Familiar Tunes Described

Here is a description. See if you can guess the song. More of this here.

This hymn depicts a human soul responding to the call of Christ—but the music is whiny and grim, evoking in most people’s minds a can of rancid potted meat, being slowly spread by windshield wipers across a plate of dirty auto glass. You hear Christ calling, all right—but you feel like He’s some hobo who’s tapping at your window at 4 a.m. to wake you from a sound sleep so He can ask you directions to Dunkin’ Donuts. You don’t so much want to answer Him as clock him with a slipper. Sung in a sleepwalking, zombie rhythm, its use at Communion time produces a strikingly cinematic effect, which film critics have dubbed “The Church of the Living Dead.” Here again, we have a chance to bring good out of evil: In preliminary tests, use of this song by military interrogators has proved a successful, slightly more humane replacement for water-boarding.

45 Replies to “Familiar Tunes Described”

  1. 'Here I am' is a classic piece of liturgical music, and is published in hymnals of all denominations.

    Has anyone read the article about this is CMQ?

  2. It is not alway easy to get RC's to sing, but I have never known a congregation not to join in with the above.

  3. Ah yes: when one's favorite music fails to win converts, just indulge in the hermeneutic of subtraction. See how those Christians love one another … and another nail in the coffin of the new evangelization. Good work for a Friday.


  4. Todd, I've read every one of Zmirak's "Bad Catholic" series, and he is one funny dude. But if you know his schtik, he will employ every rhetorical device at hand, including the toilet or sink, to finally just "get the laugh." The particulars of the object of his passing fancy, nor their essence, aren't the object of his wit, the caricature is.
    I'll take him any day over other polemicists every Friday, especially the joyless ones. You know who they are-they tend to resemble Richard Burton playing Becket, with that pitiful laugh and smile that cries out "tortured soul lives here."

  5. I cant understand why people mock "Be Not Afraid". It's one the better choruses from "Elijah". Maybe Yanks don't get Mendelssohn.

  6. You live in a small world, John; but it's yours and it's now, so that's great so it is. Do you want a cup of tea?

  7. So, maybe here's the problem: we had hymns/songs in the late 19th-early 20th century style…then time stopped for 50-70 years and we had hymns in the Stile Nuovo (snicker). What if we'd had hymns/ songs based on Gregorian melodies and styles these last 100 years?

    I thought I'd discovered a treasure-trove when I came across several copies of the St. Gregory hymnal in my parish. My pastor disagreed. He, like most, see the negative( such like "Let the Great Organ Swell the Lay…) I saw the treasury of polyphony, sacred rites,and the language of the Church, preserved. I still see it my way.

    The point? The music of the Church can be adapted for every age. Not the music of every age adapted for the Church.

  8. And "The Heavens Are Telling" is an amazing chorus from Haydyn's The Creation.

    People make fun of the strangest things!

  9. I think Todd's an exemplar of Christian virtue. It requires heroic charity for a Catholic sensibility to not merely tolerate this sorry stuff but apologise for it, too.

  10. "The point? The music of the Church can be adapted for every age. Not the music of every age adapted for the Church."

    I don't think this is true.

    What do you think of 'Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret'?

  11. I agree Mark.

    In addition, '[I] hear Christ calling … ' when I hear this beautiful song.

  12. Some folks wonder why I don't socialize with the members of my ordination class. Early in our education, I put together a little (legal) hymnal with some popular hymns (none of these) and chants that we could use at the conclusion of our evenings together. I did this because I was the only trained liturgical musician in the group. Their response was to denigrate my work and chip in to buy Glory and Praise 25, or something like that, and belt out "Here I Am, Lord" three evenings out of four. It being an occasion of sin for me to listen to it, I always left when they began it. I understand exactly how people feel when they turn their backs on the Church because of the music they hear on Sundays.

  13. Have you read the CMQ article Ian?

    The music under discussion is not 'sorry'.

  14. 'Here I am' is scripture set to popular melody.

    I do not believe that anyone has turned their back on the Church throughe hearing it.

  15. After reading the link….first, thanks again for the help. I ADORE the works of Bach. Now…

    Where to begin? So the chorale tune was a mutation of a 16th century love song? Change the part, change the whole. The chorale melodies were written to be simpler tunes the congregation could sing along with…. Set aside the fact that after 200 years, the tunes were adapted into arias and vocal fugues, etc. to be performed by professional musicians. So, I'm not surprised that chorale melodies may resemble SOME popular/ secular tunes of that time, 400 years ago.

    Lest we also forget, Bach wrote music for, and worked in, the LUTHERAN church. When we needed hymns for Low Mass, we borrowed. Should we have? Probably not. Enter Vatican II and a call for sung Propers for everyone…you see where this is going. Thanks for reading

  16. Perhaps the most popular liturgical song based on a gregorian melody (Orbis factor) is 'Eagles wings'.

    Bub hurd's 'I saw water flowing' quotes directly from a verse of one of the gregorian settings of 'Vidi aquam'.

    'One bread, one body' is fairly close to the 'Paschal Alleluia'.

    Dan Schutte's Advent song is a version ot the melody of 'Avee Maria stella'.

    Richard Proulx's psalm tones are gregorian-based.

  17. I don't think it's true either. The whole point of evangelization and the salvific mission of Christ is to draw all things to the Father. Church musicians through the centuries have made it their mission to adapt to further the Reign of God. Skeptics like John Zmirak aren't going to stop it now.

    It is illustrative that he singles out Scripture-based songs (not hymns!) I remember Shawn Tribe holding up a rather saccharine metrical text for Communion from an old Catholic hymnal and objecting to the tide of criticism. JZ might accurately criticize these four melodies for being overused–and I might not disagree. But they are all singable. The real test, as with chant, is the tempo at which they are sung. And for accompanied music, what the musicians put into the accompaniment.

    As for his first description, actually I was wondering how Viri Galilaei would fit.


  18. I agree with you Todd — some of these melodies are over-used.

    However, there seems to be nothing around to replace them.

    I search in vain thru' the various 'proper' collections for anything that I
    believe would be popular with the average RC congregation.

  19. I would certainly turn my back on any church that tried to inflict it on me. And the same goes for the rest of the repertoire you so ardently recommend. I don't think this stuff is nearly as popular as its devotees would have us believe. I think a lot of people put up with it because it is what is normally dished up, and leave their critical faculties at home. I'm afraid I can't do this; I don't just dislike this genre, it makes me feel physically sick to the extent that would have to leave.

  20. I can think of no better symbol of the Empire of Mawkishness that has oppressed liturgical music for decades than a unicorn with a rainbow shooting out his backside.

  21. This should be after my comment "So…"

    Do you have credible sources for those comments above, or is it your own observations? I know the first 3 tunes, and can agree with your statement regarding the Hurd vidi aquam. I can't agree with the OBOB comparison.

    Richard P…. A voice crying out… Generally love his stuff.

  22. Todd, how in the hell did you arrive at John Zmirak = Skeptic?
    If from the passage cut and pasted for a Cafe demographic, shame on you.
    If you've read him thoroughly and consistently, then shame on me, but we beg to disagree.
    Should you have based that minimalismatic caricature on all of the above, get thee to a comedian, post haste.

  23. JP, I'm calling you out on your unbrldled pomposity. Like your current "like rating" you always get plus 2 from me because you're a Brit (were you Scots you'd start with 3.) But of late, between thinking the center of the liturgical universe revolves around you, and your presumed, egotistic impulse to trample unabashedly upon any American sensibilities, I hereby consign you to 30 days of solitude at Rorate Caeli.
    You give the impression of being LitMusic's equivilent to Gen. Montgomery in the desert. God forbid you miss tea.

  24. At my parish the women and children "join in" (sort of). Anyone over twelve years old with a Y chromosome half mouth the words with looks on their faces like they are thinking "How long, O Lord?".

  25. There are some among the faithful who tolerate Eucharistic adoration but do not embrace it. They understand that such ceremonies can provide moments of comfort and quiet reflection, and even though some expressions of that ceremony border on idolatry in their eyes, they don't advocate total elimination of the practice. When my father died my mother and I found comfort and solace in certain hymns, especially those of Ralph Vaughn Williams. God's embrace is all encompassing. Who are we to deny that comfort wherever the faithful may find it. Thank you Mr. Quinn for standing for a broad diversity in our music choices.

  26. Diversity doesn't mean anything goes, Clare. Our liturgy has a particular ethos which is matched by the music – Gregorian chant – with which it has a symbiotic relationship. As the Second Vatican Council, various Holy Fathers and tradition attest, other kinds of music in the liturgy should be permitted to the extent that they reflect the liturgical virtues of chant. The problem with the sentimental and mawkish is that it encourages an idolatrous focus on own our feelings, rather than the still, small voice of God.

    That is not to argue against a broader judgement when meeting the pastoral needs of individuals in extraordinary circumstances, or in extra-liturgical devotions. However, that isn't John Quinn's argument, which is that popularity and direct participation are ends in themselves which should take priority. That seems to me to be at odds with the spirit and letter of the Council, not to mention the deeper tradition.

    As for your parents' preference in hymns: they sound like the Anglican patrimony for which the Holy Father Emeritus has such a considerable respect that he founded the Ordinariates. Who are we to disagree?

  27. The comedy is lost, perhaps, on the context in which I find him. When I was younger, I struggled to poke fun at myself, mainly because poking fun was a tool of intimidation in my family of origin. These days, I find that it is indeed enjoyable to poke fun at oneself.

    As for Mr Zmirak, I remember him as a contributor to places like Crisis and, I think, the American Conservative. Both generally blue oxford shirt and frowny-face places. The problem, as always, is context. Even the occasional cool kid had (admittedly) an ability to deliver a devastating repartee. In this context, I went to the post, read the first "caricature," considered Jeffrey's pov, closed the link, and asked the question, "Why the heck do these people bother?" Shooting fish in a barrel … with a cheering audience.

    Sometimes it's just better to sing real music. Punditry, even clever, has jumped my shark.

    On your recommendation, however, I will tune in to Mr Zmirak for non-liturgical commentary.


  28. Obviously no is required to attend adoration where the Blessed Sacrament is in the monstrace for special exposition such as perpetual adoration, but as far as adoration of the Eucharist as an overall concept, a Catholic must do more than merely tolerate it:

    "The Worship of Adoration (latria) must be given to Christ present in the Eucharist (De Fide.)" [Ott p. 387] and the Council of Trent explicitly rejected the reproach of "idolatry", and "some expressions of that ceremony border on idolatry in their eyes" is vague and highly suspicious.

    There is no similar teaching for saccharine hymns.

    P.S. And just in case someone wants to make hay out of the pre-VII Ott, here's the Compendium of the Catechism:

    286. What kind of worship is due to the sacrament of the Eucharist?


    The worship due to the sacrament of the Eucharist, whether during the celebration of the Mass or outside it, is the worship of latria, that is, the adoration given to God alone. The Church guards with the greatest care Hosts that have been consecrated. She brings them to the sick and to other persons who find it impossible to participate at Mass. She also presents them for the solemn adoration of the faithful and she bears them in processions. The Church encourages the faithful to make frequent visits to adore the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.

  29. Charles, it is by no means the first time I have been accused of being pompous. Being three-quarters Irish (and we're all Brits anyway, living on these wind-swept rainy islands in the north Atlantic) , do I qualify for two-and-a-half? As far as popular culture is concerned, I don't have anything against it in its place; but unfortunately it tends to permeate and degrade everything it comes into contact with, be it the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Exile to Rorate Caeli (who make no bones about being a purgatorial society) would be, well, purgatory.

    Montgomery was quite successful in the desert campaign because he built on the ideas of other and better men but made sure that they got no credit for it. Give me Patton any day. As for tea, I prefer coffee.

  30. Ralph Vaughan Williams (an agnostic) didn't write hymns, but did write hymn tunes, some of which are justly famous and memorable. Although many people associate hymn-singing with the Anglican tradition, this is misleading; Newman in his Anglican days argued the case for singing the Office hymns (in translation) against considerable opposition from the episcopacy. Vernacular hymns were a nonconformist tradition. Only in the second half of the 19th century did hymn-singing become acceptable, and developed simultaneously in the Catholic and Anglican Churches. There were plenty of extra-liturgical devotions in the Catholic Church where hymns were appropriate.

    The main weakness of hymns, musically speaking, is their strophic character. It is said of folk music that when the singer has sung one verse, the only thing he can do is to repeat it, and the same is true of hymns. If you look at the Sequences Victimae Paschali Laudes, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Dies Irae, all easy to sing, you find melodic repetition of a different and higher order.

  31. Why yes, now I gladly retrieve you from RC for my part, JP. I admit that despite our differing POVs on occasion, it is always refreshing to hear from you and Ian and others from my anscestral terroires.
    I suppose we Church Rats (think Georg WH would have composed "all we like rats?" tend to forget that, as perfectly illlustrated by today's gospel, the people (and disciples) come "as they are."
    So, given what we're charged to do, when He says "You do it," we provide haddock or lobster, bagels or baguettes, come what may. When we meet at Pomeroy's, do let me offer something besides the Claret. G'night.

  32. Pomeroy's does not exist; it was invented by John Mortimer as the watering-hole of Horace Rumpole . It was based on El Vino, the famous Fleet Street wine bar beloved of journalists and barristers, which is still going strong.

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