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Losing something in the modernization

This past Sunday our worship team learned and led a new (old) song – Chris Tomlin’s arrangement of (and new chorus for) the old hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns.

On the whole, I like it. If adding a contemporary chorus is what it takes to get us singing two and a half verses of densely-packed truth in a classic hymn, that’s a deal I’m willing to make.

Aside: the density of theological truth in this old hymn, when compared to what’s in most modern songs, is really stunning. But that’s a post for another time.

The one quibble I’ve got with Tomlin’s update to the hymn, if you’ll allow me to be pedantic for a minute or two, is in the updates to remove the archaic articles. Now, I’m not, in principle, against removing them. Thee, Thou, and Thy aren’t in common usage any more, and a careful update can give the classic text a fresh new feel. But the changes here aren’t so careful, or at least they’ve sacrificed accuracy in favor of rhyming schemes. A couple of examples:

From Verse 1, the original:

Awake my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for Thee
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity

And the update:

Awake my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for me
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity

That second line is a challenge to modernize, because getting lines two and four to rhyme really depends on having that long E sound at the end of line two. And replacing “thee” with “me” doesn’t actually change the theological content in any particularly objectionable way.

But it changes the perspective of the verse. In the original, the author calls his soul to sing, because Jesus died for his soul. In the update, the soul is called to sing because of the salvation of the author. A minor difference, but (at least to me) frustratingly annoying.

The second issue comes in what was the tail end of the fourth verse in the original, but which Tomlin has repurposed as a bridge in his version.

The original:

All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail
throughout eternity.

And the update:

All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For He has died for me
His praise and glory shall not fail
Throughout eternity.

And it’s the same problem – what the heck do you use to rhyme with eternity?
A friend on Facebook pointed out that the problem (quite obviously, upon reflection) isn’t with rhyming ‘eternity’. Doh!

This time I dislike the solution quite a bit more, because it changes the direction of the lines. In the original hymn, the hymnwriter turns to address Christ directly at the end. “All hail, Redeemer, hail! You have died for me!” But the reworking turns it into an account of Christ’s work rather than a direct stanza of praise.

Again, it’s still not wrong, but it really loses something in the translation.

OK, yes, I’m being pedantic. I’m still happy we sang the song, and I hope we include it in our regular song rotation. But I’m also still tempted to conclude that maybe the better lesson for the modern church would be to learn to sing and appreciate some of these classic hymns without forcing them to fit our modern musical sensibilities. Or maybe I’m just getting crotchety in my late 30’s.

3 Comments

  1. Bridgit Brandt Bridgit Brandt

    Agreed.

  2. Anna Olson Scholl Anna Olson Scholl

    Agreed.

  3. scatterfingers scatterfingers

    If they’re going to update songs, why not just forget about rhyme? It’s not like songs need to rhyme.

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