Sunday, January 11, 2015

Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (1977)

For this week's entry, I will discuss Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (1977), edited by John W. Peterson and Norman Johnson. (This book is still in print and available for purchase here.)

Peterson and Johnson wrote a foreword that reflects on the diversity contained within the first few pages alone, such as the "early revivalism" of "Bretheren, We Have Met to Worship", the mentions of "scientific advances" in Peterson's own "God of Everlasting Glory", and "How Great Thou Art" as a "souvenir of the Billy Graham crusades". It also reflects on the fact that people have differing tastes in tunes: some can get something out of something so simple as "God Is So Good", while others prefer more complex and deep material such as "A Mighty Fortress." (If you've been reading this blog, then by now you surely know which way I lean.) The fact that the editors reflect on such variety is certainly refreshing to read.

And while this hymnal is commendable in its variety and scope, it borders on the schizophrenic at times, with a surprising variation in the old and a very mixed bag of the new.


One thing I do like about this hymnal is how it's divided into three sections: "The Upward Look" for worship and Christ-centric tunes; "The Inward Look" for topics such as salvation, grace, repentance, and trust; and "The Outward Look" for topics of mission and testimony. (Although how the obligatory patriotic tunes such as "America the Beautiful" constitute "outward look" is beyond me.)

Like The United Methodist Hymnal, shorter pieces more suited for quick sung responses are scattered about, not in their own section. One of the first is the tail end of the Lord's Prayer, set to a melody by Norman Johnson. Only six bars long, it's only the 24th entry in the book. Norman also composes a melody for the Triune Blessing at #50.

Also present three times in the middle is the Doxology. One version set to "Lasst Uns Erfreuen", and two slightly different versions of "Old 100th". The same two "Gloria Patri" settings seen adjacently in United Methodist Hymnal — Meineke and Greatorex — are in here, too. All the "amen"s? How about six all bunched into #101? (Including two by John Stainer, plus the Dresden Twofold and Danish Threefold.) #102 and #103 are Norman Johnson-composed benedictions: one a choral "Go out with joy", the other an adaptation of Numbers 6:24-26 "with trinitarian conclusion" (to alter one of Dave Barry's running gags, "Trinitarian Conclusion" would be a good name for a Christian rock band). Oh, and an Agnus Dei at #161. I could continue to list all of Johnson's prayer responses that are haphazardly strewn about, but it'd be easiest to say that his melodies have an almost David Haas-esque over-simplicity to them, unless he's getting all triplet-happy.

Another instance of multiple tunes at the same number is the four different prayer responses (two by Norman Johnson, one by Jon Drevits, one from the Scottish Psalter), with no thematic or melodic connection among the four. The sharing of numbers here is a really unorthodox way of arranging these that, again, could have been avoided by relegating them to their own subsection.

Interestingly, the book acknowledges on the final page that "All Service Music… has been placed within the general body of hymns rather than in an isolated choral section. By this we wish to encourage the worshippers to consider these materials their own — and indeed to sing them together congregationally at least part of the time." While this is an understandable cause, I still feel that isolating such tunes in their own section makes more sense in terms of organization, without deterring their use as congregational pieces.

"Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne", which I often associate with Christmas or Epiphany, is instead in "Christ — His Mission", putting it on the very last page before the Advent and Christmas section. Similarly, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" is under "Aspiration", as opposed to its usual association as a pre-Easter hymn.

While "Faith of Our Fathers" is present as usual, the alternate "Faith of Our Mothers" is thrown down, text-only, at #151, a good 18 pages away from its corresponding melody. Could this section not be rearranged so as to put the text under its associated tune?

New stuff

The book starts off with Peterson's "Everybody Sing Praise to the Lord", a very simple praise chorus whose only other words are "For He is Wonderful". In true praise-chorus fashion, it even suggests starting in C and going up by half-steps until it's in the written key of E-flat. Peterson's material vacillates. Stroner text such as "God of Everlasting Glory" (which offers interesting lines about "in our telescopic probing lightyears from our world" and "As we push man's frontiers forward") and "Come, Holy Sprit" (which acknowledges martyrs and the lesser-quoted "The just shall live by faith") show that Peterson, when he is on the ball, is no less than competent. I am also fond of his paraphrase of Psalm 23, "Surely Goodness and Mercy", and its gently undulating melody. Peterson also acknowledges the intersection of Christianity and education in "A Student's Prayer", which, while one of his better texts, seems ill-suited for a hymnal.

Working less in Peterson's favor are tunes such as "Bless the Lord", which follows nearly the same path on its refrain as Andraé Crouch's "Bless His Holy Name", although it…well, it at least has longer verses? He also gets space-y on "All Glory to Jesus" ("To think that the guardian of planets in space," [insert your own Guardians of the Galaxy reference here] "The shepherd of the stars / Is tenderly leading the Church of His love / By hands with crimson scars!"), which otherwise doesn't have much to say. He also notes specifically that the refrain of "Above Every Name" is taken from Philippians 2:9-11, a note oddly placed before the refrain and not at the very top of the tune. The song itself has unusually jarring "modern" references such as "Those whose portraits grace a palace wall".

Peterson is also guilty of more complex, syncopated melodies, as seen on "With the Sound of Trumpets", and over-repetition, as seen on "Jesus Is the Friend of Sinners" ("…friend of sinners, friend of sinners / Jesus is the friend of sinners / He can set you free" — is that all you have to say?) or "O, the Love, The Love of Jesus" (repeat twice, then add "There is no greater love than this!", and there's your verse). Similarly, "I Just Keep Trusting in My Lord" has little to say beyond its title, and the one time I played it as an offertory, a couple congregation members almost thought I was playing the local school's fight song! And while its intent is good, "Cups of Cold Water" is still a silly title. Finally on the Peterson side, "It Took a Miracle" and "I Believe in Miracles" seem like near-carbon copies of each other, with their too-short verses barely scratching the surface, and their choruses both being longer than the verses.

One of the few tunes by Norman Johnson that isn't a response is an original tune ("Coronado") for Bessie Porter Head's "O Breath of Life", which I have seen set to several tunes. As this particular text does not seem to have a singular tune more closely associated with it than any other (although shows a slight favor for "Spiritus Vitae" by Mary J. Hammond), the use of a new tune here is perhaps less egregious than it would be with certain other texts. He also writes a new tune for "Standing on the Promises", but unlike another hymnal I've seen with his tune, this one at least retains Carter's original as well. Johnson also forays into text, where he "Freely translate"s August Ludvig Storm's "Thanks to God for My Redeemer" into silly mush such as "Thanks for thorns as well as roses".

Some repetitive praise choruses are included, such as Wayne Romero's "I Just Came to Praise the Lord", Otis Skillings' "Lord, We Praise You" and "The Bond of Love", Jerry Sinclair's "Alleluia" (which interestingly has dynamic markings for all four verses, something I've never before encountered in a hymnal), Terrye Coelho's (yes, that really is how you spell her name) "Father, I Adore You", Audrey Mieir's "His Name Is Wonderful", Daniel Iverson's "Spirit of the Living God", and so on. I heard someone on Facebook refer to these choruses as "7-Eleven" songs, since they often consist of the same seven words repeated eleven times.

In a rare instance of verses being appended to a praise chorus, "Thou Art Worthy" by Pauline Mills has a second verse tacked on by Tom Smail, plus a third verse which is identical to the first.

Lanny Wolfe gets some points on "Greater Is He That Is in Me" for comparing Satan to a "roaring lion", but has those points taken right back by the second verse having no thematic connection to the first (it instead mentions Pentecost), not to mention passing off wind/them as a rhyme. Bob Benson and Phil Johnson at least get some credit for mentioning that God does not always promise effortless days, but the line "broken toys" seems jarringly out of place in this text of laying down one's burdens.

Another questionable text ("Jesus Christ Is the Way") has the groan-worthy ending line "And he's mine, mine, mine!" making the tune sound more like it's being sung by a bratty three-year-old clutching a Jesus doll.

In what feels more like a Catholic style of songwriting, the traditional "His Banner over Me Is Love" has a whopping 14 verses, none of which has the same meter as the previous one (think "I Am the Bread of Life" by Suzanne Toolan, RSM).

As with most hymnals published after the 60s, the Gaithers are highly present: "There's Something About That Name", "Jesus, We Just Want to Thank You", "Let's Just Praise the Lord" (complete with verses, something I've never seen any other book with this tune do), "The Family of God" (oddly, missing its verses), "Because He Lives", "He Touched Me", and "Something Beautiful". Meanwhile, Ralph Carmichael appears with "The Savior Is Waiting", "Reach Out to Jesus", "We Are More Than Conquerors", and "He's Everything to Me". Andraé Crouch, who died shortly before I wrote this post, also got in with "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power", "Through It All" (in its complete form), and a personal favorite, "My Tribute" (also, thankfully, in its complete form).

Anne Ortlund's "Praise God for the Body" has to explain the term "Body" as indicative of "the fellowship of believers", a usage that I would assume most Christians to be familiar with. (Explaining "Shalom", on the other hand, is less egregious. As is the suggestion of making the tune SSA for choral use.)

"Down from His Glory" (William E. Booth-Clibborn / Eduardo di Capua) is a solid post-Christmas text bridging birth and death — both manger and cross are mentioned, something I don't often see in newer texts.

Dallas Holm's "Rise Again" seems to be an early example of a more syncopated, "pop song"-feeling tune that is better suited for a solo recording than congregational use. At least all the notes start on the beat, instead of tying over from the previous measure!

Old stuff

Traditional fare is included. "To God Be the Glory"? Check. "How Great Thou Art"? Check. "O God, Our Help in Ages Past?" Check. "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"? Check. And that's just the first 100 pages or so.

Some slightly lesser-known pieces include "I Sing The Almighty Power of God", "Brethren We Have come to Worship" (as often as I see the tune "Holy Manna" show up, I'm surprised at how rarely it's matched to these words), "I Am His and He Is Mine" (Wade Robinson and James Mountain), "There Is a Green Hill Far Away", etc.

As with many hymnals, the two variations of "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed" (the original and "At the Cross") are not on consecutive pages for some bizarre reason. However, this one comes closest, as only one other tune (William Bradbury's insufferably monotone "'Tis Midnight, and on Olive's Brow") separates them.

Another rarity is "All Nature's Works His Praise Declare" by Henry Ware the Younger (melody: "Bethlehem" by Gottfried Fink), which I have never encountered elsewhere.

Interestingly, two different traditional texts are set to the melody of "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore", but neither is that text: one is "Glory Be to God on High", and the other is "Christ Was Born in Bethlehem". Similarly, the tune for "Kum Ba Yah" has "Someone's lonely, Lord, give Him (friends/peace/love/faith/care)", which is still credited as being "Traditional" words.

The abridged "Adeste Fideles", which consists of repeating various phrases such as "We'll praise His name forever, Christ the Lord" to the refrain of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" is present, as is of course the full version of that same tune.

John Cawood's "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast" is set to the tune "Belmont", a far better fit than the childish yet dissonant tune by Jane Marshall that it received in The Hymnal 1982.

"O Love, How Deep" has some text alterations, and is set to "Rockingham Old", which I personally find a better tune than the more common "Deo Gracias".

While I have seen "Here O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face" to many tunes, "Morecambe" ("Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart") is a first. Likewise, seeing Georg Weissel's "Lift Up Your Heads" to Jean Baptiste Calkin's "Waltham", the most familiar tune for "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" (and yes, this is one of the few hymnals I own with that text in it).

Anna Ölander's "If I Gained the World", set to a Swedish melody that alternates between 2/4 and 3/4 (unusual for traditional tunes), is a fairly well-written expansion of Luke 9:25 and the theme of "gaining the world but losing the Savior".

While I have no problem with "Wonderful Grace of Jesus" by Haldor Lillenas, I feel that the decision to put the melody in the bass/tenor lines on the chorus will be confusing to many congregations, who are conditioned to look at the treble clef for melodies. (In fact, this very same confusion is why I am now relegated to using that only as an offertory at one church…)

Oddly, some tunes are in lower keys than the norm, including tunes I have never seen with the key lowered before. "Go to Dark Gethsemane" is in D instead of E-flat; "Rejoice, the Lord Is King!" and "He Leadeth Me" in D-flat instead of D; "I'll Fly Away" (of all tunes!) and "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me" in A-flat instead of B-flat, "It Is Well with My Soul" in C instead of D-flat; "Living for Jesus" in E-flat instead of F, and "Make Me a Blessing" in B-flat instead of C. Going higher, "The Love of God" is in D and not D-flat.

Additions and omissions

Josiah Conder's "The Lord Is King!" is "freely adapted" (yes, the book says exactly that) into a newish text by Norman Johnson, set to "All Is Well" by Charles Dingley. This is one that seems like "change for the sake of change".

According to, every hymnal in their catalog that uses Julia C. Cory's "We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer" sets it to "Kremser", aka "We Gather Together". Not this hymnal — in its place is "Adeste Fideles", and it scans just as poorly as you think.

"At the Name of Jesus", most often set to a sturdy Ralph Vaughan Williams tune, is instead set to a slightly abridged "Hermas" by Frances Havergal ("Golden Harps Are Sounding", "On Our Way Rejoicing").

Another odd mismatch of tune to text is "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending", set not to the beautiful "Helmsley" nor to "Regent Square" (a good tune when used for "Angels from the Realms of Glory", but one that strips the character from this text)… but rather "Praise My Soul" by John Goss! Yet another is "If You Will Only Let God Guide You", set not to Georg Neumark's sturdy minor-key tune, but to an overly chipper Swedish melody titled "Celebration".

As is the case with at least one other "modern" hymnal (Sing Joyfully), "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" is set not to the beautiful St. Columba, but rather to the over-simple "Dominus Regit Me".

While some hymnals use only the first or second verses of Doris Akers' "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (perhaps due to the "weak and bound and cannot enter in" line), this one uses all three.

As mentioned above, "The Family of God" has only its refrain. Aren't Gaither songs meant to have easily singable verses? Another more modern tune that's missing its verses is "Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying", which is also in F instead of the usual E-flat. Also pared down to chorus only is Esther Kerr Rusthoi's "When We See Christ". On the other hand, this hymnal is the only one I've seen that does have verses for John Stallings' "Learning to Lean".

"Be Thou My Vision" has the "Riches I heed not" verse, which some books (such as United Methodist Hymnal) omit, as well as a verse I have never seen before ("Be Thou my shield and my sword for the fight").

"Hark, the Glad Sound" is cut down to only two verses, the last ("Our glad hosannas…") changed from future tense to present. That's still less of a cut than "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence", which is down to only one verse!

Also in the Christmas section, "What Child Is This?" has the rarely-seen "Nails, spear shall pierce him through" and "Raise, raise the song on high" lines, where nearly every other book instead repeats "This, this is Christ the King". And only one page later, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" has the rarely-seen fourth verse ("Come, Desire of Nations, come…"). I can understand the omission of the latter, as it seems far less Christmas-y than its previous verses. Also, as I grew up Methodist, terms such as "woman's conquering seed", "serpent's head", and "Second Adam" seem foreign to me. (How often can someone grow up Methodist and claim that as making them less familiar with a Charles Wesley text?)

Many texts are surprisingly unabridged. Some hymnals omit the last verse of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" ("Mortals, join the mighty chorus…"), but not this one. On the other hand, the last verse of "The Church's One Foundation" is MIA.

While many hymnals cut down "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" so as to fit it to "Bunessan" ("Morning Has Broken"), this book instead leaves the full text intact and sets it to "Ebenezer". Interestingly, "Take My Life and Let It Be" is set to the shorter "Hendon" tune, but arranged in such a way that all of the words are still intact.

Oddly, this book cuts the refrain from William G. Tomer's melody to "God Be with You Till We Meet Again". The fact that I have seen this done so often makes me wonder if the refrain was not originally part of the tune as written.

"Sweet Hour of Prayer", in addition to being in C instead of D, has the second verse snipped out. Also,"Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name" by John Ellerton is cut to only two verses (the second being "Grant us Thy peace upon our homeward way"), an odd cut that I have never encountered before.

The hymnal includes two markings on many tunes: an arrowhead in the middle of tunes with five or more verses for easier navigation, and an asterisk where an Amen may be appropriate. I found this out only by reading the very last page; when I first encountered an asterisk at the end, I dismissed it as a typo. Perhaps these symbols would have been better explained in the front than the very back? Or even better, by simply writing in the "Amen"s where the editors see fit?

Another note of interest from the back page is the fact that two variations exist: early printings had "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love" at #136 instead of "Praise God for the Body", and a different arrangement of "There Is a Balm in Gilead" at #349. The former is swapped out in later printings such as mine "due to circumstances beyond our control", and the latter due to "a challenge regarding the copyright status". I have never before seen a hymnal have to make alterations in later printings for the sake of copyright, but I would not be surprised if it has happened before.


Many readings are included in the back of the hymnal. The first few are typical responsive readings of the Psalms and other topically relevant verses, to be read by the leader and congregation in alternating fashion. After it are affirmations of faith and prayers, which start off with the usual: creeds, themed prayers, short responsive readings.

But where the resource section gets interesting is about halfway through the "other worship resources" section. Here, the prayers give way to increasingly florid devotionals from various sources. Billy Sunday offers one that calls Jesus' name "more inspiring than Caesar's, more musical than Beethoven's, more eloquent than Demosthenes', more patient than Lincoln's". Charles Wickman, meanwhile, pontificates on how "I am startled by an atomic explosion 250 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. I am impressed when scientists develop instruments so powerful they can pick up the sound of galaxies in collision 270 million light years away. I am amazed to see a laser beam cut through a diamond as if it were paper." There is also Paul Harvey's stark "If I Were the Devil" (from a 1964 essay by Paul Harvey which, at least according to this book, he read on his News and Comment in 1966), which contains phrases that seem a bit questionable for church use, such as "In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you", "I would get the courts to do what I construe as against God and in favor of pornography", "I'd make the…symbol of Christmas a bottle", and finally, in Harvey's twist-ending fashion, "If I were the devil, I'd just keep right on doing what he's doing." While his pointed words on worldly corruption deserve attention (I will in no way attempt to vouch for their accuracy then or now), this and some of the other more reflective essays seem like they should not be in a hymnal, but rather in a devotional publication of some sort. I honestly can't imagine any congregation reading any of these, as poignant as some of them may be.

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