Monday, November 28, 2005

In Search of the Lost Minor Chord

This Sunday we sang not one, but two of my favorite hymns, both oldies but goodies: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness. (The latter sung to a tune called "Schmuecke dich" -- fun to say, and the music is a pleasure to sing.) For the past few weeks now I notice we've had some of the venerable hymns familiar to cradle Lutherans interspersed with newer additions to our hymnal. And people are liking it...minor chords, solemn tempos and all. They belt 'em out. At one point, surprised by the sound of my own often anemic voice, I looked around to see other enthusiastically singing parishoners looking around too, in what seemed to be genuine surprise: Do we really sound like this? Wow.

You know those T-shirts that say "Art Can't Hurt You"? Here is my shocking proposition, directed to church music directors everywhere: Minor chords can't hurt you. The folks in the pews aren't going to melt, or stampede en masse, if you play them once in awhile. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy the broadening of our hymnody to include newer hymns and hymns from other cultures. But please don't forget the great old hymns of our tradition. They deserve to be sung.


Anonymous said...


HereISit said...

Do songs with Minor chords necessarily have to be played in a solemn way? Can they be played slowly but with spirit? How about the other hymns? I've heard some that should be full of praise and life played so slowly that they may as well have been for a funeral.

Good hymns, IMHO, should be theologicly, spiritually meaningful and singable. And they should be played with life and spirit, regardless of tempo.

If a song has good words and is singable, I feel that there should be more crossover between what is sung in Sunday School, at Camp, and in "big people church."

There are a few of the newer songs, actually they are old in somebody else's culture, that I "don't get." I mean, I don't see either praise of God in the words or a lesson for me to learn.

Likewise, some of the old hymns suffer from convoluted translations, so that the meaning of the words isn't immediately apparent.

LutheranChik said...

Well, Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness ain't a dirge by any means...but on the other hand you don't want to play it like Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Faster isn't always better.;-) (We did sing My Lord, What a Morning with appropriate and actually surprising vigor for Looterns singing a spiritual.)

Our worship committee has been doing a good job lately keeping a thematic connection between hymns...but our first singing of the day is a kind of audience-request sing-along using a self-published gospel/contemporary song booklet (during which LC tends to go to her internal happy place and hang out until the liturgy starts), and you never know what people are going to request. One Sunday morning, apropos of nothing at all -- and it would really have to be apropos of nothing at all -- someone requested "The Great Speckled Bird." I don't even know what that means. We're singing about a great speckled bird...alrighty then! (I'm a birder, so you'd think I'd be more excited by this prospect.) All of which is to say, I agree with you that hymns should make sense in context, and that's why the organist, worship committee and pastor should work together to achieve this, because if you leave it all up to people who don't have a sense of the Church year and the lectionary, Lord only knows what you're going to wind up with.

Anyhow, I'm making it a point of telling our worship committee of what a splendid job they've been doing with our hymns.;-)

Anonymous said...

Never heard of "Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness". Looked it up on Cyber Hymnal and they didn't have it listed. I'm not really familiar with many Lutheran hymns, though I love the traditional Anglican ones. (And minor keys are spine-tingling awesome!)

Emily said...

Ah, growing up in an organist's household, "schmucke dich" was one of our favorite household joke phrases.

Cathy said...

Oh, a posting that I can enjoy! Don't you love the "old chestnut" hymns??
On hymns/songs sung in minor keys -many people don't realize there is music that is sung/performed that are minor that are not perceived as solemn.
Schmuecke Dich is a tune in The Hymnal of the Episcopal church that the first line is "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness" Hymn 339 - a Eucharistic hymn.

Verdugo said...

I don't know "Adorn thyself", but it sounds a bit like "It is well with my soul"-- a hymn so poignant and beautiful it never fails to bring me to tears. For the heretical aging rockers among us, Audio Adrenalin even has a version with a bit of a quiet drumbeat to it, but the same poignant, powerfully sung, melodious words.

dulciana said...

Just discovered your blog and am enjoying it very much! How wonderful to hear that your congregation is enjoying those great old hymns, both favorites of mine, too! Who says minor is solemn or sad? It's beautiful!