difficult Hymns

I believe that we have a treasure of good hymns in our CW hymnal. Yet, after some talk and some study, I can come up with some examples of difficult hymns that might possibly “turn people off” and make them want to use contemporary songs with contemporary language.

TUNES:
Actually, I think that many CCM songs are the more difficult to sing because of their syncopation, off beat accents, and 1/16th notes. Almost all of our hymns have good and interesting melodies. There may be an occasional difficult or boring tune.
SOLUTION: If someone doesn’t like the hymn tune, they could check the meter of the hymn and look up that meter in the “metrical index of tunes” toward the end of the hymnal and find an alternate tune. Also, Indelible Grace website (igracemusic.com) tries to put new tunes to old hymns and could be a useful resource.

Difficult STYLE:
I think that the classical vertical hymn style, which changes chords every note, can seem choppy and stodgy and boring and could “turn people off.” I don’t know of any other music that people listen to that uses that style and it may seem foreign to some people.
SOLUTION: Lutheran Service Book: guitar edition (LCMS hymnal) or hymncharts.com would bring a more contemporary and horizontal sound to the hymns.

Difficult TEXT:
I think that many of our hymn texts use an inverted or mixed up word order that is difficult to understand and could “turn people off”. I don’t know anyone that writes or talks like that and it may seem foreign to some people.
SOLUTION: 1. A person could just choose those hymns that have a normal English word order. 2. A person could try to paraphrase the hymn into prose (without the rhyme) in order to make the sentence more understandable. They could craft the prose lyrics to still fit the rhythm meter and accent of the tune or they could make a new melody for the new lyrics (see igracemusic.com).

Here are some examples of Lutheran hymns that use inverted or disjointed word order to achieve the ending rhyme. This can make the hymns confusing and difficult to understand:

Subject (S)     Verb (V)     Object (O)     prepositional phrase (pp) 
S V O pp (American English)
S O pp V (hymnal English and perhaps German word order)

Examples from WELS hymnal: Christian Worship (CW)

CW506 Oh, Blest the House, Whate’er Befall
2. Oh, blest that house where faith you find (hymnal English: O S V)
2. Oh, bless that house where you find faith (American English: S V O)

CW530 Hark! The Church Proclaims Her Honor
2. He his Church has firmly founded; (hymnal English: Subject Object Verb)
2. He has firmly founded his Church; (American English: Subject Verb Object)

CW606 For Me to Live Is Jesus
3b. My sin his merits cover (hymnal English: O S V)
3b. His merits cover my sin (American English: S V O)

CW447 Who Trust in God, a Strong Abode
1c. No fear his heart oppresses. (Hymnal English: S O V)
1c. No fear oppresses his heart. (American English: S V O)

CW75 Father, Let Me Dedicate
1c. Not from sorrow, pain, or care Freedom dare I claim
(hymnal English: pp O S V)
1c. I dare not claim freedom from sorrow, pain or care
(American English: S V O pp)

CW90 The People that in Darkness Sat
1a. The people that in darkness sat a glorious light have seen. (hymnal English)
1a. The people that sat in darkness have seen a glorious light. (American English)

CW99 Oh, Come, My Soul
1a. Oh, Come, my soul, your Savior see Nailed to your cross on Calvary. Your pains he bears; Your thorns he wears That yours a crown of life might be.
(hymnal English)
1a. Oh, come, my soul, and see your Savior nailed to your cross on Calvary. He bears your pains; he wears your thorns that you might have a crown of life.
(American English)

CW235 Praise the Almighty; My Soul, Adore Him
2. Penitent sinners, for mercy crying, pardon and peace from him obtain;
(Hymnal English: S O pp V)
2. Penitent sinners, crying for mercy, obtain pardon and peace from him;
(American English: S V O pp)

CW357 Jesus, Lover of My Soul
2. Other refuge have I none; Hangs my helpless soul on thee.
(Hymnal English: O V S adj; V S pp)
2. I have no other refuge; my helpless soul hangs on thee.
(American English: S V adj O; S V pp)

CW360 The Lord’s My Shepherd; I’ll Not Want
2. My soul he doth restore again And me to walk doth make Within the paths of righteousness (Hymnal English)
2. He restores my soul again and makes me walk within the paths of righteousness (American English)

CW376 Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness
1.Jesus, your blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress;
(Hymnal English)
1.Jesus, your blood and righteousness are my beauty and my glorious dress;
(American English)

CW377 Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice
7b. Your ransom I myself will be; (Hymnal English: O S V)
7b. I myself will be your ransom; (American English: S V O)

CW418 My God Will Never Leave Me
1b. A light my God will give me in pathways dark and grim
(Hymnal English: O S V)
1b. God will give me a light in the dark and grim pathways.
(American English: S V O)

 

Here is an example of a CW prose hymn that works just fine without rhyme and probably is more understandable because of its prose:

CW363

Refrain:
The King of glory comes; the nation rejoices.
Open the gates before him; lift up your voices.

1. Who is the King of glory? How shall we call him?
He is Immanuel, the promised of ages.

2. In all of Galilee, in city or village,
He goes among his people, curing their illness.

3. He gave his life for us, the lamb of salvation;
He took upon himself the sin of the nations.

4. He conquered sin and death; he truly has risen,
And he will share with us his heavenly Kingdom.

 

The Bible has been translated into more clear, understandable English by going from KJV to NIV. Perhaps, in the same way, some difficult CW hymns could be paraphrased/translated into NIV prose and use normal English word order (Subject – Verb – Object) to be more clear and understandable. The words could be adjusted to fit the meter and rhythm of the melody.

Examples of turning difficult CW hymn poetry into prose,
and still fit the melody:

hymn poetry: (somewhat difficult and confusing with inverted word order)
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress;
Subject – Predicate Nominative – Verb – Predicate Nominative

hymn prose: (normal English word order)
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness are my beautiful, glorious dress;
Subject – Verb – Predicate Nominative
————-
hymn poetry: (somewhat difficult and confusing with inverted word order)
Jesus,shepherd of the sheep, who thy Father’s flock dost keep.
Subject – Object – Verb

hymn prose: (normal English word order)
Jesus, shepherd of the sheep, who dost keep the Father’s flock.
Subject – Verb – Object
————-

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