This year, I got myself a gift for Easter: a brand new Lutheran Service Book. I was generously given a copy of The Lutheran Hymnal by my pastor when I first started my catechesis, but never picked up a copy of the LSB when it started appearing in the racks on the pews of the churches I attend. It has been so great finally having a copy in my nightstand to reference, I can't believe I let myself go without one for this long! I've been able to take my bulletin home and go back and re-read the text of the hymns we sang more easily - which, naturally, has led to more often.
This may be surprising, but as a musician, I have found hymns especially difficult to learn. I get distracted by anticipating the correct melody, I find myself noticing elements from my music theory classes at work ("Wow, look at that 6-5 resolution!"), and the tall stacks of drawn out words are sometimes difficult to decipher. Also, hymns are so infrequently repeated, they aren't as easy to call up as, say, the liturgy which we sing every week or the praise & worship songs I sang in my former churches.
All of the things that make hymns difficult weren't a factor in the contemporary services I used to attend. The repetitive praise & worship songs were projected in giant letters without music. The same song, which was not only repetitive within itself, was also likely to show up in the set list week after week after week. Also, it probably was on one of the many Hillsong-type recordings I kept in rotation in my car's CD player.
Switching suddenly to hymnals, orders of worship, and hymns was a shock to my system, to say the least. For a while, I thought I would never get hymns, that their depth would forever be lost on me. Recently, though, I've started to be able to look at the words and see them in phrases instead of columns. I've picked up enough hymn tunes that I'm increasingly able to get my eyes off those pesky notes. A few have been repeated enough over the years that I find myself able to recall larger portions of them and I get kind of excited to see them show up in the rotation. And, as a result, I've found many of them to be the insightful and meaningful songs (not to mention theologically sound - the best difference!) I've suspected they were and just couldn't figure out. What a joy!
I am far from having hymns mastered, to be clear, but I'm finally recognizing progress in a very long process that I never anticipated facing. I think my problem all along - and this goes for many aspects of liturgical worship - has been my expectations. Having a service with so much content is a lot harder to learn and lacks the immediate gratification I was used to. It takes time to learn these things, but it is worth the effort, especially when the big picture, such as entire stanzas of these beautiful hymns, starts becoming more clear. It's just going to take time and patience on my part, and more referencing that shiny new book on my nightstand.
Anyone have tips for learning hymns? Leave them in the comments and help me out.
A note on the purpose and future of this blog:
As a convert to Lutheranism from Evangelicalism, I have not a unique, but an atypical, lens through which I view my church. Now, a few years into this whole Lutheran thing, I've had enough space to look back more analytically and a growing desire to start sharing the view (and some nice support from my facebook friends - thanks, guys!). So, I'm using this blog as a chance to get my thoughts and observations out there. I'm planning to keep updating once a week on Sundays. I have a growing list of topics saved on my desktop, so... tune in next week, if you'd like! :)
- Learning Hymns