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02 October 2006

driving home deep in the night Bob listens to a hymn, and now filches it

I love listening to the radio on a long drive, particularly in the middle of the night. The band below 91.9 FM usually contains college radio, public radio and, more and more frequently, religious -- i.e. Christian -- i.e. mostly Protestant -- radio, although the Roman Catholic church has ambitious footholds in FM.

Here in this region of FM, missionaries and evangelists are still battling gently and politely for your mind and soul -- there's little hellfire and brimstone on these stations -- and their most powerful tool is a body of music of unimaginable sweetness and the simplest major-key harmony, with a promise, never violated, of absolutely no musical surprises or challenges.

A young soprano with a perfect voice -- perfect like alabaster -- backed by a string ensemble of perfect harmony and relentlessly perfect rhythm -- sang this hymn. In the deep of the night on a dark country road in upstate New York, with her voice my only contact with another human being, she had my complete attention. It was simultaneously antiseptic and mesmerizing.

Here, somewhat predictably, the MIDI is impersonating a church organ.

Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling

Words and Music by Will L. Thompson (1880)

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling

Calling for you and for me
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me


Come home, come home
You who are weary, come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies
Mercies for you and for me?


Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing
Passing from you and from me
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming
Coming for you and for me


O for the wonderful love He has promised
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon
Pardon for you and for me



"He's calling you!"

-- Mark 10:49

When the world-renowned lay preacher, Dwight Lyman Moody, lay on his death bed in his Northfield, Massachusetts [about 20 miles north of me; Moody invented a thin, cheap, durable rice paper for mass-printing inexpensive Bibles, made a fortune, and founded the private boys' school Northfield Academy, and its sister school for girls, Mount Hermon Academy] home, Will Thompson made a special visit to inquire as to his condition. The attending physician refused to admit him to the sickroom, and Moody heard them talking just outside the bedroom door. Recogniz­ing Thompson’s voice, he called for him to come to his bedside. Taking the Ohio poet-composer by the hand, the dying evangelist said, "Will, I would rather have written 'Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling' than anything I have been able to do in my whole life."

(Emurian, p. 109)

This hymn was sung in the 1985 Academy Award winning movie, "The Trip to Bountiful," and at a memorial service for American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 8 April 1968.


James J. Olson said...


If I didn't know better, I'd think you were having a conversion experience.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Well, no, I wasn't having a conversion experience.

But music and words -- and things of the human spirit -- are so interesting and important to me, that I've always loved listening to people trying to give me a conversion experience late at night on the radio.

Convert me to all manner of things. During the Cold War, short wave radio was so interesting, and so large a part of the budgets of the competing superpowers. Radio allowed them to bypass borders and governments and speak directly to the people in the lands of the hostile powers. I used to love listening to Soviet-bloc English-language broadcasts, and I knew our side was taking its best shot at broadcasting to the people of the other side.

Radio is a battle for the mind and soul of the individual, and although I very much do not want my soul sucked out of me, I love to experience the attempts to win my mind and soul over the radio. I try to relax my mind and give them a fair try to take their best shot. We're all alone in the middle of the wilderness at night; I give them my complete attention.

This is a strange kind of music. The promise of absolutely no musical surprises or challenges or stretches. A kind of music like a $1000 Relaxo-Sofa-Chair, music that's the equivalent of a shoulder and back massage.

Movie music has evolved all sorts of musical cliches, to make you think of romantic passion, or patriotism, or fear and suspense, or sadness, or exultation. These cliches were a gentle bath of Holiness; musical phrases to make you feel Holy, or in the presence of Holy Things.

I can't really give this Hymn very high marks for creativity and originality and artistry -- this is not the music room where Gershwin or Mozart hang -- but it was powerfully seductive and emotionally manipulative. The author wanted to do something very precise and specific, and he had lots of just this kind of talent.

IT IS A LIE that I am closed to the religious experience.

I just don't like mine Off The Rack.

Is it a specific, named Heresy to Roll Your Own?

Thoreau said to beware all occasions which require buying new clothes. I tend to get nervous with any religion which does mass mailings.

This hymn and many like it I've heard -- particularly 19th century American Protestant hymns -- seem to walk a compromise line between the puritanical "Music Is Sin" and the sublime religious achievements of Mozart and Bach. The poetry of these hymns contain utterly no passionate religious mysticism, like William Blake.

It probably is an old recognized Heresy to try to Roll Your Own. And yet people do, they keep doing it every decade or so.

Asked about his religious beliefs, Professor Seagull (Maxwell Bodenheim) said:

In summer I'm a nudist
And in winter I'm a Buddhist

I'm pretty much still what I told you I was the last time the subject came up: I'm a neo-Pythagorean Sufi Spinozan Pantheist avec une soupcon du Buddhiste.

Because it all really is about the positive whole nonzero integers after all.

I just don't know what kind of hymns the neo-Pythagorean Sufi Spinozan Pantheist avec une soupcon du Buddhistes like to sing and listen to.

Vleeptron Dude said...

The more I think about this Hymn Biz, the more it annoys me that Hymns seem to think they're immune from Music Critics.

Because they're Holy Things. So it would be unbelievably rude and vicious for a Music Critic to say nasty things about them.

Madonna and Beyonce get smacked in the face every time they stand up and sing in public. But Hymn Authors think God has given them a Free Pass.

Not all Hymn Authors. J.S. Bach and Mozart wrote their hearts out to the Greater Glory of God, faced their critics, and their religious music lives forever. Bach actually didn't fare very well with his contemporary critics, who considered him a boring old fuddy-duddy. But the German African missionary, Albert Schweitzer (Nobel Peace Prize) raised money for his Congo hospital by giving European organ concerts of Bach music, and re-introduced this largely forgotten religious music to the world. Our modern critical awe of J.S. Bach dates to the early 20th century.

New Law on Vleeptron, Yobbo & Hoon: Write all the Hymns you want. They'll immediately be reviewed by the same critics who review Fudge Tunnel and Courtney Love. No more Free Pass for Hymns.

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