Sunday, February 13, 2022

Tacky Hymns 102

We finally wrap up our long-running review 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.)
We resume with the "Missions" section already in progress.

901 is "O Christians, haste (your mission high fulfilling)" by Mary Thomson († 1923), abr., alt., and set to a tune called REDEMPTION by Bruce Backer, who also wrote TRIUMPH for Martin Franzmann's "Triumphant from the grave" and TREE OF LIFE for Stephen Starke's "The tree of life with every good." Based on these samples of his work, I'm curious about how he and I would get along, chained to the same desk in that probably Chinese-run slave-labor hymn-tune mill that I fantasized about during my last review of a tune by Kenneth Kosche. He writes very good music and seems to shift easily between very different styles, from modern art music to high-concept soft pop; this time around, he's created an almost convincing forgery of a 19th century hymn tune of the oldies-but-goodies persuasion, only perhaps too well written to pass. Thomson's text, including the refrain "Publish glad tidings," etc., does the expected mission-hymn job of impressing on the listener the imperative to make disciples of all nations, but then it goes further (stanza 3) to actually tell the good news, briefly, and concludes (stanza 4) with a specific ask that raises the hymn above the usual call to missions that leaves in doubt who's supposed to do what. Indeed, it calls on the church to "send heralds forth," to pay and to pray for their work. Kind of refreshing, as that type of hymn goes.

903 is "We are called to stand together" by Martin Leckebusch, set to Henry Gerike's tune ASCENDED TRIUMPH ("Up through endless ranks of angels"). I've actually been blessed with the opportunity to hear Gerike play the organ at his home church in St. Louis, and he's quite an impressive talent; I love this tune with its strength, energy and upward surging melodic shape. Leckebusch's text puts missions in the context of Church history, beginning with the apostles, spreading around the world, and continuing until Christ returns.

905 is "Good news of God above" by Timothy Dudley-Smith, set to Kermit Moldenhauer's tune DOUSMAN. Moldenhauer does a good job of varying the harmony to conceal the fact that both halves of his tune are identical. So you could interpret this piece either as four long stanzas or eight short ones alternating between two different musical settings. TDS's rhyme scheme has kind of the same effect, making it conceivable that you could substitue a four-line (SM) tune for DOUSMAN; but I like it as it is, and I think it would be easy for folks to learn.

908 (Type 1) is "Go forth and preach the gospel" by James Chepponis, set to ELLACOMBE ("Hosanna, loud hosanna"). I don't think Chepponis's text does the "mission hymn" job as well as the other hymns mentioned above; for example, it barely touches on the aim of proclaiming the good news (that men may be saved) and even then, it does so in a way that stresses "that all may understand," which sounds to me, just a bit, as if the task of preaching is about imparting information. Yes, Chepponis repeatedly says "The Spirit is upon us," but wouldn't it be nice if he wrote about the Spirit falling upon the people who hear the message and working the miracle of faith! 1/2 tack.

Moving on into "Christian Schools," 909 is "O Lord, our God, your gracious hand" by Oliver Rupprecht († 2000), set to the chorale O HERRE GOTT, DEIN GÖTTLICH WORT ("O God, our Lord, Thy holy Word"). It begins by thanking God for all his daily gifts, then (stanza 2) turns its thoughts toward "our fathers (who) knew and kept in view true wisdom's worth and pleasure," and therefore "prized as jewels their Christian schools." Stanza 3 asks for God's help "to guide our youth to heaven" and to "see the worth of Christian training." Finally, stanza 4 asks God to "grant schools that teach and men who preach true Christian education," and to "let youth grow strong by Word and song." In a time when too many Lutheran congregations are letting their parish schools fall by the board, and when public schools are scheduling activities so that youth have no time for church, a hymn like this could be very powerful.

910 is "Lord Jesus Christ, the children's friend" by Henry Letterman († 1996), set to WAREHAM – indelibly imprinted on my memory by a quiz in hymnology class for which I used the mnemonic "This tune is Wareham, this tune is Wareham" – acknowledges the role of both Christian homes and Christian schools in its prayer for youth to be brought up in the truth. It also has a prayer for forgiveness (stanza 4), to be led to witness joyfully to the Lord (stanza 5), and to be protected to the end (stanza 6). This could be the alma mater of a Christian school.

911 is "God, we sing your glorious praises," an "opening of service" hymn by Bert Polman († 2013) set, again, to ABBOTT'S LEIGH. A well-structured, trinitarian hymn accenting the content of the gospel and the power of word and sacrament, its strength (and maybe its weakness) is the directness and up-to-the-momentness of its language, which might in the future become a little dated sounding. Example: "You meet each creature's needs" (stanza 1).

912 (Type 2) is "Open, lovely doors" by Benjamin Schmolck, apparently a fresh translation of the hymn that TLH gives as "Open now thy gates of beauty."

913 is "Come away from rush and hurry" by Marva Dawn, set to a tune called PROMISE by popular easy-listening church choir/children's choir composer Natalie Sleeth († 1992). The availability of the accompaniment in the pew edition is a plus; the minus is that it sounds like easy-listening church choir/children's choir music. The text is a decent appeal to find peace and fulfillment in Christ, borrowing lines from Psalm 23 (particularly in stanza 2) albeit without employing the word "Shepherd." I particularly admire the last line of stanza 3: "All our longings find attainment when to self we gladly die."

915 is Reginald Heber's "Hosanna to the living Lord," which I hear in my bones set (as in TLH) to VOM HIMMEL HOCH, but to which CWH joins a tune by Christopher Dearnley († 2000) called ST. CHAD. It's not a bad tune, but I think the harmonized setting could be improved to its greater advantage.

923 (Type 2) is "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah" by William and Peter Williams, set quite aptly to John Hughes' equally Welsh tune CWM RHONDDA. Despite being a scion of the TLH tradition, I think this is a better tune than GUIDE ME by George Warren (cf. TLH) or, for that matter, PILGRIM (cf. SBH).

926 is "Lead me, Lord," a one-stanza paraphrase of Psalm 4:8 and Psalm 5:8 (with no other text credit) that I find suspiciously reminiscent of "Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord," set to its own tune by Samuel Sebastian Wesley († 1876). Other than being over in no time flat, I find no fault in it.

928 is "May the grace of Christ our Savior" by John Newton († 1807), another one-stanza "close of service" hymn, set to the early Americana tune BEACH SPRING ("Praise the one who breaks the darkness").

929 (Type 1) is "May the peace of God" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, a nice little CoWo arrangement of the Pauline benediction ("May the peace of God," etc.) that has an unnecessary refrain and a redundant second stanza tacked on and, musically, contains an obvious cue to pull out your Bic and flick it. 1 tack.

930 is "Go, my children, with my blessing" by Jaroslav Vajda († 2008), set to the Welsh tune AR HYD Y NOS, that in only a few short years has become one of the immovable monuments of Lutheran hymnody. Pretty soon, people are going to forget that the tune originally went to the song "All through the night."

933 is the Kyrie ("Lord, have mercy") from Franz Schubert's Deutsche Messe, an interesting concept that might end up replacing the setting of the Kyrie in the liturgy, particularly if a choir is involved. Following this are several examples of "service music" (settings of pieces of the liturgy, or hymn paraphrases of them) that may be familiar to well-catechized Lutherans, like "Kyrie, God Father" (934), "All glory be to God on high" (935), "All glory be to God alone" (936), "We all believe in one true God" (Apostles' Creed; 940), "We all believe in one true God" (Luther's Nicene Creed hymn; 941), "Create in me a clean heart" (I think this setting is actually by Johann Freylinghausen, but CWH only credits TLH for it; 942), "Isaiah, mighty seer" (Luther's Sanctus hymn; 943), "Holy, holy, holy" (Sanctus from Schubert's Deutsche Messe; 944), another "Holy, holy, holy" (music by Per Hartling; 945), "Jesus, Lamb of God" (Schubert's Agnus Dei; 946), "Lamb of God, pure and holy" (Decius' ditto; 947), "In peace and joy I now depart" (Luther's Nunc dimittis; 949), "Lord, bid your servant go in peace" (another paraphase of the Nunc dimittis by James Quinn and Henry Gerike, set to the early Americana LAND OF REST; 950), "Lord, now you let your servant" (TLH's Nunc dimittis; 951), two paraphrases of the Te Deum (Michael Schultz's, 952; "Holy God, we praise your name," 953), a Benedictus paraphrase by Carl Daw (954), a Magnificat paraphrase by Timothy Dudley-Smith (955), plus another by Anonymous set to the Scots tune WILD MOUNTAIN THYME (956), and several other pieces, including some you might know from previous hymnals.

Among those pieces is a Marty Haugen-style canticle by K. Lee Scott, "God's right hand and his holy arm" (937); a through-composed canticle setting by Kurt Eggert, "O Lord, our Lord" (939); the "old new hymnal" post-communion canticle "Thank the Lord and sing his praise" (948); A paraphrase of a Latin canticle called Exsultet ("Rejoice, angelic choirs, rejoice" (957) and a Stephen Starke paraphrase of the Song of the Three Young Men "All you works of God, bless the Lord" set to a Jamaican tune with a bit of calypso rhythm in it, on which I hereby award this book's final 1 tack.

So, amazingly, the last chunk of CWH only collected an additional 2-1/2 tacks, bringing the bookwide total to 212.5 out of 658 hymns, or 32 percent. So yes, indeed, the book managed to bring its tackiness average down below 1/3 by the end. All the same, the tackiness is strong with this one, and I observed some general tendencies that do not, in my opinion, bode well for the culture of Lutheran congregations (in the Wisconsin Synod, at least) singing hymns that build up the body in the faith once delivered. There's an awful lot of stuff that seems designed to be sung at the congregation (by a rehearsed soloist or group), rather than by them. While I don't see as many examples, as in some of the previous books I've examined on this thread, of hymns whose lyrics undermine the Lutheran confession, I do think some of CWH's "safe" choices are on the bland or reductively broad side, which doesn't do much to shore that confession up. And while some of the new hymns it introduces are really very strong, the fact that Keith Getty is the book's pet contemporary hymn-writer fills me with concern about where this crowd's priorities lie. If it wasn't too late, I'd suggest they pull it back and give it a little more work. Otherwise, I will only recommend specific numbers in this book, but not the whole megillah.

No comments: