Monday, April 20, 2009

what's wrong with doing only 2 verses of a hymn?

there's this big stink that I read about in the Catholic blogosphere about how terrible it is to only do 2 verses of a hymn. (like, the first and last verses for the closing, or just the first two at the entrance cuz the priest is at the altar and glaring at you.)

Of course, most of us (Catholics) agree that hymns are problamatic to begin with: they only cover the action that is occurring, as opposed to the Propers, which would actually have texts that are integral to the Mass. (think of it like poetry...)

this is a serious differentiation from most Protestants, where the action stops and then we sing a hymn...that's just what we DO.

But what's wrong with stopping a hymn before it's done? Or singing the first verse then the final doxology verse? I've heard accusations that this makes the text incomplete...but so what? Not seriously. Hymns are almost never direct quotes from scripture; the verses usually seem to me to be *independent* texts of general praise to God.

Examples:
This is the one that really occurred to me during Mass this past weekend-- "I know that my Redeemer lives."
So we sing,
"I know that my redeemer lives, what joy the blest assurance gives, he lives who once was dead, I know that my redeemer lives."
then so WHAT if we skip,
"He lives to bless me with his love, he lives to plead for me above, he lives my hungry soul to feed, he lives to help in time of need."
and,
"He lives and grants me daily breath, he lives and I shall conquer death, he lives my mansion to prepare, He lives to bring me safely there."
and go directly to,
"He lives all glory to his name, he lives my saviour still the same, what joy the blest assurance gives, I know that my redeemer lives."

Or here's just the next short hymn in my book:
"The strife is o'er, the battle done, now is the victors triumph won, now be the song of praise begun..."
then there is NOTHING wrong with skipping:
"Death's mightiest pow'rs have done their worst, and Jesus has his foes dispersed, let shouts of praise and joy out burst.... He closed the yawning gates of hell, the bars from heav'n's high portals fell, let hymns of praise his triumph tell."
and go right to:
"On the third morn he rose again, glorious in majesty to reign, o let us swell the joyful strain."

The only thing that is diminished is due to the amount of time...but if we were singing the Proper, there would only be the theology of one sentence! But there is no incomplete thought. I would argue that each of the verses are a successfull stanza in and of themself.

5 comments:

Gavin said...

All other more complex arguments aside, because that's not what the author wrote works for me. Do you want someone to read your blog in the manner of "there's this big stink that I read about in the Catholic blogosphere about how terrible it is to only do 2 verses of a hymn. I would argue that each of the verses are a successfull stanza in and of themself."?

If we're going to use a hymn, we should have the respect for the author's work not to skip verse. If it's not worth singing it all, it isn't at all worth singing.

My main annoyance is that it represents a manifestation of the general Catholic disdain towards music, but that's a more complex argument.

Chris said...

Oooh ooh I know the answer. It's aesthetic sentimentality. They've waited all year for favourite hymn X and then all they get is 2 verses of it?? They don't care a whit that the priest is glaring, they want as much of that sweet sweet melody as they can get. And really can you blame them when so much modern music, liturgical and otherwise, is so boring, insipid, and unmemorable? I can--in fact I agree with you. But that doesn't stop me from sympathizing with the aesthetes who don't know any better.

Also, in reply to Gavin: "Si aliquid fieri valet, valet fieri male." - G.K. Chesterton

Scelata said...

Why should we "have the respect for the author's work not to skip verse"?

Someone picked and chose verses and even 1/2 verses of the psalms assembling the lectionary, we read part of a Gospel at a time, sometimes even skipping verses, (I don't mean doing the "shorter" optional reading, I mean the lectionary does not use every word of the appointed chapter or part chapter, ) we do pericopes from the Word of God, for pete's sake.

Singing only 2 verse of a trinitarian hymn, (thus giving the Holy Spirit the bird,) is wrong, and leaving off on a basically triumphant hymn that has a dire-sounding interior verse is dumb, but there is no reason not to pick and choose verses if one can make sense of the text.

The New English Hymnal very helpfully tells you which verses you can leaving out without making a hash of the meaning of the song.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Todd said...

It depends on the hymn. Some were composed as a full entity with a number of verses. If the music were planned with the full setting in mind, why would you cut?

As for glaring priests, the entrance music is not all about them. "Let us stand and greet our celebrant by singing 'Hail Holy Queen.'" That will cure them of the ailment.

robert said...

You make an interesting point. And let me add my two cents' worth, as a Protestant who loves our traditional hymnody, writes about it, and uses it a great deal.

There are a few exceptions to what you are saying--a very few. Songs that present a logical argument, or a historical account, from stanza to stanza, that make the omission of some more difficult. Other times, I think a hymn is simply so beautiful and profound that I'm loathe to omit any of it.

Sometimes, in these cases, I may read some stanzas--or have the congregation read them in unison.

But, as I say, these are rare exceptions. Most times it is possible to sing a stanza or two, and they make sense on their own. At times, I've done this and combined two or three hymns into a medley. That works well too.

I know it would surprise many Protestants to learn that quite a few of our older hymns originally had a dozen or more verses. Hymn book editors have already omitted a large part of the hymns!

Anyway, there are a few thoughts from the other side of the theological fence. If you're interested in hymn history, I invite you to check out my dailing blog, Wordwise Hymns.