Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hymnody Resurgent: Nebraska



Potter, David. Man of Sorrows Glorious King. 2010. Omaha: David Potter, 2010. mp3 audio download. $12.00.http://davidpotter.bandcamp.com/album/man-of-sorrows-glorious-king (H)



The Church's hymnody is being rediscovered and reinterpreted around the country. This review of Man of Sorrows Glorious King is one of a series of reviews that focus on this resurgence of hymnody.


It is my assertion that this trend is a good thing. 


And here's how I think it is happening.


The generation of children raised in megachurches is coming of age. They tire of worship trappings of their Baby Boomer parents (like the boomers tired of traditional Christian worship in the 1960's, give or take a decade).


Then what? They look for something older, something more constant, more sure. So I see various artists, groups, and congregations look at the oldest worship books in their particular tradition for theological depth. And they seem to be finding it in hymns.


As a Lutheran Christian, I can watch what is going on with some detachment. I find it curious that "contemporary worship," a generational reaction against the shallowness of revivalistic (and revival-era hymns and worship practices) emerged in Lutheranism. Lutherans have tried to preserve the best Christian song of every time and place, sung in the context of the historic western Divine Service, itself the heir of the synagogue and home worship of Judaism in the context of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, the Prophet, Priest, King, and true Temple. In retrospect, it seems silly (at best) to abandon the song of the saints for the fad of one generation's song and style. In fact, I think the rise of CCM in the LCMS is due to the difficulties many in our Synod had with the revised version of Lutheran Book of Worship published by the LCMS in 1982, Lutheran Worship. I'll leave it to my generation and the children of the Baby Boomers to grow up out of their parents' preferences. So far, the future looks promising with over 80% of our congregations using Lutheran Service Book (2006).


I could go on, but David Potter's album deserves the rest of our attention for now.



I thought I was well-acquainted with hymnody of most Christian traditions, but I have been humbled by this "hymnody resurgent" trend. 

I thought "Man of Sorrows Glorious King" was a new composition by Potter until I found it in older hymnal. This Philip Bliss text and tune could be used by liturgical Christians in Lent if the closing phrase, "Hallelujah, what a Savior" had a seasonal substitute: "Lord, have mercy, what a Savior."

Hymns on this recording are accompanied by the typical modern pop/rock ensemble of keyboard, voice, guitar(s), and drum set. I don't find the drum set or distorted guitar reverent for Divine Service or Divine Office on the Lord's Day, but I need to realize what these other artists, congregations and traditions have become accustomed to on Sunday mornings at worship over the last 50 years. This is definitely a step forward. 

Listeners will hear more familiar hymns like "All Creatures of Our God and King," Rock of Ages," "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," There Is a Fountain," Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah," and Be Thou My Vision" alongside "You Are the One" and "The Greatness of His Mercy." The album concludes with acoustic arrangements of "Man of Sorrows," "You Are the One," and "The Greatness of His Mercy." I am more worshipful with those versions because I find natural sounds (even if amplified for clarity of communication) more appropriate than artificial ones (and that includes electronic organs, too). 

David Potter's album is representative of hymnody resurgent. He reinterprets hymns from his own Christian tradition by changing the instrumentation, harmonies, arrangments, and often the melody to communicate and worship with a new generation of Christians seeking something of substance in theology and praise.

Hymnody resurgent borrows some techniques from historic Christian worship and so-called contemporary worship, as does the modern hymnody of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend et al. One will hear musical interludes in-between hymn stanzas (like traditional Lutheran organ playing). One will also note new or altered melodies (not unlike tone painting to emphasize texual phrases or entire hymn stanzas) and the addition of refrains to encourage congregational singing. 

As an album, Man of Sorrows Glorious King is an example of the resurgence of the theology of the cross and a better theology of worship in American Evangelicalism. I'll be listening for more from David Potter.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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