What’s Up With the Hymns?

Apparently, this whole “Lutheran Hymn” thing puzzles quite a few people, so I thought I might write a little post about it.

First off, I grew up in a small town in South Western Wisconsin which was mostly populated by Norwegian and Lutherans. I grew up singing these hymns every Sunday. When I was old enough, I joined the children’s choir and continued in church choirs through most of high school.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs and interviews with musicians, and a lot of them talk about their very early inspirations.

Many of those musicians were lucky enough to have grown up going to African American Gospel churches or to belong to some ethnic group with an interesting folk music tradition.

However, as mentioned, I grew up going to a Lutheran church in Wisconsin. That is my tradition, and in a lot of ways, my “folk” music. That, and “Old Tyme Gospel Music”. But perhaps more about that later.

I find the basic harmonies and melodies of these old hymns, especially the more open ones, to be quite moving and powerful.

When I was looking around for some music to learn and play on the clarinet, I thought to myself, “Hey self! It might be funny to track down a Lutheran Hymnal, and learn those old hymns on the clarinet.” Get re-in touch with the memories and feelings of my youth, good and bad.

As a bonus, the hymns are neither particularly challenging nor long, which is, in fact, a big bonus for someone with a full time job who is also trying to (re) learn Jazz and to play the clarinet and sax.

I can transcribe, transpose, and record all 4 parts of the hymn in a few hours, and it is good for me to learn the recording, mixing, and arranging software. Most important, I am re-learning to play harmony parts with other instruments, even though I am playing all the instruments myself.

So, that’s what’s up with the hymns.

I hope you enjoy them a little bit, and that they might remind you of something of your past or present, good or bad.

It’s a Mystery

William Parker:

Last Question. Do you think that they, whoever “they” are, the writers, the people who document stuff, do you think they’ll ever understand this music the way musicians understand it?

Fred Anderson:

No, because I don’t think nobody understands. (laughs) They can only go by what they hear and what they like and what they don’t like. And I think that is the way they write about it, what they think is good. But I think most musicians that I know, anybody that ever said anything, ever did anything, never was satisfied with what they were doin’. They were searchin’. And I don’t think they really knew what they were doin’. They were still searchin’. And I think it’s been a mystery, just like life. Everybody writes a book and tells you how to do it this way, do that. That’s just their opinion and I don’t think nobody knows. I think life is a mystery. The music is a mystery. I think this whole universe is a mystery. (laughs) We’re talkin’ about somethin’, man, that nobody really understands. But, you’re entitled to your opinion and if you can put it out there and somebody can get something out of it, cool. It’s an individual thing. It’s a mystery. You make these decisions and that’s it. Whatever you leave, you leave it. (laughs) You just have to believe in what you’re doing and stick to it and be consistent and try to do it right and do it the best way as you see it. If somebody can benefit, cool. I’ve benefited from a lot of things that I’ve heard, by applying some of these techniques in my mind. Now that don’t mean that I was right or wrong, but if I did anything, I learned from observance, seeing how things was done. Another thing that taught me a lot of stuff–I didn’t realize that my wife was sick. She could’ve been sick a long, long time before I even met her. But it came upon me to deal with it. So you don’t know man. You just have to deal with the problem. Whatever the problem is, you try to deal with it. Sometimes you can deal with it, sometimes you can’t But that’s it, man. That’s how I see it.


From “Conversations”, a collection of interviews William Parker conducted with various performing artists and composers, published by RogueArt.

When I was young, I really liked music that used the recording studio as an instrument.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to question the value of those sorts of albums which are stitched together in the studio. Those Frankenstein creations where the musicians might or might not even be in the same room (or building).

I think my perception radically changed when I saw Anthony Braxton’s Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway) at Yoshi’s a number of years ago. I had been collecting Braxton recordings and attempting to understand them without much success. Seeing that band, though, and feeling what was going on between the players, I understood that the music often called “Jazz” is most about the interaction of the players in the moment.

Jazz recordings, at best, are like insects captured in amber.

To be captured in amber, the insect has to die.

Similarly, the spontaneity of the moment and the energy exchange between players, things that are the essential features of a jazz performance, have to be stripped away, in the interest of fidelity and trapping a piece for eternity.

I’ve come to feel that most recordings of Jazz are really just souvenirs, simply reminders of artists I respect and gestures of support for their ongoing struggle to represent their craft against all odds.

Be Always Drunken

“Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.

And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
wave,
star,
bird,
clock will answer you:
“It is the hour to be drunken!”

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1864

If Baudelaire’s “Be Always Drunken” is one of your favorite poems, basically, ever, what do you do when you quit drinking?

If you’ve spent the last 10 years as something of a cocktail & spirits expert and a bartender, what do you do, if you don’t drink?

I mean, for more than 5 years, the cocktails of the Savoy Cocktail Book were a fairly single minded obsession for me. Getting (or making) the ingredients, making the drinks, photographing the drinks, writing the SavoyStomp.com Blog, hosting Savoy Nights at Alembic, etc.

Daniel Hyatt was prescient, saying a long time ago, “If you ever finish this thing, you are going to have some serious post-partum depression.”

Seriously, even leaving aside the drinking part, that’s a lot of effort & time I was spending over Savoy Cocktails, that is now free.

Well, the obvious thing, is to find something else to do, other than drink & write about drinking.

I guess that is the whole plan of AA. You have to go to at least a meeting every day. You meet with your sponsor. You drink lots of coffee. You smoke. You hang out with your new AA buddies. You’ve got badges and buttons to earn. Pretty clearly, you’re replacing the time you spent drinking and hanging out with your drinking buddies and those rewards, with the time spent fulfilling your responsibilities to the AA organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a higher power, nor do I have any desire to hang out in church basements drinking coffee.

So, to set myself up for success, in this whole “not drinking” experiment, I’m going to have to find something to occupy my time.

Prior to my obsession with cocktails, my enthusiastic hobbies have included, in no particular order, Reading, Botany, Gardening, Computer Games, Music, Playing Music…

Oh, huh, I still have that clarinet I bought when I was just out of college.

Well, learning to play the clarinet is certainly something that can take up a lot of time and attention.

Performing music was really my first addiction and enthusiasm.

I started performing music in the children’s choir at church and continued to sing and perform in pretty much every possible way through high school: Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Musicals, and yes, even, horror of horrors, Madrigal.

Stopped performing when I went off to college and started drinking.

Is it possible that every other addiction, or enthusiasm, in my adult life has just been a substitute for the buzz of performing music?

Now that is something to think about.

…and I doubt Mr Baudelaire would disagree that it is possible to be drunken with song…