Saturday, November 18, 2006

Beyond Emergent...Japanese hymnody

Last Thursday night, our little choir got together to rehearse our one anthem for this Sunday's worship. We were down in numbers, but maybe some folks will show up and surprise us on Sunday. I just hope they know the piece we are singing, otherwise and anthem can turn into a horse race, with some finishing earlier than others. But we have fun together: 2 basses, 2 tenors, 2 sopranos and 4 altos last week.
But after our one hour rehearsal, the choir director, who is a superb music theorist, has asked me to give her a list of hidden nuggets in the hymnal, meaning hymns this church has probably never ever sung. Now I have a list of hymns that we sang in Minneapolis or the choir would sing. But there is one hymn in the hymnal I never recall singing anywhere.
It's a Japanese hymn composed by Taihei Sato (pictured above...I hope). The title is "Why Has God Forsaken Me" (#237 in the Covenant hymnal) which is not exactly an opening, uplifting up-tempo hymn. It's a hymn that belongs in a very particular place; embracing grief. The lyrics, by Bill Wallace, begin with Jesus' familiar words on the cross, then to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus death itself, then the fourth stanza: "Myst'ry shrouds our life and death but we need not be afraid, for the myst'ry's heart is love, God's great love which Christ displayed." The mystery's shroud is love!
The music is fantastic. Withou understanding music theory, it has that mysterious tonality associated with the East, minor withour being dour and droopy. We sang through it and said together, "tonight was worth it just to hear this hymn." I wish we had more truly multi-cultural music to access from the worship depth of other churches in other lands. How great would it be to have the hymnal on-line and addable, like wikipedia??


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