Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sing Em All, Boys!

George Weigel had some advice about hymns used in the Mass.  What he wrote for Roman Catholic ears is food for Lutheran ones, as well.

Music Directors and Pastors: As a general rule, sing all the verses of a processional or recessional hymn. Good hymns have a textual integrity that is lost when we sing hymn-excerpts rather than hymns. It doesn’t take that much more time to sing all six verses of “For All the Saints” or all four verses of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”; cutting such great texts by two-thirds or one-half inevitably sends the signal that music in the liturgy is filler—and
there is no room for filler in the sacred liturgy. [emphasis mine]

On New Year's Day, not exactly the highest attended Sunday of the year (at least I hope not), we sang all stanzas of "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" during the distribution.  Well, let me rephrase that.  The distribution was completed by stanza 5 or 6 at each service but we kept on.  We had a cantor give the folks a break by singing stanzas 5 and 11 but we sang them all.  People used to say something to me about singing all the stanzas but hardly anyone does anymore -- because they know how ever many stanzas that hymn has, that is how many we will sing.  Period.

So, if you won't listen to a nobody like me, listen to George Weigel -- acclaimed columnist, well published author, and esteemed commentator on things religious and cultural.  Sing em all, boys.  Sing em all!!


Tapani Simojoki said...

I have no sympathy with the "too many verses" crowd. It's not that hard. People will sing/chant/shout themselves hoarse quite merrily for the duration of a whole game of football (I mean the variety that has a ball and involves the use of feet—I'm sure there are American cultural equivalents!) or any number of other entertainments. So what's so hard about singing a hymn that lasts - gasp! - all of 7 minutes.

I grew up in an Orthodox Pietist Lutheran environment that has for centuries considered hymnody a central element of corporate and private devotion. Some hymns have 40 verses (and not necessarily short verses), and most of them take closer to 10 minutes to sing. Because there's so much to say. If you are singing about the name of Jesus, four 4 or 6 line verses only scratches the surface. So we need fourteen. Etc.

But I grew up with it, so I'm used to it. Which is precisely the point. I suspect that the good folks at Grace Lutheran, Clarksville, now notice when they visit another church where they do chop hymns up. Because they have grown accustomed to another way.

Anonymous said...

What's the reason for cutting stanzas - time savings? Thanks for this post. Baseball games are 9 innings, not 5 or 6. Thanks for the post and keep singing them all. It's worth the time.

Mark said...

I agree. Sing all the verses.

However, Weigel makes a claim that cannot serve as the reason to do so. He says, "Good hymns have a textual integrity that is lost when we sing hymn-excerpts rather than hymns."

Of course some hymns do. Many, as we have them, don't.

Take, for example, the six verses of "Lift High the Cross" in LSB. Just by nature of the editorial process, that hymn in LSB is a "hymn excerpt." The original text is fourteen verses long. We're not even singing half of what was written.

Weigel cites the need to sing all four verses of "Crown Him with Many Crowns." But my question is "Which four?" Or is it five as in LSB?

Actually "Crown Him" has nine verses, a combination of original verses written by Matthew Bridges and later ones written by Godfrey Thring. What's in LSB (and most hymnals) is a mash-up of original and later verses. So much for Weigel's "textual integrity."

We always sing all the verses in my congregation. But the "textual integrity" argument is thin ice since any number of hymns are already missing verses. We just don't notice that on the pages of our hymnals.

Here's "Lift High the Cross"

And "Crown Him with Many Crowns"

Chris said...

From a different tradition's viewpoint, I really hate skipping verses of the Ainoi (Praises) which conclude Orthros prior to the chanting of the Great Doxology before Liturgy begins. We chanters have to do this because otherwise the service goes too long and people complain that Liturgy didn't begin right at 10:00. Skipping verses of the Ainoi which, for most Sundays, unless a particular feast or Saint is commemorated, are dedicated to the Crucifixion and Resurrection cannot be chanted piecemeal. They all form a sequence to go together. So, I understand where you're coming from. If some people want not to sing all the verses, there are shorter hymns to accommodate them.

Terry Maher said...

Whatever happened to part singing? Judas H, everyone takes the soprano line any more. Now we sing like a bunch of damn Catholics, melody only, a few verses only.

Pastor Peters said...

As far as the number of stanzas, I am thinking that we sing what is in the book (though I am not adverse to adding back in some of those edited out of the book). As far as part singing goes, you get nothing less than an "Amen" from me. Evening Prayer with "Abide with Me" and at least a couple of stanzas in parts brings me to tears.