Lauda anima: praise, my soul!

Seemingly since the beginning of time, there have been rules about what is and is not appropriate for music in God’s house (or even if music is appropriate at all.) Over the years, the progression and development of church music has invariably been in response to those guidelines, either in compliance with or in rebellion from.

Over the years, these rules have addressed texts, language (and translations), melody, instrumentation, singers… and get endlessly more complicated when church politics and personal relationships are added into the mix. There are as many different ways to worship God as there are people on earth, but there have always been people who believe that how they encounter God is the only way to encounter God, or the only correct way, and that the church’s worship should reflect those opinions.

Out of such a situation comes LAUDA ANIMA, “one of the finest [hymn]tunes that arose out of the Victorian era,” along with the text for which it was originally written, “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven.”

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God’s gonna trouble the water.

Our Wednesday Chancel Bells are playing in worship this Sunday, a fun and challenging version of “Wade in the Water” arranged by Benjamin Tucker.

Recently, I did some research into the background of the song (which, by the way, can be found in The Faith We Sing at #2107) and it’s very cool.

Wade in the water, wade in the water, children;
wade in the water, God’s a-gonna trouble the water.

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I’ll never, no, never forsake.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Hands-down, one of my favorites right here. Yes, I know I say that about every hymn….

Hymnologists have not been able to identify the author of this hymn: it was first published in a 1787 hymnal in London by John Rippon, with the only identifier as “K”. In subsequent editions, it was attributed to “Kn,” “Keen,” and “Kirkham.” Now, Rippon had a close friend named Robert Keen(e) who served as a song leader for him from 1776-1793, but other hymns ascribed to him were attributed “R. Keene,” and had this one been penned by him as well, one would think the attribution would have been similar.

Regardless of the authorship, we can be sure this hymn was written by a Christian who was very knowledgeable of the promises of God found in Scripture, who had most likely called upon those promises for strength in times of tribulation. And because the text of this hymn comes directly from scripture, we can find the same solace as we sing it over 200 years later.

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10,000 reasons for my heart to find.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning;
It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me:
Let me be singing when the evening comes

Matt Redman wrote 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) in 2011 with a Swedish friend of his, Jonas Myrin. We’ve talked before about hymns that are based closely on scripture; here we have a band-drive “contemporary” worship song that was inspired by and based on scripture. In Redman’s account:

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What joy shall fill my heart.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation,

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

The story behind the hymn How Great Thou Art is one that speaks directly to the heart of the optimist, the silver-lining, bright-side-of-life crowd. This hymn teaches us to recognize God’s beauty wherever we are, whatever may come– and that’s exactly what the author of the original text was doing when he wrote it.

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One Bread, One Body

Last Sunday was Communion Sunday for many United Methodists, and we sang one of my favorite hymns to come out of the 1970s: One Bread, One Body. What’s remarkable about this hymn is that it doesn’t sound all that dated to me. Sure, it definitely has a 1970s feel to it, but it’s not obnoxious and tacky like so many of its contemporaries are. I was thinking about why that could be– what is it about this hymn that’s given it staying power and relevance, compared to others from the 70s and 80s that usually cause uncontrollable eyerolling and cringing these days?

As I was looking into this hymn, I discovered that most of the text comes almost verbatim from scripture, which is really cool! And maybe that’s part of the explanation. See what I mean:

Here’s the refrain of the song:

 

One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

And here’s 1 Corinthians 10:16-17:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Here’s the first verse:

Gentile or Jew, servant or free,
woman or man, no more.

And Galatians 3:28:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The second verse:

Many the gifts, many the works,
one in the Lord of all.

And 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 (though there are several other passages that talk about spiritual gifts):

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.

The third verse is the outlier:

Grain for the fields, scattered and grown,
gathered to one, for all.

As best I can tell, it alludes to the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, but the imagery of faith and of God’s people being a grain to be gathered is a common one throughout scripture. Without talking to the author, and with no explanation that I’ve been able to track down, your guess as to which scripture he used is as good as mine. But it definitely fits with the other verses, because even if we can’t pinpoint an exact passage, it still clearly comes from scripture.

Scripture adaptation is a common hymn writing technique; in fact, I’ve written before about the different adaptations of the Psalms that were the songs of the church in the days before hymns. In some ways it’s easier: you don’t have to think up a text, you start with a one already and you work with it to fit it to music. But in other ways, starting with scripture can be harder. You might have to change a word to make something fit, but you don’t want to distort the meaning of the passage, or you might get everything to fit except one thing and have to start over.

But the biggest benefit of setting scripture to music is that scripture is timeless. It can speak to the church for generations to come. Hymns that are written about personal faith experiences can have the same kind of staying power, but it’s sometimes harder. For example, they may be more connected to a cultural perspective that speaks to the church of the day– such as many of the hymns written around WWII– but that the church future might have difficulty relating to. By contrast, One Bread, One Body still speaks to the church nearly 30 years later, because the text is still culturally relevant.

-kristen

We sing together.

The church is one of the only places in our culture today where people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities gather together for one hour on Sunday mornings and sing as a group. Throughout the rest of the week, we mostly listen to soloists singing songs that highlight their skill as individuals, whether it’s pop, country, rock, even contemporary Christian radio, or we watch soloists compete on shows like The Voice; even if we go out to listen to live music, it’s all lead-singer driven.

This increasing cultural focus on the solo singer, and the pursuit of flashy, individual talent and show-offy singing to the exclusion of all else (e.g. the national anthem at ball games), is tragic inasmuch as it marks the demise of group song. Singing with a group is one of the most profoundly unifying activities in which we can engage. Singing together unified and empowered the Civil Rights Movement of the last century. Singing carols brought together the two sides of the Western Front during the cease-fire on Christmas Day in 1914. And lifting our voices together in worship unites the church in the same way: it is an essential practice that strengthens the community of the church in a way nothing else can, which is why from its very beginning, the church has sung together.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26)

John Wesley, like the other hymnists of the Great Awakening, realized the power of a singing church; from the beginning, the people called Methodists were known as “a singing people.” In his 1761 hymnal Select Hymns, Wesley included “Directions for Singing” to encourage congregational song, and these can still be found in the front of our hymnal today.Read More »

Whatever I do, wherever I be…

You can find today’s hymn at #128 in our 1989 Methodist hymnal. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and it’s one of my personal favorites (I know, I know, I say that about all the hymns…)

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, he leadeth me,
by his own hand he leadeth me;
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.

Dr. Joseph H. Gilmore gave this account of the inspiration for his famous hymn:

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Silent Night- the backup plan.

Today I’d like to share one of my favorite hymn stories of all time: the origins of the beloved Christmas hymn, Silent Night. The existence of this hymn can be entirely credited to a broken organ in a church in the Austrian Alps. No organ– talk about a “silent night”!

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
’round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

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