June 2, 2013

Heavens and Earth, All of Creation

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post about the hymn “Earth and All Stars.” The post was “New Verses for a Bad Hymn.” (Read that post for some background on the hymn.) I probably should have called my essay “Even Worse Verses for a Bad Hymn,” since I was really making fun of the hymn, not trying to improve it.

We sang the hymn (#412 in The Hymnal 1982) in church today, probably because Psalm 96 was appointed for the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The psalm begins “Sing to the Lord a new song,” a line that occurs twice in each stanza of “Earth and All Stars.” Several members of the choir grumbled about the hymn when we practiced it before today’s service. No one defended the text by Herbert F. Brokering, but several people expressed approval of the tune by David N. Johnson. This made me think that it might be possible to achieve a more felicitous (and not embarrassing) pairing of words and music.

For those not familiar with the hymn or those who need to be reminded of it, here is a nice rendition of “Earth and All Stars.” It includes a seventh verse not in the Episcopal hymnal:


Let me enumerate some of what I dislike about the Brokering text:
  1. Nothing rhymes. Rhymes are not essential to a hymn, but rhyme often enhances a text significantly.
  2. The text is repetitive. One can excuse the repetition of the refrain, but the repetition noted above and the occurrence of “loud” twice in each stanza is a bit much.
  3. The use of “loud” often makes little sense. What is one to make of “loud rushing planets,” for example. Planets moving through the vacuum of space make no noise! Perhaps even less reasonable is “loud sounding wisdom.”
  4. Some references just don’t seem appropriate for a Christian hymn in the 21st century. Most notable in this regards is “O victory, loud shouting army.”
  5. The text seems to be trying too hard to be contemporary. Examples of this are “athlete and band” and “limestone and beams, loud building workers.”
Writing new verses that don’t rhyme is easy. One simply fills in the blanks in this template:

__________,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
__________,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too will praise him with a new song!

I began writing stanzas this way, avoiding “loud” and being guided by the image of all creation praising God. I discovered, however, that without too much effort, I could introduce rhyme into the two blanks in my template. This inspired me to try rhyming lines 1 and 3 systematically. It also occurred to me that I might be able to change the last line to rhyme with the antepenultimate one.

With some effort and with help from a friend, I produced the text below. I don’t know that I want this to be my final effort, but I am not dissatisfied with it. I freely admit that some stanzas are better than others. Perhaps readers can validate my efforts or suggest improvements. In any case, I will boldly assert that “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation” is better than “Earth and All Stars.” See if you don’t agree.

Heavens and Earth, All of Creation

Heavens and earth, all of creation,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
All living things, join the elation,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Valley and hill, river and ocean,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Pond, lake, and sea, water in motion,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Flowers and grains, pine woods and oak trees,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Apples and pears, berries and sweet peas,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Shrew, fox, and snake, bird, fish, and rabbit,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Nest, den, and hole that they inhabit,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Nations and tribes, drawn from all races,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Cities and towns, differing faces,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Young ones and old, blissful or mourning,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Fathers and moms, babies aborning,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him singing along!

Update, 6/4/2013: I have now published a revised version of this hymn, which I believe to be much improved. (Well, somewhat improved, anyway.) You can find it here.


Earth from space

4 comments:

  1. That is a great improvement. ( It really is a good tune)

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  2. Well, I LOVE "Earth & All Stars", as is, music&lyrics, so there! ;-p~~~

    [I will consider your new verses, Lionel, when I have gotten past my annoyance. "Bad hymn", Feh!]

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  3. You might also check out "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen" - same tune, with an Easter text (ironically by Herbert Brokering...).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for calling this text to my attention. I had a hard time finding the text, but it can be read in this YouTube video.

      I certainly like this text better than “Earth and All Stars,” and it surely makes a serviceable Easter hymn. Verse 4 is probably my favorite, and verse 5 is interesting. The text certainly benefits from the lack of repetition (except for the refrain, of course) and the use of rhyme.

      Delete

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