Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Difficult" hymns

My congregation has no regular choir - though we have some outstanding musical resources including a gifted organist and a dedicated music teacher with an angelic singing voice. Our music teacher has several choirs of school children that sing in the Divine Service from time to time, but we have had no luck in getting an adult choir started.

Musically, we tend to sing nearly the entire hymnal. And for not having a choir, our congregation does remarkably well.

Still, we are hobbled by not being able to make full use of some "difficult" hymns. Of course, all hymns cease being difficult when they become familiar - but getting over the hump without a choir is not an easy task.

I thought of three hymns that are difficult, and yet are magnificent hymns that I wish we could make better use of (and I'm sure I will come up with more upon further reflection):

1) O Kingly Love (LW 346) by Martin Franzmann.

Dr. Franzmann was a seminary professor who was not just a wordsmith, but one of the Missouri Synod's great poetic and prophetic voices. O Kingly Love calls to mind the Parable of the Wedding Feast - and is placed in the section of hymns labeled "The Gospel Call" - though I would have pegged it as a Eucharistic hymn.

The tune by Richard Hillert is haunting, but its chant-like qualities and the length of the hymn make it tough to sing. Though it was part of Lutheran Worship (LW), the hymn was not included in the Lutheran Service Book (LSB).

You can find a recording of it in November Feasts by the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle - which is a fine collection of music that also includes Healy Willan's Te Deum.

We tried singing this occasionally when our congregation used LW. Since going to LSB, we haven't attempted it.

Here are the words to this hymn:

O Kingly Love, that faithfully
Didst keep thine ancient promises,
Didst bid the bidden come to thee,
The people thou didst choose to bless,

This day we raise
Our song of praise ,
Adoring thee,
That in the days
When alien sound
Had all but drowned
Thine ancient, true, and constant melody,
Thy mighty hand did make
A trumpet none could silence or mistake;
Thy living breath did blow for all the world to hear,
Living and clear
The feast is ready.
Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast!

O lavish Love, that didst prepare
A table bounteous as thy heart,
That men might leave their puny care
And taste and see how good thou Art


O seeking Love, thy hurrying feet
Go searching still to urge and call
The bad and good on ev'ry street
To fill thy boundless banquet hall.


O holy Love, thou canst not brook,
Man's cool and careless enmity;
O ruthless Love, thou wilt not look
On man robed in contempt of thee.

Final Refrain:
Thine echoes die;
Our deeds deny
Thy summoning;:
Our darkling cry,
Our meddling sound
Have all but drowned
That song that once made ev'ry echo ring.
Take up again, oh, take
The trumpet none can silence or mistake,
And blow once more for us and all the world to hear,
Living and clear
The feast is ready.
Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast!

2) I Bind Unto Myself This Day (a.k.a. St. Patrick's Breastplate) (LSB 604) att. St. Patrick.

This hymn is also long and has an unusual tune that is difficult for Lutherans both because of its Celtic rhythm and irregular meter. St. Patrick's Breastplate is a powerful rebuke of the forces of darkness, and is employed by the Pastoral Care Companion (p. 361) as a resource for pastors in dealing with "Occult Practices and Demonic Affliction" (p. 354ff). In these dark times, this is a beautiful hymn that both calls to mind for the faithful Lord's protection, and reminds the demons of their defeat and subjugation.

Although this hymn is in our hymnal, we haven't attempted it to my memory since I've been here.

Here are the words as they appear in our hymnals:

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my god to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

3) Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior (LSB 640) by St. Thomas Aquinas.

This is a hymn rich in poetry, imagery, and Eucharistic theology written by the great doctor of the Church, St. Thomas. It has been sung by Christians for eight centuries, and was originally written in exquisite Latin verse. It is traditionally chanted according to plainsong mode five (based on ancient Gregorian chant).

The plainsong tune is haunting and other-worldly - but Gregorian Chant is not well known in most of our churches, and the natural way that Latin (whose words have repetitive endings owing to Latin's inflected grammatical structure) fits the chant is not quite as natural in Germanic languages (which includes English).

This hymn features the ancient Christian imagery of the self-sacrifice of the mother pelican, a symbol of Christ and His sacrifice for His beloved - a symbol found on the state flag of Louisiana.

We do use this hymn as part of the rotation of communion distribution hymns - although the congregation typically struggles with it.

Here are the words according to the translation that appears in our hymnals:

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior Thee,
Who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be;
Both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.

In this memorial of Thy death, O Lord,
Thou dost Thy body and Thy blood afford:
Oh, may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood,
Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food;
Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win
Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.

Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God:
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be:
To gaze on Thee unveiled and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory, and Thy grace. Amen.


Anonymous said...

My congregation sings St. Patrick's Breastplate and Adoro Te Devote with some regularity. We haven't attempted that Franzmann one, but it is worthy. Many of the richest and most comforting hymns in Christendom are relatively unknown. The Aquinas one in particular is a gem in my book. It is my five year old's "favorite" hymn.

NBeethe said...

Those are great hymns indeed! We have done "O Kingly Love" using a soloist for the first section of each verse, a small choir for the next section of each verse, and then having the congregation come in on "The Feast is ready, come to the Feast..." It was fairly successful. Just thought I'd mention it.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

I don't have my LSB with me...are any of these public domain? I could do a Time Out with them.

WM Cwirla said...

O Kingly Love is a personal favorite, but you're correct. Very difficult for congregation singing. The best we could manage is to have the choir sing verses and the congregation sing the Refrain. Much regret that it didn't make the cut for LSB (but is in the electronic edition, I'm told).

I Bind Unto Myself This Day is a gem. It's our congregation's "fight song" as we are "Holy Trinity." We sing it a lot. It's popular with the kids for some reason.

Thee We Adore we introduced several years ago as a Holy Thursday choir piece. It's slowly becoming a congregational distribution hymn. Hauntingly beautiful.

I would add to these, "Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart" (LSB #708). We slowly gaining traction on this one, but I have yet to have anyone call for this magnificent hymn at their funeral. I guess we'll have to wait for mine.

empesoumetha said...

O Kingly Love is pretty intense. Three pages of pure hymnodic gold.

Jane said...

My teen sons love St. Patrick's Breastplate. They walk around singing it. :)

Rev. Cholak said...

Isn't sad that O Kingly Love isn't in LSB? Man, I love that song. It was learned with Miss Rehema at Memorial during my vicarage. You have a star music teacher, please greet the angelic voice for me and Mrs. StarboCho!

empesoumetha said...

O Kingly Love is indeed a glaring omission in LSB.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Todd:

That's great! Children at that age haven't learned that that hymn is too difficult for them. ;-)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear NBeethe:

That is a great idea. Thanks!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dan:

As far as I know, the only one under copyright is the Franzmann.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bill:

Isn't it funny how each congregation has its own "character"? "I Bind Unto Myself" is exceedingly hard for us - and yet "Thee I Love With All My Heart" is one of *our* most beloved hymns that everyone knows - and it is routinely requested at funerals.

I think its inclusion in the Pastoral Care Companion's last rites order (Commendation of the Dying) will make it more widely requested for funerals.

We have found that the TLH arrangement is much more majestic and beautiful (LSB uses the greatly simplified but less inspiring LW music, while LSB did restore the TLH words - the LW language revision was simply forced to the point of being abominable).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Empesoumetha:

Indeed. If you haven't read Franzmann's little collection of sermons called "Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets" - it is pure homiletic gold. The man literally painted with words - which sears the biblical imagery into the heart and lips. Glorious stuff.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jane:

How cool is that? There are a couple of nice arrangements on YouTube. I find it is a tune that "gets in the head" - and better that than "Video Killed the Radio Star" (oops, sorry about that, folks...).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Steve:

Yes, indeed. Rehema is a great asset to our church and school. I will pass along your regards!

Wesley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wesley said...

The choir sang St. Patrick's Breastplate, "I Bind Unto Myself," at my installaton. The congregation has successfully avoided singing that hymn since then, except on a few occasions. The strange thing is that the choir members said they could not help but hum the tune throughout the week. Just shows that familiarity does not always breed comtempt. It sometimes breeds confessional Lutheran hymnody. "Adoro Te Devote" is a hymn the CTS kapellmeister, Rev. Richard Resch, taught me. I especially love the 3rd verse, one of the only references to Christ the Sacrificing Pelican. All too often folks around our part of the country (we're both on the Gulf Coast) think I'm referring to the local brown pelicans rather than to the Lord.