Now for a fun project — let’s rewrite the hymn book! In particular, let’s discuss a few hymns which (in a perfect world) might be headed for the chopping block.
This kind of discussion has the potential to generate some serious disagreement, so let me start with a few clarifications and parameters.
First, I’m not talking about hymns that everyone sings, whether or not they have much aesthetic appeal. (Think the unfortunate alto line in “Now Let Us Rejoice”). Yes, I know, you may think “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” is musically bland. But let’s face it, no one is going to take that out. Let’s stay in the real world for this post.
Nor am I talking about hymns that aren’t sung, but should be.
In addition, bear in mind that there’s a special place in the book for easy-to-play hymns. Yes, “Come Follow Me” and “Secret Prayer” and “Choose the Right” are probably over-sung. But they serve a very important role in the 25% of wards where the ward organist / pianist can comfortaly play only a very small subset.
That is, we’re going to focus on hymns which are:
2. Relatively bland, trite, or uninspiring.
3. Preferably, not particularly easy to play.
Where appropriate, we’ll also discuss any other specific reasons for removal.
These are hymns that you’ve really never heard sung, and you haven’t missed much. These are the hymns which could be removed entirely from the book and no one would ever notice it.
Here are a few of my picks:
#168 – As the Shadows Fall. Could there be a more appropriate hymn for immediate excision? Let’s see, this one has:
-Music set in a difficult key. There aren’t any hymns set in D flat in our hymn book, and it’s for a reason.
-Words that are bland and uninspired. “Thee” rhymes with . . . “thee.” With that rhyme scheme going, you would think they could have had more than two verses.
-It’s not anything really useful — it’s the least useful category of hymns in our book, the “closing / repose” hymns. And it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of dreck between 152 and 168. (It’s not all dreck, but the percentage seems higher than usual).
#154- Father, This Hour has Been One of Joy.
-It’s got the dreaded single verse — a sure sign of questionable lyrics.
-It also has an extended intro — what is this, a primary song? Come on, give us four verses and those little brackets for an intro.
-The lyrics are uninspired. Let’s see, you have no further verses to have to deal with. Full freedom to express beautifully in a single verse what you perhaps couldn’t in the more rigid environment of a four-verse hymn. And the best this hymn can do is “blessings” with “caring”? Yech. Seriously, how much time was spent on these lyrics? 10 minutes? 15, maybe?
-That said, this one has a decent melody. I don’t think it’s enough to save it, given the major shortcomings of the text.
-Not an “easy to play” hymn, so no reason to save it on that ground. (Not really hard, either, but it’s no “Come Follow Me”).
-You’ll notice that this is another in the 152-168 range of hymns.
#40- Arise, O Glorious Zion
This one may be less obvious than the other two. It’s got four verses, a normal meter (7676D), and a normal-sounding melody.
That said, this is a hymn that I never hear sung in church. (Really — in 30 years, and numerous wards in several states, I can’t recall ever hearing this one sung in Sacrament.) And the reason seems to be that it’s just bland. It’s very topic-duplicative — it offers the same kind of text as other hymns (such as #41, Let Zion in Her Beaty Rise). However, it does so in a much less interesting way.
Okay, let’s discuss. Any objection to my three selections so far? And — the really fun part — which hymns do you think should be added to the list?