Monday, August 19, 2019

Older Hymns

We sang "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" at the earlier, traditional service yesterday.  The newer version of the lyrics was projected up on the twin screens in the front.  I sang the old words anyway.  I go back and forth on that. I approve of the idea of gradually updating the words to retain understandability. It's just that I never seem to like the newer words. Hast thou not seen? It shows so clearly the relationship to German Hast du nicht sehen and thus has roots visible.

I am reminded of JRR Tolkien going to Mass with his grandson just after Vatican II, when Catholics switched to the vernacular.  Tolkien didn't.  He had always been reserved, even mumbling in much of his speech, but bellowed out the Latin on that day, drowning out those around him.  I don't know how long he persisted in that.


John Holton said...

I can sympathize. I don't much like having to learn all new words to old favorite hymns, even if they are better (and in general they aren't).

james said...

I remember going to a carol-sing in late December in Geneva and being handed a sheet of microscopic lyrics. I had forgotten my glasses and was constantly surprised at the changes to the lyrics. I'm guessing that CoE, being more top-down, was able to modify lyrics to a degree that more congregational American churches didn't--thanks to people not being that excited about learning new words all the time and not wanting to buy new hymnals that often.

And, yes, often the new lyrics are inferior. We were presented with "It is well with my soul" with the line
"When death's cold, threatening stream"
I was able to persuade the singers that this was well-intentioned dumbness, and we practiced and sang it with the traditional
"When death's cold, sullen stream"
which in my judgment is better phrasing and is a more threatening phrase. And, of course, the congregation knew the old version.

Texan99 said...

The problem with updating lyrics often is not that the old Jacobean thee/thou style with -eth endings on the verbs and so on was so wonderful--though I love it myself--but that faint-hearted tinkering with lyrics gets you into trouble with scansion and rhyme. There's no good reason why modern English should sound clunky and dead, but it probably will if an unskilled editor thoughtlessly updates a word here and there instead of recomposing the whole piece of poetry. (That's what some skilled person did when the hymn was first translated from the German, after all.)

The lowliest composer of disposable pop songs knows that the rhythm of the words has to match the music or the song won't hit the charts, but people with a captive audience, which is to say the folks who publish and distribute modern hymnals via the ecumenical Mafia, often seem to think they can jam in any old words that made it through committee. Then you get hymns that read like stereo instructions. Sometimes the music directors tries to make up for it by throwing in a syncopated backbeat, which gives you that peppy sound: voila! Updated!

james said...

"My faith looks up to thee." Brain freeze on my part.