Ye Simple Souls Who Stray
As you read the following, please keep in mind that my credentials to comment on anything music related include the ability to accurately locate "Middle C" on the piano. That’s it. That’s my singular qualification.
In my musical opinion (detailed above), our Congregational Music Leader has determined that we, the congregation, need to learn more of the obscure hymns in the hymnbook. My thought is that these hymns are lesser known and unsung because they are peculiar, uninviting, hard to sing, and out-of-date.
Regardless, our music leader perseveres and each week the result is the same. We open the hymnbook to the number noted on the hymn board and attempt (without much success) to match the words in the book to the sounds emanating from the organ. The outcome of our valiant efforts is a jarring, discordant mix of sounds that have no business being heard in church. Most of us congregants waive the white flag after the first verse. By the last verse it’s just the organist, chorister, and a couple of tone-deaf octogenarians who “endure to the end”.
In my expert opinion, here are a few examples of hymns that should forever remain unsung.
First up is a hymn titled “Nay, Speak no Ill”. It is to be sung “thoughtfully” (how fast is thoughtfully?). As near as I can tell, this hymn seems to be a lecture against evil speaking. The Hymn notes: “Give me the heart that fain would hide, would fain another’s faults efface.” Translated into English I think it says: ““Come, thou monarch of the vine, Plumpy Bacchus with pink eyne!” When properly performed, it sounds like a slow-starting engine—just when you think it’s not going to make it, there is one more verse.
The Hymn I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger is also to be performed “thoughtfully”. The title alone qualifies this one for exclusion. The final verse ends on this cheery note: “With the many that are now the vulture’s prey.” I don’t know about you, but when I attend church, I don’t want to be reminded that I might be “vulture’s prey.” The tune is also very dirgey.
Now the Day is Over qualifies mainly to prevent rogue music directors from sneaking this onto the program. We once sang this at 10:00 a.m. The final line reads thus: “With thy tend’rest blessing, may our eyelids close.” Imagine you’re teaching during the second hour to students who have just been encouraged to close their eyelids. Plus, at only 33 words, it’s too short to be considered a proper hymn. By the time most congregants find page #159, the hymn and benediction have concluded.
Here are a few more hymns that should never be sung:
Father, This Hour Has Been One of Joy. At a mere 27 words (the title/first line contains 30% of the total song). To compensate for so few words, the song is played “reflectively” meaning that you sing it so slowly that the 27 words seem like 270. Pass
Come, All Whose Souls Are Lighted. The title is just too strange. I can’t decide if I want my soul “lighted” or not.
Ye Simple Souls Who Stray. With my expert taste in musical lyrics, this one seems to say; with pity, we righteous few look down from heaven on you simple souls who stray and “throng the downward road.”
Here is my rule for congregational hymns in church. Sing only the chart toppers and leave the obscure hymns for trained musicians performing “special musical numbers.” There are easily 100 great hymns you can’t wear out by singing them once every few weeks or months. Singing How Great Thou Art, All Creatures of Our God and King, Redeemer of Israel, How Firm a Foundation, Nearer, My God to Thee, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Lead, Kindly Light, (insert your favorite here), never gets old and will never leave the chorister singing by himself. That’s my expert musical opinion. You may have a different (i.e., incorrect) opinion but that’s your right. Other than me, no one will look down on ye who “throng the downward road.”