Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After Three Years - What Do You Think?

Many of us have now been working with Lutheran Service Book (LSB) for a full three years. So there has now been some chatter on the net about the liturgies and how they are wearing. From the moderate sampling of opinion I've read and heard, it seems that initial excitement about the Service of Prayer and Preaching has waned, with many folks returning to Vespers for mid-week catechetical services (the service seems to be working better for school chapel services). On the other hand, many congregations that only used one setting of the Divine Service from a previous hymnal are now reporting that their folks are using two, three, or all five settings in LSB. Indeed, one comment consistently heard is a desire for a "sixth setting". So, Liturgy Solutions will soon be providing one option for those who would like another setting.

But what about the hymnody? With so much of the successful hymnody from Hymnal Supplement 98 (HS98) included in LSB, there were fewer genuinely hymns that were genuinely "new" to the LCMS provided in this book. Though certainly congregations that had been exclusively using The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) have many new songs to sing, congregations that used Lutheran Worship (LW) or that were "LW/HS98" did not get the usual full plate of fresh hymnody one expects in a generational hymnal. To be sure, the need to bring "LW" and "TLH" congregations back together under one hymnal necessitated this, but it did make LSB less exciting for many churches.

Nonetheless, there are a good number of entirely new hymns added to the LCMS hymn corpus with LSB. While we are still a couple of years away from knowing what the real "hits" will be - such as "Thy Strong Word" and "Lift High the Cross" and "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth" proved to be for LW - I think we are at a point now where we can begin to evaluate what hymns are working for us, and what hymns haven't proven to be as useful as we initially thought.

We look forward to your thoughts. For now, let me be brave and get the ball rolling:

A Hymn that Is Proving to Be As Good As First Thought - LSB #941, "We Praise You and Acknowledge You" was a hymn I knew the people would love and Pastor Stephen Starke is to be commended for this excellent paraphrase of the Te Deum. I continue to get requests for it! The tune for this hymn, THAXTED, is from Gustav Holst's "The Planets". So while it is a new hymn-tune for the LCMS, it is not necessarily unfamiliar. So let me add a follow-up in this category, this one with an old text but a brand new tune: LSB #874, "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright". My Liturgy Solutions partner Stephen Johnson has given the Church a real gift with this new vestment for this morning hymn of St. Ambrose. I also highly commend an evening hymn, "Lord, Support Us All Day Long", LSB #884. We sing this hymn, based upon the concluding collects of Compline, at Doxology retreats and it has worked well in all sorts of different settings using a variety of instruments. A great hymn to add to the prayers for any evening worship service.

A Hymn that Hasn't Met Expectations - OK, I know I'm sticking my neck out here, so let me just say up front that I acknowledge quite freely that what doesn't work as well in one congregation may be a great fit for another situation. That said, I must confess some objective disappointment in LSB #654, "Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure". I really loved that hymn when I first played it, and it was one of the first LSB songs I introduced to my congregation. I thought it would really provide a boost to a summer stewardship campaign built around the theme "Till the Soil". The campaign proved successful - but the people never really took ownership of the hymn. Lots of folks remember - and speak approvingly of - the hymn I chose for a subsequent campaign, LSB #782, "Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings". But this one just didn't go over. I'll use it again, but I doubt it will become the "hit" that I thought it would be.

A Hymn that Worked Surprisingly Well - We actually sang LSB #669, "Come, We that Love the Lord" last week. I noticed that hymn in there when the hymnal came out, but must confess I really didn't know what that old Lowry song was doing in a Lutheran hymnal. But the readings last week (3-year) made it an obvious pick. So I went for it! And I even surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this hymn. Would I want a steady diet of this musical style? No. But just as it's OK for us to break out the percussion for "Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia" or get meditative with a little Taizé music as the appointed Word suggests, so I think there is room for some old-fashioned Americana. One of my sopranos may have thought it was a little too much on the "Chitty-chitty Bang-bang" side of things, but the people really bought into once they realized we were serious. And with the texts from Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 this past Sunday, I can't imagine more appropriate words for us to sing for an Entrance Hymn. Yes, I'll be bringing this one out again in three years - and a couple of times before then. ;)

A Hymn We Haven't Sung Yet, But Will - I really like LSB #339, "Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors". It is not the most intuitive of melodies, so I've held off on using it - especially since the congregation I serve has so many Advent favorites. But this is the year we're going to do it. I'm confident it will be a "hit". Friends who have introduced it to their congregations give it a confident endorsement. Let's hope I'm not wrong about this one!


Gregory Michel said...

"Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors" (LSB 339) was the first new hymn we learned when my congregation purchased LSB in time for Advent 2006. It has become a "staple" for us in the Advent season.

I heartily agree with Phil's assessment of "We Praise You and Acknowledge You" (LSB 941). On average we have used it for the Te Deum about 1/3 of the time that we do Matins (another 1/3 of the time we use "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name"-LSB 940 and the other 1/3 of the time we sing the "original" setting on LSB 223 ff.).

A hymn that has surpassed expectations for us is "The Gifts Christ Freely Gives" (LSB 602). We learned the melody rather quickly, and I have used the text of the hymn repeatedly in both youth and adult catechesis.

Also in the Baptismal Life section, "O Gracious Lord, with Love Draw Near" (LSB 599) has been sung on Confirmation Sunday each year that we've had LSB. My congregation loves the richly-worded prayer of this hymn as well as the beautiful melody which fits the text well.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Love 941.

I've sung "Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure" a couple of times. It's really easy to sing it in kind of a lounge style if one isn't careful.

Maybe I don't have the musical vocabulary to deal with this, so bear with me. There's something funky that goes on with the mechanics of breathing when the congregation is out of breath after "treasure", then they have to breathe in, then they have to pick up the two ascending sixteenth and eight notes in the next phrase. The congregation comes in late quite often, and the two sixteenth notes can get skipped pretty easily.

The lyrics have a lot of metaphor and analogy. Maybe I'm just an impatient guy, but it takes a while to get a thought out of the door. Examples:

"Like yeast, they affect the whole measure of flour, enabling your Kingdom to grow."

A funny lyric since we're accustomed to yeast being a bad thing.

"That, never allured by the world, I inherit your kingdom of glory and light."

When you break that line where it feels like it should be broken, it sounds like "I inherit" modifies world, rather than it being the subject and verb of the second phrase.

Am I making any sense?

Thanks for this discussion.

Stephen R. Johnson said...

There's so much I could say here. First off, LSB 339 is a melody for which I have a lot of affection. You see, it was composed by my music director at the Baptist church I attended during my college days in Manhattan, long before I became a Lutheran. The composer, Paul Liljestrand is just an extraordinary musician. I can't even begin to describe his work here. We sung it to a missions text every year for the church's missions conference. I was thrilled that Pr. Starke found it and paired it with his wonderful text.

"Your Kingdom, O God, is My Glorious Treasure" was a hymn that I set and submitted to the LSB hymnal committee. They wanted to use it initially, but I think I shot myself in the foot because I had some misgivings about letting it go forward. Call it theological concerns or just unnecessary second thoughts, but that is what appears to have happened. At the end of the day, I agreed to going forward, but I think they opted out before I gave the go ahead. I looked for it in my computer, but oddly, it seems to have disappeared. I have a hard copy that I can transcribe into the computer if there are those who are interested in seeing my setting of this hymn.

I concur with Phil's assessments of the hymns he has mentioned here, and certainly appreciate his kind words about my setting of "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright." I will add that "Entrust Your Days and Burdens" has seemingly gotten some attention around the church-- something I did not necessarily expect, but for which I am thankful.

And let's not forget that Phil himself has composed a wonderful hymn,"If Christ Had Not Been Raised from Death" (LSB 486) as well as some really fine canticles, including the OT canticle in the Service of Prayer and Preaching. Our church is using that service on Wed. evenings before Confirmation classes. I really hope that catches on. It is time well spent to learn that service.

Phillip said...

Yes, I'm really looking forward to singing LSB #339 this Advent - and Gregory and Stephen have now affirmed that it should be a good choice. I had forgetten, Stephen, that you knew and had worked with the tune's composer. And who would have thought that such a sturdy tune had Baptist roots?

Dan, regarding the tune for "Your Kingdom, O God", I agree that it is challenging - despite its folk character. You nailed the issue: the breath before the two sixteenth notes. The key is to find the right tempo. Usually 6/8 in hymnody is felt in two, and while this tune is not an exception to that, it is such a slow two that people can easily take it too quickly. The solution to this challenge is to be sure to audiate the sub-beat: "1 2&3& 4 5&6&". This keeps the pulse moving while mitigating against rushing.

The slower tempo also gives the assembly more time to digest the rich poetry of the hymn.

Dan - good point about the phrasing on "but, never allured by the world, I inherit Your kingdom of glory and light". It is a weakness in the poetry that is hard for the tune to fix. Stephen, does your tune encourage a better place to breathe on that line?

Stephen R. Johnson said...

RE: "The Kingdom Of God" hymn:

The comment about the phrase, "That never allured by the world I inherit, Your kingdom of glory and light," is one of those things that occur often in hymnody. The music may not reflect the phrasing of one stanza as well as it does other stanzas. This is something I had to contend with in "Entrust Your Days and Burdens." The musical phrasing works better with some stanzas than others. It can be readily seen in "Our Paschal Lamb That Sets Us Free" as well. This is not always the fault of the composer, but often the poet is inconsistent in their grammar and syntax as well, making the composer's job more challenging. One composes a melodic line that works well with the text, but not necessarily equally well with all stanzas. My view is not to over think it. People do have some sensibilities about this and punctuation is there to assist. If one thinks the musical phrasing to be imperfect, it may also be their own personal read but not necessarily that of others in the congregation. Many may not have any confusion about such things.

I am not sure that my setting will be more satisfactory in this regard or not. In some ways it will depend on the perception of the individual singer.

It is always good to examine the way the melodic line works with ALL the stanzas of the hymn, rather than extract just one. One always needs to remember that the music, where it assists in illuminating the text and poetry of hymns, it is not the end all, be all to understanding these rich texts. Meditation, memorization, and catechesis play a primary role.

The music is the preeminent that we learn and remember texts. It helps us retain them in our memories. Excellence in musicianship is always a noble goal, but perfection in the musical art is simply not attainable.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Thank you, guys.

It really is a strange trick of our language regarding "the world, I inherit" that "the world I inherit" is a phrase that is grammatically correct, where something that wasn't grammatically correct would cause the reader to look to the next line so that it would make sense on a grammatical level.

This has been a fun discussion; keep these coming!

Stephen R. Johnson said...

After my last post, I did go back to LSB 473 and look at the text for "Our Paschal Lamb." You will notice that the first stanza is somewhat problematic in that the music does not reflect the grammar (syntax) of the text. I am speaking particularly of the phrase "O keep." It just does not fit. BUT, the other two stanzas work very well with the tune.

Is there any way that the composer could have written the music where each musical phrase would make perfect sense with the text? I do not think so. This is because the poetry does not allow for it. The syntax or sentence structure of the first stanza is different than the subsequent two stanzas. So the music works very well with stanzas 2 and 3, but not as well with stanza 1. But that is not the musician's fault, rather the poet's.

At the end of the day, the music does not tell us what the text means, but rather, it helps us remember the text. We are brought more deeply into its meaning through singing it, meditating on it, and being catechized as to its meaning. Perfection in the musical art is simply unattainable.

I am a big proponent of music as catechesis. But music does not define the meanings of texts, it rather reflects their meanings (particularly their spirit and mood) and help us to remember them.
We must often dig deeper to discover their most profound meaning.

Phillip said...

Hey, since the "problem" with "Our Paschal Lamb" is in stanza 1 - on the very first phrase, no less! - let me suggest that the dangling "Oh, keep" is INTENTIONAL? Both on the part of the poet and as amplified by the musician?

I've never asked Wally (Pelz, the tune writer) this - but maybe I should. I think I get it: "keep" dangles at the end of the first line to "text-paint" the idea of "keeping" or "holding on". In other words, the phrase doesn't really end, it keeps going....

Stephen R. Johnson said...


You very well might be right about that first phrase being intentional in "Our Paschal Lamb." I am not entirely sure how convincing it is, but that becomes a matter of opinion, then. Some will find that a convincing approach, some may not. That's bound to be the case with music not being an exact science.

But that is essentially my point. The grammatical and structural differences between stanzas of a hymn, be they intentional or not, are what makes the art of composing for them enjoyable, interesting and challenging all at the same time. At the end of the day, the congregation has more to rely upon than just whether the music is a perfect mirror image, or enhancement of the text. They can interpret texts, ascertain their meanings, and even deepen their understanding without the aid of music. I contend that the primary function of the music is to help people retain texts in their memory so that they may learn from them over time. In composing a setting, I try to use the music as an enhancement of he text, reflecting its spirit and message all the while making it an accessible melody, easily sung by an inexperienced singer.

At the end of the day, regardless of how I personally feel about the craftsmanship in "Our Paschal Lamb," it is a lovely hymn with a great text, whose meaning will not be lost on the congregation because of the perhaps intentional inconsistency in the sentence structure between the stanzas. So, even though I have completely over thought this whole thing, my advice to pastors when assessing hymn settings remains not to over think it.

Phillip Magness said...

LOL - who would have thought our discussion of "new LSB" hymns and tunes would spend so much time on "Our Pascal Lamb" (from HS98)?!

I don't think we're over-thinking a bit, though, and am hoping we'll get some more thoughts on this and other tunes and texts. Meanwhile, let me add one more observation about REGION THREE (the tune for "Our Paschal Lamb"): the final line pretty much quotes the opening to La Marseillaise (the French National Anthem). Every time I introduce the tune, I and several friends cannot help but think: "Allons, enfants, a la patrie!" ;)

One more thought for now: since the texts are what hymns are all about, I should have included another category: "Best Hymns Sung to Familiar Tunes". Maybe that will be our next post...

T. said...

We have enjoyed "We Praise You and Acknowledge You," LSB 941. However, I have noticed that it contains the words: "by Your resurrection You won for us reprieve". Having some lapsed Catholics in the congregation, I wonder if reprieve is a sufficient word. Christ has indeed won more than something temporary for us. I was hoping to write Starke and ask permission to sing "by Your resurrection You won more than reprieve; You opened heaven's kingdom for all who would believe." Otherwise, we love the hymn.---RevDAS

Phillip said...

I think "reprieve" is totally sufficeint, given the context. Indeed, in terms of lapsed Catholics, it is an improvement on the actual Te Deum, which doesn't say anything about imputed righteousness.

Could we have a more precise theological formulation? Sure. But none is needed: "reprieve" is the langauge of the courtroom and so takes us into the world of forensic justification. Very Lutheran.

Sure, in many cases "reprieve" in the temporal sense can be temporary, but not always. We say "remission" of sins in the Nicene Creed even though many today associate remission with cancer - and the idea that it may come back.

But of course we don't understand "remission" that way in the context of the Creed. Similarly, I think we should let the hymn interpret the hymn and not look at "repreive" in isolation but rather as part of the whole hymn.

T. said...

Yes, 941 does mention "rescue" and "redeemed". The english words in the Te Deum: "delivered, overcome, opened, redeemed, make"...those are wonderful though, as well --clearly decisive, powerful action by Christ.

I would say "to remit" is stronger than "to reprieve." According to the dictionary, "remit" can be to lay aside, desist, release, cancel, abate--very strong ideas. All the definitions for "reprieve" include a temporary element: a delay, a suspension, etc. This is what may be troubling. I am surprised at the word choice which might have been influenced by the pull of a rhyme.

Perhaps "reprieve" can best be taken in the "now-but-not-yet" nature of living as one redeemed, yet on earth.


Phillip said...

Thanks, Pastor.

Yes, "remit" is stronger than "reprieve". And clearly the pull of the rhyme had influence.

When reviewing the Te Deum in my head, I missed "redeemed" as I was focused on the "B" part (the little 'amanesis', if you will). But then, as you point out, "redeemed" is in both texts.

This actually brings another thought to mind: we really want to sing paraphraes when they are in the Lutheran tradition of "scripture + doctrine" more than in the Reformed tradition of "scripture to fit our tunes". Now, I'm not opposed to singing the straight paraphrase from time-to-time, but it is a far better regular practice to sing the actual texts of the liturgy as the 'norm'. This is why we have liturgical music, not just hymns. Indeed, I think the Canticles are the "spiritual songs". "Spiritual" means "of the Spirit"; what other than the Canticles do we have that can truly be called "Spiritual songs"?

Of course, in the case of the Te Deum, we have a Creedal hymn, not a song from Scripture, so the more frequent use of a paraphrase here does not bother me as much. Still, as much as I like Starke's hymn, I think it should not be the norm for the Lutheran parish, but rather the festive exception.

IggyAntiochus said...

...As Good As First Thought: LSB 411, "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light." There are some in my congregation that would see it and say, "Two pages?" They like this one, too.

...Hasn't Met Expectations: I was hoping the tune "Fortunatus New" would catch on in my congregation with the new text, "Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken." While this tune may be pretty standard in most congregations, it has been a stumbling block to mine.

...Works Surprisingly Well:
Two settings of the Nunc Dimittis, one from DS4 (page 211) and the other from Hymn 937, "Lord Bid Your Servant Go in Peace." This is a congregation that only knew "Thank the Lord," so it is nice to have some other options.

BTW, I like LSB 669, "Come, We that Love the Lord" because it is fun to play on the organ! I serve an urban congregation, and many of them knew this one ahead of LSB.

...Haven't Sung Yet, but Will: My congregation does not warm up easily to Gregorian-style chant. My long-term goal is to learn 957, "Our Father Who Art In Heaven." It is not new to LSB, but it is no longer tucked away in the Litany, so it is easier to access. I am working on selling it to the choir first, of course!

As an aside, can anyone give feedback on LSB 958, "Our Father...II"? I haven't had time to look into that one, yet.

Phillip said...

Hi Iggy,

I haven't really looed at the second setting of the Our Father either, though our day school kids may learn it in Spanish as we do have a Spnaish language program now at Bethany.

I do encourage you to go ahead with 957, though. It is very easy to sing, and the congregation will take to it well if given the chance. Just proceed slowly as you are doing, starting with the choir. We sing it a cappella after the Kyrie at Matins and Vespers, instead of speaking it. This flows nicely into the chanted Salutaion before the collect of the day. I think it works much better than the pattern of sung Kyrie-spoken Our Father-sung Salutation-spoken collect.

Because the hymnal has this spoken, we do print this part of the service out just to keep worshippers from having their prayers interrupted by lots of page flipping.

For your first few usages, I'd suggest having the choir sing it as part of a special liturgy, such as on Maundy Thursday or Ash Wednesday. Do it that way a few times. Then later you might have the choir chant the Lord's Prayer petitions with the congregation joining in on the conclusion. After a couple of years of this, done several times a year on various occasions, the assembly would be ready to chant the whole thing - perhaps during the Lenten season so that they can have several weeks' in a row doing this for weekday Matins and/or Vespers before launching into this setting on a Sunday AM.

Unknown said...

Here's a brief run-down on 958 Our Father-II (it was one of my essagy assignments): It was written by Roman Catholic church musician Carlos Rosas as part of a mariachi mass setting he did in the 1970's. Daniel Zager had experience with the setting since he played it regularly for a congregation with a Spanish-language service and translated it for LSB.

Like everyone else, our congregation also loves 941. There is liturgical precedent for using a Te Deum as the closing hymn during festival seasons of the Church Year and so we often end with 941 if we don't use the Anglican Te Deum (p. 223).

Our congregation also enjoys 339. We used it first within the Children's Advent Service several years ago and after the service the congregation was asking when they would get to sing it.

564 Christ Sits At God's Right Hand has been one of the biggest successes for our congregation. They always enjoyed the tune Yigdal, but we didn't use it all that often. Now, paired with this incredibly strong text we use it quite often. In fact, we use it as HOD on Exaudi Sunday.

Entrust Your Days is now a favorite here, as well. Thank you, Stephen, for that lovely tune that has imprinted Gerhardt's text onto the hearts of our people.

What did I think was a mistake which actually works fine? The hymns with melody-line only. I was very upset by these at first, but in practice they are a huge success. The 'long, hard' hymns appear undaunting with a single line of music and filling less than a page. I am happy to admit I was wrong! :-)

What hasn't worked so well? As far as hymnody goes I would say that the Mendelssohn Grant Peace 777 falls there for us. Our congregation loves to sing in parts and unaccompanied so I thought this was a sure-fire winner, but it hasn't played out that way. I am sure the fault lies in my delivery or teaching. We've given it quite a break now, so maybe I will attempt to try it again with a different approach.

My liturgical opinion about what doesn't work so well is my own, and probably not the congregation's. I don't think the Evening Prayer Litany is a success. I realize it was around before LSB, but despite it's use for years and years it is almost never done without some amount of awkwardness. I think the major obstacles in this setting are people singing it too fast, the Alleluia/Thanks be to God option, and the decision to overlap or not on the responses that don't start with 'Lord'. I have very rarely heard the litany sung at our parish, or any other location without some audible discomfort or insecurity.

IggyAntiochus said...

Phil, thanks for the tips for introducing 957. As usual, I need to pull back and find a more gradual pace, just when I thought I had pulled back already!

Phillip said...

Thanks, Christina, for your report! BTW, Reading your observation on "Christ Sits at God's Right Hand" makes me realize that it's time for my post:


I'll give it a better title, though!

p.s. FWIW, The Litany at EP works very well in Illinois. At least from what I've observed in various parishes. I agree, though, that the Mendelssohn Da Pacem isn't the "sure-fire hit" with the congregation that we hoped. After a luke-warmly received attempt to teach it a couple of years ago, I now have it reserved as a choral collect for Matins or Vespers when topically appropriate.

Gregory Michel said...

FWIW... I concur with Phil on the Litany in Evening Prayer. It has worked well also on the west side of Illinois. However, the success came in time. Yes, we stumbled a few times at first with the "Alleluia/Thanks be to God" line. We print out the service, and I insert a "flag" at that point in the Litany. We also use "Grant Peace" (LSB 777) as a choral collect when appropriate.