STLT#13, Songs of Spirit

Songs of spirit, like a prayer breathing in the ambient air;
singing in the morning light, in the radiance of the day,
in the twilight shadows gray, in the brooding hush of night;
dark or light, or storm, or fair — singing, singing everywhere.

In the burgeoning of spring, in the summer’s scented bloom,
in the autumn’s mellow glow, in the winter’s ice and snow;
shade, or shine, or joy, or gloom, as the seasons come and go,
break and bare, or blossoming — still the songs that sing and sing!

Singing, singing everywhere, at the heart of everything,
in my soul I hear them sing, mystic music of the spheres;
songs that, with my utmost art, I can only catch in part;
broken echoes, cold and bare, of the songs my spirit hears.

Remember yesterday, when I talked about the easy-to-sing, familiar tune? What I deleted from that discussion was a rant about musical showboating. In this rant, which apparently I can’t keep quiet, I talked about how it is helpful to remember what the tune is for – in this case, getting non-singers to sing together in public. Thus, a tune should be fairly easy to sing, predictable, but not dull. A congregant should have a sense of where a hymn is going next, and those foundational phrases should, in and of themselves, be both interesting and comfortable. I think of Jason Shelton’s hymn Fire of Commitment (which we’ll get to sometime in mid 2018) – the pattern of the phrases is similar and familiar, dancing along the chord progression, even as the music itself is interesting; once you get the rhythmic sense, it rolls and calls back and keeps us going. This is a tune that does what it’s supposed to do.

Sadly, there are other tunes that try to be interesting, to toss in a surprisingly different phrase, or add an awkwardly inserted chord progression to add what the composer probably thinks is interest but is actually just something different to make it different – showboating. It’s “look at me, I write interesting music’ and not remembering that this is something non-singers have to sing together in public. I think it’s one of the struggles we have with hymn-ifying some popular and folk music, too – the music is interesting and should be, but it’s not really for non-singers, because what works for a performed song doesn’t always work for a hymn; they have different purposes and thus different constructions. You wouldn’t haul logs in a Mustang convertible, and you wouldn’t take a vacation along the Maine coast in a logging truck… it’s the same thing. They’re both vehicles, good and right, meant for different purpose.

And so we turn back to this tune. I plunked it out, I plunked it out again, trying to add the treble harmony, I tried to sing and then plunked it out again.

This, to me, is a terrible tune. And just because it is named Servetus doesn’t make it any less terrible.

Adding fluffy lyrics doesn’t help it any. Whereas the lyrics of the last couple of hymns had depth and purpose, the lyrics here are fluffy. I am not changed, I am not moved. I don’t need a recitation of nature, a recitation that goes by nearly unnoticed because we’re too busy trying to figure out this terrible tune.

And maybe I’m missing something, in my cynical mood, surrounded by cynicism and heartbreak and struggle. Maybe this is just the wrong hymn for the moment. Maybe this is me trying to go sightseeing in a logging truck. But right now, I need something to take my out of myself, to feed my soul, to inspire me.

This is just not it.

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