Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hymnody Review: Retuned, Retained

 

Smith, Matthew. Watch the Rising Day. Audio mp3 album. www.matthewsmith.us (H)

Indelible Grace. The Hymn Sing: Live in Nashville.  Audio mp3 album. www.igracemusic.com (H)

Shaw, James. Quick and Easy Bible Studies on 600 + Hymns. St. Louis: Concordia, 2011. pdf and rtf computer files on CD-Rom. $149.99. http://www.cph.org/p-19304-quick-and-easy-bible-studies-on-600-hymns.aspx (LHP)

 
Hymns are making a resurgence in American Christianity. 

My best explanation of what is happening is that those of my generation and younger want song of substance when we sing of and to Christ. I suppose we of the Lutheran tradition have taken it for granted that we sing and pass on the songs, hymns, and spiritual songs of Christendom. Not every congregation or every Christian tradition have the same blessing.

Some congregations and Christian traditions abandoned old song and old forms of worship for the "latest and greatest" of a given time and place. You could say with a professor of mine, "Live by the sword, die by the sword." Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace are examples of those who are reviving hymns because they were not taught them as young children. 

Their rediscovery of some of the oldest and most "traditional" songs of their Christrian tradition is coupled with new melodies for older texts. I also pray and hope that traditional tunes and harmonies would not be totally lost.

Arrangements make use of more 5 and 2/9 chords rather than only straight Major or minor chords. 

Instrumentation is rather modern for my taste. Percussion often only homogenizes the songs.

I am impressed at the rich Gospel message and Christocentricity of these resurgent hymns.


"Matthew Smith is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who writes brand new music to centuries-old hymn texts. He finds beauty exploring the tension between joy and sorrow, between the Already and the Not Yet." (Artist's website) 

We at LHP QBR were contacted by Matthew. That is a great honor for us.

Smith begins with texts written by Charles Wesley, Bernard Barton, Frederick Whitfield, Johann Rist, Mary Bowly-Peters, Henry W. Baker, William, Cowper,  John Newton, Horatius Bonar, and others. 

Smith's update of the text may include the addition of a bridge and/or a chorus. His melodies are listenable, approachable, and singable. His vocal approach is very reverent. 

An album download also includes PDF chord charts of all 10 songs, plus 4 bonus charts.

Consider the album's contents:


1.



2.



3.



4.



5.



6.



7.



8.
04:28



9.
04:56



10.


 
This is the 10-song standard edition of WATCH THE RISING DAY. For the 14-song Deluxe Edition, please go to matthewsmith.bandcamp.com/album/watch-the-rising-day

released 17 August 2010 (Artist's website)

We'll be looking and listening for more by Matthew Smith.
 

Matthew Smith also included an album by Indelible Grace. According to their website,

Our hope is to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace. This site is designed to nurture this movement by offering resources and a place to interact with others about hymns and worship.

Indelible Grace is an outgrowth of Reformed University Fellowship. The Link above gives more about their history and how they have re-embraced hymns.

Their website allows visitors to download a large resource of hymns in pdf to try for yourself. 

"After fifteen years (and six CDs) of Indelible Grace Music, we had the honor of leading a "Hymn Sing" for a sold-out crowd on June 30, 2010 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We present you with this recorded snapshot of that night, capturing wonderful performances by the many Indelible Grace artists who were able to be there (as well as a few flubbed notes!). It has been such a joy to be a part of this growing movement of setting old hymn texts to new music. We hope this live album gives you a glimpse into a special night in the life of our community, and invites you to gaze upon Christ and Him crucified." (Group's website)


It's hard not to sing along with the Indelible Grace hymn sing. I knew only a few of the eighteen tracks before listening the first time.

The Hymn Sing: Live In Nashville 

Immediate download of 18-track album in your choice of MP3 320, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire.

1.



2.



3.



4.



5.



6.



7.



8.



9.



10.



11.



12.



13.



14.



15.



16.



17.



18.


A double-disc live album from the Indelible Grace Hymn Sing at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, June 30th, 2010.
released 29 November 2010 (Group's website)

 
 

My impression of the singers and instrumentalists is that they love and care about these texts for the sake of the truth they confess in Christ for the sake of those who would hear them and sing along. 
 
Listeners will hear about the history of the texts, tunes, authors and composers (2, 5, 8, 11, 16).  This is an important part of the process of recovering and reclaiming hymns.

Many traditional hymn melodies have no need of overwhelming or even subtle percussion because of their inherent pulse. This may be something for groups and artists to consider as they reclaim hymns texts and their historic tunes.
 
I ask Indelible Grace for the opportunity to review their previous albums under our continuing theme "Hymnody Resurgent."



Our final hymn resource for this review is an electronic resource from Concordia Publishing House.
 "Quick and Easy Bible Studies on 600+ Hymns provides a series of easy-to-use, one-page Bible studies on the Scripture references of each hymn in the Lutheran Service book. Each study page is divided into discussion, application, and summary sections. The CD-ROM includes teaching materials and offers student materials in two formats: PDF and RTF." (Publisher's website)

I must admit, reluctantly, some disappointment with this resource. I write as both a reviewer (who received a complimentary review copy) and as a purchaser (for our congregation to use for Bible Class on Sundays when I am away for vacation or Circuit Visitor duties).

These Bible Studies appear to be the work of one author or a small group of authors. They lack the theological, Biblical, and hymnological depth I was expecting from an announced and eagerly anticipated set of Bible Studies on the Hymns of the Day of Lutheran Service Book. I am convinced that this is not that resource, but another project. I do encourage CPH and the LCMS to do whatever is necessary to bring that former project to completion and to market. 

I understand that writing a group of 600 plus Bible Studies is an immense undertaking. Thus far, I have found nothing contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in them. I know they went through doctrinal review. That said, on a recent Sunday when I was away, three of these studies were necessary to fill our typical 45-60 minute Bible Study time on Sunday morning. 

There are some opportunities with this resource. They may be "quick and easy" enough to use for a very brief LWML meeting opening, as well as for use with youth groups, or grammar school children. Finally, CPH has an opportunity to offer an LSB Hymn of the Day Bible Study set at a discount to purchasers of this resource.

I probably would have personally been thrilled to have this resource as-is had I not known something better was in the works. I will continue to look for appropriate settings where Quick and Easy Bible Studies will be a blessing while waiting and praying for the appearance of the Hymn of the Day resource.


As hymns return to the voices of American Christians, I pray that those responsible for the resurgence of hymnody may expand their search to the rediscovery and singing of "spiritual songs," the songs of God the Holy Spirit, our Bible canticles.



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.