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No. 18: A Review of the New Trinity Hymnal, Part 3

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 18
December 1991
Copyright (c) 1991 by Biblical Horizons

(continued from Rite Reasons Nos. 16 & 17)

Hymns Added to the Trinity Hymnal

The new Trinity Hymnal has added 156 hymns, some good and some terrible.

Good Hymns

The Revision Committee has added many hymns that are truly great hymns of the faith and should be included in any hymnal.

Consider the following examples.

The great fifteenth century Latin hymn, "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!" (NTH #155) has been added with the tune DEO GRACIAS. The melody weds the text beautifully in the power of its line and harmony. This hymn is particularly effective because the text is sung to a fifteenth century melody, so that poetry and melody produce a good artistic and aesthetic match.

Another text and tune that weds well is the fifth century "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" (NTH #193). In this setting of PICARDY by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the worshiper can feel the fear of going before the living God. Another added hymn with a setting by Vaughan Williams that is particularly good is "On Christmas Night All Christians Sing" (NTH #227). The joy of Christ’s birth is especially felt in the meter of this traditional English carol.

The beautiful Irish hymn "Be Thou My Vision" has been added to the NTH (#642). The melody’s simplicity makes it easy to learn yet the melodic line shows great profundity in its building to the high point of tension in the third line and the denouement of the fourth line. Alice Parker’s anthem arrangement is very useful in teaching choirs phrasing and musicianship (published by Hinshaw Music, 1976).

In the area of folk styles the new Trinity Hymnal has added "What Wondrous Love Is This" (NTH #261), whose haunting melody calls us to consider the death of Jesus in a way that truly glorifies Him.

"My Song Is Love Unknown" (NTH #182) is one of our favorite texts. The tune ST. JOHN (CALKIN) is a nice tune but there are two better tunes for this text. Our favorite is RHOSYMEDRE (NTH #442), which with its calm simplicity expresses the grace as no other tune could do. We also like the repetition of the last line that is required when singing it with RHOSYMEDRE. A second tune that is also wonderfully suited for this text, and one specifically written for it, is LOVE UNKNOWN by John Ireland.

Other valuable hymns added to the NTH include "Lovely Child, Holy Child" (NTH #231), "Good Christian Men, Rejoice and Sing" (NTH #270), "Angels We Have Heard on High" (NTH #214), "O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing" (NTH #272–too bad the three-fold alleluias at the beginning and end were omitted), "O Jesus Sweet, O Jesus Mild" (NTH #232), "Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor" (NTH #230), "Children of the Heavenly Father" (NTH #131), and "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (NTH #216).

Bad Hymns

In this section we primarily talk about the musical aspects of the hymns. The texts for many of them are acceptable although some are as weak artistically as the melodies that accompany them. We shall attempt to keep our comments to one or two per hymn even though there may be other things wrong with it.

"The Apostles’ Creed" (NTH #741) loses on all accounts. First, the versification of the creed given here is more unwieldy than anything the Bay Psalm Book offered. For example, consider:

or

There is nothing theologically wrong, but as poetry is it worthy? Is that what we want to offer our glorious God?

Consider now the melody. It consists of four lines and the first, second, and fourth are essentially the same. This in itself is not bad; for instance the tune of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (NTH #457) does the same thing. But the line in that hymn has direction as compared to that of the Apostles’ Creed tune, which is rather static. There is very little tension and release, and consequently no interest in the melody.

The harmony is also static, changing at the measure instead of at the beat, which is the case in most good hymns. Not only is the harmonic rhythm static but extra notes are added to the triads that weaken the tension-producing character of the chords (such as D9, G/C, F9, Am/G Fmaj7 etc.). These are the kinds of chords that are used in jazz to weaken harmonic direction is, hardly a desirable effect for a creed!

The use of folk tunes in a hymnal is very good but can sometimes cross the boundary into bad taste. (A common illustration is when "Amazing Grace" is sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun." This is not done in the NTH, we hasten to add.)

Unfortunately something similar though not as bad has happened several times in the new Trinity Hymnal. "As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams" (NTH #662) and "Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire" (NTH #597) are both based on the famous folk song "O Waly, Waly," ("There Is a Ship") which is about infidelity in a love relationship. We find it rather ironic to use this melody with a hymn based upon 1 Corinthians 13! The tune expresses very well the melancholy of jilted love, but it does not express the power of true agape love.

There is also the pseudo-folk style that was so popular in the 60s and 70s. The anemic "Father of All Things" (NTH #106) properly should not be sung without wearing love beads. "Jesus Christ Has Triumphed Now" (NTH #288) also falls into this category.

When we think of Psalm 19 and its description of the law as perfect, we also think of the power and majesty of God. Psalm 19 in the Genevan Psalter expresses this text with all His majesty extolled. "The Law of the Lord Is Perfect" (NTH #152) conveys the impression that there are no consequences to breaking the law. This pseudo-folk piece is replete with gooey sentimentality and over-syncopation–enough to make any flower child feel good. This song may have been fine for the coffee house ministries of the old Jesus Movement, but it hardly qualifies as a worship setting of Psalm 19.

Bring out the old school colors, join hands and sway to "Now I Belong to Jesus" (NTH #709), which employs the popular collegiate song style. (It used to be a favorite with Campus Crusade for Christ; maybe still is.) It works well for the adoration of the Alma Mater but not for the living God.

As serious musicians, we find it a bit disconcerting to take popular classical themes from the concert hall and turn them into hymns. The tune FINLANDIA is used three times in the new hymnal, once with "Be Still, My Soul," with which it has often been associated. Even this is too much as far as we are concerned. It works very well in the orchestral version. Let’s leave it there. The editors of the new Trinity Hymnal didn’t stop though with just the FINLANDIA tune. They also added "We Are God’s People" (NTH #355) from Brahms’s Symphony No. 1; "O Lord, I Love You, My Shield, My Tower" (NTH #620) from Saint Saens’ Symphony No. 3; and "O God Beyond All Praising" (NTH #660) from Holst’s The Planets, "Jupiter." Even though Holst arranged this himself, the association with the concert work is so strong that we are not sure whether we’re singing to God or Jupiter.

For us the most objectionable hymn of this kind is "God, All Nature Sings Thy Glory" (NTH #122) based on the Ode to Joy found in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. We love the music of Beethoven, but this melody expresses very well the pantheistic theology of this composer and need not be used in a Christian setting. It originally was used as the brilliant setting for the text:

Joy, bright spark of divinity,

Daughter of Elysium,

Fire-inspired we tread

Thy sanctuary.

Thy magic power re-unites

All that custom has divided,

All men become brothers

Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Friedrich von Schiller

The music follows the sentiment of the poetry very closely. Beethoven did not write a tune to be used universally with any text. He was much too great a composer for that.

Although "Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak" (NTH #560) is purported to be based on a Schumann composition, it sounds as much like the original as it does Palestrina. Arrangements of this kind are strange at best. When so many great hymns are available, why do we need this?

Using the great tunes of classical music seems at first glance to be a good idea, bringing the best of our culture into the worship of the Church. Why do we oppose it? There are three reasons. First, we associate the music of Beethoven, Saint-Saens, Brahms, Sibelius, etc., with their original concert settings. It is as jarring to us to hear these in Church as it would be to hear jazz or rock music in Church. Many other people may not have these associations, but we should be sensitive to culturally educated people who do.

Second, we believe that worship is an act different from other actions, and should have its own culture. The musical culture of the Church is the tradition of Church music. New music should grow out of that culture, not be drawn over from other spheres of life.

Third, and we cannot get into this here, as trained musicians, we are aware of aspects of this concert music that makes it less appropriate for worship than traditional Christian hymnody. (Dr. Schuler is working up a course on Christianity and music that will be made available through Biblical Horizons in the near future, and that will provide more information on this subject.)

We now turn to the use of musical styles from the other end of the spectrum. Sometimes we are told that people don’t like the German chorales because they are too hard to sing. Yet those same people will want to sing songs like "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" (NTH #500) set by James Ward, which opens with a leap of a seventh followed two notes later by a leap in the opposite direction of a sixth and two notes later back up with a leap of a sixth. It continues throughout to hop around like a jack rabbit. We could stump almost any student in a sight-singing class with this melody. Not only does it jump all over the place, it also has very little forward motion in the melody and harmony. It sounds like bad Barry Manilow and should have never been put into a hymnal.

We are also afflicted with another James Ward hymn, "Morning Sun" (NTH #287), which is nothing more than a jumpy version of the hymn tune TOPLADY. This is the perfect example of how not to use rhythm in hymn literature. There are sixteen measures in the melody and only in two of those measures does a text syllable fall on beat one. The technical term for this misplaced beat is syncopation, a very good device when used in moderation. But like wine, when used in excess, it makes one a little tipsy. It’s like trying to walk with one leg about six inches longer than the other. Syncopation used in this way breaks the principle of tension and release; the over use of syncopation creates tension because the accented syllables rarely fall on the accent of the meter (the first beat). This device, which is a big part of popular music, leaves the listener unsettled because we naturally want to have accented syllables correspond to the accent of the meter. There is an expectation set up with the accent of the meter. When it is denied over and over again, tension results and there is no rest from that tension–there is no sabbath.

The rhythm also breaks the principle of unity and diversity. In this case the rhythm is unified to an extreme. Fourteen of the sixteen measures open with the same rhythm. We realize that some hymns may have straight quarter notes throughout (not our favorite either). But the constant quarter note rhythm is not as noticeable because it is not as strong in character as this syncopated rhythm. This overly unified rhythm becomes boring very shortly. It is not good artistry.

Eclecticism is the order of the day for contemporary hymnals, and that means every hymnal must have a few Spirituals. The new Trinity Hymnal is no exception. We love to sing Spirituals and they are often great music, but most of them fall short theologically in worship. The editors picked out two such Spirituals for the new hymnal–"Lord I Want to Be a Christian" (NTH #530) and "My Lord, What a Mourning" (NTH #328). We hope we have gotten further than wanting to be a Christian when we come to worship God. "My Lord, What a Mourning" is neither a prayer nor a hymn of praise or worship. It simply is an attempt to describe the scene on the judgment day. These are folk songs, not worship hymns. One might as well include "Ghost Riders in the Sky."

Some of the new hymns simply have bad poetry. For instance "Let us Praise God Together" (NTH #659) is set, as you might expect, to the famous melody "Let Us Break Bread Together." A hymnal is not the place for greeting-card poetry. The author obviously felt constricted by the well-known text to this tune.

Let us praise God together, let us praise;

let us praise God together all our days.

He is faithful in all his ways,

he is worthy of all our praise,

his name be exalted on high.

Let us seek God together, let us pray;

let us seek his forgiveness as we pray.

He will cleanse us from all our sin,

he will help us the fight to win,

his name be exalted on high.

Let us serve God together, him obey;

let our lives show his goodness through each day.

Christ the Lord is the world’s true light,

let us serve him with all our might,

his name be exalted on high.

The addition of contemporary Christian music is also in vogue for most modern hymnals, especially evangelical ones. "My Tribute" (NTH #640) is one such popular song. Unlike the normal hymn, this song is through composed; that is, there are no repeated verses of music (although two lines of music are repeated). The opening phrases of the music are directionless. If we asked people who knew this song to sing the first four lines, we bet that most would not be able to do so correctly. The memorable part comes at the fifth line, which goes "To God be the glory," etc. Also, unlike most good hymns, the harmony changes generally at the measure instead of at the beat. This kind of popular style is a lame lamb brought before God.

One other such popular song is "El Shaddai" (NTH #42). Not only is the melody completely devoid of interest and drama but the text is pretentious. We’re not against anyone learning a little Hebrew or the names of God in Hebrew, but in this case it is unnecessary. One need only to look at the poetry of verses two and three to realize that Michael Card cannot write poetry very well.

It makes us particularly sad to see really good texts set with extremely poor music. There is a fine hymn text by Edmund Clowney that unfortunately is set to a klunker. "In Your Arms, Lord Jesus Christ" (NTH #419) is paired with the tune LISTENING by Norman Warren. This tune is two phrases long but has no closed cadence until the final verse. This flies absolutely in the face of the tension-rest principle.

Remind us that if we ever are a part of an editorial committee for a hymnal, not to write any hymn tunes for the hymnal. We wouldn’t be any good at it anyway. Writing a hymn is a monumentally difficult task and should be approached with trepidation. Even some of the greatest composers turned out some hymns of only passing value. All this is to say that Ronald Matthews is in good company if some of his hymns don’t seem to hang together. His tune KECK has replaced the very beautiful tune BRAUN (OTH #117) for "Shepherd of Tender Youth" (NTH #160). Matthews’s tune sounds as if it was harmonically conceived rather than melodically, but the harmonies don’t move in a coherent way. Here for the musicians is a traditional harmonic analysis of the whole hymn–

Eb: I-ii-V/IV-IV/IV-V42/IV-V6-ii-vi-ii-vi-IV-I-iii-ii-v

Db: vi-IV-IV-IV7-I

Gb: V-IV-IV-IV6-I-a tone cluster-I-IV-viio65-vi-viio7-IV-viio65 Eb: I-IV7-V7-I.

Even from the first change of key from Eb to Db our ears wander in the wilderness, an ironic contrast with the text.

Another hymn with similar problems is "Call Jehovah Your Salvation" (NTH #664). The composer throws in a few chords that aren’t triads to give it a rather mellow feel. Well, mellow means that the strength is taken out. This is hardly desirable when singing about the power of salvation. The melody follows the form aa1bb1. Neither a nor a1 cadence on the tonic so that there is an unresolved feeling in the first section. It is startling then that both b and b1 cadence on the tonic. The melody can be further sectionalized as follows: aa1aa2bb1bb2. With the repetition of so many similar melodic fragments, the principle of diversity has been tried and found wanting. The hymn becomes quite boring after a verse or two.

If you have ever heard the song "Rhythm of Life" sung by Sammy Davis, Jr., and Shirley MacLain in some forgotten movie of our distant past, you may recognize some of that melody in "Stand Up, O God, Be Present Now" (NTH #71). Not surprisingly this hymn is of the same vintage–early 1970s. Rhythmic unity is achieved ad nauseam with the same rhythmic unit throughout.

Have you ever stood up to sing a hymn in church only to be transported to a smoke-filled piano bar? That style of hymn has found its way into the new Trinity Hymnal. "What Kind of Man Can Live in the World" (NTH #563) might work very nicely in some of those bars. As far as we’re concerned, that is where it should remain.

We saved "In Silence My Soul Is Waiting" (NTH #666!) for the last blast. If you’re not bored by the time you sing all eight verses of this static melody, it may be because you have fallen asleep on your feet. There are 45 notes in this melody of which 33 are the notes a, c, or e. These are the notes of the tonic (minor) triad. In other words, this hymn goes nowhere.

Hymns Deleted from the Old Trinity Hymnal

Good Deletions

Most of the deletions made by the editors were very welcome and we agree with their decisions in almost every case.

Bad Deletions

In addition to what has already been mentioned, other hymns that should not have been deleted include:

OTH

210 Lo, God to Heaven Ascendeth! AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUND

526 O Lord by Thee Delivered ELLACOMBE

254 Come, Holy Spirit, Come CAMBERWELL

225 Hark! Ten Thousand Harps and Voices HARWELL

467 Weary of Earth, and Laden With My Sin LANGRAN

527 Lord, I Hear of Showers of Blessing RHEIDOL

555 Teach Me, My God and King RHIW

623 Christ, By Heavenly Hosts Adored SALZBURG

185 text only By the Cross of Jesus Standing — Horatius Bonar

287 Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Dwelling Place THE GOLDEN CHAIN

435 What, Ye Ask Me, Is My Prize WOLLT IHR, WAS MEIN PREIS

General Comments

The organization of the hymnal along a confessional outline has been maintained, which makes it especially easy to use in personal study and worship. This style of organization is, however, not always best for corporate worship. We do find it rather ironic that where the old Trinity Hymnal has the Ten Commandments (p. ix), the new Trinity Hymnal has a Guitar Chord Chart and a page on How to Add Amens. Maybe the editors felt that in today’s society, knowing one’s guitar chords is much more useful. We would like to think that they may have thought that all good Reformed Christians have the Ten Commandments committed to memory, but we doubt that this was the case.

The old Trinity Hymnal had a section in the back of the hymnal called "Hymns for Informal Occasions." Although we would not have included these hymns in a hymnal, at least they were put under this title and at the back of the hymnal so that people would understand that this style of music is not proper for a worship service. But the editors of the new Trinity Hymnal have seen fit to intersperse these hymns throughout the entire hymnal. These are not hymns in the true sense, but rather they are subjective songs of personal piety and do not belong in worship. We don’t think they even belong in a hymnal.

Conclusion

When we received the first report on the hymnal revision we were distressed that so much junk was even being considered as material for the Trinity Hymnal. We were heartened when we heard that many of the more pop-rock songs (we refuse to call them hymns) were going to be dropped from the final revision. Our first reaction to the new hymnal was that the editors had put together a good hymnal. But as we studied it further we became more disappointed with each passing page.

If I was not a member of the OPC or PCA, I would not even consider buying this hymnal for my congregation to use. OPC and PCA congregations who already use the old Trinity Hymnal, would be better off not to buy the new hymnal, especially considering its expense. Rather they should make their own supplement to their hymnal by seeking Copyright permission for copying the few good hymns that were added to the new Trinity Hymnal; most of the good ones are not even under Copyright. (One good feature of the new hymnal is that all the addresses of the publishers of Copyrighted materials can be found in one list on pages 881-882.) OPC and PCA congregations who do not presently use the Trinity Hymnal but one of the more contemporary broadly evangelical hymnals, should consider replacing their hymnal with the new Trinity Hymnal but with caution as to its problems; and again be ready to make a supplement to the hymnal.

The new Trinity Hymnal is not a hymnal that will be considered one of the great hymnals of all time. We are not even sure that we would call it adequate for our present time. Too many hymns and Psalms are missing from its pages for it to be considered as a successful hymnal.

Is this really all that important? Yes it is. After learning to read and understand the content of the Word, the next most important thing for a congregation is to learn music. In the area of Christian education, music plays second fiddle only to the text of Scripture. As the Spirit glorifies the Son, so music glorifies the Word. Everywhere the Bible commands and commends the use of music (singing) in worship. When we settle for grossly inferior music and poetry in worship, we are not following the directives of the Bible. When we fail to raise up competent, trained musicians to instruct and lead the Church in music, we are failing to heed the priorities of Scripture. A great deal of reformation is needed in the Presbyterian churches along these lines.