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Music and Worship

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Text by: Augustus Toplady

Music by: Ruth Coberly

 

Here is my recording of this new hymn:  https://youtu.be/x9DBAYb9vuY

 

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure;

Save from wrath and make me pure.

 

Could my tears forever flow,

could my zeal no langour know,

These for sin could not atone.

In my hand no price I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling.

 

While I draw this fleeting breath,

When mine eyes shall close in death,

When I rise to worlds unknown,

And behold thee on thy throne,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.

 

This summer, my friend Ruth Coberly shared with me her new setting of the Augustus Toplady’s hymn, Rock of Ages. She named the new tune “Vano” and dedicated the work in honor of her friend Vano Kiboko, a United Methodist evangelist, currently being held prisoner in Makala Prison in the city of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His crime: condemning the injustice of the shooting of an unarmed woman engaged in a non-violent protest last December 8th. On September 15th, Vano was sentenced to 3 years in prison for his crime. The prison he is being housed in was built to hold 2000 people, it currently houses about 8000 people. Food is only provided for 2000 and medical care is virtually non-existent. Vano has effectively been sentenced to death by starvation.

However, like the Apostle Paul, who used his extended imprisonment to preach the Gospel to fellow inmates and his jailors alike, Vano has not been idle. In the 8 months of his confinement he has not stopped proclaiming the Good News. The last count we have is that 800 men have surrendered their lives to Christ and have been baptized. And in recent weeks, Vano has been allowed to begin preaching in the women’s prison where his wife has been holding regular Bible studies. We have a report of 50 women committing their lives to God and are awaiting Baptism into the body of Christ. What Satan intended for evil, God has used as a blessing to hundreds and soon thousands. Out of the darkness of Makala Prison, a blinding light has shown forth.

This new setting of Rock of Ages has become a theme song of this budding church. A recording done by a local chamber choir in the Denver, CO area can be heard every day in the prison and the hymn is sung daily by the inmates.

Vano’s local church struggles to bring in food for an Agape feast and regular meals, and to provide whatever medical care they can. However, the poorest amongst us are wealthy beyond imagination to these people. They dream of owning a bible, we leave our sitting unopened, buried on a shelf someplace.

Vano’s efforts come from his earnest desire to be obedient, even if it means he will perish. I was humbled as I learned about Ruth’s friend and his faith in the presence of the evil one. He is feeding the lost sheep and bringing them to the Lord. Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

 

 

What started about a year ago as a gift to my father, a retired Presbyterian pastor, who missed singing all of old hymns has now grown into a collection of over 1000 recordings. Many of these hymns are understandably in the dust bin of history. And I have found there have been many composers who seem to think that 3/4 and 6/8 are the only meters in the universe (a trend we still see today).

More importantly, I have found how our hymns reflect our cultures more than we may ever imagine. I have had conversations with people comparing texts and tunes where the texts were nearly identical in content but had such different cultural roots (one Baptist and the other Episcopalian) that despite their textual similarities, they would never be used by the other church.
This has given me a bit more tolerance for the CCM world of music and with it a better understanding how this musical genre reflects the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary culture. I don’t have an appreciation of CCM, just an understanding.

I have been struck by the enormous richness of our musical heritage. It is possible to find a hymn which either directly quotes, references, or swerves nearby to just about any scripture used in a service. (Hard to say that about CCM). The more I have explored our vast treasure, the more I have come to appreciate it in all of its glory and warts.

This is the 1000th hymn. A great example of late 19th century middle-American Baptist hymn. It may not appeal to you, but it is one of our’s nonetheless.

Sweet By and By

https://youtu.be/-uVT6DH3HCw

Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show

By: Henry Francis Lyte 1793-1847

Tune usually associated: Llanfair by Robert Williams 1817

Here is a link to my YouTube recording:

https://youtu.be/fy-JBN4NFVM

1 Praise the Lord, God’s glories show, Alleluia!
Saints within God’s courts below, Alleluia!
Angels round the throne above, Alleluia!
All that see and share God’s love, Alleluia!

2 Earth to Heaven and Heaven to earth, Alleluia!
Tell the wonders, sing God’s worth, Alleluia!
Age to age and shore to shore, Alleluia!
Praise God, praise forevermore! Alleluia!

3 Praise the Lord, great mercies trace, Alleluia!
Praise His providence and grace, Alleluia!
All that God for us has done, Alleluia!
All God sends us through the Son. Alleluia!

4 Strings and voices, hands and hearts, Alleluia!
In the concert bear your parts, Alleluia!
All that breathe, your Lord adore, Alleluia!
Praise Him, praise Him evermore!

The final two lines provide a complete summary of the hymn: All that breathe, you Lord adore, Praise Him, Praise Him evermore!  Each line of this hymn is embraced by every corner of Christendom. While Lyte captures the universal truths of our faith, from today’s perspective, he found within his own life and ministry much division and contradictions.

Early in his ministry he took a parish in Lower Brixham; a fishing village in the southwest corner of Great Britain. While there, he began the first Sunday school ever in the area. In addition to the children’s school he started a Sailor’s Sunday School. The enrollment usually ran into the hundreds. While religious education was ostensibly the purpose of this school, the school usually provided the only educational opportunity for the area residence, who were mostly illiterate. He would also organize an Annual Treat for area children which included a short worship service followed by food and field games.

Lyte was, in today’s parlance, a Conservative Evangelical Christian. He worked tirelessly for his ever growing congregation who were mostly illiterate fishermen and their families. He would often visit them in their homes and on their vessels, making sure that each ship had at least one Bible on board. Yet, this man who had a deep care for his own people opposed Catholic Emancipation. Catholic Emancipation was an effort to relieve the Catholics of Great Britain of the many regulations which were imposed upon them two centuries earlier with the ascension of Protestant rulers. Yet, he worked for the end of slavery and the emancipation of all slaves in Britain and was very active in the abolition movement in England.

As the Non-conformist, also known as the Dissenter churches, such as Plymouth Brethren gained influence in England, Lyte strongly promoted allegiance to the Church of England. At one time he lost a sizeable portion of his congregation (including most of his choir) because of his position.

However contradictory aspects of Henry Lyte’s life and work may appear to us living in the early 21st century, we should hold off making any judgements. We nede to understand the historical context of his life in same understanding we would hope historians of the 23rd century would use in looking at our own time. For most of human history prior to time of the American and French revolutions, the Church and State were deeply intertwined. Various factions would join forces and compete for power and resources as seen in the English monarchy switching between Catholic and Protestant affiliations. Unlike what we experience today, these political/religious power transitions were often very violent affairs with the common people bearing the brunt of the chaos and loss. For a person of political or religious influence to oppose other branches of the church was as much of an existential argument as anything else. Based upon historical precedent, if the Catholics were allowed to come to power, it could mean the loss of Protestant lives.  The same could be said when the power structure shifted from Catholic to Protestant, Catholic lives were at risk.

This is how Lyte could advocate the freeing of African slaves and not the relief of Catholic oppression. One group (slaves) posed no historical threat, but the other (Catholics) had a history of violent oppression of Protestants. (And the Catholics would have a similar opinion of the Protestants.)  The experiment of a politically powerless church had only just begun in the Americas. By the end of Lyte’s life the experiment would have been proven and the political power of Church was in rapid decline. But this was not the history he was born into. I often wonder what ideas we take for granted as truth today, will be seen 200 years from now as foolish if not outright evil.

 

 

I have just started recording the Broadman Hymnbook. This hymnbook is out of the Baptist/Revival tradition.

Here are are few new recordings: (Skipped hymns have already been recorded and in The Hymnbook 1955)

 

We’re Marching to Zion Marching to Zion http://youtu.be/G5gYPyrrn8Q
Whiter Than Snow Whiter Than Snow http://youtu.be/63wy6FYnBwI
Seeking for Me Seeking for Me http://youtu.be/JPOkGJJLf8Q
When I Can Read My Title Clear Pisgah http://youtu.be/kbawNjYjZNE
I Saw the Cross of Jesus Whitfield http://youtu.be/qSb_D5hirDU

It all began on a Saturday in September almost 45 years ago. My mother walked with me from our home in Bad Axe, Michigan on North Port Crescent south a couple of blocks to South St and then west one house and introduced me to my first piano teacher: Mrs. Snodden. Fast forward to the fall of 2014. After hearing my parents mention several times that no one sang the old hymns anymore, I decided to record a CD’s worth of hymns out of The Hymnbook (Presbyterian 1955) which was used in the church I grew up in. Initially, I thought I would just pick 50 or so of the hymns I remember singing as a child. As it turned out, I couldn’t always remember if I had played or sang the hymns as a child or as an adult at one of the several churches I have worked through the years. And besides, 50 was just not nearly enough to even start with. So began a 6 month journey through the entire hymn book. I have played hymns I haven’t heard for 35 years and many I have never heard before; wondering why such gems had suffered such neglect.

So the journey is complete and I once more arrive at where I began and know it again for the first time. Such a journey is not unlike reading the Bible from cover to cover. You see such an overarching vista of God’s work that the imponderable and un-understandable mysteries which might have caused you to question your faith fade into the very fabric of your faith. You learn that faith is not in the knowing the answer but rather in the acceptance of the question. The final hymn speaks to the mercies of the night and God’s presence throughout our days. In the end of our days and the end or our faith, this is where we arrive, utterly dependent upon the Grace and Mercy of our Father.

 

Here is a link to the entire list of recordings I have done so far with links to all of the recordings:

http://andrewremillard.com/recording-list/

One of the frequent conversations held inside the esoteric world of hymn book editing is the use of supposedly archaic words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy. This issue reflects the general flattening of our language when it comes to the distinction between levels of personal intimacy. Most recently this has shown up in children and teen’s addressing of adults; especially in addressing their teachers by some form of their first name, whether or not it is proceeded with a Ms., or Mr. This over familiarity has blurred the line which once demarcated the youth from the adult. In several European languages there still exists a clear form of addressing a close friend or family member which is distinctively different from an address towards anybody else. And culturally, it requires a direct invitation to address someone with the intimate form.

One might assume that words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy, are a hyper formal form of address which is reserved only for religious usage. Nothing could be further from the truth. As our language has changed, we have not made everybody more intimate in our address (school children being excepted). Rather, we have made our intimate relationships no different in address than what is used for a total stranger. An address of “Thou” marked the greatest intimacy. It was reserved only for a lover, spouse, family member, or very close personal friend.

A true “Thou” intimacy is very rare in our lives, we may only have a handful during our entire lifetime. I had a “Thou” with my late, best friend Ralph Bus. Ours was a relationship built upon a complete openness and honesty and uncompromising love for each other. And yet we were as different as two men could be. He loved jazz, and well, I didn’t, but we shared a love of learning and exploring, so when I started to rent pianos to area jazz musicians, Ralph came along and loved getting to go behind the scenes. He also attended every concert I gave without fail.

“Thou” is characterized by a deathbed presence. When I received the call that Ralph had been taken to the Elmhurst hospital and was probably not going to survive the day, I raced to the hospital; getting my first speeding ticket of my life! If my dear friend had been awake, he would have died from laughing at me! But, alas, thou, my friend, we will have to wait for eternity to continue our exploration of our faith and what it means.

As rare as a true “thou” may be, we all have at least one “thou” and that is our Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The use of Thee, Thine, Thou, and Thy in our hymns is not a religious formality, but a reflection of the greatest of intimacies. An intimacy which burrows into our very being and holds our heart in the strongest and gentlest of hands. So use the “Thou” to address our most intimate of friends, it is the most appropriate way to address the one who loved us so much, the gave his only begotten Son to the cross, so that all may know the love which passes all understanding. Amen.

O Sing a Song of Bethlehem

Text by: Louis F Benson 1899

Generally sung to: Kingsfold, a traditional English melody

Here is a YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/nRXvyIjWEHQ

O sing a song of Bethlehem, of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them from angels in the air.
The light that shone on Bethlehem fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth the angels sing alway.

O sing a song of Nazareth, of sunny days of joy;
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath, and of the sinless Boy.
For now the flowers of Nazareth in every heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of His dear Name on all the winds that blow.

O sing a song of Galilee, of lake and woods and hill,
Of Him Who walked upon the sea and bade the waves be still.
For though like waves on Galilee, dark seas of trouble roll,
When faith has heard the Master’s Word, falls peace upon the soul.

O sing a song of Calvary, its glory and dismay,
Of Him Who hung upon the tree, and took our sins away.
For He Who died on Calvary is risen from the grave,
And Christ, our Lord, by Heaven adored, is mighty now to save.

 

Louis F Benson (1855-1930) was born and lived most of his life in Philadelphia, PA. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to the Bar in 1877 and practiced law until about 1884 when left the legal profession and started his theological studies. He was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister in 1888. In 1894 he resigned his position and devoted the rest of his life to literary efforts. He is most well-known for his work on hymnody, writing several books about the history of various hymns, collections of hymns, and translations of hymns. His personal library numbered over 9000 volumes upon his death.

Benson spent a considerable effort in editing the text of the most commonly used hymns in the English speaking churches. Before his work, changes and revisions had been made to many hymns to such an extent the original meanings and theology were often completely altered; as it continues to this day. He listed five characteristics which define a good hymn: 1) lyrical quality; 2) literary excellence; 3) liturgical propriety; 4) a tone of reverence; 5) spiritual reality. His editorial efforts were directed to returning the hymn text to their original versions as much as possible. He would allow for some alterations but demanded the changes fit his criteria of a “good hymn” and did no damage to the author’s original text.

While this hymn is often used exclusively during the Advent and Christmas seasons, it can just as easily be used throughout the year. Within its four short stanzas it traces the ministry of Christ from his birth in Bethlehem, life in Nazareth, his work in Galilee, and finally his death at Calvary.