Problematic Hymns

Our church choir, usually at about eighteen voices, is now down to five, (two altos, one mezzo soprano, and two tenor/baritones). The director is an operatic type of soprano who can sing and direct at the same time, and the accompanist is a very fine bass/baritone who can’t sing and play at the same time.  He just accompanies, and does it very well.  We sing masked and socially distanced, which is interesting in terms of listening to one another and blending.  We sing once a month.

I love to sing in the church  choir.  I have mixed feelings about sitting in the congregation and singing hymns.  I grew up in a Norwegian Lutheran congregation in South West Minnesota, and we had to sing every blessed verse in every hymn on Sunday.  To this day I just cringe when I have have to sing  four or more verses in the hymns.  I like the sentiment in the early verses, but I am more drawn to the melody and harmonies.

The folks we sing with in choir are an opinionated bunch when it comes to hymns. The accompanist, a retired high school choir director,  blanches when Amazing Grace is in the bulletin.  He can’t stand it for some reason.  The mezzo soprano, an elementary music teacher, refuses to sing Blessed Assurance  because she finds it so smarmy, and my fellow alto, a college librarian, cringes at Holy, Holy, Holy  because she had to sing it so often as a child.  I am drawn to mournful Scandinavian, German, and English tunes, but please don’t make me sing more than two verses of anything.

When I attended Concordia College in the 1970’s, the Concert Choir sang what I thought was a very odd song written by Paul J. Christiansen,  the choir director at the time,  based on Carl Sandburg’s  Prayers of Steel:

Lay me on an anvil; O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
Lay me on an anvil, God.

Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a
skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the
central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper
through blue nights
into white stars.

I don’t know If I would have chosen this as the text for a sacred song, but hey, it only has two verses.

What are your favorite songs?  What songs can’t you stand?  What do you like to sing?

54 thoughts on “Problematic Hymns”

      1. During my stint in the first UU choir, we sang this and it was beautiful and I loved singing it. Lotta reasons why I’m not in the choir anymore, some of which involve why I’m not at the church anymore but if we had more songs like this one, it would have helped.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Rise and Shine, Baboons,

    Wasband was raised an ultra-conservative Baptist. The little church his mother attended was not a church that I appreciated, at all. Attendance was sparse, even in this church’s glory days. This was not surprising given congregational behavior—they were MEAN, using shunning and shaming as social control. Music was always an issue. There was an organ and a piano, played by wasband’s sister-in-law and her mother. The hymn that those folks loved was “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” The old ladies of the church sang this with gusto, in high wavery, off-tune voices. I don’t think there was ever a service that I attended in which they did not sing this. Given their mean, dour, depressing presence, these folks never brightened any corner, anywhere, let me tell you. I have rarely heard this hymn anywhere else, but now and then I get a memory of it screeching over the decades and I still shudder.

    I cannot choose a favorite song. There is so much wonderful music in the world. I like the John Prine Pandora thread the best because of the variety they play. I love country roots music, a lot of classical music, instrumental band music, and on and on.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Oh boy, a music day!

    I’m with you, Renee, on the singing of upwards of four verses of these things. I say choose the best 2 or 3, especially if they’re slow!
    It’s been interesting to come back to the choir at our Unitarian Fellowship after being away from church for so long. The UU hymnal has re-worked many of the old hymns with at least slightly altered lyrics, sometimes an entirely new verse. For instance: Holy holy holy, author of creation” instead of “Lord God almighty”. At least the tunes are familiar.

    I’ll be back later with some favorites…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We are entering the special time of year for choral music. My family always anticipated this music on or around Christmas day. The singing, photography and spectacle is so heart-warming. Then one day I realized that we are living in an epicenter for wonderful Christmas choirs: St. John’s, St. Thomas, Concordia, St. Olaf and so forth. There are great choirs elsewhere (I guess there’s a pretty big one in Utah), but I think we live in the state with the richest assortment of great Christmas choirs.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I first heard Cantus singing this Avie Maria at least 20 years ago. I had heard them sing other songs on the Morning Show and my BFF and I decided to splurge (because it was a splurge back then) to see one of their Christmas concerts. It was over in Saint Paul on the Saint Thomas campus. I couldn’t believe it when they saying it. I cried. It’s become one of their signature songs and while they don’t sing it every concert, they include it every single Christmas concert.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Too many great songs out there for me to pick just one, although Eva Cassidy singing “Over the Rainbow” is my all-time favorite performance of any particular song (as most of you already know, having heard me sing Eva’s praises non-stop for lo these ten or so years of TB.)

    Although my first career was as a band director, I don’t consider myself a decent singer. When I sing along to a song or even sing by myself, I “think” I’m pretty much in tune, but somehow I doubt I’m as close as I’d like to be (high standards, maybe).

    If I never hear “Twelve Days of Christmas” again in my life, I can die a happy man. And, like favorite songs, I’m pretty sure there are far too many bad songs or songs that I hate for me to pick one that stands out.

    Chris in O-town

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        1. Voice recognition is wonderful except that you still need to review your copy before you hit post.


  5. In high school and college I was the substitute organist for my small hometown church so I had to be able to play any of them. I never had a favorite but the first two songs I ever learned to transpose to a different key were “Immortal, Invisible” and “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

    My church choir has over 80 singers – we have not sung since last March and all church services are still virtual. The one song I have missed the most is “The Wondrous Day of Our God” sung with Robert Robinson on Palm Sunday. It brings the parishioners to their feet and many people, including choir members, to tears.

    Like Jacque, there are too many genres of music I like (not country and not the majority of opera) to choose a favorite song. I’ve always loved The Beatles “In My Life” and “Eight Days a Week”. Two of my favorite sacred choral pieces are the aforementioned “O Magnum Mysterium” and Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia”. Then there’s “Thais: Meditation” , “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations, and the Beethoven symphonies.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I guess the times I’ve been most moved by singing are when we’ve worked really hard, and the performance was well received – so that’s something I’d like to do again. That said, I also thoroughly enjoy sitting in a small group in a circle, taking turns choosing old songs from our younger days to sing either with a guitar, or just on our own.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. When we were coordinating the band at our wedding reception we told them “NO RAISIN SONGS!”. Meaning the ‘California Raisin’s’ song, ‘Heard it through the grapevine’… The song itself probably wasn’t so bad prior to them destroying it.

    Way back in my youth, I was in a melodrama. One of the songs we sang in the show was ‘Don’t fence me in’. I got to hate that song; just the sappy lyrics were too much for me.
    Fast Forward 30 years, my Aunts funeral. She had a Son in law sing “Don’t fence me In” and then asked the audience to join in and we sang along. Knowing my aunt, she did this just to pick on me; it’s the sort of thing she would have done; sat on this joke for 30 years just to make me sing that blasted song again. I’ll give her that. And the song changed place, just a little bit, in my heart.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. If I Fell by The Beatles
    Love Is All Around by The Troggs
    Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
    My Girl by The Temptations
    Hooked On A Feeling by Blue Swede
    MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

    Liked by 4 people

  9. My favorite hymn song is three crosses, shine on me, wade through the water, and o come Emanuel ( since it is Christmas time)


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