Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hymn and Haw

I am a big proponent of music and kids. Music engages both sides of your brain which makes it a wonderful teaching tool. Words and facts stick better when put to music. And kids love music! Even Meres, my 11 month old, will join our daily time at the piano. She has her own version of "singing" when she hears music being played. That, and her booty dance. Kids naturally like the melody, rhythm and sounds of music. I think that is why we have seen a resurgence in music activities themed for youngsters i.e. Baby Einstein.=)
I don't consider myself terribly musical. I can play the piano a bit, and I enjoy singing. I do not have a particularly good voice. I do enjoy music. I enjoy many genres. The only genres I am not a big fan of are blue grass, rap, and hard rock. Not my thing. I try to expose my kids to various genres to build music appreciation. I want them to appreciate the talent that goes into all different kinds of music.
But, besides music appreciation, I also have a burden for teaching my kids, and other kids, the hymns. I teach them the little ditties and choruses, but I emphasize the hymns. The solid songs the hymnbooks are chock full of. This does not mean I don't like CCM, because I do. I really appreciate the lyrics and music of the Gettys. We listen to these disks in the car, and we sing right along. Just because a song is "new" doesn't mean it isn't a good song. For that matter, just because a song is in the hymnbook doesn't make it a good song either.
Consider the periods hymnology has went through. Saints from time immemorial have sung the Psalms. That is the only songs they sang. When Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and others came along, I am sure people thought their music was "of the devil." Ever heard that expression?=) Fast forward to the wave of gospel music written in the mid to late 1800s, and early 1900s. Music that was penned by contemporaries of DL Moody. Music that was written during the wave of gospel work that went on then. I bet they got an earful too. Then we have the Gaither and Peterson stuff of the 1960s and 1970s. Snort. By that time, the gospel era songs were part and parcel in the hymnbooks. They were considered "good hymns," right along with Wesley and Cowper. The Gaither stuff was contemporary, i.e.-bad. Now, that is in our hymnbooks, which makes them "good songs." And our generation is plugging Chris Tomlin and Getty music-which obviously has no merit because it is presented on Powerpoint, and not found in a hymnbook. I am sure it will hit the books in a few years, and then it will be considered singable by the old guard. Because that is what happens each generation. But, really, that was not the point of this blog.
My point is I am plugging the old hymns. Not versus the new hymns. I just want to encourage a revisiting of the old hymns.
Why? It isn't just the lyrics. It is the stories behind each song. Hymns reveal the hearts and faith and walks of the authors. The hymn books are full of the heart cries of the authors. The hymn books are full of God's answers. They are full of lessons learned and comfort received. They are full of doctrine and understanding of Scripture. They are full of the attributes of God. They are full of poetic pictures. I think our gut is to fight against traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism. Traditions can become rote. They can be stagnant.
I want to encourage you to not throw out the baby with the bath water. But to appreciate a good hymn. Whether 200 years old or 2 years old. I want to encourage you to build hymn appreciation in your kids.
Think of the stories behind the hymns. Everyone knows Amazing Grace. It is probably the most well known hymn in the world. And, a lot of people know John Newton's story too. But if you really look at the lyrics of Amazing Grace, you can see his testimony outlined there. He was a wretch, blinded by his sin, brought through many dangers, toils and snares. And God's amazing grace saved John Newton. John Newton said he never forgot two things. He was a great sinner and God was a great Savior. Two other things John Newton never forgot, from the time of his conversion, were God's grace, and that God hears and answers prayer. He was despicable, yet God heard his prayer and saved him (physically and eternally) in the midst of a terrible storm. He never forgot that. And if you make a study of his hymns, you will see that they always mention either God's grace or the fact that God answers prayers. Every one of his hymns.

How about Martin Luther and his well known hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God? I used to not like this song. I thought it was difficult to play and sing. But a couple years ago I taught it to my kids. I took time to define the big words, and then to explain what this song is about. Christianity is under attack. But God is our fortress. Martin Luther lived during the time of Henry VIII, and Charles-the Holy Roman Emperor. He lived during the time of castles. When he wrote his words, people knew exactly what he was talking about picture-wise. It was medieval England and Europe. They were all about war and castles. He wrote that even though Christianity, and truth, and God are under attack, the devil and his minions are defeated. The Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, is victorious. His kingdom is forever! Why would we want to give up the majestic truths of that hymn?
Teaching kids hymns and hymn appreciation takes time. A lot of the terms are difficult or archaic. But we sell them and ourselves short if we don't challenge them to learn something difficult. When I teach a hymn, I try to first familiarize the kids with the tune. Having the words written for readers is helpful. Enunciate the words clearly. If you come to a trouble spot with words and pronunciation, stop, and say it, and try that measure again. Explain what difficult words mean. You may need to look some of them up in the dictionary. And also give the overall message of the song. Small picture then big picture. You can also share back ground about the author or composer. Their stories help connect you with their works. And then spend a month, or more, singing the same hymn over and over. You will find that each one becomes precious to you. And to your kids. The truths speak to your circumstances. You will find that your repertoire increases month by month, year by year. And the hymn book doesn't seem so fuddy-duddy, because these hymns have resounded in your heart.
Some of my favorites are:
Crown Him with Many Crowns
How Firm a Foundation
It is Well
Praise to the Lord 
May the Mind of Christ My Savior
and the list goes on and on.

What old hymn could you make your kid's new favorite today?