Sunday, January 15, 2006

Lutheran Hymns

Great Christian classics

Salvator Mundi
by Andrea Previtali (1480-1528)
Today in church we sang a hymn I like a lot -- "Jesus, Priceless Treasure."  The melody was written by Johann Sebastian Bach. A lot of Lutherans complain about the old hymns that we sing, but I like most of them, particularly those with  minor melodies.

When I was a teenager, I discovered that I could play on the piano many familiar songs that we sang in church. This worked out well for our little country church as they often needed somebody to play the piano. We sang many hymns written by Fannie Crosby and her contemporaries in the era roughly from the Civil War to World War I while the great revivals were sweeping the nation. Many of those hymn melodies are written in flats, and I became quite comfortable with that set of chords.

A couple decades later in Germany, I started attending Lutheran services and here in Kentucky, joined the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Only occasionally did I hear a hymn in Lutheran services that was familiar to me. I noticed that most of the LCMS hymns had been written several centuries ago or even earlier.

After a time as the Lutheran hymns became more familiar to me, I started to play through the Lutheran Hymnal on the piano, and because many Lutheran hymns are written in minor keys and/or sharps, I eventually learned -- am still learning -- a whole new set of chords. I am not a master by any means, but I'm a lot more fluent in Lutheran music now than when I started.

When I started practicing the Lutheran hymns, I got a bit obsessed with them and I mostly abandoned some of my old favorite hymnbooks for a long time. A couple of years later, I began playing through one of those neglected volumes, page by page whether or not I recognized the hymn. To my surprise, many of the hymns that I thought I didn't know turned out to be:
  1. Hymns I have learned as a Lutheran, or
  2. Unfamiliar words with melodies I have learned as a Lutheran.

About a year ago, I read a rave review that a music professor had written about the new Baptist Hymnal. I ordered the hymnal online, and I agree that is a great hymnal. It has a broad selection of Christian music from various genres, it's easy on the eyes, it contains good indexes and helpful information like, "This melody in a lower key on page --".

I was interested to find many hymns from my Lutheran experience in the Baptist hymnal. In fact, I find that I know nearly all the songs in my Baptist Hymnal -- some from my years in church music before I became a Lutheran, others and from my years in Lutheran music.

Jesus, priceless Treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest Friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Thirsting after Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.