) might put it in that "to be sung at the congregation" register I've detected so often in this book. The music is not without merit, and the text likewise; but if a soloist or ensemble is going to perform it, why blow two pages of the pew book on it? 2 tacks.

821 (Type 1) is "On Eagle's Wings," first line "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord," by Michael Joncas, a Catholic priest and contemporary church music composer. I was dismayed to see this piece in CWALH, even more dismayed to find it in LSB, but sadly I'm not surprised to see it repeated here. It's totally a choir piece, with a keyboard accompaniment that rides the line between art and pop, and in my mind it's inseparable from a memory of a church choir in which a tenor with a seismic vibrato drowned out everybody else. It's going to continue to be sung at the congregation, I'll warrant, and piano-playing owners of the pew book will get no satisfaction out of it because once again, they're denied the accompaniment. 2 tacks.

822 (Type 1) is "Pass me not" by arch-sentimentalist Fanny J. Crosby, set to an altered version of William Doane's tune PASS ME NOT that makes me, unreasonably, want to rise up in defense of the original rubbish. My throat closes up. 4 tacks.

824 (Type 1) is "This is the threefold truth" by Fred Pratt Green, set to Jack Schrader's tune ACCLAMATIONS. You know, the one with the refrain "Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!" I was going to say something nice about this hymn about worship, but then my eye fell on stanza 2 – "Long used by saints of old, new minted for our time, our liturgies ... " oh, no you don't! No, you didn't just thrust a wad of apologetic for tampering with worship forms into the mouths of the faithful. Did you? 1 tack.

825 (Type 1) is "The Lord is my light" by Alberto Taulé, with not one but two translators credited (including Jon Vieker) and both the English translation and the original Spanish (arrgh! I mean, why not?) laid out under each strain of music. It's one of those irregular numbers, where the three stanzas have to be laid end to end to avoid confusion. But because the syllables of the Spanish and English versions don't line up, and because CWH's musical notation doesn't cope well with variants like this, the notation of the music (like, what syllable goes under which note) remains confusing anyway. And of course, the pew edition omits the accompaniment. Ay, ay, ay. 2 tacks.

827 (Type 2) is "Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing," a hymn by Paul Gerhardt that has heretofore been adequately served by the tune ICH SINGE DIR, but which CWH pairs with a new tune, GRATUS by Mary Kay Beall, and then omits the accompaniment from the pew edition. It's a simple enough and learnable tune, but I don't see how the change was necessary or an improvement.

828 is "Where your treasure is" by Marty Haugen, with an added stanza by Michael Schultz. Refrain harmonized; stanzas with melody omitted from the pew book. The refrain melody has rhythms that I think place this in that "sung at the congregation" category, and the last line of each stanza is a metrical anomaly that I could, and perhaps will, use someday as an example of the type of hymn-writing mistake that forces the author to shove in unnecessary syllables to fill the line. For not exhibiting even Haugen's best skills, and for once again raising the question "why is this in the pew book," 2 tacks.

829 is "Take heart (O servants of the Lord)" by Baptist minister Dustin Battles, set to the tune ANTHONY by Dan Kreider which provokes me to reminisce, for a moment, about the good old days when church organists knew enough music theory to spot parallel perfect fifths in compositional experiments by youngsters like me. I still remember receiving uncivil feedback about a piece in which I used a bunch of PP5s on purpose. If this book is representative of the current generation of musical leaders, I guess nobody cares about that anymore and I can stop wincing when I spot voice leading errors in my own music. As a hymn writer, I've also put up with criticism of my loose rhyme schemes, which makes me alert to but unwilling to go full snark on Battles' attempts to rhyme, for example, "journey" with "mercy." However, the fact is, there isn't a single pair of even-numbered lines that stick their rhyme in this hymn, although the odd-numbered ones mostly do. I'm not sure whether to admire this freedom or whine about it. So, instead, I'll take out my wrath on the tune, which strikes me as derivative and unskillful even as CCM ditties go. 1 tack.

830 is "We walk by faith (and not by sight)" by Henry Alford († 1871), set to Marty Haugen's tune SHANTI, which we've seen before in this book. I like its "Help our unbelief" expression of trust, echoing Thomas's response when the risen Jesus showed him His hands and side, and how it finds Christ hidden in sacramental means.

I'm giving up before the "Hope and Comfort" section hits. Despite setting out with the intention of awarding as few tacks as possible during this jubilee post, I've stuck in 33 tacks this go-round, bringing the all-time total for CWH, so far, to 173-1/2 in 530 hymns. That's just about 33 percent. And there are only 128 more hymns to bring that score down. How do you think CWH will do?

No comments: