Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hymnody Review: Retuned, Reinterpreted, Repentant



Greer, Andrew. Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions. MA'M Recordings, 2012. Audio CD.  (mp3 download for $8.99.) (Eight pdf charts provided via DropBox.) www.andrew-greer.com  www.mam-recordings.com Andrew Greer's "Jesus Paid It All music video (H)

Page CXVI. Hymns IV. Gilbert, AZ: Page CXVI, 2011. mp3 audio download. $9.99. http://pagecxvi.com/ (H)

Hoover, Todd. The Whole Spirit: Redemption Songs. Phoenix: Made to Make Music, 2012. mp3 audio (and pdf sheet music). $7.00.  http://toddhoover.bandcamp.com/  http://toddhoovermusic.blogspot.com/ (LH)


Artists are now contacting us, demonstrating how they are making old hymns new again.


Allow me to introduce Andrew Greer:
 

Angel Band: The Hymn Sessions CD

Track listing:
1. O Come Angel Band (w/ Sonya Isaacs & Laura Sue Brod)
2. Never Grow Old (w/ Regina McCrary & Marc Scibilia)
3. Down By The Riverside (w/ Julie Lee)
4. Softly & Tenderly (w/ Sonya Isaacs)
5. Jesus Paid It All (w/ The McCrary Sisters)
6. The Lord's Prayer (w/ Ron Block)
7. In the Garden
8. I Am Thine/Near the Cross (w/ Ginny Owens)
9. I've Been Searching
10. Unclouded Day (w/ Sandra McCracken & Marc Scibilia)
11. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (duet w/ Cindy Morgan)
12. All Creatures of Our God and King
(Artist website)
Before listening to this album, I knew that only one was in my Lutheran Service Book. I knew most of the others: "Down By the Riverside," "Softly and Tenderly," "The Lord's Prayer," "In the Garden," and "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." Textually and Christologically they are weaker than most of the contents of LSB. The last line of a famous hymn text says, "None other has ever known." Really? Is that true? No? Then why bother singing it to the One who

Still, I rejoice, at least just a little. Some of the hymns we Lutherans might judge as the weakest in one of our hymnals may be among the strongest (from a Bible perspective) in the hymnals of another tradition. Compare their texts and tunes with that of much of the music sung in American Evangelicalism since 1960, and you may agree with me that a collection like this is an improvement, an important step in a more historic and sound direction.

On the whole, vocals and accompaniment sound mostly like a pop rock combo. Vocals are masculine, growly, and pleasantly "strained." This is unfamiliar with any of the special guests on the album. Percussion varies from song to song, from something I'd tolerate on Sunday morning to something that should be best reserved for Saturday night. 

I encourage Andrew to keep singing hymns. We'll be listening for more from him.


Our second album is the fourth release from PAGE CXVI.

Hymns IV Song List

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. His Eye Is on the Sparrow
  3. Wash Me Clean
  4. Song of the Saints
  5. Father Hear the Prayer We Offer
  6. House Of God Forever
  7. ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
These are the 7 tracks from the new Hymns IV album.
(Group website)
You can listen to a preview of these tracks on the group's website. Our pre-release copy has them in a different order. We are more pleased with the new track order.

The vocals on this seven-track album are effortless and seem to defy gravity.Piano and guitar provide all the percussive quality that is necessary for any of these hymns. 

Only one, "Amazing Grace," appears in the aforementioned LSB. The cello in that hymn's treatment was greeted with joy by these ears, which were also surprised by the addition of new text and music that added, rather than detracted from the Newton text and NEW BRITAIN tune. Of the other texts/tunes, I was most familiar with "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Honestly, I prefer this new tune and addictive arrangement to the original.

God bless the continued songmaking of Page CXVI. We can't wait to hear Hymns V!


Todd Hoover shared his new album and supporting documentation via Dropbox. We thank him for his generosity and creativity and encourage others to submit albums for review in a similar way if they cannot afford to send a CD and sheet music via snailmail.
 

The Whole Spirit: Redemption Songs by Todd Hoover






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A nine-movement indie/choral/folk liturgy of confession, renewal, and dedication, "The Whole Spirit: Redemption Songs" was written, arranged, and (with a little help from friends) performed by Phoenix, Ariz.-based singer/songwriter and soon-to-be Fuller Theological Seminary alumni Todd Hoover.


A biography and explanation of this album is available for your reading pleasure at toddhoovermusic.blogspot.com.
(Artist's Bandcamp website)
I think I understand what the composer and artist was trying to do. In many ways, he succeeded in achieving those self-set goals. Unfortunately, I wrestled with his project, wondering what to make of it.

I listened to it the first time on the road to Montana. I had read his bio and the lyrics, sheet music, and his blog explanation already, but due to my driving, I couldn't follow along with the recording using those external resources while in the car. I had to listen again.

This time, I noted that the music sounded like on the recording how the composer intended it to (with the exceptions of some pitch issues and some instruments being sometimes out-of-tune with one another). I was surprised how similar it sounded to some of the Jesus People music of the 70's.

Next, I had to re-evaluate the text. I hate to say it, but they are weak in explicit Christology. Implied references to Jesus Christ are all over. Christians will "get it" in context. The word "Jesus" shows up twice. I must commend the author of the texts for making them religion-specific. These songs could not be mistaken for the vague "Jesus or my boy/girlfriend" CCM songs of the 80's, 90's, and today. One can hear questions like those from a psalmist. He gives voice to repentance.

I also have the impression that this artist is still growing. I remember the temptation of the new preacher to preach on everything all at once. There is a little of that here, The Whole Spirit. Had I the opportunity to advise him on naming the album, I would have asked him to consider the subtitle, Sanctification Songs, since the subject matter specifics seem to be more in the realm of "life and work" rather than "faith and order." I do not say this to be demeaning, for Luther himself never claimed to master the six chief parts of the Lutheran catechism, yet these lyrics fit more with the Luther's meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed than with his meaning of the Second Article of the Creed.

The final track gave me insight into the author's personal confession of faith and faith formation. The prayer sounds more American Evangelical than Evangelical-Lutheran. The isorhythmic melody used to sing the Ken Doxology owes more to the musical influence of the ELCA (or ALC, LCA, AALC, NALC, LCMC, et al) sphere of influence than that of the more rhythmic version that is common in my LCMS.

I thank Mr. Hoover for the opportunity to sample his hard work. I would encourage him to learn all he can about his Lutheran musical tradition (historical, liturgical, hymnological) as possible for information, foundation, and inspiration. I urge him to keep composing and make the best of both constructive criticism and praise.


In closing, we quote from Andrew Greer on hymns:
I grew up in church. I can't recall many of the sermons my pastor preached, or the lessons my Sunday School teachers taught, but I do remember hymns. In fact, if it hadn't been for the impact of those indelible tunes, I may have never fallen in love with music, or been introduced to God.
We urge the continued singing of hymns and their traditional tunes. We also want to hear more retuned hymnody, especially from congregations and traditions where hymn singing fell away for a generation or more. 



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