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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who Has Been Good to You?!

We recently attended a concert of a local children's choir, Anima, formerly known as the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus. It is one of the more famous of such groups around the country, making its mark during its glory years under the directorship of Dr. Doreen Rao. Some of you may have run across music from Dr. Rao's choral series, much of which is quite good. The group continues now under the leadership of Emily Ellsworth.

This may seem off-topic for this blog, but one of the things we share in common is a love for our heritage and a desire to preserve our culture and teach children well. This is primarily, of course, about the heritage we receive as Christians, and so I don't want to confuse the Two Kingdoms here. But as we are "in the world" even as we are not "of it", I think most of you also seek to be preservers of what is good in our national culture as well. Especially where it intersects with our church culture.

One of those selections is the "Johnny Appleseed Grace". I learned it at Camp Lone Star when I was in 8th grade, when I first started going to church. Lutherans love to sing it. We have slightly different versions of the tune in different parts of the country! Most of us refer to it by it's first line, as if it is a hymn: "Oh, the Lord's been good to me." It is one of my younger son's favorite mealtime graces.

Guess what? The Anima chorus sang an arrangement of this Americana standard as their closing number. But they changed the words to "The earth's been good to me." And made the audience sing that line every time. I guess such was to be expected from a group whose 'holiday concert' was themed "Voices from the Earth". Still, if you feel you have to sing something to appease the pagan kids' parents because the choir sang a couple of Christmas carols, why don't you write your own words instead of torquing with someone else's?

This is more than just abusing the lyrics. (What's next: a Gaia version of "Silent Night"?!) It is also about a community arts organization that is supposed to be nurturing cultural literacy - the reason public school allow Chrsitian choral repertoire in the curriculum - changing the core meaning of Johnny Appleseed's famous ode promotes cultural IL-literacy. It reminds me of the politically correct re-imagining of history.

Christians today are like frogs in a big kettle. Every day the world around us becomes more evil. Perversion 'mainstreamed' into our military. "Faith-based" advertisements banned from the Ft. Worth transit system. Shiny new abortuaries built 'proudly' in the middle of our communities.

This Christmas, I long even more for our Lord's return. Yea, I will merrily sing and play as we celeberate the birth of our King, and rejoice in the salvation He came to bring. But we live in a night that is getting deeper and darker every year. "E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come."


Stan Slonkosky said...

I'm surprised that you would say that Lutherans like to sing a song written by a Swedenborgian missionary.

I have only heard it sung one time and that was by a member of an ELCA church. His wife was (maybe still is) on the board of the PLTS in Berkeley (possibly the most liberal seminary in the ELCA) and so I chalked it up to the usual ELCA inclusiveness.

Mev Post said...

I can remember singing the "Johnny Appleseed Grace" on many occasions during my childhood at my Lutheran School. My children sing it at their Lutheran school as well. . . the same school/church where Phillip is our Cantor. We often sing it at the dinner table.

I have a child who sings with Anima and I was concerned about the change from Lord to earth. My daughter voiced her concerns as well since the chorus was already singing several Christian songs.

Interestingly enough, the score states on the first page that the singers may choose to say Lord instead of earth. (The song is an arrangement by Nick Page)

My daughter and I spoke in great detail about how we know that it is our Lord who has been good to us. . .that God created this earth. We also talk about our responsibility to care for God's earth. Unfortunately, she is going to face these secular issues all of the time and it is my hope that the fact that we are bringing her up in the faith, she will be able to discern these things as she grows in a world filled with people who don't know Jesus.

I agree with Phillip's assessment of this attempt to please potential non-believers and fit in with a 'Christmas' theme. I felt somewhat uneasy listening to the song surrounded by Lutheran churchworkers whom I admire and am so happy to have as teachers for my children. . .and with whom I agree. One of the churchworkers being my own mother.

I'm not sure what my point is here, only that you have put into words what I felt when I first heard the song.

Phillip said...

Hey, Shelly!

Wow, I'm so honored that you read my little article and posted on Liturgy Soluuuuuutions. Thanks!

I'm sure you know that I TOTALLY understand the situation Haley was in and was totally confident that you & Doug had already "handled it" with Haley. That's why didn't think to bring it up with you. I just saw this as something of interest to my readers.

What I DIDN'T know was that Nick Page had the original "Lord" in the score. Cheryl thought that perhaps Ellsworth just liked the music of an arrangement that had de-Lorded the prayer. But my hunch was correct: the decision was the director's. (I supposed we can slap Page for having that option in there - but it may have been a publisher's decision so as to increase market share.)

Anyway, thanks for piping up and sharing how you too, sang the "Johnny Appleseed" grace. The Lutheran schoolteachers in the audience can also vouch for its popularity amongst Lutherans, as they have encountered it in Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, and California - along with our Illinois and Texas examples.

I think Lutherans enjoy this because we love singing about how God has been good to us. Sure, our chief praise is in the Divine Service as we sing about the ultimate good gift to us: Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sings. But we also thank God the Father for all the temporal blessings we enjoy each and every day. As we say in the catechism, "He richly and daily provides me all that I need to support this body and life."

Thanks be to God! :)

Phillip said...

p.s. Stan, I have no agenda to promote the song, just reporting on how widespread it seems to be amongst LCMS Lutherans. But evidently you had not run into it much before.

I wonder if this has to do with LCMS youth worker culture or with regional popularity?

Of course, I think Shelly would agree that we don't sing the whole thing, just the first part. This concert was the first time I heard the whole hymn being sung.

One other interesting thing I've noticed: the melody sung in Illinois LCMS day schools is different from what I learned in youth group at Camp Lone Star in Texas. And the Nick Page version was different still. I wonder how many variations are out there to this melody?!

Mev Post said...

Earth is in the score, but in the director's instructions/advice it states that they may substitute earth with Lord. These instructions at least acknowledge that the original version is Christian. But, you are right, the director opted to go with earth.

Where else would I go to read about church music. You may get a lot more traffic now that you're on facebook.

Happy New Year!