Thursday, November 16, 2023

Tacky Hymns 107

Moving on to the "Holy Week, Three Days" section of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

928 is "Pave the way with branches" (first line: "Jesus is coming") by Bret Hesla (b. 1957), written in a folk idiom with rhythms that may put it out of the reach of the average congregation; so, probably more of a choir piece. Also, its highly repetitive lyrics and the suggestion of "additional verses ad lib," including examples whose rhythm doesn't match the music, convey an impression of the type of musical event that will be somewhat improvised if not completely open to the performers winging it. This might make for a fun Palm Sunday event that could go on and on, indefinitely; but I don't see the congregation edifying itself much with this minimalistic material. 1 tack.

929 is "Blessed is the one" (who comes in the name of the Lord), literally the first line Psalm 118:26 repeated twice, set to a harmonically and rhythmically similar style of music as 929 by Nathan Houge (b. 1977). There just isn't much to it. I can't imagine choosing this in preference to an honest-to-goodness Palm Sunday hymn. 1 tack.

930 is "Three holy days enfold us now" by Delores Dufner (b. 1939), sung to ROCKINGHAM OLD by Edward Miller (†1807; cf. Chad Bird's "The infant Priest was holy born" and the second tune for "When I survey the wondrous cross" in LSB). Stanza 1 runs through the themes of the Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Holy Saturday triduum – "in washing feet and breaking bread, in cross ... in Christ, God's firstborn from the dead." Stanza 2 finds "the myst'ry hid from ages past ... revealed in word and sign," with Jesus' story revealed as our own, namely "new life through death." Stanza 3 presents Christ lifted up on the tree, to whom every knee shall bend, etc. It's actually pretty impressive. In fact, I think it's the first hymn so far in this book that's new to me and that I would like to hear used in worship. How does that sound for 30 songs in?

931 is "Where charity and love are shown" with Spanish words and music by Joaquin Madurga (†2017), translated into English by Marin A. Seltz (b. 1951). This is a Lord's Supper hymn that does, I'm pleased to report, make mention of "the presence and the promise of God's Word," as we "receive our loving Lord". Also, it describes the gifts of God here given as Jesus' body and blood, and claims that in this meal we proclaim the mystery of Christ's suffering, who "has died, yet lives to reign." All those are positives. Under cross-examination, I would find it difficult to maintain that there's anything wrong with the emphasis that seems to run through most of this hymn's three stanzas, an emphasis on the horizontal communion of those receiving the Sacrament here and now, and how, as a result, "we give ourselves to others and ... seek our neighbor's good." I mean, those aspects of Communion are fine. What makes me leery is my recollection that the theology of the Lord's Supper represented in Evangelical Lutheran Worship's selection of Communion hymns focuses almost exclusively on this aspect, and the amount said about our communion with Jesus' body and blood, plugging us into His atonement for our sins, ranges from zero to a couple of light touches. And the sense that I should be thrilled that this hymn moves the slider to the latter end of that scale is concerning, I think. Not unlike the way Stockholm Syndrome is concerning. For having no real harm in it, I'm going to go easy on it and give it 2 tacks: one for omitting the accompaniment, and one for devoting space to the Spanish lyrics when (to re-re-re-restate the brutally obvious) this is not a Spanish-language hymnal.

932 is "Lamb of God most holy", translated by Seltz but not from the German chorale you're probably thinking of; rather, from an anonymous Spanish text, laid out alongside the English version. The tune is SANTO CORDERO by José Ruiz (b. 1956), accompaniment omitted. It took some effort, but I managed to read this hymn without comparing it line-by-line to "Lamb of God, pure and holy" and found, surprisingly, that I quite like it. It has a direct style, a clever rhyme scheme and an open admission of my guilt, on account of which I approach the Lord and implore Him, "remove my shame." Because the accompaniment is omitted and the Spanish lyrics are superfluous – unless, you know, your day school's Spanish class wants to strut its stuff, or you just like looking at them and thinking about how multicultural your church body is – I'm giving it the same 2 tacks as the previous number.

Entering the Easter section, 933 is "Day of delight and beauty unbounded" by Dufner, set to G.G. Gastoldi's (†1622) IN DIR IST FREUDE ("In Thee is gladness") – one of the few instances so far in this book of a hymn tune that J.S. Bach might have (and, in this case, actually did) composed a setting of. Dufner, a Benedictine nun, is perhaps ironically the author of some of the better texts in this book; a distinction that, I feel, should stir Lutherans with any literary talent to get up off their heels and do something. I don't want to spoil it, but her two stanzas in this resurrection hymn are rather decent, including lines that connect the water that flowed from Jesus' side with baptism, fasting turned into feasting, and "the mystery, the hope of our glory." Reluctantly, but for the sake of consistency, I'm compelled to give it 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment, though I know where to find it elsewhere.

934 is "Christ is living" (gone with sorrow), Spanish words by Nicolás Martínez (†1972), English translation by Seltz, set to the Pablo D. Sosa's (†2020) tune CENTRAL as arranged by Robert Buckley Farlee (b. 1950). The same hymn (without accompaniment) is in the pew edition of LSB; so ACS actually improves on LSB for once by including the accompaniment. I've liked the energy of this piece of music since I first tried it out, though I'm not certain it would fly with a midwestern American congregation; I think I'd try it as a choir piece first. The lyrics have some merit, too, such as the line "Why then seek the living Savior in the haunts of death and fear?" Stanza 2 recaps St. Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15 that our hope of resurrection is founded on Christ's resurrection: "Dust we are, to dust returning, but in Christ we are restored." And St. 3 depicts "death ... swallowed up in victory," culminating in an overflow of praise. It's an excellent Easter hymn that only troubles me on two accounts – first, the argument I've been making throughout this thread about the vanity of splashing Spanish lyrics all over a book that will never serve a Spanish-speaking congregation, and second, my ambivalence about whether I would come out of an attempt to introduce this to the congregation with my hide intact. 1-1/2 tacks.

935 is "Woman, weeping in the garden" by Donald Charles Damon (b. 1955), to the tune CEDARWOLF by Thomas Pavlechko (b. 1962). I have two bones to pick with this hymn tune: first, that the accompaniment is omitted; and second, that the last stanza goes to a different ending (final note and all). Final endings aren't all that unusual in modern hymn tunes, but usually only the harmony changes under the same melodic shape; this takes the cake. Text-wise, this hymn is a five-stanza retelling of Mary Magdalene's Easter morning encounter with the risen Jesus, told as if to her, in the second person. I'll grant that it beats "I come to the garden alone" into a cocked hat; but on second thought, it hits me more as a devotional poem to enjoy in private than the sort of thing I would choose for Easter Day worship over ever so many richer, deeper hymns. 2 tacks.

936 is "The day of resurrection", by John of Damascus by way of John Mason Neale, to a tune evidently written for it by Farlee, called ANASTASEOS HEMERA (which, being translated, reads "Day of Resurrection"). I'm not excited to see this hymn here, because it's already in ELW (hymn 361, set to the perfectly respectable tune ELLACOMBE) and because I rather like singing it to LANCASHIRE, as I learned it from the Missouri Synod line of hymnals. So despite its ancient pedigree and undeniable loveliness, and I say nothing to repugn Farlee's tune, this number again illustrates my overriding question: "Who even asked for this?"

937 is "Earth, earth, awake!" (Your praises sing!) by Herman G. Stuempfle Jr. (†2007), set to the tune STUEMPFLE by Sally Ann Morris (b. 1952). I like Morris's tune but, shucks, the accompaniment is omitted. Stuempfle's poem, with an exclamation point and an "Alleluia!" at the end of every single line, is an enthusiastic (in the positive sense) expression of Easter joy, starting by calling the forces of nature to join in. By stanza 2 it has gotten to the nitty gritty ("Christ lives ... first fruit of all the dead"). Stanza 3 implicates springtime in the conspiracy to praise the Risen Lord, and st. 4 is all doxology. So all right, this would be another fun one to try, but my, what a hymn festival it would have to be to fit all the good Easter hymns in! I guess that's what the Easter Season is for. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

938 is "Christ has risen while earth slumbers" by John L. Bell (b. 1949), set to Calvin Hampson's (†1984) ST. HELENA. The first thing that strikes me about it is the tune, which (aargh, again) omits the accompaniment, though it does feature a four-bar instrumental cue that might, or might not, help the congregation make their entrance on the right note. The jury's out on that, because, frankly – and you can put this down to musical taste, so long as you admit that mine is nicely developed – I don't think much of Hampson's music. Mind you, I only have the melody and those four bars of intro to judge on. I just think this horse is going to throw its rider, if you try to put the congregation in that saddle. No doubt, I've composed unbroken maverick tunes like this, too, so Hampson's in good company. Bell's text, meanwhile, covers about the same ground as 937 but more broadly. It thoroughly explores for whom and what Christ is risen. I'd like to talk with Bell sometime about what he meant by a few of his turns of phrase, especially in the last stanza where the application turns toward present-day people. But I'll restrict my tack-slinging to the music: 2 tacks.

939 is "Touch that soothes and heals" (the hurting), by that Mary Louise Bringle from whom we have lately heard, set to Gregg DeMey's (b. 1972) CIVILITY. Again, ACS omits the accompaniment, though it would be handy to have at least an instrumental cue for the three bars of tacet at the end of the refrain. I'm not sure what kind of accompaniment to expect here. The shape of the melody leads me to suspect a Contemporary Worship styling, especially with the refrain going to that place (that "O Danny Boy" place) that pretty much every CoWo jingle reaches at some point. The text of the refrain also pivots instantly from "'See my hands and feet,' said Jesus" to "'Be my hands and feet,' said Jesus, 'live as ones I died to save.'" Accordingly, after the first refrain, everything in this Easter hymn is, shall we say, Third Use of the Law. Imperatives galore. Discuss amongst yourselves. For the musical issues noted above, 2 tacks.

Conveniently, a new section begins after this number. I say conveniently, because I'm so ready to quit for the day. That's another 15-1/2 tacks in 12 hymns, only two of which escaped untacked. That brings the current, cumulative tackiness of ACS to 56 tacks in 39 hymns, or about 144%. A lot of these tacks, I admit, are due to the cheapskate publisher choosing to withhold the accompaniment of many songs, obliging music nerds who want to play through everything in the book to splash out on the pricy accompanist edition. These church publishers can see us coming from a mile away, music nerds. My advice: hold off on ordering it until the final tacks are counted.

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