30 August 2011

** Memorizing Hymns **

Helping my wife take care of our son while she works part-time has taken up a lot of hours that would otherwise (probably) be spent on translating hymns or other frivolous pursuits, but it has also had a side-benefit. I have been availing myself of our afternoon walks for the memorization of core Lutheran hymns, a thing that I had long wanted to do but for which I only found sporadic inspiration. Before these strolls, I had only these hymns fully memorized (except as noted) since my earliest familiarity with them (ca. 2001-2005):
  1. The Gloria (DSI–II, DSIII)
  2. God the Father, Be Our Stay (easy after you get the first verse)
  3. O Lord, We Praise Thee (stanza 1)
  4. Of the Father's Love Begotten (now partly forgotten)
  5. The Te Deum (only to the Gregorian tune as found in BPB)
  6. Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy/Your Word (could switch between versions)
  7. A Mighty Fortress (sort of confused between the old and new versions)
  8. Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart

Now, after doing walks at least 3 days a week for a month, I have added these to my repertoire:
  1. Salvation unto Us Has Come (14 stanzas - TLH supplemented from ELHB)
  2. Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice (10 stanzas)
  3. We All Believe in One True God (old melody)
  4. In the Very Midst of Life
  5. In Peace and Joy I Now Depart
  6. That Man a Godly Life Might Live
  7. Wilt Thou, O Man, Live Happily
  8. O Lord, Look Down from Heav'n, Behold

Notes:

This looks like more than it actually is. Most of these hymns are only 3-5 stanzas. "In the Very Midst…," like "God the Father, Be Our Stay," has mostly the same words in each stanza with only a few lines differing. The long ones I did first and took a few days for each one to sink in, with lots of repetition and mnemonic reasoning and attention to alliterations and assonance to help remember. Since then I have alternated singing at least one of these on each walk so that I never forget.

The easiest hymns to memorize for me seem to be those like these first two, with interlocking rhymes (ABAB) and/or irregular line lengths (like "In Peace and Joy…"), while the hardest are those with couplets (AABB etc.) and lines all the same or about the same length; examples of the latter are "That Man a Godly Life…" and "Wilt Thou, O Man…" Perhaps it is the repetitive "Law"-element in these which adds to the difficulty to let them sink in, or perhaps it is the stilted quality in the translation.

This has been an easy and enjoyable way to learn Scripture, doctrine, and readily accessible prayers, as well as to learn "from the masters" so to speak, of English hymn translation. Seeing the possibilities of how things can be expressed clearly in English I expect will really me in future translation projects. Another benefit is that the joyful expectation of learning more hymnody by heart encourages me to stretch my legs when I don't otherwise feel like it.

Here are some I'm planning on learning in the near future, by God's help:
  1. In Thee Alone, O Christ, My Lord
  2. From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee
  3. The Mouth of Fools Doth God Confess
  4. If God Had Not Been on Our Side
  5. Jesu, dulcis memoria (or some version thereof)
  6. To Jordan Came Our Lord the Christ
  7. Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands (or the other version?)
  8. Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord
  9. Our Father, Thou in Heav'n Above
  10. Kyrie, God Father in Heav'n Above
  11. A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth (maybe - Gerhardt is so hyperpolystanzaic)
  12. How Blest Are They Who Hear God's Word
  13. Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand
  14. Lord, Hear the Voice of My Complaint
  15. In Jesus' Name Our Work Must All Be Done (ELH)
  16. By Adam's Fall Is All Forlorn (ELH)
  17. Lord, to Thee I Make Confession
  18. etc.!

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